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'Our places of worship don't cater to our youth'

August 01, 2011 20:06 IST

As instances of young South Asians' involvement in gangs and drugs grow in Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Baltej Dhillon, head of British Columbia Intelligence and the first turbaned Sikh on the force, lays part of the blame on modern lifestyle and the inability of religious places to communicate with the youth.

Over 90 young South Asians, largely in British Columbia, have been killed in the last eight years due to their involvement in drugs and gangs.

"If we look closely, those young people who have gone astray and fallen prey to this lifestyle now know that their lives are not as rosy as they thought it was," Dhillon said, attributing it to the lack of the community support system.'

"There's a saying in Africa that it takes a village to raise a child," he said. "It is no different than India where in villages, where many of us come from, you were not anonymous. Everybody took responsibility for your actions. Many mothers and fathers, many uncles and aunts, and everybody was concerned and interested in seeing you succeed and prevented you from falling into the trap. We have gotten very busy in Canada… We have trouble in communicating with our children. Pressures and challenges have caused a level of distance and separation between our youth and the parents," he noted.

"Our places of worship don't cater to our youth. They cater to our older generations," he added. "People who are serving in gurdwaras today… are not able to relate to the youth. Majority of our religious places, don't serve the youth. There's lot of money being collected (in gurdwaras), so I ask the leaders in the community: what have they done for the youth? Can they stand, and in this I include myself, and say in 2010 we helped 10 youth get away from being members of the gang. Nobody is doing that. That's one area where there should be some focus," he added.

Religious places should be the anchors for young people, Dhillon said.

"When you don't have such anchors, it is very simple for you to get swayed, taken away by the storm and the factors that come as you mature. Criminal life, drugs and alcohol and the anchors against these are supposed to come from our places of worship that the community built," he said.

"If we want to correct what's happening, we have to offer help," Dhillon, who often goes to schools to talk to young people about staying away from drugs and gangs, said.

"I certainly don't say members of the gurdwara committee are experts in drug rehabilitation program, or counseling, but they have the resources. They have the money. Use the money and hire people who have that ability and skill and then provide that help to our children. Our young people should feel safe and invited in the gurdwaras," he added.

Image: Baltej Dhillon

Ajit Jain in Toronto