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A Sikh perspective on Economics

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A Sikh perspective


“Sikhi[sm] believes in voluntary religious regulation of economy as distinguished from government regulated or capitalistic economy.”1
Sikhs have a duty that requires them to pay ten percent of their income towards charitable or community projects. All the Sikh places of worship and charitable trusts that are running successfully currently depend on this support.

As far as recent government statistics, the minority community in the United Kingdom that is least claiming benefits is the Sikh community. The reason being that the teachings embedded in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib reinforce the belief that every Sikh must work hard and honestly and be a responsible householder. That means that they must not only look after themselves, and their immediate families, financially and emotionally but they must also support their neighbours and local community.

Care for each other
Although the government and political set up has put policies in place to support people, Sikhs shy away from claiming. They like to think that they can, and should, take care of themselves and their families and not be a burden on any other person or any government. This is also the reason that many families still live in an extended family unit rather than a nuclear one. The Punjabi culture and the faith tradition reinforce the importance of looking after, and respecting, their elders rather than putting elderly relatives into care homes, which put financial pressure on society at large. The fundamental underlining principle is that Sikhs have a moral and social duty to earn an honest living. Meditating and earning money, in order that they may share it with those around them, are part of the three pillars that Sikhs must live by in order to call themselves practitioners of the faith.

Surviving economic crises
There is also a historic and recent economic crisis that has greatly affected the Sikh community that is important to highlight. The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 caused a huge economic emergency amongst the Sikhs. Families were destroyed and separated, breadwinners were lost and people were forced to leave their homes, their possessions and their businesses overnight. There was a large exodus of Sikhs from Pakistan to India; they were warned to leave overnight if they wanted to live.
The community was forced to walk away from their homes and start all over again. The Maharaja Yadhvinder Singh of Patiala housed women and children in refugee camps that were funded by the local Sikh community until they were re-united with their families. In many cases, the men, or eldest sons, were killed so the hard work of re-establishing themselves and starting work again began.
Sikhs took pride in helping and supporting each other to re-establish their lives and in adopting children so they too would have a secure future and education.

The second time that the community suffered a huge economic crisis was after Operation Bluestar in 1984. “…the widespread Sikh genocide that followed, together with political disturbance led to economic erosion, besides hurting the Sikh psyche.” Again many innocent families were destroyed and many Sikhs were killed and tortured. This meant that either the breadwinners were unable to work due to the torture or violence, or they were put into illegal detention and were guilty until proven innocent. The poor or uneducated were unable to prove their innocence so many men died in prison. Although human rights workers and organizations were involved, they were unable to reach the large number of people in illegal detention.

In some cases where the breadwinner was killed poor families, especially those from the farming background, would ask the women and children to leave the family home as they were unable to provide for all the family members. Once again, innocent people were uprooted and found that they had to fight for survival as no state help or support was in place. “The countries’ planners neglected laying a long-term sound economic base. Endless sub-division and fragmentation of land holdings, recent repeated crop failures, increased input costs and the consequent debt burden, have created an alarming situation. The increase in cases of suicide amongst poor Sikh peasantry have brought their miserable plight into sharp focus.”2

On a personal note, I remember coming across families in the orphanges I was working with in the Punjab in 1998. Children would tell me their mothers were alive but they had been left in the orphanages in order to get shelter and some education because they had been forced to leave their families homes or had been displaced by militant and terrorist groups. Because their mothers were either illiterate, or handicapped, they believed that the best place for their children was these homes. It was often Sikh businessmen in Delhi, and the West, that were funding these institutions and helping families rise again from the emotional and economic disaster.

Finally, the third major time that the Sikh community had to come together because of an economic fall was after the terror attacks by the Taliban and other terrorist regimes in Iran and Afghanistan in the late eighties and early nineties. There was a huge migration of Sikhs, who had been settled in Iran and Afghanistan, to India and the West. The persecution came predominantly from extremists who wanted to maintain a single faith worship in their home countries. This resulted in the immediate evacuation of several minority groups.
As in the past, houses, possessions and businesses were all left behind and Sikhs were forced to stop their lives without any warning and start again from scratch.
The devotion and commitment of fellow Sikhs, and representatives from other faith groups, helped these families rise again from the rubble. Many success stories have hit the headlines, especially in the United Kingdom, about how Sikhs from the Afghan community have developed, and re-established themselves, in order to help others. In fact, the local Afghan community regularly donates food to homeless refugees in and around Heathrow and runs a drugs and alcohol abuse project for people in West London.

The Sikh teachings have always highlighted the importance of sharing money, welfare and economic stability. In fact the teachings of Yogi Bhajan confirm that if you, as a Sikh, are not supporting at least ten other families in your life, then you are not practicing the Guru’s message! Hard words but they are important instructions for Sikhs and it is part of their spiritual discipline to earn and strive economically in order that they can then support others along the way.

 

1. www.allaboutsikhs.com/sikhism…/economic-dimensions-of-sikh-social-philosophy

1999 paper on the SIKH ECONOMIC WELFARE – TERCENTENARY AGENDA, MOHINDER SINGH

2. www.allaboutsikhs.com/sikhism.../economic-dimensions-of-sikh-social- philosophy