Given below is full text of a brief presented to the Minister for Multiculturalism, Canada, by B.S. Mahal in support of the Chair in Sikh Studies at the University of Rritish Columbia.
Dear Mr. Minister:
CHAIR IN SIKH STUDIES
As a Sikh, a son of Guru Nanak, a Guru who preached universal brotherhood and peace to all, let me firstly wish you, and your government, a successful session of the Parliament in the new year.
Direct interference, by the Department of External Affairs, in urging the Minister for Multi culturism to back down on a promised educational subvention Chair in Punjabi Literature and Sikh Studies at the University of British Columbia on the grounds that such an endowment will “harm bilateral relations with India” indicates some disarray in bureaucratic thinking, a disturbing phenomenon indeed. What confounds the imagination is a reason for India, or anyone else, to behave like a “dog in the manger” in a purely scholastic matter which can only advance knowledge.
Our Canadian government appears to say one thing and mean another. For instance, Canada raked others (e.g. Soviets) over the coals for intermingling politics with sports; yet, the same government now unashamedly kneads politics into the academia.
Ina free and enlightened society, there exists a simple pecuniary relationship between a Government and the Academia. The Government provides the financial aid, almost always without any strings; the Academia, in allocating this subsidy, usually gives the shape to the heart and mind of the nation. To sub yet such a fiducially arrangement is to seek to mound the country to a docile image, a visage less threatening to a totalitarian regime but totally repugnant to those who cherish freedom.
Whichever way one looks at it, the Canadian government is seen to be politically driven. The 64,000dollar question remains: Has Canada, inadvertently, let derail itself (covert wooing by India) or has it been nudged off the moral track of some phobia (e.g. fear of a commercial backlash by India)? Worrying itself sick over “the Indian government’s likely reaction” points to a self-induced stage fright. and’ viewed against a backdrop of other critical issues softwood lumber for instance the Canadian government appears, in foreign affairs at least, as insecure and amateurish. Such behavior may one day compromise our sovereignty.
Forgetting for a moment India’s perceived role behind curtains, of greater concern is the question of whether or not India has any right for a say in the matter of a Chair in Sikh Studies in Canada. One may argue that because Stkhism took its first roots in Punjab, that India is the natural custodian of the Sikh faith and hence entitled to a say so; an argument not borne out ‘by empirical evidence. For instance, although India served as the incubator for Buddhism, to the great majority of the Buddhists, India today is a mere storehouse of museum type artifacts exercising little or no influence over their religion. Likewise, Christianity may have been spawned in Roman Palestine, its seat of learning and ministry today is wholly in other lands. Sikhism, too, shall cross the Rubicon to go beyond the parochial bounds to take its place among the other worldly faiths.
Contrary to popular belief, not all of the Sikhs in Canada are immigrants from India; some of the Sikhs originate from other lands (e.g. Kenya, Fiji) while some others are native born Canadians. The future of almost all of the Canadian Sikhs is now bound up with Canada; their allegiance is to their adopted country, domicile of their choice. India, too, readily accepts such a circumstance, but it does so by disowning the Sikhs of. Their Indian citizenship.
Commonality of religion (Sikhism) binds together the Indian Sikh and the non-Indian Sikh. Few of the Indian Sikhs may still hanker after India; not so the great majority of the Sikhs, who will never forget India’s rape of their faith. Except for Punjab, a repository of their faith, Sikhs wish to have little to do with India itself. In the same way as the Catholic looks to the Vatican and the Moslem salaams Mecca, no matter wherever they life; the Sikhs likewise will always venerate the Golden Temple and continue to pay homage to Punjab, the land of their Gurus.
Sikhs who have lived away from India for a good while are now finding. Painfully, that their children are distancing themselves from their faith. This is true more so. Of the non-Indian Sikh. Westernization with its insistence on assimilation has, unfortunately, eroded his native tongue, knowledge and zeal of his faith. An old Sikh adage says that to destroy the soul, first wean one away from one’s religion. Fear of loss of identity has mobilized the Canadian Sikhs to give an impulse to spiritual recuperation. Diminishing of any culture or language is a irreparable loss for all mankind, and in not wishing to help the Sikhs to regain their lost ground, the Canadian government is about to do a great wrong. It is a little known fact that there are 280,000 Sikhs in Canada, constituting about 1.2% of the total Canadian population, a ratio much the same as in India. Canada, thus, contains the largest body of Sikhs outside of India; no wonder the intense targeting of the Canadian Sikhs by the Indian authorities. Gradually more and more of the Sikhs are becoming aware of their intrinsic interests and of their political rights, which in due time will coalesce into a vital major voting block, a Constituency to be wooed. Meanwhile, prompted by a promise of matching funds by the Canadian government, the Sikhs between them collected sufficient funds ($300,000) to set up the Chair in Sikh Studies. The Federation of Sikh Societies of Canada, the linchpin of the program, signed an agreement with the University of British Columbia, in 1985, for the Chair, Vancouver was probably selected not simply because it houses the greatest number of Sikhs, but because of the need to redeem Sikh pride. After all, it was here in Vancouver, in 1914, that the Canadians cold-bloodedly fired a volley to tum away the Sikh laden ship “KOMAGATA MARU?” killing 20 Sikhs, Canada must not repeat such a dark moment by turning once again their backs on the Sikhs, this time for the Chair in Sikh Studies. Setting up of a Chair in ethnic Studies is in no case a new phenomenon, Canada already boasts of a Chair in Ukrainian Studies, in Estonian Studies et al. A rethinking. In the case of a Chair in Sikh Studies, is an ominous sign, suggesting that some ethnic groups are less important than others. Frankly, there is no place for the government in the classrooms of the nation, particularly in a free and open society. An infraction of this basic rule runs against the findings of the Special Committee on Visible Minorities in Canadian So * Assist in the “preservation of knowledge and enhance the self-concept of the (minority) groups.
* Provide an “infrastructure for preparing well researched position papers when the (minority) groups find themselves in advocacy positions”.
Sikhism ranks pretty high amongst the many other religions of the World. Sikhism has its roots in democracy; it instills the beliefs that every person, man or woman, is at par with one another; it exalts every Sikh to a lifelong service to mankind, and it ordains each one of the Sikhs to defend liberty at all times and at all costs. Governments that prize liberty, too, will do well to heed Benjamin Harrison’s admonition that “a manly assertion by each of his individual nights and a manly concession of equal rights to every other man is the law of good citizenship”. A Chair in Sikh Studies will be one other beacon to help keep freedom aglow.