Dr. Jit Chandan – A Game Changer

Most people read history. Few people write history. Very few people make history. Extremely few people change the direction of history. Dr. Jit Chandan is one of those few people whose efforts at making change for the better are well recorded by history. His contributions in the service of community are deeply written in the sands of time, not to be erased by time or winds of change. By the time Dr. Chandan was about 20 years of age, and after completing his B. Sc. degree from Punjab University at Hoshiarpur, Punjab, he left for England in 1957 to pursue higher studies. In the 1950s, there were very few Indians in UK. There were just a few Indian students, a few businessmen and a few immigrants from Kenya. The only Gurudwara in the country was two floors in a 5-6 story building owned by Maharaja of Patiala, in the area of Shepherds Bush in London.

There were other groups of Sikhs in various cities and especially in Birmingham, Leeds, Wolverhampton, Southall and perhaps at some other places where they celebrated Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday and other religious functions such as Baisakhi in rented halls. Dr. Chandan was the main religious speaker at these functions. He spoke about the lives and teachings of our Gurus. He strongly felt that we should have our own Gurudwaras to promote our religious philosophies among ourselves and among locals. The local Sikh community enthusiastically responded to these dreams and suggestions. Sometime in early 1960, Dr. Chandan formed The Sikh Missionary Society (currently known as Sikh Cultural Society) and started a quarterly Sikh journal “The Sikh Courier”, along with Dr. Ajit Singh Battu (currently in Sudbery, Canada).

Among the many who are Dr. Chandan’s friends is the present Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. (A file photo)

It was a tough journey and it created many financial difficulties. However, with the grace of God and financial help from the Sikh community, the journal kept on going. Mrs. Pamela Wylam joined the editorial board and the journal grew in quantity and quality. Dr. Chandan delivered motivational speeches at Grupurab functions urging Sikhs to contribute one week’s wages to build Gurudwaras. With much effort a beautiful and spacious Gurdwara was built at Birmingham. That was a good beginning. Now Sikhs have over 250 Gurudwaras in the country. As destiny would have it. Dr. Chandan was awarded a coveted and meritorious King George VI Memorial Fellowship award to study at Columbia University in New York in 1963. This Fellowship was unique in the sense that it was the only scholarship awarded to students of Commonwealth countries studying in England and this year was India’s turn.

When Dr. Chandan left England for America, the management of the Sikh Cultural Society and that of the journal The Sikh Courier was taken over by S. Amar Singh Chhatwal with S. Tirath Singh Lalvani being the President of the Society. Mr. Chhatwal served the interests of the journal and the Sikh community with great devotion for many years until his death a few years ago. When Dr. Chandan came to America to study at Columbia University in New York in 1963, there were very few Indian families and even fewer Sikh families and there was no Gurudwara in the city. Only two Sikh names come to mind, namely Mr. D. W. Singh and Mr. S. S. Sarna. Mr. Sarna was a well established business man with the company name being “Bells of Sarna”. Sikhs celebrated Guru Nanak’s birthday in Indian Consulate in 1963. A few Indian students formed an Indian Students Association at Columbia University and Indian movies were shown on Sundays at the campus.

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The year 1964 brought in a few more Sikhs at the World’s fair and a few more at the Indian Consulate. From that point onwards they started talking about founding their own Gurudwara. Some of the original Sikh thinkers in this regard were Dr. Harbans Singh, Mr. Kirat Singh Sethi. Mr. J. S. Premi, Dr. Jodh Arora, Mr. Bhalla, Mr. I. J. Singh, Mr. S. S. Sarna, Dr. Gurcharan Singh and Dr. Chandan, of course. They started to hold Sunday meetings in St. Michael’s church in Flushing and then at Knights of Columbus, also in Flushing. Sometime in late 60s or early 70s they negotiated and acquired a church on 118 Street in Richmond Hills and converted it into a Gurudwara. They also formed the Sikh Cultural Society with S. S. Sarna as President and Dr. Chandan as Secretary. They also started a journal “The Sikh Message” with Dr. Chandan as the editor. Dr. Chandan was instrumental in promoting the Sikh faith through the Gurudwara as well as through speaking at various churches.

Dr. Chandan continues his endeavors in the service of Sikh community and the Sikh faith, and Indian community at large in America as well as in India. He has set himself a goal to serve the poor children of India in providing them with resources for quality education. In fact, his desire to serve the poor and the needy to have education dates back to the 80’s when he associated himself with Delhi based Relief Committee that supports the education of poor children. This committee, formed in the wake of anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and elsewhere, with the primary objective of supporting the families of those killed in the riots, is managed by Nishkam Seva Center, headed by Bhai Mohan Singh. In 2012, there were 350 such students from all religions, who were being educated by Niskam Seva Center. Speaking about the quality of being charitable, Dr. Chandan said, “I can relate charity to my faith- Sikhism. The primary principles of my faith are- Kirat karni, vand chhakna and naam japna.

It is interesting to note that naam japna comes after honest living and sharing with others. “Another well known phrase in our social parlance is dasan nohan dee kirat kamayee karnawhich means following the highest work ethics. I follow my faith, to that extent. I am always ready to help the needy.” Dr. Chandan says, after he retires, he plans to get actively involved in India, particularly in Punjab and the neighboring states to providing primary education to poor children. Asked how he would achieve his objective, he said, “I have earmarked some financial resources for this purpose. I will seek the help of such institutions as Akal Academy, Nishkam Seva Center and others to assist me in utilizing these resources honestly and for the sole purpose of educating poor children.” To the question whether or not he was spiritual and how very important it was to be spiritual, Dr. Chandan said, “There is a lot more intended to look within to have the qualities of a spiritual person.

I am spiritual, to an extent”. And he added,” With the current state that the world is in where materialistic comfort is considered to be supreme by any means, the sense of contentment is missing. It is a sense of spirituality that brings contentment which is the source of all other qualities that make a human being decent. We all want a peaceful world, and spirituality is the sine qua non for it”. Dr. Chandan is currently a full tenured professor of strategic management at Medgar Evers College, City university of New York and served as the chair of the Department of Business Administration at the college. He is known to be a very successful professor and is respected as a motivational lecturer. Dr. Chandan has authored and co-authored 12 books in the various areas of management. He also writes Punjabi poetry as a hobby and is an active member of such Punjabi organizations as Punjabi Sahit Academy and Punjabi Sahit Sabha. Both organizations hold monthly poetry recital meetings. He is highly community oriented and worked closely with Dr. Surinder Malhotra in Indian National oversees Congress (INOC) in the service of community and developing closer ties between India and America. Dr. Chandan was born in 1937 in Jahania Mandi in district Multan, which now forms part of Pakistan. His father, Gurdit Singh, a landlord, moved to Hoshiarpur in Punjab in India in the wake of partition of India in 1947. Chandan got his school and college education in Hoshiarpur. Having done his B.Sc. from Panjab University in 1956, he moved to England for higher education. Married in 1968 to Sandesh, the couple has a son and a daughter.

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