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Sikhs and their phenomenal rise in Canada

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Photo: www.sikhtrend.com

By Anirudh Bhattacharyya

Last week, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a student at the American University in Washington DC that he had more Sikhs in his cabinet than his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, he was stating a fact but also being facetious.

He appointed four Sikhs in November, giving the high-profile national defense portfolio to combat veteran Harjit Sajjan. But that throwaway remark was evidence of the evolution of the Sikh community in Canadian politics.

“There’s a certain amount of pride and it speaks to Canada’s multicultural policy but I don’t see it as a challenge to India,” said Satwinder Kaur Bains, director of the Center for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

While the cliché coming-of-age has often been applied to such moments in time, in this context it’s “very very appropriate”, Bains said.

But it isn’t just in the cabinet that Sikhs are becoming more influential. Recent changes to immigration policy, announced this month by the new Liberal Party government, simplified the process of family reunification and removed the waiting period for spouses to become permanent residents, both significant demands within the community.

As Bains pointed out, “The Sikh community has remained invested in its culture. India is still the main source country for marriage. The fourth cohort of Indo-Canadians didn’t want to see that eroded.”

Canada’s Sikh population is estimated to be between 500,000 and 700,000, and as a percentage of the country’s population may be higher than that in India. But its political significance has increased because it is concentrated largely in the Greater Toronto Area and the Vancouver Metro region, with their wealth of seats that decide electoral majorities.

The Liberal Party’s victory in the 2015 parliamentary election can partly be attributed to winning over the community. In fact, its campaign graphic for how the middle-class would benefit from proposed tax cuts showed a family named Singh.

“If you simply look at the numbers, it’s a significant change. That’s a sizeable portion of the cabinet,” said Shinder Purewal, professor of political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, BC.

But Purewal, who ran as a Liberal candidate for parliament twice, was sceptical of the impact this will have long-term, even as he described Trudeau’s statement as “childish”.

“Individuals have become more powerful. But it’s the bureaucracy that makes the decisions. You don’t see Sikhs here. Same thing, perhaps, in private boards. I want to see if this trend of political power leads to more power in the public and private sectors.”

Herb Dhaliwal, the first Indo-Canadian and Sikh to be appointed a minister in the Western world, on the other hand, is thrilled: “I’m proud that others have come forward. There are more Sikhs with much bigger portfolios. That says a lot about our country.”

Sikh symbols like the turban or kirpan are no longer alien to Canada. Unlike in the US, where Sikh stand-up comedian Jus Reign recently had to remove his headwear for security reasons, in Canada their higher profile has meant greater understanding.

“There is no why, just because. Sikhs are part of the Canadian mosaic,” Bains said, stressing the country’s policy of multiculturalism, even with its faults, had helped the process. That mainstreaming of Sikhs has helped them win nearly 20 seats in this House of Commons, with a handful in non-traditional areas.

Dhaliwal made history in 1997, and Bains believes “each minister will say they stand on the shoulders of giants”.

Sikhs have been engaged in Canadian politics since they first came to the country, but it took nearly 90 years for them to arrive in Ottawa, the capital and centre of political power in Canada.

Source: Hindustan Times

  • Shriya Katoch

    Justin Trudeau is highly progressive.With allocating half of its cabinet to females and appointing Sikhs .He truly knows about demographics.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Yes indeed. If there are so many Sikhs in Canada, they should be given some kind of reservations as we have for Anglo-Indians. This is a very good step taken to unify people. Great going Mr Justin Trudeau!

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  • Shriya Katoch

    Justin Trudeau is highly progressive.With allocating half of its cabinet to females and appointing Sikhs .He truly knows about demographics.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Yes indeed. If there are so many Sikhs in Canada, they should be given some kind of reservations as we have for Anglo-Indians. This is a very good step taken to unify people. Great going Mr Justin Trudeau!

Next Story

20 Indians Killed In A Terrorist Attack In Afghanistan

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) condemned the attack

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Afghan firefighters clean up the site of a deadly suicide bombing near Kabul University, in Kabul, March 21, 2018.
Afghan firefighters clean up the site of a deadly suicide bombing near Kabul University, in Kabul, March 21, 2018. VOA

A suicide bomber targeted a group of Sikhs and Hindus, two Afghan minority communities, in Jalalabad city, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, on Sunday, killing nearly 20 people.

“They brutalized us. They have martyred 15 and wounded 15 other Sikhs. We are not aligned with any group or party. Why would anyone attack us? We never harmed anyone,” Tarlok Singh, a member of the Sikh religious minority, told VOA.

However, an Afghan health official told VOA the death toll was higher, with 19 people killed — at least 17 from the Sikh and Hindu communities — and at least 20 others injured.

The Sikhs and Hindus were reportedly on their way to attend a gathering led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the provincial governor’s office when a suicide bomber on foot detonated his explosive device.

Islamic State through its media wing, Amaq, took responsibility for the attack in Jalalabad city, however, the militant group claimed to have targeted a “medical compound.”

It is believed to be one of the first times a suicide bomber has targeted members of the Sikh minority group in Afghanistan.

“Unfortunately, it is the first time that our Sikhs become the victim of suicide bombing. The leaders of the group and their active community members were all killed or injured today,” Zabihullah Zimaray, a former provincial secretary general of Nangarhar province, told VOA.

Avtar Singh Khalsa, a longtime leader in the Sikh community, was among those killed in today’s suicide attack, an Afghan official told VOA.

Khalsa was an unopposed candidate running for the only seat for Afghan Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan’s parliamentary election in October.

Place where the attack took place
Map, Place where the attack took place. VOA

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) condemned the attack and called the attack on minority groups “… an obvious example of a war crime,” and asked the Afghan government to bring those responsible to justice.

“The Afghan armed oppositions must respect the international humanitarian laws and human rights values and refrain from targeting specific groups or individuals,” IHRC spokesperson Mohammad Bilal Sidiqi told VOA.

Discrimination

The Afghan Sikh and Hindu populations totaled about 220,000 in the 1980s. That number dropped sharply to 15,000 when the mujahedeen were in power during the 1990s and remained at that level during the Taliban regime. It is now estimated that only 1,350 Hindus and Sikhs remain in the country, according to an investigation conducted by TOLO news, Afghanistan’s most viewed private television station.

Discrimination is one the many reasons Sikh and Hindu minorities are fleeing Afghanistan, Anar Kali Hunaryar, an Afghan Sikh senator, told VOA in a previous interview.

“Discrimination has caused our children not to attend the mainstream schools and that is why most of our kids in Afghanistan remained illiterate and could not actively participate in their communities,” Hunaryar said during the interview.

Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim country, but the constitution spells out equal rights to the followers of other faiths.

“The sacred religion of Islam is the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Followers of other faiths shall be free within the bounds of law in the exercise and performance of their religious rituals,” reads Article Two in Chapter One of the constitution.

However, Rawinder Singh, a member of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu Union, who spoke to VOA previously on the topic, named “social discrimination” as the No. 1 problem religious minorities face in the country.

The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of the Sikh faith, and India is home to the world’s largest Sikh population.

“Our fellow Afghans call us Indian and we are being told to go back to India. We are Afghans just like any other resident of this country. Yes, we follow the same religion as Indians, but it’s not rational to say that we do not belong to Afghanistan,” Singh told VOA.

Sikh and Hindu minorities mostly dwell in the south and eastern Afghanistan, and their numbers continue to fall.

Also read: Twin Bomb Attacks in Afghanistan’s Kabul Kills 25 , IS Takes Responsibility

“We were being treated ill and discriminated in the past, but today they badly brutalized us,” Tarlok Singh said, referring to the suicide bomber attack. (VOA)