In our previous article we tried to tackle the definition of a Sikh society concluding that the primary aims should be to facilitate networking, the exchange of ideas and experiences of the Sikh way of life. We also covered the important role played by online platforms such as Facebook in achieving this objective. What next you might ask? Well, online messaging on Facebook is a start, but there’s nothing quite like meeting up with a group of people face to face; unfortunately in some of the smaller Sikh societies this doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. The irregular nature of a smaller society forms a barrier to those long-lasting friendships we seek to build at university.

The advantage of having a weekly event at Sikh socs has long been recognised as something that ensures not only continuity, but cohesion of members. The ideal weekly event should be one that:

  • is simple to implement;
  • requires little or no organisation;
  • is inclusive of all students (including non-sikhs);
  • is still considered worth doing if only two or three people attend; and most importantly,
  • allows ample opportunity for networking.
  • The weekly activity of choice at most Sikh socs is the simran session. However, taking a closer look at simran session we find that it fails most of these criteria. Though it may seem simple to implement and organise, given that it requires the booking of a room and realistically requires the attendance of more than three people for it to be considered worthwhile, there are unnecessary barriers to smaller Sikh societies. Arguably, a musical accompaniment is preferred to get the required atmosphere for spiritual uplift which is difficult to obtain without the right student skills. Attending is hard enough taking into account studies, but most simran sessions are held in the evenings after university lectures, inadvertently excluding those Sikhs that face a long commute home – think of the Sikhs that commute to central London universities from Southall – you know who you are! Furthermore, simran sessions exclude those people that may not understand the relevance or importance of simran i.e non-sikhs; evidence of this can be seen by the lack of non-Sikhs or less knowledgeable Sikhs attending simran sessions. Finally, the time available for networking is greatly reduced as it is not possible during the actual simran.

    Another option that may come to mind is a weekly trip to the Gurdwara, given that all you need to do is just turn up. As a bonus students partake in langar, a much needed change from microwave meals! And there is plenty of opportunity to network with other students as well as the local sangat… It seems to fill the above criteria. From Southampton University, there are two Gurdware within walking distance of the university, located in an area with a high student population. Indeed because of these reasons quite a few of us do go to the Gurdwara on Sundays! We have a good time networking with other students, build links with the local youth and as mentioned we get some much needed nourishment! However there are some inherent disadvantages here as well: attendance really needs to be on a Sunday otherwise you will probably find yourself in an empty hall. There are some Sikh students, certainly at Southampton, who choose to go back home pretty much every weekend. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, perhaps it shows how close-knit Sikh families are, but given this fact, anyone in this situation would miss out altogether. Perhaps the most important reason is that for most universities, particular those in London, the Gurdwara isn’t within walking distance and therefore the time and cost of going on a weekly basis becomes a deterrent.

    At this point we are not advocating building a Gurdwara at every university institution! Remember we are looking for a simple weekly event! Another often overlooked disadvantage is that having the weekly event at the Gurdwara instead of the university premises may be outside the comfort zone of many non-sikh and Sikh university students, all who might otherwise attend.

    So what is the alternative, what event could rightly be called the lowest common denominator? In our next article we will explore what Southampton University Sikh Society believes could be the answer… in the mean time have a think about it and post your comments below. Let’s see what you can come up with! We’re sure there is more than one right answer!

    An article by Kiran K Sihota [President] and Nicky Bharij [Secretary] – Southampton University Sikh Society, 2010-2011