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Scholar Extraordinaire




Professor Jerry Barrier's passing away, soon after Hew McLeod's departure, is a great blow to many of us engaged in studying the Sikhs.

He was, like Hew McLeod and Mark Juergensmeyer, one of the chief architects who had laboured hard for shaping Sikh Studies as a distinct academic discipline in the West. In the 1970s, when they were all trying to give the Sikh Studies a place of honour within the academic framework, they joined hands to organize the First Berkeley Sikh Studies Conference. Its proceedings were soon published and Professor Barrier was one of its editors (1979).

He had already with him more than a long decade of invaluable experience of working at the grassroots level of primary sources.

In the early 1960s, he had worked like a bare-foot historian and devoted much of his time in the collection of raw materials of Punjab/ Sikh history. This is the reason why he was initially known to a few old book sellers and publishers of Delhi as a bibliophile and nothing more. Those years of hard work introduced him to the by-lanes of Sikh history, enriched his understanding about the significance of printed source materials and turned him into a first-rate researcher on the Sikh renaissance movement. It remained his first love. He continued to dialogue with it throughout his life and that earned him universal admiration for his pioneering contributions in this field. Actually he had made us all aware of the relevance and potentiality of the print-culture in reconstructing the Sikh past of the Singh Sabha days.

If Hew McLeod had pioneered research on the textual sources of the Sikh studies, Jerry Barrier completed the circle by drawing our attention to the contributions of the Sikh fathers of the print-culture. His association with the discipline thus goes back to the early 1960s.

I first came to be aware of his scholarship though his work on the Punjab Land Alienation Act (1901) published by the Duke University Press in the mid 1960s. Through his work on Punjab, he became deeply interested in the Sikh past. These years of hard work of the 1960s received his distinct stamp of scholarship through three of his publications: (i) "The Sikhs and their Literature" (1971) and (ii) "The Punjab Press'' (perhaps1970) which he had co-edited with Professor Paul Wallace (often bracketed with Jerry Barrier as the Missouri Twins) and (iii) "A Guide to Banned Books" preserved in the British Library collection (perhaps 1976).

The future generation of Sikh scholarship would continue to remember him for his numerous pioneering bibliographical works. While working in this field, he had not forgotten to remember pioneers like Professor Ganda Singh of the Punjabi University. These works also brought him closer to a number of Punjabi scholars. His relationship with them (particularly with Professor Harbans Singh, then engaged in editing the ‘Encyclopaedia of Sikhism') resulted in the publication of a wonderful publication entitled: "Essays in Honour of Professor Ganda Singh" (1976).

I had the privilege of meeting him for the first time in 1987 during the period of the Toronto and Berkeley conferences on Sikh Studies. During the Toronto session, he had kindly commented on my paper and encouraged me like a friend, as if we were long known to each other. This friendly, personal touch made my days memorable and I still cherish those memories. Our last meeting took place during the UCR seminar, days after a gap of nearly two decades. Professor Jerry Barrier continued to remain the same old friend encouraging his fellow travellers in the field of Sikh Studies.

Professor Barrier is no more but he has left behind a memory of a smiling face ever in admiration of those who had laboured hard for the cause of Sikh Studies, and who in return gave him his love.


[Dr. Himadri Banerjee, who holds the Guru Nanak Chair in Indian History at Jadavpur University's Department of History, has been working on Sikhs and Sikhism in eastern India for several years now. His book, The Other Sikhs: A View from Eastern India is widely regarded as a path-breaking work on the Sikhs and their history and heritage in the Assamese, Oriya and Bengali traditions.]

June 8, 2010

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