Kavneet Pannu knows children learn better by example than by being lectured, so when his sons, Karanveer and Sherveer (photographed with their dad, above), joined Cub Scouting, he signed on as a den dad. He later followed them into Boy Scouting, serving as an assistant Scoutmaster and now as a troop committee member.
But Pannu’s major impact has been felt far beyond Troop 48. A tireless advocate for interfaith understanding and respect, he spearheaded the creation of a series of five religious emblems (including one for adults) through the American Sikh Council. The awards were approved by the BSA in 2013, the same year he led the Sikh exhibit at the national jamboree. At that exhibit, 1,500 Scouts learned about the significance of turbans by learning to tie them — and to see past the headgear Sikhs wear as an expression of their faith.
How well do Scouting and Sikhism work together?
Our Divine Master had a very clear adage: A Sikh is supposed to be always prepared. Mentally and physically, you’ve got to be prepared. How do you do that? By training yourself — exactly what Scouting does. Be a good kid, do well in school, have great manners, always respect others, help others, always honor women, be physically fit, learn various skills, never fight with anyone except for pure self-defense, etc. How different is that from Scouting?
Are there religious restrictions (like Jewish dietary rules or Muslim prayer schedules) that affect Sikhs’ ability to participate in Scouting?
None, except we do not eat ritually cut meat like halal.
Yet you’ve had a hard time selling Scouting to your fellow Sikhs. Why?
I wish I could shake up the folks from my own faith so they understand how awesome Scouting is. Most have no clue that Scouting actually fits like a glove with all of our faith principles. The problem is that many within the Sikh community are busy trying to become financially stable, especially newer immigrants. What I’m trying to pitch to all Sikh Americans is: “This is how your kid’s going to be great. If he’s an Eagle Scout, it’s possible he’s going to get scholarships, he’s going to go to a better college, he’s going to get a leg up.” That seems to be working slowly.
How well were your sons accepted as the only Sikhs in their troop?
They never felt out of place. Scouting is such a great thing where kids see how cool the other kid is. If the other kid is fun, everything else doesn’t matter. Whether it’s skin color or turbans or whatever, it gets minimized. Scouting changes kids. They see the camaraderie; they see the respect; they see there’s something wholesome here. It’s just in the air. It’s hard to put your finger on it. Scouting should be lauded for that. If all children can be made into better human beings through this process of Scouting, wouldn’t this country be more wonderful and more humane?
The Jamboree exhibit seems to have been a big success. We had turbaned kids running up and down the slope playing Frisbee. The zip line was above us, and we could see turbans on the zip line. Some kids didn’t remove their turbans for two days because they thought it was the coolest thing.
It sounds like the interest went beyond tying turbans.
We had 200 to 250 Scouts at an open session about Sikhism, and not a single person walked away. Religion’s a boring subject, especially for kids. For kids to sit for 60 to 90 minutes to listen to someone so they could understand is just amazing.
Does a Scout have to be a Sikh to pursue the religious emblems you developed?
No. Whoever wants to complete the workbook, we will give them a medallion and a certificate. That way, we create more education across the spectrum. When you go through any sixth-grade social-studies book, you’ll find Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism, but there’s nothing in those books about the Sikh faith, even though Sikhs have been here since the late 19th century. Scouts who earn these awards will carry that information back to school and say, “We know who the Sikhs are; how come they’re not in the social-studies book?”
What would you like your legacy to be?
My children are going to ask questions like, “What did my dad do for me so I could live in this country and be a great person?” and “What did my parents do to pave a better path?” I want to leave a legacy where my kids are proud of what I did for them and others.
Fact Sheet: Kavneet Singh Pannu
Years as a Scout Volunteer: 12
Current City: Voorhees, N.J.
Current Positions: Committee member, Troop 48, Berlin, N.J.; merit badge counselor; member, National Religious Relationships Committee; chairman, Boy Scout Task Force for the American Sikh Council
Day Job: Small-business consultant
Most Satisfying Moments in Scouting: “Watching both of my children make Eagle.”
Favorite Camp and Why: The Summit Bechtel Reserve, Mount Hope, W.Va. “The experience my kids had was phenomenal. It had all the activities a Scout can dream of and more, especially with Scouters leading and guiding them for an experience they will never forget.”
Kavneet Singh ji you are doing great job of promoting Sikhy and encourging young Sikh children to enroll in scouting.I thank you for for spreading the word who are Sikhs.
Thank you again
gurdas Singh dass
Kavneet Singh ji, I am so proud of your work In Boy Scouts Of America. You as Den leader, you have let the world of scouting know about Sikhism way of life. Our world of today need to.know about other religions of the world. You have done that we as Sikhs are very thankful to you. Keep up the great job you have been doing.
Keep up the good work of encouraging young sikh boys to join scouting and be better person
Kavneet Singh Great job just read you article here in the uk
Myself and my friends have run a sikh scout group in the uk for 19 years and looking to start a network of scouters on worldwide level to share ideas and good practices
Please contact us anyone who reads this and is a scouter and would like to get involved
Moderator of scouting we would especially like to contact Kavneet singh
A wonderful story. I am a Jewish Wood Badger in North Florida who constantly answers honest questions about faith from scouts who may not have ever met another Jewish scout or scouter. Scouting has provided a wonderful open community for everyone to find common ground for over a century. It’s one thing we do exceptionally well.
However, this article misses an important point. Which Wood Badge patrol does Kavneet belong to? Any chance that he’s a fellow beaver?
He is an Eagle and I am proud to say I was in his patrol!!
Sikhs have always been an integral part of Scouting – at Baden Powell’s funeral they pulled the casket – https://youtu.be/AsfvTeE88eY
As a fellow scouter belonging to a very small religious minority (Baha’i Faith), I love seeing articles like this. When I was a scout, no religious award existed for Baha’is to earn; one was approved just as I was aging out. I think it’s so important for members of religious minorities to have an emblem they can earn in their own faith. I have enormous respect for the Sikh faith and am actually going right now to search for the religious emblems workbook.
Good job Kavi! You and your boys have accomplished so much thru Scouting, thank you for all you do!
I had the sincere honor to meet Scouter Kavneet Pannu at the 2017 National Jamboree. I can honestly say that he gave me one of the most profound and memorable experiences while I was there. I was the beneficiary of his physical gift when he wrapped one of his turbans around my head, but I was also deeply affected by what I experienced throughout the day as various folks gave me the quizzical looks in what must be one of the safest environments, surrounded by Scouters from around the world. When standing near the religious tent that Scouts and Scouters all were enjoying the camaraderie of putting on the turban, it was easy to wear your turban since you were one of the masses. As you left the vicinity, you quickly started to learn what it must be like to be a Sikh (as a minority) among those that question the headdress or the religion. In fact, I kept my internal promise to myself that I would be a Sikh for an entire day…even though it also meant I attended a Jewish religious service later that evening wearing the turban, and ultimately had to explain myself dozens of times throughout the day. I was truly humbled and then also found great joy when my son decided to visit Kavneet during a rainstorm to ask dozens of questions and see the passion he feels about Sikhs in Scouting. You are a superb mentor to your sons and you have much to be proud of. Truly a hero in my book! I am so glad he is being honored with the writing of this article.
Do you know how to obtain Sikh emblem for 10 yr old Cub scout in Maryland and whom to contact?
Check this NJ page for info: http://www.gardenstatescouting.org/sikhs-and-scouting. Try contacting: Email: email@example.com; Website:www.americansikhcouncil.org
Thank you for this article! And Thanks to Kavneet Singh for all of the work he put into sharing his faith with America. I am the Religious Emblems Coordinator for a Catholic charter in Columbus, OH and we have a Cub in our Pack that needs the Ik Onkaar book to earn his religious emblem. I found it on a New Jersey council site, but it says that it cannot be reproducer without permission. How can I purchase the workbook for him? Thank you!