Can Canada Become The New Centre For Punjabi Culture?

There is a growing illusion among Punjabis, particularly the Jatt Sikhs, that a new center of Punjabi culture is emerging in Canada, and gradually the base of Punjabi culture will shift from Punjab to Canada. Is this concept realistic or just an illusion? I feel that this is unrealistic and just an illusion. It takes many centuries to evolve a culture and its base. Moreover, in the era of globalization, consumer culture of capitalism is the dominant culture and it is engulfing other cultures everywhere. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that an alien culture will thrive in a western capitalist country.    

 By Dr. Sawraj Singh

There is a growing illusion among Punjabis, particularly the Jatt Sikhs, that a new center of Punjabi culture is emerging in Canada, and gradually the base of Punjabi culture will shift from Punjab to Canada. Is this concept realistic or just an illusion? I feel that this is unrealistic and just an illusion. It takes many centuries to evolve a culture and its base. Moreover, in the era of globalization, consumer culture of capitalism is the dominant culture and it is engulfing other cultures everywhere. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that an alien culture will thrive in a western capitalist country.              

Most of the time, for all practical purposes, the original culture is mostly limited to the first generation of immigrants, and they retain strong ties to the country of their origin. The second generation of immigrants, which is brought up in the western countries, is almost completely assimilated in the country they have migrated to. In some cases where people have worked extra hard to retain their original culture and values, their children can speak or understand their parent’s language and be comfortable with their food. However, it is extremely rare for the third generation to do either, and their assimilation into the mainstream is almost complete.                                                                                   

The recent immigrants are very different than the earlier immigrants. The earlier immigrants wanted to retain their base in Punjab. They generally were interested in buying land or property in Punjab. However, the recent immigrants have no such inclinations and want to dispose of their assets in Punjab as soon as possible, and use that money in buying a house or a business to help them settle in the new country. The earlier immigrants wanted their parents to retain their base in Punjab. However, the recent immigrants want their parents to help them settle in the new country. The parents can help to babysit their children and take care of their homes while they are making more money to quickly settle in the new country. Moreover, the old age pension of the parents is also useful in this context.                              

After conquering Punjab, the British realized that the biggest challenge to their rule came from the Sikhs. Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India who annexed Punjab in spite of the instructions not to do that, makes this point clear in his letter of explanation to the British authorities. To weaken the Sikhs was the main thrust of the British during the subjugation of Punjab after the conquest. To this effect, the British took several measures. They promoted ritualism and deemphasized Sikh philosophy, exactly the opposite of what the Gurus had preached. They sabotaged Sikh institutions and built new institutions which were not based upon Sikh principles. They became fully aware of the three basic realities of Punjab: The Jatt Sikhs were the leading community among the Sikhs. The Sikhs were the advanced guards of the Punjabis. The Punjabis were the most vibrant community among the Indians.                                                                                                                                                                                                     

The British kept trying to weaken the Sikhs and Punjab. Before the British conquest, the Sikhs, the Hindus and the Muslims were living in harmony in the Sikh empire. The British tried to divide the three communities. Ultimately, this policy led to the partition of Punjab. The Sikhs were the worst losers as a result of the British policy. Besides the economic loss, the Sikhs also suffered because their principles and philosophy were compromised. The Saint Soldiers of Guru Gobind Singh, who were created to fight against exploitation, oppression and injustice, became loyal soldiers of the British Empire who fought its imperialist wars to subjugate and suppress other nations and people. The British policy of injecting Neo-Brahminism in the Sikhs by promoting ritualism and deemphasizing Sikh philosophy had also an adverse effect on the Jatt-Sikh equation. The Jatt is the physical or the material aspect, whereas the Sikh is the philosophical or the spiritual aspect. The physical or material aspect became the dominant aspect. Economics became dominant over Ethics. This problem was further compounded by the fact that many Sikh intellectuals were influenced by Marxism. However, their Marxism was heavily tilted towards economism.                                                                                                                                                          

 After the decline of the British Empire, America took over the leadership of the West, and it is carrying forward the policies of the British. American consumerist culture has become the dominant culture in the world. Punjab and the Punjabis have become one of the most enthusiastic followers of   western consumer culture. Punjabis are making decisions about immigration based purely on economic consideration and almost completely ignoring other factors such as cultural, social and ethical. Immigration from Punjab has reached the level of exodus, particularly for the Jatt Sikh community. For every Jatt Sikh leaving Punjab, there are about four non-Punjabis coming into Punjab.            

We went to visit a relative from Canada who came to Punjab for two weeks vacation. They keep their house locked and open it only when somebody in the family has to come to Punjab. Their village is very close to the Gurudwara Sahib in Fatehgarh Sahib. It was early evening time. We saw people on the streets. Shops were open and some people were watching TV in the shops. When we went to the other side of the village where mostly Jatt Sikhs live, it was quite a contrast. The area looked completely deserted. There were big houses. Most of these looked unoccupied. We were told that the owners have moved to Canada, America or other countries. It is obvious that mass migration of Jatt Sikhs has already considerably diluted their population in Punjab. If the present trends in immigration continue, then very soon the Sikhs are going to become a minority in Punjab, and eventually Punjabis will be outnumbered by Non-Punjabis. It has already happened in the Chandigarh area. Some villages near Chandigarh have now more than 90% Non Punjabi population.                                                      

 Such a rapid and drastic demographic change is already leading to social instability and chaos. It can even lead to complete anarchy. There is a nexus of travel agents, sold out intellectuals and pseudo intellectuals who are presenting Canada as a heaven on earth. However, everything is not perfect in Canada. The ugly realities of our youth falling victim to large scale gang violence, drug trade and prostitution all show that it is not easy task to create a new Punjab in Canada. Punjabis cannot create a new Punjab in Canada. However, they run the risk of losing the existing Punjab if present trends in immigration continue.                                                   

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.

 

 

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