Seva or Selfless Service is mandated by Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Seva underpins Sikh ethos and is a culture that the mainstream relate to Sikhs more and more.

Seva is not only good for community relations but also is good for the moral uplifting of the person. Gurdwaras have been the training ground where Sikhs have been engaged in free service washing dishes, cleaning the floors, serving food, etc. for generations.

Over the past 5 years, we have witnessed a great revolution of Seva evolving into homeless street feeds. Groups such as SWAT, MLSS, SEVA, LANGAR AID and many more have sprung up in the UK and have quickly gained huge support as many Sikhs have identified with the values and goodwill projected by these groups.

But this Seva seems to be attracting the negativity of some of the elder generation, particularly those who run the committees in the Gurdwaras. Some of the negativity can be interpreted as a difference in opinions driven by the generation and cultural gap. The tenacity to survive and historic challenges around integration faced by our elders have contributed to an insular approach to Seva. Gurdwara committees view their stakeholders as the Sikh congregation whereas the newer British born Sikhs realise the wider Sarbat as stakeholders.

This is not the only divide. History shows us that community organisers have been at the centre of so many of our great social movements. These Seva projects have become social movements and all good movements foster thereby attracting mass attention and numbers.

This is perhaps where the treat lies to many of those who are in seats of authority such as Gurdwara committees, who perceive a mass movement on their “patch” as a future threat to their very authority. Over the past few weeks we witnessed the sad actions of a Gurdwara committee in the West Midlands who banned one of these Lanagar groups entering the kitchen by engaging an external security company to prevent entry. This was then revoked once this committee witnessed the huge Sangat reaction to their actions.

More likely, the driving force for the committee to revoke the decision would have been to maintain their seats of authority and avoid risks around losing the next election. The constitutional and cultural dynamics regarding the administration of Gurdwaras means these committees perceive that they operate a “mini state”. Just looking at the title of “President” makes one realise the attitude and tone that is likely to determine the decisions being made within the Gurdwara.

Seva is a Sikh’s birthright. Gurbani, Rehatnamas and the wondrous examples set by many great GurSikhs sanctions the legacy of Seva that Sikhs must adopt and implement. Interpretations and approaches may vary. However, in the world of Gurmat, Seva should never be seen as a threat to power, nor should it be used as a sword, shield or a means of control.
Guru Ang Sang
Mankamal Singh

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