Kids Corner


The Sikhs? Who Are They?



We learnt the other day in the news that the World Sikh Organization in Canada has sued the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) for its "dishonest and highly offensive" documentary (aired in July, 2007) which, the lawsuit argues, "contained significant and numerous factual misrepresentations" about Sikhs. 

We will leave it to the courts to sort this one out but, in contemporary times within a highly multiracial, multicultural country, the suit does raise an interesting, even vital question:

If a people hope to flourish as a minute minority within a greater multi-culture, what is their responsibility to get their message out, the information they want the masses to understand about them?

Even though I fully accept their right to thrive in this country, I don't know the first thing about Sikhs. But the mash-up of images I have of them isn't very flattering: headgear, daggers, airplanes, court rooms, violence, hatred, maleness ... well, you get the picture.

I'm not proud of this, but I don't think I have created this negative mash-up. I think the Sikhs are responsible for it by their total lack of interest in telling me and all their fellow countrymen who they are. Failing that, we rely only on newspaper headlines to learn their story and they haven't been pretty.

As it turns out, I had seen the CBC documentary referred to in the lawsuit. It included indelible images that have been made a part of my negative mash-up of the Sikh religion and culture.

But here's my point: when you aren't given any positive images of a culture, you naturally absorb the negative.

I have repeatedly used the term "negative mash-up" here because that's the way all these largely unfavourable images have been put together in my brain. But, in fact, I know enough about the religion, the Punjab and their fabulously colourful cultural expressions to suppose that Sikh-Canadians are a wonderful people, who will make Canada stronger and more interesting.

But I'm just supposing that, because they are doing nothing to draw me to that conclusion.

Sikhs, like every minority in Canada, have an obligation to explain to all their countrymen the religion and culture they are celebrating within society at large.

Once they make that effort, they will find a very attentive audience.


[Courtesy: Carson's Post]

[Photos: Top of this page  -  photo by Anthony Begovi. First from bottom  -  photo by Charles Meacham. Second from bottom  -  photo by Gurumustuk Singh (] 

Conversation about this article

1: Jagdeep Singh (London, U.K.), July 12, 2007, 9:34 AM.

As long as there is a section in the diaspora that is belligerent about integrating into mainstream activities, subscribes to a fundamentalist and extreme dogma, carries out actions like rioting outside a theatre in full view of the world's media, making death threats against writers, fomenting violence inside our Gurdwaras; as long as there are people like this amongst us, no amount of PR can compensate for the damage caused by incidents like that. Repudiate extremism, get involved, participate in our respective societies at all levels and in all sectors, so that the public face of the Sikhs are the likes of Monty Panesar and Gurinder Chadha, to use just two examples. Only then will we be rid of these stereotypes that are caused in the primary instance by those who are selfish and don't really care about the welfare of the Sikh diaspora at all; and those who would rather blame the media, than search within for the backward atavisim that plagues and haunts us, despite all our successes.

2: Narinder Singh (Australia), July 13, 2007, 1:16 PM.

Sikhs have been fighting AGAINST terrorism for five centuries. In fact, the face of the Indian sub-continent would be quite different today, but for the incredible sacrifices made by them in protecting it from what you would term "terrorism" today. I wish the documentary maker who made the inaccurate and malicious film which was recently shown on CBC in Canada had first taken the trouble of educating himself/herself about Sikhs, their history, and the role they have played at every juncture of their eventful history, all the way to today!

3: Gurujot Singh (Espanola, U.S.A.), July 13, 2007, 2:10 PM.

I think it's foolish to say "It's their fault if they don't know us", which I have heard some say before. I agree that we need to get out there and make ourselves known. This is actually a part of Sikhism, in my opinion. I think part of 'seva' is to serve all of humanity. If we do so, the rest will follow.

4: Prabhu Singh Khalsa (Española, New Mexico, U.S.A.), July 13, 2007, 2:22 PM.

I'm constantly reading news articles about Sikhs doing great works of seva in Canada. The problem is, none of these stories ever seem to be in the mainstream media, as somehow are the sensationalist and inaccurate pieces we see at regular intervals on "terrorism". I saw the recent CBC broadcast on the youtube and saw how we have been grossly misrepresented by the so-called "Sikh" polticians (a la Ujjal Dusanjh), as well as by those who hide behind the Sikh roop to spew their extremist ideas and hateful views. We seem to be plagued from both extremes of the spectrum. I hope that this site will work hard at dispelling these misrepresentations.

5: Harbinder Singh (U.K.), July 13, 2007, 3:19 PM.

Painful as they are, the author makes many valuable points. As a community, we remain lethargic and indiiferent to issues of public relations. All too often, we react to events rather than set the agenda and portray ourselves positively. Self-propaganda by individuals is the norm, as opposed to subscription to a wider and community effort, to influence and manage public opinion.

6: Pal Singh (Toronto, Canada), July 13, 2007, 3:57 PM.

Before we address our PR needs, we need to educate ourselves and to get our act together. The behaviour of those who are misusing and abusing the gurdwaras is simply unacceptable. We need to clean house, before we do anything else! So, before we blame anyone else, we need to weed out those within us who are to blame.

7: Chaudhry Rajinder Nijjhar (Reading, U.K.), July 13, 2007, 4:05 PM.

A Sikh is a student of spiritual knowledge.

8: Nadia (Delta, Canada), July 13, 2007, 6:54 PM.

What is often missed about Sikhism, in my opinion, is that Sikhism as a religious philosophy is mystical. Yet, a true Sikh works and contributes in a personal and a positive manner to family, community and society at large, but he/she remains detached. A true Sikh lives only to serve the Divine and lives only for Divine Grace. Everything else is unimportant!

9: Bhupinder (New Delhi, India), July 13, 2007, 10:55 PM.

My belief is that as we are living in a multicultural society and as the world is getting smaller, it is the duty of ALL of us to educate ourselves about other cultures and religions.

10: Bakhsish Singh (Brampton, Canada), July 13, 2007, 11:37 PM.

I fully agree with the writer. We have indulged ourselves in false pride. Our Guru told us to concentrate on good and clean living, and a life of simran. But instead, we are busy fighting against each other on foolish issues, without giving any attention to the surroundings. Our image is tarnished back home and now we seem to be at it, doing the same here. O Lord, give our people the "mat" to help them get out of this sorry state!

11: Gursevak Singh (Ottawa), July 14, 2007, 4:26 AM.

Canada considers itself a pluralistic society. Built by minorities. Yet there has always been a rift between what type of minority you are and, furthermore, how you are treated. A fine example was the incident of the Komagata Maru. Sikhs were deplorably treated, in what modern times would consider a vast human rights violation at the port of Vancouver in the early part of the century. Yet white immigrants were given land in the prairies for FREE, and asked to come by the boatloads. Our textbooks teach nothing of other cultures and faiths in schools, and yet we as Canadians are expected to know about other cultures just because we "see them on the street". It's high time our education system allowed for a better understanding of different faiths, cultures and value systems. Maybe then we shall build a more tolerant society. As for the CBC documentary, this is no surprise as nearly all media portrays Sikhs as fundamentalists. They ignore the fact that we donate 10% of our wealth to charity, and that we have been involved in numerous human rights projects including Hurricane Katrina and Tsunami Relief (1 million dollars in vaccines and medicines were donated, and Sikhs with Christians and Muslims organized boats when the military wouldn't). Alternatively, we as Sikhs must stop wielding rhetoric and instead address the real issues at hand, using the best weapons ... the pen, democratic action, and education.

12: D.Kaur (Canada), July 14, 2007, 10:30 AM.

Very good article !

13: Baljot (Anandpur, India), July 14, 2007, 5:57 PM.

This article is a reminder to the likes of our stars such as Monty Panesar, the Singh Twins, Khushwant Singh, etc, that they can and should do more as the public face and voice of the community.

14: Gurteg Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 14, 2007, 7:13 PM.

The use of terms like "fundamentalist" and "extremist" - especially in the manner in which they are bandied about willy-nilly by the mainstream media - is inappropriate, inaccurate and of little help in understanding the issues. It is unfortunate that these words have been used indiscriminately even by our own in the comments hereinabove. I suggest we should avoid regurgitating these terms blindly, and resort to more useful and accurate terminology, rather than take the intellectually lazy way out. A careful study of the issues will show anyone with an open mind, I'm confident, that these terms certainly do not apply to the Sikhs in any of the situations currently under scrutiny. .

15: Harnek Singh (Bangalore, India), July 15, 2007, 6:56 AM.

It is more to do with the Western media and the Western method of comprehension. To them, anything that looks different is weird and beyond comprehension. I don't believe it is any excuse that Sikhs are a minority. How would you explain the way India is depicted in the West and the Western media - all one is shown is images of poverty. Who is responsible for this? India?

16: Sohan Singh Deol (Brampton, Canada), July 15, 2007, 2:31 PM.

Many of our problems today began with 1947, when a separate Sikh country should have been created when a new India and Pakistan was carved out. The next blow came in 1955 when Nehru constitutionally lumped Sikhs in with Hindus ... e.g., all Sikh marriages were to be registered under the Hindu Marriages Act. Ever since, and continuing until today, the government there continues to play politics with us ...

17: Hari Singh Khalsa (Española, New Mexico), July 16, 2007, 9:02 AM.

Isn't anyone going to mention the obvious? Yes, there are some Sikhs and some sangats that could do a better job at PR. But there are those in the community who, by the sheer fact of being observant Khalsa Sikhs and following the full discpline of the faith, automatically attract queries and curiousity, directly and indirectly ... and these Sikhs valiantly respond each and every moment, as if, of each and every day of their lives by being goodwill ambassadors and teachers ... and always with a smile! On the other hand, the media bears a large portion of the responsibility for people's ignorance and bad impressions, for they have been derelict in their duty, and have consistently failed in portraying Sikhs properly and accurately. Nevertheless, this doesn't exonerate us from continuing to act on our own behalf.

18: Harjyot Singh (Canada), July 16, 2007, 9:30 AM.

While the article above raises good points for Sikhs, urging them to explain who they are to those around them, my question to the author is: In the internet age, surely it isn't too difficult for anyone to educate himself/herself on any topic of interest? What I mean is that the burden of responsiblity cannot solely be on the Sikhs. They are not guests in Canada; they are full-fledged citizens who have been here for a 100 years and more. I would suggest that all Canadians have the obligation to learn about each other, and about their nation ... as much as all of them have the obligation to teach each other about themselves.

19: Manjit Singh (U.S.A), July 16, 2007, 9:47 AM.

The Hindustan Times had an article in its July 16, 2007 issue on the water drainage problem in India. This piece and a number of others that have appeared on the issue recently, reveal a serious problem - there is no mention whatsoever anywhere of the serious drainage, recycling and sewage challenges faced by the people of Punjab. This is but the latest in a contiunuing pattern of neglect India has consistently shown towards Sikhs and Punjab throughout the six decades of the existence of this nation. Sikhs have been left on their own to defend their values, livelihood and educating themselves. The Sikh community will not only keep surviving and but emerge as a vibrarant and thriving community, as long as they have a passion for knowledge, education, truth, honesty, hard work, the Khalsa spirit of Chardi Kalaa, and maintaining their strong ethical values, no matter where they live.

20: Siri Datar Singh Khalsa (Phoenix, U.S.A.), July 16, 2007, 11:33 AM.

Following the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi in the aftermath of 9/11, we Sikhs living in Phoenix have redoubled our efforts to communicate with the larger community. This includes interaction with the government at all levels, the police at all levels (including the FBI), and being an active member of the Interfaith community and the general public. As an American-born Sikh, I would like to emphasize the need to go forward into the heat rather than try to become invisible, a typical immigrant strategy. Since we have somewhat of a cowboy system of testing newcomers, the solution is to stand tall in the face of whatever tests come your way and hold your ground. This approach is in the best tradition of Guru Gobind Singh.

21: Kulbir Singh Arora (India), July 17, 2007, 9:31 AM.

Sikhs are, by definition, gursevaks who should and will do anything and everything to uphold the values handed down by our Gurus.

22: Gagandeep Grewal (Windsor, Ontario, Canada), July 17, 2007, 9:46 AM.

I believe it is every Sikh's duty to work on projecting an accurate image of his/her community. Sadly, all that is known about Sikhs to many outsiders is that "they fight in their Gurdwaras" or that "they are extremists". It is high time that "mainstream" Sikhs stood up and publicly denounced the troublemakers and helped cut off their financial support. Education still does not make it to the top of the priority list for many Sikhs in Canada - even though the picture is entirely different in the U.S. It is imperative that our children be encouraged to pursue the highest education and involve themselves in the most meaningful careers.

23: Suchcha Singh (Virginia, U.S.A.), July 17, 2007, 1:06 PM.

I totally agree with S. Jagdeep Singh that there is a large section in the diaspora, especially 2nd and 3rd generation, that has virtually no knowledge of our background, religion and language. In many cases, their parents hail from rural and farming backgrounds, and some even take pride in spoiling their children, especially boys. Our youth can't afford to isolate themselves from the community at large. We must be aware of our moral and civic responsibilities towards society and do all that is necessary as good Sikhs.

24: Ajmer Garewal (Birmingham, UK), July 17, 2007, 2:01 PM.

Without strong leadership to unite the Khalsa Panth and move forward, so that we're setting are own agenda and not always reacting to bad press, we have no chance of convincing anyone else. Starting from Punjab - the Akaal Takht, the S.G.P.C. - and moving onto the different Sikh organisations around the world which are currently pulling in different directions and/or fighting against each other - a total re-organisation is required to unite the panth and to work towards a common aim and goal.

25: Pritpal Singh (New Delhi, India), July 17, 2007, 10:08 PM.

Sikhs have served and worked for the common, greater good of humanity throughout the five centuries of their history. It's a bit astonishing for me to read that the responsibility to make others aware of our existence lies only on us and not on others, to know and respect our dignity and existence.

26: Suzy Kaur (London, England), July 18, 2007, 8:20 AM.

There is a certain degree of denial about the extremism and fundamentalist thinking that exists in some sections of the community. In today's climate, we cannot afford to be in denial about this, especially when it has caused so many problems for us in the past and continues to do so. We cannot live in the West and cling to old country methods or mores. We simply cannot act with a backward, feudal mindset that some seem to have brought along with them. The majority of Sikhs don't live like that. But there is still a significant minority that does, and they are the ones that are grabbing the headlines. We need more progressive elements to represent us. And we need to get daring and marginalize those voices who assert a narrow, or an extreme, or a feudal mindset.

27: Jasbir Singh (Buena Park, U.S.A.), July 18, 2007, 9:29 AM.

We were just "sikhs", then the Tenth Master elevated us into Singhs (Lions)! It is not in the nature of lions to go around telling the whole jungle, or carrying banners saying he is a lion. What a lion needs to do is to live like a Lion ... the rest follows automatically!

28: P. Singh (Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada), July 18, 2007, 9:56 PM.

Before we blame others for bringing disrepute to us, I suggest we become worthy of a good reputation. I wish to state that in some Gurdwaras in Canada, even a Sikh does not feel comfortable in speaking freely and airing his/her views. Some in these places insist on running the institutions by force and by shouting people down. We do not allow others to make mistakes. We do not allow women to participate fully any more. In many of the Gurdwaras, yet another sacrilege: a non-Keshadhari Sikh cannot participate since the Keshadharis tend to muscle their way to the forefront in every committee. We need to accept the fact that every community, including ours, consists of a complete spectrum of believers. And we should be careful as to who become our spokespersons and who writes our Press Releases. It is imperative that we involve all segments of the community, and reflect the true opinions of its members.

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