Any time I see the words 'Sikh' and 'caste' in the same sentence, I cringe. The very idea that after all these centuries, we still carry this evil baggage around with us is disheartening. But what can I do? I can explain to nonSikhs that caste is a Hindu belief, but, yes, some Sikhs don't follow the teachings of our Gurus. Sad. I can simply tell them I neither have nor want caste.
But I have thought long and hard about what can I say to other Sikhs. What can I do to help eradicate this evil from our midst? I have come to the conclusion that there is only one thing I can do. From now on, I am a Dalit Sikh. Take it or leave it. Now. Does anyone out there have the guts to follow my lead on this?
I was going to let this article pass, but my friend and nemesis, Darcey, of Dust My Broom has picked it up, so I guess it has to be addressed. Here is the offending article:
From Canwest News Service
Temple allowed to restrict members because of class
Canwest News Service
Saturday, July 12, 2008
VANCOUVER -- The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint by two members of the Indo-Canadian community who were denied membership in a Burnaby Sikh temple because of their social ranking in India's caste system.
Gurshinder Sahota and Sohan Shergill said they were discriminated against by the Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple because they belong to a higher caste in the traditional system of social ranking than do temple members.
Caste is a complex and much-maligned hierarchy that has historically divided Indian society according to occupational categories.
The 900 members of the Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple belong to the lowest group, Dalits, formerly referred to as "untouchables" and often considered outside the caste system altogether. Sahota and Shergill are from the jat caste, which is traditionally a land-owning class in the Punjab and now makes up much of Metro Vancouver's Sikh community.
The decision, released this week, was hailed as an affirmation of temple members' right to gather as a "minority within a minority," said spokesman Jai Birdi.
"Since the decision has come out, the members are feeling quite empowered by it," he said. "They're feeling that this really reinforces their ability to come together as a marginalized community from India to talk about their heritage and historical unresolved issues and come up with some strategies for moving forward."
He added that the complainants are welcome to attend the temple's religious ceremonies and social programs.
"Our vision is that one day the community's confidence will increase to the point that they are not feeling oppressed . . . and then there will no longer be a need to restrict membership," he said.
The Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple was formed in 1982 to meet the needs of Dalits who "felt that they weren't fully welcome in the existing temples," Birdi said. Members follow the teachings of a 15th-century guru who preached against the caste system.
Birdi said temple-goers were worried that if membership was opened to non-Dalits, it would defeat the purpose of the organization.
The tribunal dismissed the complaint for two reasons: First, it found it does not have jurisdiction over temple membership; and, second, citing a prior decision regarding the United Native Nations, it agreed that the temple should be allowed to restrict membership to a minority group in order to promote the group's welfare.
Sahota and Shergill argued that by denying them membership, the temple was promoting the "evil caste system," according to the tribunal ruling.
But Birdi said that after centuries of social segregation and extreme poverty there is a need for Dalits to unite. He compared the struggle to that of Canada's First Nations and African Americans, groups that have gained a sense of pride and identity through organization and advocacy.
Although caste is not taught in the Sikh religion, in reality it still affects many aspects of life for Sikhs in India and Canada, with even local matrimonial ads specifying caste preference, he said.
© Canwest News Service 2008