Goojaree, Fifth Mehl:
Remembering Him, all sins are erased, and ones generations are saved.
So meditate continually on the Lord, Har, Har; He has no end or limitation. ||1||
O son (child), this is your mother's hope and prayer
That you may never forget the Lord, Har, Har, even for an instant. May you ever vibrate upon the Lord of the Universe. ||1||Pause||
May the True Guru be kind to you, and may you love the Society of the Saints.
May the preservation of your honor by the Transcendent Lord be your clothes, and may the singing of His Praises be your food.||2||
So drink in forever the Ambrosial Nectar; may you live long, and may the meditative remembrance of the Lord give you infinite delight.
May joy and pleasure be yours; may your hopes be fulfilled, and may you never be troubled by worries. ||3||
Let this mind of yours be the bumble bee, and let the Lord's feet be the lotus flower.
Says servant Nanak, attach your mind to them, and blossom forth like the song-bird, upon finding the rain-drop. ||4||3||4||
When I started writing this post, it was going to be a small story about going to the Gurdwara in Edmonton, but the more I thought about it, it took a different direction. On Sunday I took a taxi to the Gurdwara and the driver was curious about what motivates a young person to put this much effort into going to the Gurdwara. I talked a little bit about my spiritual path. He brought up the topic of how a lot of young people have no interest in going, and the alarming rates of gang-related murders in the Indo-Canadian community. I didn’t realize this had been an issue in Edmonton as well and we talked about it briefly.
The first shabad the jatha read was “Poota Mata Ki Asees” (the translated shabad above). “O son, this is your mother's hope and prayer, that you may never forget the Lord, Har, Har, even for an instant. May you ever vibrate upon the Lord of the Universe.” Although I have read this shabad many times, it was the way and context in which it was read that suddenly the emotion of the shabad struck me deeply. When a child is born, a mother wishes a happy life on that child. Sikh parents want their children to get further than they did, and to spiritually progress on the path to God as well. There is so much joy at the birth of a child. A mother doesn’t wish for her son that he grows up and avoid the Gurdwara. She doesn’t wish that a police officer comes to her door to tell her that her son was murdered in the streets in his 20s.
We know that there is a serious gang violence problem amongst Indo-Canadians in the lower mainland right now. The situation has much improved in our community locally, but there is a growing problem in Surrey, where we are constantly reading news articles about young Sikh men who are now dead from gang-related violence. Old statistics from 2005 were that over 100 young men involved in gangs had been killed over the 12 years prior to that (1). I can’t imagine what the statistics look like now, considering how many individuals were killed after that. One Sikh mother said in an interview for Global news “An ambulance goes past and I can’t sleep because I keep thinking, ‘Oh my God. Is it my son that’s been killed?’... I wouldn’t stop worrying until he got home”(2). This is what makes this topic so important- because it could be your child one day, or mine, if we don’t figure out what is driving this.
One of the problems that have been highlighted as contributing to this growing issue is parenting (2). Many parents are busy trying to make their lives more comfortable for their children so they do not have to experience the hardships they did, and at the same time this leaves little time for them to supervise or spend time building a relationship with their children (2). A few years back, Wally Oppal said “"A lot of the [Indo-Canadian] gang thing is thrill-seeking, but a lot of it has to do with idleness and having things handed to them. The result is you don't work hard. What more is there for a 16-year-old to accomplish if he's jumping into a BMW in Grade 10? They lose focus and there is a disconnect with the parents because they're out working, often two or three different jobs, to pay for everything”(3). He identifies the additional issues here of youth lacking motivation and purpose. Since youth are pulled in at a young age when their brains aren’t fully developed to understand the consequences of their decisions, it is obviously especially important for them to have a sense of guidance in making their decisions.
In the face of a lack of time with parents, youth often look up to others to fulfill that role, for example in movies, songs, or relatives who are involved in the drug business. In the Global News video they referenced Jazzy B’s music videos as part of the problem of promoting the idea of the “flashy gangster” (2). These role models are neither realistic nor positive. Staff Sgt. Houghton spoke about the movie Beeba Boys, stating” Beeba Boys shows nice cars, expensive fashion and other perks of gang life without the fleeting nature of such pleasures. Nor does it show the paranoia of gang life, in which such criminals are on edge about police, their enemies and even their friends…The challenge we have as the police is to overcome these constant pop-culture messages that are somewhat ubiquitous, I would argue, in our culture that being a gangster is cool, that you will have money, that you will have good-looking women on your arm all the time, that you will have all of these things in life” (4). This comes back to one of my recent posts about finding the purpose in life, because of course the gang lifestyle will fulfill the desire for power, money, women, status, etc., but will not fulfill the purpose of our lives.
Wally Oppal also pointed to gender inequalities causing a sense of entitlement in young men (3). Renu Bakshi, from CTV reports “From the moment a Punjabi boy opens his eyes, his parents hand him the keys to the Porsche of life. From now on, his mother will ride in the back seat, literally and figuratively, putting her son ahead of the world. Her boy will have the privilege of eating a warm meal, without the chore of clearing the dishes alongside his sister. In a fit of childhood rage, he will kick and punch his mother…In too many cases, violence is the tool with which the head of household settles disputes with his wife, as well as other members of the family. RCMP in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, where many Sikhs live, say a disproportionate number of the domestic disputes their officers attend involve Sikh couples, and the disputes are almost always sparked by alcohol” (5). In this type of setting, not only is the male child entitled, but the role of the mother (woman) is not respected in the household.
I was shocked to realize after reading many articles that many of these young men think that they are embracing Sikh values of bravery, that by not being afraid to end up dead in the streets over drugs is noble. Despite the fact that Gurbani makes it brutally clear what happens to a person when they fall into maya and don’t follow the path of God. Renu Bakhsi states,
“From Sunday sermons at Sikh temples to Friday nights at bars, police files show that disagreements among Punjabi men are regularly settled with the use of force. The difference is, youngsters have replaced the holy Sikh sword with machine guns…[T]he very essence of Sikhism, its spiritual struggle for human rights, has been perverted by misguided men bent on gaining power and exacting revenge. The Sikh teaching, ‘When all else fails, only then raise your sword,’ no longer applies to defending the defenceless. It is an excuse to use violence to settle the score”(5).
When we look at protective factors to prevent gang involvement, they include parental involvement/monitoring, family support, coping skills, positive social connections/peer support, positive interaction with mentors, positive social environments in community, academic achievement, and reducing alcohol/drug use (6,7). Many of these things can be accomplished by living per Sikhi:
- (Good) Sangat: gives positive social connections, support, role models, belonging
- Sewa: builds community connection, teaches humility and hard work
- Naam Japna and kirtan: teachs there is something greater than you and me, teaches use of emotional regulation (how not to use force to fight over something and not let anger control you)
- Kirat karni- is literally about hard work
- Vand shakna- is about sharing with others, thinking of others first and not being selfish, focused on wellbeing of all rather than individualism
- Gurbani: gives us purpose, sense of direction, discipline
- Gurus also taught us to get involved in taking care of our bodies by sports, etc. which is one of the examples that Wally Oppal gave to combat gang involvement (3)
When we look at the man every mother strives to raise, it is one who serves the community, respects women, helps out around the house, and works hard. The type of man a woman can say that she is safe and comfortable around because their word can be trusted and they uphold the highest of values given to us by the Guru Jis. If a mistake is made, they own it and learn from it. That is a mother’s prayer for her son. That is a sister’s prayer, from me to all my brothers. May you never forget your roots, may you always remember Waheguru and fulfill your purpose in this life. May you live up to your name, Singh.