image caption: Image: Gurmukh Singh OBE and book cover Uncommon Road by Gian Singh Sandhu

Canadian Sikhs: Out of the Fringes and Into the Mainstream

   The Canadian Sikh success story is told in an autobiographical book, An Uncommon Road, by S. Gian Singh Sandhu of Canada, the founding president of World Sikh Organisation. Unlike biased news reports and books by visiting journalists, this is a first-hand account of the challenges faced by Canadian Sikhs and how these were overcome. As Bibi Kiranjot Kaur, ex-General Secretary of the SGPC put it: the author has weaved his personal life into the larger story of Sikhs in Canada.

The book makes interesting reading about the challenges faced by Canadian Sikhs, the negative publicity they received after the Air India flight 182 tragedy and alleged Sikh involvement it shows by giving first hand accounts how the state agencies work and how Canadian Sikhs struggled out of the fringes and into the mainstream &ndash which is the subtitle of the book. They did this by showing that they are law-abiding, hard-working citizens and that they loved their new country &ndash Canada.

While it is not the intention to review this well-written and informative account, it is possible to restate some common principles and approaches based on human rights and Canadian Sikh experience confirmed by British Sikh progress so far. Let us first talk about human rights.

As a lawyer, Rosemary Clarke, said, &ldquoA right is not what someone gives you but it is what non-one can take from you (quoted by Sukhvinder Singh Thandi in his booklet: State Policy and Legislation Affecting Sikhs) When that underlying legal principle is understood the approach to establish a right in law becomes clear. S S Thandi also mentions that it is only after lengthy and expensive legal battles the Sikhs have secured their rights in countries such as Canada and the UK. We know this to be true from the UK side and Gian Singh Sandhu confirms from the Canadian side.

In addition, the media plays an important role in how diverse communities are treated. In Canada, after the Air India Flight 182 incident, Sikhs were facing incendiary falsehoods by media and governments in India and at home (Canada). As in the UK and in other diaspora countries, the media also relied on reports generated by Indian sources. Support for Khalistan became conflated with extremism.

Harassment of community activists by security agencies due to information sharing protocols between countries became quite common. In addition to Indian blacklists of alleged Canadian extremists, in a clandestine manner the External Affairs department of Canada was now compiling a blacklist.

Frame internal Sikh conflicts for what they are: power struggle over the financial control of some gurdwaras

Juxtaposed against these articles were tales of &ldquomoderates&rdquo fighting pitched battles against violent reactionary forces of the &ldquofundamentalist&rdquo and &ldquoextremist&rdquo factions that wanted to reshape the entire community in some 17th century mould. The &ldquomoderates&rdquo were clean shaven and &ldquomodern&rdquo, representing for non-Sikh Canadians a palatable paradigm: the assimilated &ldquoother&rdquo. The &ldquoextremist&rdquo &ndash they all looked the same: bearded, turbaned,foreign, darly dangerous.

There is no doubt that the community at times behaved stupidly, childishly, violentlt. This did the image of Sikh in Canada no favours. But even when we were openly opposed to groups that truly existed on the fringe, our media-assigned role as a reactionary organisation on this &ldquomoderate vs. fundamental&rdquo canard was difficult to shake.

The result was an awakening of Sikh legal and political consciousness which invoked human rights laws and challenged unconstitutional acts in the courts with success. In fact, according to the author, Canadian Sikhs became an outstanding example of how a community can fight for their own social justice and, in doing so, gain justice for all.

For example, the UK Sikhs have been forced to refer to the courts their legal right to be counted as exercise their legal right confirmed by the House of Lords in 1983, to be counted and monitored as an ethnic community on the same basis as other groups confirmed by the House of Lords in what is a Sikh legal right to be classified as an ethnic group is now be

But struggle can lead to liberation. Sikhs have gone on to hold some of the most powerful positions in government, business and the arts.

Our right to advocate for the peaceful separation of Punjab from India. Our right to be ourselves.

Zuhair Kashmiri and Brian McAndrew, co-authors of Soft Target.

Air India Flight 182

Most national constitutions protect citizens rights but the ministers or their advisers overlook these due to political and commercial pressures or even social and personal prejudices.

The Canadian success story can be repeated by the Sikhs to secure their rights in the countries they live in

State Policy and Legislation Affecting Sikhs

Sukhvinder Thandi

August 2001

Published by SHRG

The State and political powers, commercial and social forces are trying to create uniformity against an enduring human nature to protect diversity in its many forms. The State tends to conspire against diverse cultures, religions and traditions. Generally, legislation has failed to accommodate the Sikhs.

Some legal systems have recognised the rights of Sikhs in one way or another. The UK through the notion of ethnic origins and for example Canada through religious freedom..

Applying certain criteria to the Sikhs the House of Lords found that the Sikhs constituted an ethnic group (which correlates to the modern meaning of &ldquoethnic&rdquo). Therefore, ethnicity is the way forward that the UK courts have chosen to take in order to protect the distinctness of the Sikhs.

Lord Fraser stated that &ldquoethnic&rdquo is surely to be understood as wider than biological or in strictly racial sense.

Sikhs work and participate in all aspects of life such as law, medicine, construction, transport, manual work, politics etc They have a reputation as hardworking, trustworthy and reliable contributing to the economic welfare of the country in which they reside.

Gurmukh Singh OBE