Diaspora Sikhs in Punjab

Joint Post by Reema and Singh

The Book Club recently commented on the terminology and applicability of the term ‘diaspora’ to the Punjabi community outside Punjab-and whether ‘diaspora’ can apply to a group that won’t be returning to the homeland. For more discussion of the term, check out the Book Club.

We wanted to explore that tangent a little more – the idea of returning to the homeland, and how distant of a reality it actually might be.

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An interesting piece by an Indian-American journalist, who was born in the US and returned to India to write, explores this theme.

It was five years ago that I left America to come live and work in India. Now, in our family and among our Indian-American friends, other children of immigrants are exploring motherland opportunities. The idea is spreading virally through migr households across the West. [Source]

You might assume that motherland opportunities for foreign-born Sikhs are in the cities – in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, and Chandigarh. And if you’re thinking of business opportunities, that might be true. But Sikhs are drawn to Punjab for a number of reasons: for humanitarian work, community building activities, and unique educational experiences. With a growing number of international organizations like United Sikhs, and in the past Fateh offering opportunities for work and study in Punjab; academies like MiriPiri Academy in Amritsar LINK and Akal Academy at Baru Sahib (in neighboring HP); and foreign universities offer programs tailored to those interested in connected or reconnecting with Punjab – going back to the motherland has become easier than ever.

For instance, UCSB has offered a summer program in Sikh studies.

The program is built around a core curriculum in the history of the region from 1500 BCE to the present; Punjabi language both at the elementary and the advanced levels; and an extensive schedule of field visits. The latter have ranged from pre-Harappan archaeological sites in Ropar to ancient Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples at Baijnath, Jawala Mukhi, Kangra, Masroor, Naina Devi, and Sanghol; Islamic monuments at Batala, Kapurthala, Nakodar Nurmahal, Sirhind, Sikh sacred places from Sultanpur to Anandpur, and the immigrant Tibetan-Buddhist community in Dharamsala. Participants have the opportunity to explore the lush green post-monsoon Punjab plains from Delhi to the Indo-Pakistan border post at Wagah, and travel in the Shivalik hills from Hardwar to Kangra. Insha’llah, the traditional center of Punjabi culture at Lahore will be the next landmark to be featured on the SPPS’s travel map. [Source]

While, a growing number of Sikhs are taking advantage of these structured opportunities, less formal alternatives, such as going back and setting up a clinic in a village or taking 6 months to study classical kirtan with an ustaad at a taksaal, have also offered the opportunity for connecting with Punjab.

There seems to be a cross-fertilization of ideas and a deepening (or at least a continuing) of the connection between diaspora Punjabis and those still in Punjab because of the increasing number of individuals returning to Punjab (even for short time periods). It’s interesting is that more and more of our peers are returning to the land that our parents left for many of the very same reasons: education, broadening horizons, and life experience…

Countries like India once fretted about a “brain drain.” We are learning now that “brain circulation,” as some call it, may be more apt. India was not exporting brains, but investing them. It sent millions away. In the freedom of new soil, they flowered. They seeded a new generation that, having blossomed, did what humans have always done: chase the frontier of the future.

Which just happened, for many of us, to be the frontier of our own pasts. [Source]


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