Mr. Singh Goes to Washington, Er, Ottawa

As part of its series on the upcoming federal elections in Canada, the Globe and Mail offers this article on the emergence and success of Sikhs in the Canadian political scene. Consider:politics-300x213.jpg

  • Sikhs [are] the only group with a greater number of MPs than their share of the population.
  • [In the House of Commons,] Punjabi is now the fourth most common language, after English, French and Italian.
  • Many Sikh candidates live in Mississauga and Brampton, where they comprise 15 per cent and 19 per cent of the population respectively.
  • [There are] 17 Punjabi newspapers in Brampton [Link]

These statistics are very impressive. I applaud the Sikh candidates for their participation in Canadian politics (which cuts against the suggestion that Sikhs are not sufficiently integrating into Canadian society). And I thank this publication for highlighting the political advancements that Sikhs are making in Canada.

That said, I am troubled by two parts of the article:

First, the article quotes Myer Siemiatycki, a professor at Ryerson University, who said: The Sikhs are united and know they have to be politically active to defend their interests…. The black and Chinese communities are more internally diverse and divided.

Really? Any Sikh who has attended a gurdwara in the United States, Canada, or England for a prolonged period of time has likely witnessed the divisive and sometimes violent struggles over power, where the competing factions are divided by class, “caste,” and/or ideology. I vividly remember seeing a brawl in my gurdwara because one group of Sikhs, generally consisting of service providers, felt insulted by another group of Sikhs, which was comprised mainly of professionals.

Further, any Sikh who has lived near a major metropolitan area in the West has probably seen the proliferation of gurdwaras, not to accommodate growing members of the community, but because of doctrinal differences. For example, in my area, a group of Sikhs broke off from a larger gurdwara because of a disagreement as to whether only amritdharis should manage the gurdwara’s affairs. I also recall hearing of a controversy in England in which two gurdwaras served the same town — one allowed individuals to eat langar on tables, while the other required all to sit on the floor.

To be sure, I bring up issues that may reflect “internal” problems as opposed to whether Sikhs are united on substantive “Canadian” political issues. But the suggestion that the Sikh community is united struck me as particularly problematic (if not factually wrong) given the inability of Sikhs to unify in their own places of worship.

This leads me to the second troublesome part of the article — a statement by Parm Gill, a Tory candidate who asserts that Sikhs’ social values are closer to the Conservatives.” Gill’s remark may be set aside as purely political in that he’s insinuating that Sikhs will and should vote for the Conservatives.

But politics aside, it’s difficult for me to believe that the Sikh vote can be equated either with a Conservative or Liberal vote. Again, it seems to me that the community is sufficiently diverse with respect to social and fiscal issues that the community cannot be categorized wholesale as a Conservative or Liberal group.

Perhaps there is a generational reason for this diversity — the Sikhs who arrived from South Asia may be more likely to be socially conservative, whereas Sikhs born in the West may be more likely to be socially liberal. But that dichotomy seems too crude to be satisfactory or reliable.

In short, Sikhs should be praised for entering and doing well in the political arena. The underlying community, however, is more politically diverse and internally fractured than some would care to admit.


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8 Responses to “Mr. Singh Goes to Washington, Er, Ottawa”

  1. saihaj says:

    Well said. The Sikh community is very divided and while it is great to hear about political representation of Sikhs, I wonder how much of it is simply a status thing (Punjabis love being put up on a platform) and how much is a sincere desire and drive to be in a position where one can affect positive change for the community they represent. I don't see any benefit in the overrepresentation of Sikhs in political office if they don't address the issues that inflict our community.

  2. Sundari says:

    I don’t see any benefit in the overrepresentation of Sikhs in political office if they don’t address the issues that inflict our community.

    Yes, as mentioned in Camille's post – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent trip to France – was an example where a Sikh in a political position couldn't seem to impact positive change for the ban of turbans in French schools.

  3. saihaj says:

    Well said. The Sikh community is very divided and while it is great to hear about political representation of Sikhs, I wonder how much of it is simply a status thing (Punjabis love being put up on a platform) and how much is a sincere desire and drive to be in a position where one can affect positive change for the community they represent. I don’t see any benefit in the overrepresentation of Sikhs in political office if they don’t address the issues that inflict our community.

  4. Sundari says:

    I dont see any benefit in the overrepresentation of Sikhs in political office if they dont address the issues that inflict our community.

    Yes, as mentioned in Camille’s post – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent trip to France – was an example where a Sikh in a political position couldn’t seem to impact positive change for the ban of turbans in French schools.

  5. Prem says:

    People shouldn't stand for office on the basis of being a 'Sikh' politician. They should stand for office on the basis of serving everyone. Sikhs should not ghettoise themselves or play the ethnic card. Just be good integrated citizens of whichever country you live in.

  6. Prem says:

    People shouldn’t stand for office on the basis of being a ‘Sikh’ politician. They should stand for office on the basis of serving everyone. Sikhs should not ghettoise themselves or play the ethnic card. Just be good integrated citizens of whichever country you live in.

  7. P.Singh says:

    Just be good integrated citizens of whichever country you live in.

    Overwhelmingly, Sikhs are good integrated citizens whereever they reside.

  8. P.Singh says:

    Just be good integrated citizens of whichever country you live in.

    Overwhelmingly, Sikhs are good integrated citizens whereever they reside.