Monday, 18 January 2016

About Awards & Honours



[Note:  Some thoughts below on accepting the Queen’s New Year Honours 2016 award of  OBE.]

There are many good reasons why any award or honour for community service (seva) is a humbling and spiritual experience.

The Creator Being, Waheguru,  gave us human birth, body, mind and wealth (tann, mann and dhan).  In gratitude, we should be serving Waheguru by serving His creation, including fellow human beings and the environment – this temple of God called the earth - with humility and without expectation of any reward or honour.  However, regrettably, human nature is such that despite protestations to the contrary, hao-mai (ego-centricity) creates a desire for recognition.

It is that realisation that makes one humble when honoured in any way for what is supposed to be nishkam seva (selfless service without expectation of any reward).  

An award or honour for seva detracts from one’s spiritual credit.

One other reason for humility when receiving an award for community service is fact based in view of the charitable work being done by volunteers in diverse fields. Sometimes, it is not readily understood what exactly is “charity work” or a “charitable organisation”. These organisations do not make profit and work for public benefit. 

There are hundreds of truly dedicated sevadars working through charitable organisations, doing seva in the field, outside Gurdwaras where most needed.  They work for common good, undertaking activities in many areas such as education including missionary work, heritage, art and cultural education, health, welfare, medical care, enabling the disabled, racial and interfaith harmony, and environmental issues. 

I would also add education of citizenship responsibilities to next generations as an increasingly important aspect of charitable work.

In the Sikh tradition feeding the hungry through the non-discriminatory Sikhi institution of “langar” was started by Guru Nanak Dev ji.  In this sense, true to Sikhi tradition, all Gurdwaras are doing charity work, even though, not all would be registered as charitable organisations. 

In recent years, Sikh charities have become active outside Gurdwaras providing relief from disasters – natural or man-made – and relief for victims of human rights abuses and injustice. I have followed the progress of some Sikh charities providing relief in disaster areas around the world e.g. the UK based Khalsa Aid since 1999, and have also been aware of the great seva being done in diverse fields by others.

Sometimes the relief work done by some charities is politicised by perpetrators of state injustice. For that reason, transparency of charitable work abroad in liaison with other world charities is important to counter trumped up charges of support for anti-state activities.

I also have a keen interest in Anglo-Sikh heritage. World War 1 related events in the last two years, and Anglo-Sikh relations and heritage projects and exhibitions over the years have raised the Sikh identity profile. 

From own association with many Sikh organisations since my arrival in the UK in 1960, whether or not registered as charities, I am only too well aware that as the Sikh population has grown, so has the need for charity work in many fields to serve the needs of the community. Overall, Sikh British have responded  well and also integrated successfully in a multi-cultural British society.

Returning to the main topic of awards and honours, all those sevadars in the field  are much more deserving than some pen pusher like me, who happens to come to the notice of the establishment. So, any award or honour is really received not for self but on behalf of these unsung Khalsa heroes.

I have always focussed on the two aspects of Sikh British identity: how to be a good Sikh and how to be a responsible British citizen. Both parts of that identity are complementary.  For interfacing with the Government departments effectively, I have always promoted the idea of a "round-table" of UK Gurdwaras and organisations, first as the open British Sikh Consultative Forum started in 2002 - not to be confused with a membership forum set up later by the same name - and more recently the Sikh Council UK. Sikh charity work outside Gurdwaras is essential for promoting Sikhi ideals and identity.

It is a matter of great satisfaction personally for me, that the concept of “Sikh Education Welfare & Advancement (SEWA)”, was first conceived at the family farm in Riverland, South Australia in March 1999,  on the tricentennial anniversary of the Khalsa Panth. S. Raghbir Singh Bains of Canada was visiting and I wrote the long essay, “Vaisakhi: the high point of Sikh tradition” (available  on Sikh Missionary Society’s website*) for circulation to Australian politicians and others. The concept has worked well: that individuals with experience and special skills should serve existing Sikh organisations and not set up own organisations to promote themselves or to compete with other organisations.

It was with above thoughts in mind that I accepted the Queen’s New Year 2016 award of  OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire).

*Vaisakhi 1699:
 http://www.sikhmissionarysociety.org/sms/smspublications/Vaisakhi1699GurmukhSinghSEWAUK.pdf

Gurmukh Singh
(Principal UK Civil Servant ret’d)
E-mail: sewauk2005@yahoo.co.uk 

© Copyright Gurmukh Singh (U.K.)
Please acknowledge quotations from this article. 
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