Growing up in Scotland, I have been surrounded by many different people and communities.
Yes! My family is Sikh.
But I went to a Catholic school for 12 years.
My neighbours and friends are Muslims and most interestingly of all, are my Catholic “Scottish grandparents.”
Over the years, my interactions with my Scottish grandparents have played a vital part in shaping me as an individual.
Of course, my ‘familial grandparents’ are in Panjab. I speak regularly to them and visit them every few years.
However, my conversations and discussions with Dorothy and Ewen Cameron (my Scottish grandparents) enabled me to put into practice Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s call of recognizing “the human race as one.” Their aspiration for me was to make a positive contribution to our local community.
While this paints a positive picture of the vibrancy of Scotland, I am very aware that every day millions of people, like me, get defined on superficial things – our looks, appearance, and style.
This was demonstrated recently: A 11 year old Sikh-American boy, Harsukh Singh was verbally bullied on his school bus. Chants of “terrorist” from his peers and finger pointing were recorded by Harsukh and put onto YouTube, which was watched by millions across the globe. A brave move which brought this issue to the forefront of people’s daily lives. Harsukh was defined by his peers by his outer identity and not by his intelligence, his personality or his beliefs.
This is important for us to understand.
Did those children really know Harsukh?
Did they really understand the responsibility he holds by visibly showing he is a practicing Sikh?
No, they did not.
Yet their actions placed a nation of 30 million Sikhs in a mixed position. One of sadness and anxiety but also one of shared strength and unity.
So how do you change that position?
How do you go from thinking you’re “different” or you don’t belong, to knowing and believing that you are an equal member of this world?
This is what I wanted to address in Scotland, my home.
I wanted to take the Sikh Gurus action-oriented message and create a platform that brought people together.
A platform that made real changes in our own cities.
So in 2014 when I was made the General Secretary of my gurduara at age 24 – it was a big step for me but a bigger step for our Panjabi-Sikh community.
I saw this as a real opportunity to change and modernise how our gurduara operated. I wanted our gurduara to cater to all audiences and make it truly an external facing organization reaching everyone in Scotland, and not just Panjabi-Sikhs.
I wanted to have more young people at the gurduara. I wanted them to make the gurduara a place to be associated with; to Tweet about it; to talk about it on Facebook. This was no easy task.
Scottish Sikhs are a small community of around 15,000 – compared to England’s 500,000+. But I was determined.
I recognised that we needed more young people to be at the core of The Glasgow Gurduara, which consisted of active contributors and future leaders who had a desire to participate in the Sikhi Journey.
This gave birth to the Young Sikh Leaders Network. An exciting, dynamic, vibrant group of young Scottish Sikhs, collaborating to implement the Sikh values of Equality, Justice and Humanity.
As a result of our hard work and collective goal to create a better Scotland, we achieved huge results in just 12 months. By setting up the Young Sikh Leaders Network we managed to encompass all of Guru Nanak’s visionary aims – to bring people together with a shared mission to make a difference.
In just 12 months, the Network engaged directly with over 55,000 non-Sikhs about Sikhi; delivered educational tours to 3,000 school pupils and fundraised over £200,000 ($300,000+) for charity.
My personal highlight was in December 2014. BBC showed a programme on the Commonwealth Games, which featured the Young Sikh Leaders Network and our gurduara. It was broadcasted to 5 million people across Scotland.
For me, this was it.
This was a turning point for Scottish Sikhs. And we began a new journey of education and engagement to create a just, fair and inclusive society that we all need and want.
And by the way, all this was inspired by one gurduara tucked away in the “wee” country of Scotland.
So, if we can do it, so can you!
Let’s take the inspiration from Guru Nanak Sahib to create a positive future for Sikhi.
Charandeep Singh attended Sidak in 2012. He also served as SikhRI’s Social Media & Communications Co-ordinator from September 2012 to May 2013.