For many university Sikh Societies outside the traditional strongholds of London and the Midlands, keeping the Sikh society afloat can be a challenge, due both to the low Sikh student numbers and even lack of interest or know how. One year may be relatively successful, but as soon as a few key members graduate the Sikh Society collapses in on itself. For some, this is an all too familiar story.
So how is it that a Sikh Society can become successful but avoid this scenario? Before we answer this question, let’s take a step back: in order to make a Sikh Society Successful, don’t we first need to understand what defines one? Perhaps we should go back to first principles and analyse what makes a Sikh Society. A quick look on Wikipedia (the first point of reference for all student assignments!) informs us that a society is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations such as social networks. So essentially, the society is the Sangat (congregation); therefore a Sikh society must be the interaction of two or more people that contemplate Sikhi or the Sikh way of life together. Note that the word people has deliberately been used, given that as long as the conversation is about Sikhi, then essentially it does not matter what the beliefs of the individuals are, albeit in practise the sangat usually consists of at least one Sikh. Knowing this little bit of detail it is quite remarkable that the words ‘networking’, ‘bring together’ and ‘sharing’ [experiences of the Sikh way of life] are generally absent from many university Sikh society mission statements. Some instead use the opportunity to emphasise the importance of Simran and Seva. Whilst important Sikh concepts, can a Sikh society really be defined by this dichotomy? Given that both seva and simran can be performed at the individual level, can it really be the reason for having a Sikh Society?
As long as it is recognised that the key principle of a Sikh society is to facilitate networking, the exchange of ideas and experiences of the Sikh way of life, then there is no reason why a Sikh Soc shouldn’t be successful outside of London and the Midlands. After all, technology has made this easier than ever before. A decade ago the emergence of the internet meant Sikh Socs could have their own websites, but the difficultly in building and maintaining these often ended up as a distraction from the real objectives of the society and quite naturally with the dawn of Facebook, Sikh Society websites have slowly become redundant. The effortless way in which facebook brings people together and the ease with which it can be updated has been a blessing for the smaller Sikh Societies. Indeed, even if no events take place, networking is still quite possible through the Facebook platform. It also acts as a chronological log of events, so that succeeding year’s officers can quickly and reliably gain ideas and inspiration from the events of previous years. This is particularly useful where a Sikh soc lacks the organisation and resources to produce an annual report or when there has been a gap of a year or more where no activities have taken place.
Now that we have tackled the definition or purpose what a Sikh Soc could be, in our next article we will look at ways to build on this, starting with the simplest ideas. What could these be…?
An article by Kiran K Sihota [President] and Nicky Bharij [Secretary] – Southampton University Sikh Society, 2010-2011