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The Rise of Sikhs

In less than a hundred years, the Sikhs have become global citizens and mini Punjabs are springing up all over.

art and culture Updated: Jul 07, 2003 13:46 IST

The Rise of Sikhs Abroad
Gurmukh Singh
Rupa & Co
Sociology, Culture
Pages: 287
Price: Rs 2500

What do these men - Ujjal Dosanjh, the former premier of British Columbia, Marsha Singh and Paramjit Singh, British MPs, Ranjit Dheer, Mayor of Southall and Herb Dhaliwal, a Canadian minister - have in common?

Or for that matter these women - Neena Gill, first Indian-born member of European parliament, Sukhi Turner, mayor of a city in New Zealand and Kanwaljit Soin, a member of Singapore parliament?

"It is their Sikh roots."

In less than a hundred years, the Sikhs have become global citizens and mini Punjabs are springing up all over, says a new book, The Rise of Sikhs Abroad.

"In many places they are at the helm. As the new millennium unfolds, many more are likely to follow in the footsteps of Ujjal Dosanjh," says Gurmukh Singh, the author of the book.

Infact, the diaspora is full of rags-to-riches storries. Kanwal Rekhi, known as the sage of Silicon valley, was thrown out of three jobs before he found his calling. Sonny Chabra, owner of a multi-million dollar software company, once sold jeans on pavements in Manhattan while Jessie Singh, another millionaire in Silicon valley, was once a pizza delivery boy.

"Punjabis have become truely global."

Singh says the accomplishments of overseas Indians are astounding and inspirational. Since one volume could not have done justice to them, this book focuses only on one segment: the Sikhs. They constitute about 40 per cent of the Indian diaspora in US, 70 per cent in Canada and 40 per cent in Britain.

The book is a riveting account of how Sikhs, who started emigrating from Punjab towards the end of 19th century, today occupy a place of pride in their adopted lands.

The book says that the first Sikh to set foot on British soil was Maharaja Duleep Singh, the son of legendary Maharaja Ranjit Singh, after the fall of Sikh empire in 1849. Then followed Sikh traders, and students pursuing higher studies.

Immigration into Britain picked up after the Second World War. Today there are more than half a million Sikhs in Britain. By 2002, there were more than a million Sikhs in North America. While Australia has over 15,000 Sikhs, New Zealand has more than 4000.

"With their flowing beards and turbans, the Sikhs were mistaken for Arab Muslims and subjected to racial attacks. These incidents highlighted the fact that Sikhs are a global community today," notes the book.

As Gurinder Mann of the University of California, Santa Barbara predicts, "the next renaissance in Sikh religion and culture will happen outside India." He is right. It was the British-born Punjabi `mundas' who revolutionised the music and cultural scene by siring Indipop.

Writers like Shauna Singh Baldwin and Simon Singh have already sown the seeds of this trend. Financially, Sikhs are in the top bracket in the US, Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, says the book.

"The next generations have their jobs cut out."

Press Trust of India

First Published: Jul 04, 2003 11:09 IST