IN THE COMPANY OF LIONS AND PRINCESSES: THE
SIKH COMMUNITY IN THE CANADIAN MOSAIC.
First, let me thank you for welcoming me to your community. I am an outsider in this community so that my perspectives on Sikhism are those of a newcomer. Since 1960 I have been involved in all aspects of community development in Canada, Britain and the United States.1 I am not a newcomer in that field, and this paper attempts to indicate some of the limitations and possibilities that Sikhs, as members of a community, face in a rapidly changing North American society.
Over the past year I have focussed attention in my research on mediating structures in community and organizational development2 . Such bodies stand between individuals and the larger entities of society.
“There is more to our society than just government and
individuals. There is a range of structures in between
that are meaningful, legitimate, efficacious, dynamic,
and, —under the rubric of what we might call the old
Such structures offer a meeting place where past and future, theory and practise, insiders and outsiders, individual and community needs and agendas, the centre and the edges of society, top down and bottom up efforts in personal, organizational and community development can come together.
Mediating structures have a particular significance in Canada. A Canadian nationalist, writing of the “Canadian Dialectic”, states:
Canadian identity lives in a process of tension and argument, a conflict of opposites which often stalemate, often are force to submit to compromise, but which-so far in our history have not ended in final resolution.’. 4
Mathews sees a tension between individualism and communitarianism, identifying the former with Americans and the latter with Canadians. He sees individualism as a threat to Canadian community values and institutions. In the United States, there is increased interest in community and commitment, as the work of Robert Bellah indicates. 5 In some cases this has led to the establishment of “lifestyle enclaves.” 6
“Whereas a community attempts to be an inclusive whole, celebrating the interdependence of public and private life and of the different callings of all, lifestyle is fundamentally segmental and celebrates the narcissism of similarity. It usually explicitly involves a contrast with others who ‘do not share one’s lifestyle.7 “
My research has focused on how communities develop over time in ways that enable them to maintain their identity and integrity while adapting creatively to change beyond their boundaries. In recent years I have begun to look at religious communities the moral, ethical and spiritual basis of secular ones. 8 There is abundant evidence that only communities with strong, well-articulated religious and moral foundations can survive the tensions that beset everyone and every organization in times of change. 9
And even some of these communities have been shaken to their roots in recent years. Hutterites in Canada, who pride themselves on their self-reliance and independence from the mainstream of society, invested heavily in the Principal Group in Alberta. This financial institution collapsed and investors have been reimbursed with public money.
The concept of community, of harmonious relationships between men and women, of an ideal, utorcian state, has fascinated social scientists and activists for centuries.10 It has surfaced recently in the Throne Speech of the new NOP government in Ontario.11
Community development, however, often arises from a crisis. In this century, community development began when the British colonial government could not find the money for a planned programme of mass education. Colonial government officials and local people pooled resources to solve their own problems in their own way.12 This ad hocery, received the name of community development. Because British policy was directed towards eventual independence for its colonies, community development was rationalised as a prelude to the creation of new nations after the war. And many of these nations invoked community development as a way of incorporating diverse peoples within their boundaries into the state.
India was “invented” by the British. Before they conquered the country, the sub-continent had an enormous range of cultures, political systems, and ways of life. On independence, the Indian government adopted the panchayat raj system of community development, with an indigenous official taking over the co-ordinating role of the former expatriate officials.
In Canada, community development cannot be seen outside the changing nature of the society. In 1965, John Porter’s book The Vertical Mosaic punctured one of the myths about Canada. Just as in the United States it has been shown that many individuals and groups have not “melted” and submerged their identities in the melting pot of a new society, so Porter’s work showed that Canada was not a mosaic of separate — but equal— groups. Some parts of the mosaic were more equal than others:
“Because the Canadian people are often referred to as a mosaic composed of different ethnic groups, the title, ‘The Vertical Mosaic’, was originally given to the chapter which examines the relationship between ethnicity and social class: As the study proceeded, however, the hierarchical relationship between Canada’s many cultural groups became a recurring theme in class and power...it became clear that the Canadians of British origin have retained, within the elite structure of society, the charter group status with which they started out...’13
Porter Portrays Canada as a post-colonial society, with an elite group controlling access to money and power. Thus the first attempts at community development in Canada, which began in the 1960s, had an unconsciously paternalistic tinge to them. Certain ‘’backward peoples”, including the Indians, the poor, Blacks and other dwellers on the margins of society, were seen as being in need of help. The goal of community development efforts was to integrate these people into the mainstream of society.
In the 1970s, as the middle class became more affluent and bureaucracies expanded, groups came into being to protect their special interests, to forward local agendas and to stop changes that threatened their communities.
In 1977, Robert Stanfield expressed concern about this trend:
“National life has become a struggle for advantage among large and powerful organizations —not simply trade unions and corporations. Organized pressure groups abound."14
In the 1980s, as the existing system of generating jobs and wealth proved inadequate, increasing attention was paid to community economic development.15
As the year 2/000 (Julian calendar) approaches there is increased interest in spiritually-based community development, especially in Britain and the- United States.
In the western world, with its emphasis on individualism and the tensions between individuals and communities, there is little understanding of how communities can relate to each other. The “Canadian dialectic” does not recognize the development of new communities in Canada, but sees individualism and communitarianism in constant tension. It does not recognize that, if Canada is a “community of communities” there may well be tensions between these communities unless government policy recognizes both their similarities and differences.
Many of the problems of Canada’ s Indians stem from the fact that federal policy, legislation and programmes treat them as members of one homogenous group. The Canadian Indian is an abstraction created by a bureaucracy for the purposes of administration. There is no such being as a Canadian Indian. There are Cree, Ojibway, Kutchin, Blackfoot, Iroquois and many other tribes with distinct cultures. The Indians joke that it was as well that Christopher Columbus was not looking for Turkey, rather than India, for even the very name by which they are known is based on a mistake.
The federal government appears intent on following the same bureaucratic approach to handling the “multicultural question.” 16 17 Newcomers to Canada will be reduced to abstract categories. Sikhs will be lumped in with about 50 other groups as “East Indians.”
Thus it becomes increasingly important for the Sikh community in Canada to identify the similarities its members share with other newcomers to Canada, and to identify what differentiates it from them, and what their special contribution to personal, organizational, community and national development has been-and can be.
This means going beyond the cliches of racism - and a sense of injustice. It points up the need for a resurgence in Sikh studies— and for a fresh perspective on the history of Sikhs, in India and wherever they have settled.
In the available material, Sikhs emerge as creative and innovative people. Hugh ]ohnston’s recent book, The Voyage of the Komagata Maru:The Sikh Challenge to Canada’ s Colour Bar 18 quotes Gurdit Singh, organizer of the voyage on its dedication page:
“Besides, the visions of men are widened by travel and
contacts with citizens of a free country will infuse a
spirit of independence and foster yearnings for freedom
in the minds of the emasculated subjects of alien rule.”
The Komagata Maru incident took place in the spring of 1914. It is presented as a shameful example of Canadian racism — which it is. But it is also a case study of an extremely creative and innovative individual who was opposed by an inflexible, uncaring, uninformed government. That kind of conflict goes right through Canadian history / despite the lip service paid by government to the need for innovation and entrepreneurship. Today, Gurdit Singh would be seen as someone with the qualities to create new jobs, instead of being viewed as an intruder bringing in people who would disrupt the Canadian mosaic. Gurdit Singh ended his days in honour -- and poetry — in a festival to commemorate the martyrs of the Komagata Maru, dying 20 days later in his 95th year.
The first Sikhs came to Canada as a group to do the dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs that other Canadians scorned. In the post war years, Sikhs — and other immigrants — tended to arrive in Canada as individuals because the country lacked the skills they possessed and needed professionals to develop the nation.
The military history of the Sikhs also reflects how they were used by others to meet imperial needs. After being defeated by the British in the Sikh Wars, ending in 1849, Sikhs were recruited for the army by their conquerors. A novel on the Sikh wars contains the note:
“The British paid the Khalsa a genuine compliment by
enlisting its veterans in dozens of infantry regiments.” 19
Conan Doyle, in his history of the First World War writes: “ India poured both men and money with a lavish generosity which can never be forgotten in this country.” 20 The first Indians to be “seriously engaged” in 1914 in France were the 15th Sikhs on the night of October 24 at Bois de Biez, near Neuve Chappelle; they suffered nearly 200 casualties. 21
The Menin Gate in Ypres carries the names of over 50,000 soldiers who died in the Salient in Flander’s Field - and who have no known graves. Listed here are 400 Indian soldiers, including many Sikhs.
Like the Sikhs, the Scots have been viewed by outsiders as great warriors. They too were defeated in battle by English armies — and then recruited to fight in foreign wars. In the 19th century the Scots were romantiezed. As urbanization and industrialization accelerated in Britain, the Scots came to be seen as the “wild other”, the opposite of social, civilized, orthodox, ‘’bourgeois man.” Queen Victoria had John Brown, her faithful Highland retainer. The habit of acquiring exotic attendants spread. Sir John Ross, commander
of the British Forces in Canada, had a Sikh aide-de-camp with him
when he was in Halifax in 1880. Second lieutenant Victor Duleep
Singh,grandson of RanjitSingh, last ruler of the Punjab, and former
owner of the Koh-i-nur diamond — was carried as a supernumerary
with the 1st Royal Dragoons.
In 1986, the Tate Gallery in London sponsored a film season on “The Cinema Image of Scotland” which dealt with the way in which the Scots had been presented in this medium. In the accompanying essay, Colin McArthur writes: “...the power to define identites of the people of the peripheral
societies lies elsewhere than in their own hands... the most chilling
aspect of this process...is the extent to which people of the
periphery come to live with the mental universe fashioned by
others and accept it as their ‘natural’ identity:”22
In Hollywood’s depiction of the history of the Indian subcontinent, its indigenous peoples are presented as heroes,
villains, or simpletons in movies such as Gunga Din, The Drum and
The Charge of the light Brigade.
In Britain, an advertisement for whisky shows a wild
highlander with a claymore, claiming that obtaining supplies of
that spirit a few hundred years ago would have cost you “an arm and a leg.” In such ways are old myths about other cultures sustained.
McArthur starts his essay by noting that, “Sometime between 1 January 1760 and 31 December 1830 Europe began to invent
Scotland.’. 23 In Orientalism, Edward Said relates how the west has
created an east of its own imagining, noting that, “ The Orient was
almost a European invention.” 24 How often have people heard that
the west is “materialistic” and the east, “spiritual?”
The whole history of Sikhism refutes this false duality.
In the Meaning and End of Religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith states that, “The development of the Sikh community historically cannot be understood except in the context and behaviour of the
Muslim community.”25 He adds that Sikhism has gone through “a standard gradual process of reification... the preaching of a vision, the emergence of followers, the organization of a community, the positing of an intellectual ideal of that community, the definition of the actual pattern of its institutions.”26
No religion, no community is a static island. An are subject to internal pressures and tensions and others coming from beyond their boundaries. One problem that all communities face is that of the second generation.27 Not having known the hardships and struggles of the founders of the community, the next generation is drawn into the wider world around it, lured by its attractions. Immigrants whose sense of community arises from spiritual concerns have particular difficulty in rebuilding it in individualistic, secular countries like Canada and the United States. 28 If they have difficulty in adapting, then they become the objects of study — and of government programmes set up to “help” them. In North America, the idea that instant solutions to complex problems, quick fixes for every ill, dominates government thinking. Edmund Carpenter claims that “media are so powerful they swallow culture.”29 He notes that “between 1946 and 1965, a typical research project began with a government grant and the assembly of an interdisciplinary team...The thought of including someone from the subject group itself never occurred...Every category came from the dominant culture.”30
Thus the second generation starts to live in, and relate to, a false mental universe created by outsiders. This misrepresentation. influences the attitudes and behaviour of others. The recent controversy about the wearing of the Kirpan in schools in Calgary is a case in point.31 Sikhs have stressed that it is a religious symbol, not a weapon. Some Canadians claim that non-Sikhs might snatch a kirpan and use it as such — an example of transfering their feelings to others and blaming the victim. In Halifax, police carry revolvers while supervising school dances during off-duty hours.32 I have yet to hear claims that someone will snatch these weapons and use them.
For the second generation, and for non-Sikhs, it is vital that Sikhs generate authentic material on their history, their traditions, and their present way of life, and ensure that it is widely disseminated. There are many ways of doing this, through the mainstream media and by public information strategies.
Community development in the past has been stifled by government involvement. Governments are only too willing to fund ventures aimed at solving problems. Unfortunately, this tends to compound the problems rather than solving them. Organizations have come apart as different factions vied for government largesse. Governments’ definition of problems often tends to be remote from the real world, and programmes often serve the needs of only a few community members. Government grants can create dependency — and be terminated in arbitrary ways. Given the shifting priorities of governments, grants are usually given for only short-term solutions. In many cases, organizations receiving government grants turn into bureaucracies or dissolve into anarchy.
The increasing interest in mediating structures in community development reflects a search for systems that can provide security, stability and continuity to community members— and encourage risk-taking, creativity and innovation. Successful mediating structures have three functions. They scan and screen inside and outside the community to identify forces that will influence its future; manage community resources to secure the best returns for the least effort; and identify options for personal, organizational and community development.
Successful community organizations have two characteristics — a sound financial basis and a focus of fidelity. In October this year I visited the New Creation Christian Community in Northamtonshire, England. This Baptist foundation has two very successful businesses that provide employment for community members, many of whom have been rescued from lives of drugs and violence. The community has a common purse through which all earned monies are pooled, and does not rely on government grants or donations from outsiders.33 In Bradford, England, Sikhs have established their own credit union.
Jean Vanier, founder of the l’ Arche community, states: “Our focal point of fidelity at l’ Arche is to live with handicapped people in the spirit of the Gospel and the Beatitudes. ‘To live with’ is different from ‘to do for’ ...It means that we create relationships of gratuity, trust and interdependence... “ 34
Thus lasting communities retain their identity and integrity by focusing in wards — and outwards — and strengthening the sense of trust and interdependence. Their members avoid separation and assimilation.
Living forms in the Canadian Arctic point the way to the choices before any community in its relationships with other communities.
When caribou fight and tangle their antlers, they die as they struggle to break free of each other. This conflict results in small heaps of bones strewn on the tundra where animals could not disengage from each other. When attacked, muskoxen form a circle, horns pointing outwards. This deterred wolves from attacking the group. But it provided no defence against Peary and his Eskimos who shot these great creatures down where they stood. We came across their skulls in heaps in Northern Ellesmere Island.
In the Canadian North and other harsh lands you find lichen in many shapes and colours. The lichen is a symbiosis between two separate, living forms — alga and fungus. One cannot live without the other, and together they bring colour and life to the bleakest environments. And scientists have not been able to determine how the two different forms create the symbiosis.
Thus they present us with a mystery, rooted in reality, not a theory, concept, model or paradigm. And the very existence of this life form offers an indication of how different cultures, different peoples, different communities can live together in harmony, creating something unique, maintaining their own identities and integrities, avoiding conflict and confrontation and enhancing co-operation in all its man forms.
1. Lotz, Jirn, Understanding Canada: Community and Regional Development in a New Nation, Toronto, NCPress, 1977; Lotz,Jim, “Community Development: A Short History,” Journal of Community Development, May /June, 1987, pp. 41-46.
2. This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Reearch
Council of Canada (Project #410-89-0009).
3. Baroody, William J. Jr., Foreword in Novak, Michael(Ed.) Democracy and
Mediating Structures, Washington, D.C, American Enterprise Institute for
Public Policy Research, 1980.
4. Mathews, Robin, Canadian Identity: Major Forces Shaping the Life of a People,
Ottawa, Steel Rail, 1988, p.I.
5. Bellah, Robert et.al, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in
American Life, New Yark, Harper and Row, The perennnial Ubrary, 1986.
6. In Cities on /l Hill (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1987), Frances Fitzgerald
discusses four lifestyle enclaves — the homosexual quarter in San Francisco, a
Baptist church, a retirement community, and Rajneeshpuram.
7. Bellah, op.cit. p. 72.
8. In 1990' launched a newsletter, Christian Community to serve as a bridge
between Christian, secular and other communities.
9. Zablocki, Benjamin, The joyful Community, Baltimore, Penguin Books, 1971.
10. Nisbet, Robert, The Social Philsophers: Community and Conflict in Western
Thought, New York, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1973.
11. “Politics is about far more than what we can all get; it is also about what we owe each other. Too many people have been left out and need to be included. The value of community and solidarity have been undermined and ignored.” Quoted in Robert Sheppard’s column, “A program with less than meets the ear,” Globe and Mail, Nov. 21, 1990
12. Bradely, Kenneth, Once a District Officer, London, Macmillan, 1966.
13. Porter, John, The Vertical Mosaic: An analysis of social class and power in Canada,
Toronto, University of Toronto Press, p.x:ii-xiii.
14. Quoted in Pross, A Paul, Group Politics and Public Policy, Toronto, Oxford
University Press, 1986, p.1.
15. In 1989-90, the Economic Council of Canada issued a series of reports on
community-based development, and provided an analysis of them in From the
Bottom Up, a statement published in 1990.
16. Lotz, Patricia A. New Patterns for Christian Life, MTS thesis, Atlantic School of
17. See, for example, the concerns raised by Reginald Bibby, author of Mosaic Madness: The Poverty and Potential of Life in Canada in ‘The lonely road of individualism,”Globeand Mail, October 23,1990; Michael Valpy, “Making it too easy to remain diverse,”Globe and Mail, Oct. 25, 1990; John Dafoe, “Multiculturalism could do with another look, “Globe and Mail, Nov. 17, 1990; Waiter Block, “Multiculturalism at the Public Trough”, Fraser Forum, October, 1990, pp.26-27.
18. Johnston, Hugh, The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar, couver, University of British Columbia Press, 1989. The book is available in Panjabi (B.C. Bookworld, 4(3), Autumn, 1990.)
19. Moore, William, Bayonets in the Sun, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1978.
20. Doyle, Arthur Conan, A History of the Great War. Vol. 1; The British Campaign
in France and Flanders, 1914, New York, George H. Doran Co., 1916. p. 34.
21. Ibid., p. 220-221.
22. McArthur, The Cinema Image of Scotland, London, Tate Gallery Publications,
23. Ibid. p.5.
24. Said, Edward, Orientalism, New York, Vintage Books, 1979, p.1.
25. Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, The Meaning and End of Religion, San Francisco,
Harper and Row, 1978, p. 260.
27. Murphy, Debra L., The Failure of the Antigonish Movement in Larry’s River, Nova
Scotia. M.A. Thesis, Dalhousie University, Sept.’ 1975. The Antigonish Movement was a very successful adult education/ community development programme in the 1930s: See Lotz, jim and Michael R. Welton, “Knowledge for the People’: The Origins and Development of the Antigonish Movement,” in Welton, Michael R. (Ed.) Knowledge for the People, Toronto, OISE Press, 1987.
28. Sandhu, Sukhdev Singh, The Second Generation: Culture and the East Indian Community in Nova Scotia, Halifax, international Education Centre, St. Mary’s University, Ethnic Heritage Series II n.d. The study was carried out in May, 1980.
29. Carpenter, Edmund, Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me! New York, Holt,
Rinehart and Winston, 1972, p. 191.
30. Ibid. p. 190.
31. This incident received extensive media coverage in Canada, being featured on
CBC World News. Short accounts appeared in the Halifax Mail-Star of
November 20 and 21, 1990.
32. “Police still hired for dances; Halifax Mail-Star, Nov. 16, 1990. The school
principal was quoted as saying, ‘The fact that police wear guns while staffing
the teen dances is not an issue...”
33. Campbell, John and Jeremy Bird, Christian Community ‘in Central England, n.p.
New Creation Christian Community, 1989.
34. Lotz, Pat. op. cit. p.25.
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