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540 Years On ... Confusion Reigns as to Who are Sikhs?

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Admin Singh, Jan 20, 2010.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    Admin SPNer

    Jun 1, 2004
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    540 Years Later ... Confusion Reigns

    by T. SHER SINGH

    This Year - 2010 - is the Year of the Census in the United States and many other parts of the world. The following is offered as some food for thought as we prepare to be counted!

    One of the most significant things that European immigration brought to North America was confusion.

    It began with Columbus.

    Driven by greed - not an interest in the scenery, anthropology or spirituality - he feverishly searched for India.

    But, he was also not the brightest of lights.

    With a twist of irony that only history is capable of, he landed in the Americas. Believing he had arrived in India, he promptly named the natives ‘Indians'.

    Ever since, confusion has reigned and continues to this very day. We have inherited this legacy and are left to grapple with their stupidities.

    Contemporaneous to Columbus' drooling for the riches of India, the Sikh Faith was born in Punjab, an area lying in the northern vicinity of the sub-continent.

    In the centuries that followed, Europeans went about busily 'discovering' various lands - yes, 'discover!' even though full-fledged civilizations had been inhabiting these places from time immemorial.

    And named them all "India" or the "Indies".

    They also 'discovered' the Americas. That created a problem.

    How do you distinguish the Indians of the Americas from the Indians of India, for example?

    Hence, Red Indians, East Indians, West Indians ...

    In 1897, my ancestors - Sikhs from Punjab - reciprocated by 'discovering' the Americas.

    Now, we need to remember that by this time the British Empire had had a substantial presence - not unlike that of 'Jabba the Hutt' of Star Wars fame, I might add - on the sub-continent for almost 300 years. And knew the Sikhs well, especially since they had been major players in the Raj during much of the 19th century.

    Oddly though, despite the close relationship, the British and other Europeans had a lot of difficulty remembering how to spell 'S-I-K-H'. I jest not ... after all, it was before they discovered ginseng and ginko biloba!

    A simple four letter-word, believe it or not, ‘Sikh' has been mis-spelled by our friends in no less than 21 - yes, TWENTY-ONE - different ways. You don't have to take my word; Dr. Ganda Singh, the great Sikh scholar, has culled them from his research and lists them as follows:


    If this doesn't prove that the Europeans are indeed a superior civilization and were gifted to us from outer space, nothing else will! Who else could do so much with just four letters ... and without even trying?

    As Sikh immigration trickled in, people here in Canada - (which was an intimate part of the British Empire and freely shared its booty) - struggled with how to refer to the immigrants. Of course, calling them by their actual name simply would not do. [That would be too mischievous!]

    Mackenzie King, an influential bureaucrat and budding politician during this period ... and a committed racist ... promptly insulted them by labelling them "Hindoos"!

    [You need to know one other thing about our Mackenzie King. Riding on the racism tiger, he later became Prime Minister of Canada. He was the author of the term "White Man's Country", and he wasn‘t talking about snow, believe me. Not long after he died, his diaries were discovered and they revealed that he conducted all his affairs, including of the Canadian Government and Parliament, under the close guidance of his dead mother ... who communicated to him through the ether via his dog, who was alive and reportedly ‘conversed' with him everyday! I swear none of this is made up ... this is pure, unadulterated history and this is the stuff with which these lands were 'civilized', to borrow a term from George W."]

    Then, in the decades that followed, Canada discovered, first, that women were actually "persons" and should be given the right to vote. Second: that Sikhs, Chinese, Japanese and others, too, were ‘persons' and should be given equal rights.

    At that point, my people - Sikh-Canadians - were once again thrown within the general rubric of, first, "Asians", and then, back to "East Indians".

    The post-World-War II period saw the world become smaller. We learned more about each other. The veils of ignorance were torn down.

    Thus, by the end of the dastardly twentieth century, we had entered a new age of enlightenment. Bureaucrats finally acknowledged that it would indeed help us all if we knew more about the true demographics of this country. Statistics Canada decided to ask a few more questions in the census. It released its report - and dropped a bombshell!

    My daughter and I - and all Sikh-Canadians, almost half-a-million of them - are now referred to as "South Asians".

    The English are English - not West Europeans. The French are French, not Mid-West-Coastal Europeans.

    But Sikhs ... and other Indians, as well as Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Nepalese, Bhutanese, Sikkimis, and Lord knows who else, are henceforth South Asians!

    South Asians?

    I own a colossal dictionary. It has 460,000 entries, 2764 pages. It is so heavy, it has to sit on a solid oak pedestal. And, you know, there is no entry for "South Asian".


    After a modern and fully-recorded history of 540 years on this planet, and 113 years in Canada, my people have now been given a designation that has no meaning, no history, no pride, no commonality, no language, no flag, no literature, no tradition, no heritage ... nothing!

    Just think about it - when you hear the term, does it bring tears of pride to your eyes, does it warm the cockles of your heart when you hear the words uttered? Just like an Englishman conjures up Henry V's oration when he hears the word "England", or the way our heart swells when we think of Ranjit Singh or sing "Deh shiva bar mohe ihai ..."

    Will somebody in some bureaucracy explain to me, please, who are the "South Asians" and why are they being bunched together?

    Or under any alien rubric!

    Why are we labelled Asians in some countries, Blacks in others, Coloreds in some, and South Asians ... ?

    What do the Chinese and the Japanese have in common with my people, in a census? In the same context, what do blacks from around the world have in common with my people?

    And, for that matter, what do the Sri Lankans and the Bangladeshi, or the Sikh and the Tamil, have in common that demands they be thrown into a common, faceless category, while statistics pertaining to the Irish, Scots, Germans, Italians, Jews, etc., are collected without any difficulty - and regardless of the expense?

    Is there mischief involved in this, or is it merely negligence and/or ignorance?

    Here's some more food for thought ...

    In and across the diaspora, Sikhs are a majority in the context of people from the sub-continent. Furthermore, once outside the artificiality of India, the component communities fragment as soon as their members get off the boat ... into Bengalis, Gujratis, Tamils, Marathis, Malyalees, Kashmiris, Keralites.

    On the other hand, Sikhs, despite all the challenges in the world, have remained relatively united - or as united as it is humanly possible, under the circumstances.

    Therefore, living in this truly democratic countries where resources are doled out in accordance to numbers and votes, it doesn't help if you're a desi. And it doesn't help if you belong to this caste or that, or that you have an uncle from your village in some ‘high' place. All that count are numbers and votes.

    Hence, maybe, the invention of this hitherto unknown creature called 'South Asian'. The desis ride on the coat-tails of all the communities - especially the Sikhs - and garner the resources then proportioned to the whole lot. Sadly, the resources then get applied to the vested interests of a few greedy ones.

    For example, go to any Department of Indian Studies in any university and see if there is even a trace of anything Sikh in its environs. Go to any function held with the involvement of India's diplomats - the fellas who are meant to represent ALL Indians - and all you'll see will be idols and official poojas of strange devis and devtas, as if the Constitution of India was secretly changed one night under cover of darkness and India has now officially become a land of idol-worshippers. No respect or consideration for, no sensitivity to Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Jews .... whatsoever!

    Thus, they've learnt to stand on our shoulders but remain pigmies - at our expense! And we are nowhere to be seen or heard in their corridors.

    It is time we stood tall and proud as Sikhs ... undiluted, unadulterated Sikhs! If we are to be counted like the others, we are SIKHS, not Indians, not Punjabis, not East Indians, not Asians, not Blacks, not Coloreds ... just Sikhs!

    This is not being parochial or provincial. Either we go all the way with Guru Nanak's message, all of us - that the 'Whole Human Race is One' - and label ourselves as nothing but Humans. Or, if we indeed need a breakdown for administrative purposes, let's be thorough and accurate.

    So, if you really want to know:

    My daughter and I are Canadians, like other Canadians are. We are Sikhs, exactly the way you are Christian or Jewish or whatever. We are of Indian origin - and proud of it - the way you are of Welsh or Italian origin, or whatever. We speak English the way you do. But my mother tongue is Punjabi, just as yours is English, or French, or whatever.

    If you are Italian-American, Afro-American, English-Canadian, French-Canadian, etc., remember ... we are Sikh-American, Sikh-Canadian, Sikh-Briton, Sikh-Kiwi, Sikh-Indian, Sikh-Aussie, etc.

    And, for heaven's sake - categories such as Chinese, Korean, English, Japanese, etc., I can comprehend.

    How on earth did you get to "South Asian"?

    And why?

    January 19, 2010

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  3. Arvind

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    SPNer Contributor Supporter

    Jul 13, 2004
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    'Seyque'.. sounds quite creative!

    I believe, author has spoken for most of the sikhs here, and I am happy he did so.

    With Regards, Arvind.

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