Book Reviews

The Sikh Diaspora The Search for Statehood

From the very title of this book evokes a heart-rending dilemma in my mind: the term 'Diaspora' brings to mind the Jewish plight whereby the community dispersed throughout the world after being let loose from Babylonian bondage. Sikhs have suffered no such enforced dispersal. Whether they were taken abroad to perform police and soldierly duties by the Rajwallahs,or emigrated to different parts of the world in search of economic betterment, they have chosen to move out and settle abroad. So where is the Diaspora?  The other horn of the dilemma piercing my mind is this mythical search for statehood, based on Mr Chohan's blunderbust utterances in the comfort and security of London about the Sikhs having 'always been an independent nation', to save Sikhism from dilution and absorption in the sea of Hindu India. Demand for Khalistan, 'the land of the pure' played havoc with secular credentials of a major democratic power in the post-colonial world.

I have read with careful interest the community's attempts at re-asserting their traditional identity through the observance of religious practices and an insistence on keeping their symbolism of five 'K's even in foreign lands. These are community's internal needs for keeping a faith and an identity. The Sikh community settled abroad has shown commendable resourcefulness and zeal in keeping those elements of their faith alive. But these neither require nor justify a demand for statehood.

Dr D.S.Tatla is a well-read man and that seat on the academic staff in Warwick University affords him ample time and opportunity to have access to a lot of written (and in-print) material. This is apparent from a generous sprinkling of quotations throughout the book from various well-known scholars in the field of 'Sikh studies' all over the world. Also the bibliography and the list of other documents/ articles published/ unpublished appended at the end, from whence the quotations have been drawn, is quite impressive. If mere repetition of a case were to be deemed the proof positive of its being true, then case for 'separate Homeland' is amply proved. But I, and many other thinking people, stand unconvinced. All that can be seen so far is that there is a proposition being made, but neither the proponents have yet made a case for it, nor has it got much of a chance of being proved'and the acceptance of such a proposal is light years away.

What I find rather amazing is a frequent reference to ethnicity of the Sikhs. I am a layman, and I am a born and brought-up Punjabi. Within my family, there are many members who subscribe to Sikh faith. Some of them are shaven (Mon') Sikhs; there are some who observe the sanctity of the five 'K's and areAmritdh'r's. In the words of Khushwant Singh, Hindus and Sikhs have an unbroken tradition of sharing bread and blood: Rot'-Bet' k' risht'.There is no ethnic difference or divide between the two communities. '

The first Guru, Guru Nanak launched a movement to purge the life of the (Hindu) community of all that burden of rituals generated and imposed by Pandits andPurohits as much as with the aim of cleansing that sense of oppression and gloom created by the oppressive Muslim regime of the day. He was a Humanist reformer, not an inventor of a new God. Successive Gurus fought their battles against the Muslim oppression in our homeland. In the process they also consolidated the spiritual regime with the temporal power and purged theGurudw'r's of those sticky-fingered and lecherous Mahants who were controlling the religious establishment. Bravo !'I say to them. Something that mainstream Hindus have not managed to do as yet.

The 10th Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, the creator of Kh'ls', also gave his life and the life of his sons, defending the profundity of the Hindu tradition. When he declared that henceforth there shall be no more temporal Gurus and that in future the Sikhs should follow the teachings of their forefathers contained in theGranth, he gave us a kind of written constitution which could not be tampered with the opportunists on the path of history. When he uttered 'take the Good Book to be the Guru' [Guru m'niyo Granth ]he did not create a new idol for idiots to worship; he urged them to use their brains and read the teachings of their forefathers and absorb the profundity thereof into their lives.

Culturally, ethnically, ancestry-wise, the Hindus, the Sikhs and Mussalmans of Punjab are no different from each other. They are, almost all, plain, hardworking, gregarious Jats who love life and lead it boisterously. This demand for a state called Khalistan has no validity on any ground.

To enumerate some reasons for this 'contentious' claim of mine, I would like to point out that (1) not all Sikhs come from Punjab; they are spread all over the subcontinent. [Tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh himself was born in Patna, Bihar and did not even speak Punjabi: most of his work is composed in Awadhi, Braj-bhasha and Farsi. (2) Sikhs have never had a state. They made conquests and raised kingdoms, i.e. the Sikh kingdom of  Ranjit Singh. Kingdoms don't constitute a state and don't allocate a nationality to the dwellers of that kingdom; they merely denote a temporal possession which is like quicksand and often changes with the passage of time.

Also this talk of Hindus oppressing their Sikh brethren, and breaches of human rights is rather tenuous. Police brutality, and violation of citizens' human rights, is an ugly fact of life in most countries of the East. Unforgivable, but a fact of life nevertheless. That requires a change in the 'police-culture' in these countries, not a rush for the creation of separate homelands for anyone who can terrorise the civilian population of the land. And, in case of India at least, most of the law-enforcement excesses are more than likely to have been committed by the Sikhs themselves who are major contributors to the army and police uniforms. Creation of a new 'homeland for the Sikhs' won't purge the place of that oppression.

And final refutation of the validity of a separate nation-state called Kh'list'n which means the land of the Kh'ls' comes  from within the community. You can't call it a 'Sikh homeland' and name it Kh'list'n in the same breath. All Sikhs are not Kh'ls'. There are other sects within the Sikh community which don't subscribe to the virulent and violent streak of Sikhism to which some prosperous, often foreign-based, land-owning  j'ts have resorted to.

According to these plenipotentiaries of Kh'list'n, shaven Sikhs (or even those who use 'fixo' or other similar cosmetic products, to smarten-up their facial hair) are not true Sikhs; the Aml' Sikhs and R'm-garhiy' Sikhs are not a part of  'true Sikhdom'; then those who eat meat, [close down all eateries in Southall of London and Soho Road of Birmingham and, perhaps, in Queens district of New York] and those who consume alcohol [shoot that Sikh gentleman who was seen all across the world on television, swigging Whiskey from a bottle in the middle of a public park in Ealing, in mid-eighties,and shouting 'Raaj kare gaa, Khaalsaa!'in his fulsome voice)  or other intoxicants defile Sikh faith; and those who do not subscribe to the demand for a separate Sikh state don't even belong to human race. Therefore, if the demand for an independent Sikh homeland in Punjab were to be considered on the basis of a 'Sikh majority', there are hardly any Sikhs left in Punjab or anywhere else.

For the most part, the movement for the creation of a separate Sikh homeland, called Kh'list'n is a mission being pursued by so called 'Diaspora Sikhs' who have made some money, have mustered up enough ambition to play politics, are not happy with crumbs being thrown at them by their host societies and, therefore, have chosen to play havoc at home where dollars, DMs and pounds can buy more rabble-raisers than they would in these parts. These protagonists of Kh'list'n are courting martyrdom by proxy. They have nothing much to loose if the movement fails.

Their outrage at Operation Blue Star is as phoney as a '3-note. I, for one, hold no brief for the army action in Amritsar. [The terrorist misusing the sanctuary of the Golden Temple could have been, and should have been, routed out much earlier and in a far simpler operation. Mrs Gandhi was badly advised at the time and she paid for it with her life.] But where were these 'Diaspora' defenders of their faith when Bhindaranwale and his gun-toting goons were fortifying the innermost sanctums of this holy shrine and defiling Guru Nanak's message of peace and harmony. Places of worship must never be turned into nests of terrorists, to whatever faith-groups they belong.

In one extract the author claims that there were no signs of Hindu-Sikh disharmony amongst the overseas Indian communities, though I could quote some vile and gruesome examples of communal venom spilling out on the streets of Nottingham and Derby, and some white-bearded, saintly-looking Sikh buzurgdistributing laddoos in a public park in Southall to 'celebrate' the assassination of Indira Gandhi. But then Delhi riots occurred and bestiality of Hindu Jats and their political puppet-masters had also spilled out. However, I am afraid credit for that 'no signs of Hindu-Sikh disharmony amongst the overseas Indian communities' must go to the law-and order machinery of the Western, host governments and not to the 'peace-loving' temperament of Sikh gun-runners who were busily raiding Singh Sabha treasuries of the most Gurdwaras in the Western capitals. [In some cases, even the fellow Sikhs, opposed to such denigration of the holy places, were brutally murdered by their brethren.]

Finally, if merely the presence of a large number of people, on the basis of their distinctive apparel and ritualistic practices were to demand a separate state and claim nationhood, how soon shall we hope to see a similar demand being mounted in Southall, Gravesend, West Midlands, parts of New York California, suburbs of Vancouver, or in the farming hinterland of Australia's North-West territories? And how many learned Pundits of politics in the West will step forward to support them. Won't then the shoe start pinching?


More by :  Shreeram Vidyarthi

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