A decade old dispute has raged at the Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C. over tradition and modernism. In a pivotal election result early Monday, the traditionalist Sikh Youth have won a landslide victory. It is the second largest temple in North America.
SURREY, B.C. - Members of the Sikh community in Surrey chose long-standing religious tradition over modernists and elected a temple executive slate which has promised to remove table and chairs from the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple.
Traditionalists turned the tables on the modernist slate that had ruled the temple for more than a decade in a landslide victory. The final outcome of the vote was 13,400 for the traditionalist Sikh youth slate and approximately 7,200 for the old guard.
The temple, second largest in North America, was controlled by modernists for the longest period of time and tables and chairs filled the dining hall where meals are served free to all worshipers and anyone else who wants them. In the 90s violence erupted and tempers flared over the issue of tables and chairs in the "langar" (dining) hall..
The traditionalists say tables and chairs are an affront to values of the Sikh faith since the meals served at the temple are part of worship and should be eaten while seating on the floor. The modernists had resisted taking tables and chairs out of the dining hall leading to severe violence in 1997.
The Sikh Youth slate led by Bikramjit Sandhar handily defeated the modernists during the court supervised elections where observers counted some 20,000 ballots cast by Sikhs who braved long lineups to vote.
The election result was announced shortly before 2 a.m. on Monday.
Gurnam Sanghera, a long-time supporter of modernists said the Sikh Youth slate won approximately 13,400 votes while the slate that has led the temple for more than a decade won only 7,200.
“We lost,” he said last night. “There was a voter shift – our own voters shifted. We accept it, is the decision of the community.”
“Whatever the verdict, we accept it,” said Sanghera early Monday morning.
Some in the community view the Sikh Youth with suspicion – saying they are separatists who cling to the dream of creating a Sikh republic out of the state of Punjab where the vast majority of the world’s 30 million Sikhs live.
However, the Sikh Youth slate says it made up of progressive Sikhs who want to return the temple to the traditions followed by Sikhs world-wide.
“The Sikh Community of British Columbia has spoken loudly in favour of a positive change for a better future, by awarding the directorship service at Guru Nanak Sikh Temple Gurdwara Sahib, Surrey, BC to the Sikh Youth Slate, by a large margin of votes,” the Sikh Youth slate said on a website www.newfuture.ca.
“This service is done by the grace of God, for the well-being of humanity. Thank you to all those who supported this campaign, and all those who volunteered countless hours to make this change happen. Now, the real work begins.”
But a part of the change is seen to have been motivated by long-standing bitterness over how the media has covered the community with labels such as fundamentalists, extremists reserved for the traditional side and moderates for those who were originally against the idea of a separatist state during the violence of the mid-80s.
“We will work to unite the Sikh community through open communication, transparency and community outreach bringing positive and efficient change in our approach to community relations,” the said the Sikh Youth platform.
“As community divided by years of community politics, media labels, and violent conflicts, it is our duty as the next generation to move beyond these difference and work towards uniting the community. With the united strength of Sikh societies and organizations across the Lower Mainland, we can achieve greater success in addressing the needs of the community,” the slate had said.
The youth camp also was more organized, holding massive rallies at banquet halls and using social networking sites like You Tube to broadcast their message.
” Let’s take back our holy institutions and restore them to their original purpose, which was serving all humanity and helping people to become better, brighter and closer to their spiritual source,” said a campaign slogan.
It is expected the slate with Bikramjit Singh Sandhar at the helm as president will take over the temple in January. Tables and chairs will be moved out to comply with Sikh traditional values but some will be kept in the kitchen hall to allow elderly and infirm to participate in the meals which are regarded as part of worship.