Religious organizations at UC Berkeley are a safe haven for many students on campus. In many parts of the world, religion has been a way to organize and build identity in all kinds of ways. Many traditions emphasize the importance of service. For a Sikh, seva (selfless service) is at the fundamental root of the identity. As a Sikh on campus, I have had the opportunity to carry out community service through the three Sikh-based organizations on campus: Sikh Student Association, Jakara Movement Chapter and Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative.
In Sikhi the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (the Sikh Scripture) states: “One who performs selfless service, without thought of reward, shall realize the Divine.” Seva creates our humanity. We are social beings that give and receive. It is our duty to add good to this world by serving others and standing together. Visit a Gurdwara on Sunday — the one in El Sobrante is the closest one to campus — or anyday and you’ll typically see Sikhs providing free langar, or food, for everyone by cooking and serving, maintaining the Gurdwara by cleaning the facilities and greeting all that come. In the Sikh Code of Conduct (Rehat Maryada), Sikhs see the Gurdwara as the ‘training grounds’ to learn to serve humanity beyond the walls of the Gurdwara. True seva is service to this earth.
About 1.2 percent of India is made up of Sikhs, and about 0.13 percent of the United States. Similarly, a small part of the UC Berkeley student body is made up of Sikh students. Sikhs are a small minority in the world and on this campus, however, they have done service through incredible organizations that focus on the pillar of seva.
The Sikh Student Association, or SSA, is a popular Sikh organization on campus. By focusing on Seva (selfless service), Simran (meditating) and Sangat (congregation), the SSA enables Sikh students to uphold their faith. According to SSA President Jasmeen Sandhu, “The concept of seva is really important to the members of the Sikh Students Association here at Cal. Our organization has a committee dedicated to creating events wherein members can perform selfless service. This year, a lot of the seva committee events revolved around helping the homeless population here in Berkeley.”
Service within UC Berkeley faith organizations is crucial. For example, SSA has the Seva Committee which provides SSA members the opportunity to perform seva. The goal of the committee is to plan events and activities that promote humanitarianism and spread awareness of the Sikh faith on campus and the surrounding community. Sikh students have carried out seva for the Berkeley community by giving away essential winter clothing essentials at Dorothy Day House and providing care packages to the local homeless community. Sikhs come from all walks of life and have a chance to unify as a community through SSA’s platform.
Community service from faith organizations does not have to be through religious means only. For example, the Jakara Movement Chapter, or JMC, at UC Berkeley is part of a larger grassroots mobilization organization within California. The service carried out through JMC is demonstrated by its members visiting local businesses to explain what their rights are if or when ICE comes to their businesses or homes, holding voter registration events at local Gurdwaras and organizing protests and town halls around community concerns. Politics are part of this world and those grounded with a desire to serve something bigger than themselves must engage with the world around them, which leads to a sense of togetherness as a community. As the president of JMC this year, every action taken has been initiated with consideration about how the events and actions can be a service to our community: challenging racism, misogyny, casteism and other power hierarchies.
The Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative, or BPHSI, is an organization that provides free checkups in partnership with doctors who have volunteered their time for Sikh community members that do not have health insurance. BPSHI, however, has grown to serve not just the Sikh community, but to support and uplift other communities around us. This organization provides a space for Sikhs and non-Sikhs to come together to apply their passion for health in service for the community. The president of BPHSI has expressed that, “Although BPSHI at Berkeley was initially started to give back to the communities around the Bay Area, specifically the Sikh community, our organization has since then grown and we are now able to provide for the local Berkeley community as well. This includes community outreach efforts.”
Just as the Sikh community comes together to serve in different ways, multiple faith organizations have the ability to do the same. Service gives an opportunity for many communities to come together, understand each other and become more unified through small actions. Communities like MEMSSA (Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian) are amazing spaces to grow, learn and build one’s skills to serve the greater Berkeley community and beyond.
With the amount of work we do for our own communities, we should unify and help the greater community around us. We have a divine power invested within us, in our own unique ways, which could beautifully come together to serve everyone.
Sumrit Grewal is a campus sophomore, an ASUC senator-elect and the current president of the Jakara Movement Club at UC Berkeley.