Sikhs have been part of Canada for over hundred years. They have contributed greatly in the building of our great Nation. They poured their loyalties and hard work into every enterprise possible to build a better future, for everyone in Canada. They worked from lumber mills to factories, from technology to health care, and from military to politics. It has been a hard, yet honest and inspiring journey, for Sikhs in Canada from Private Bukkam Singh, first Sikh-Canadian soldier during WWI, to Lieutenant-Colonel Harjit Sajjan, the present Defence Minister of Canada. A journey of which the community is proud of.
It was 2015 when the present Canadian Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau appointed four Sikhs to the high profile Ministries. Hon. Harjit Sajjan received one of the key cabinet ministry for Canadian Defense. Before engaging into the public life of politics Harjit Sajjan served as a police detective and later served with the Canadian military in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Harjit Sajjan a combat veteran who served three separate deployments in Afghanistan. Canadians welcomed his appointment as a Defense Minister of Canada with enthusiasm and hope. Canadians were happy to see his Ministerial appointment was the result of his merit and his extensive on-ground experience with military and intelligence.
The Canadian Sikh community was taken back by the Globe and Mail article “Mr. Trudeau: Don’t be so quick to brag about Sikhs in your cabinet” by Ramesh Thakur, a Canadian working in Australia. It was appalling to see that someone would take Prime Minister Trudeau’s lighthearted moment response and express their disliking for the Sikh Cabinet Ministers in the Canadian Government. The month of April is celebrated as the Sikh Heritage Month in Ontario. The article is published when Sikhs were planning to mark the occasion of Khalsa Day and Vaisakhi at the Canadian Parliament.
Canadian expected higher standards from Canada’s National newspaper. The article does not promote the Canadian values of tolerance and diversity, thus raising various questions around its credibility.
I would like to provide some well-known facts to bring forward more accurate image of Sikhs in Canada.
Mr. Thakur stated that, “Sikhs make up less than 1.5 per cent of Canada’s population, while Indo-Canadians comprise just fewer than 4 per cent. That is, Sikhs comprise roughly one-third of Indo-Canadians and are heavily concentrated in British Columbia. Thus the Sikhs in the Trudeau cabinet are out of proportion to their numbers in both the Indo-Canadian and the Canadian community at large.”
My response to Mr. Thakur’s statement is simple. Sikhs in India are an extreme minority but have participated with majority numbers in making of India. Sikhs gave the most sacrifices and participation in the struggle for India’s independence. Indian army traditionally consisted a very large majority of Sikhs. The sacrifices made by Sikhs during WWI and WWII are matchless even when the Sikhs were less than 2% of the nation’s population. Similarly, Sikhs may be a small portion of the Canadian population, but they are one of the most important and productive part of the Canadian multicultural fabric. Sikhs hold a respectable position in Canada due to their hard work, loyalty, courage and their outmost respect for democracy.
Mr. Thakur further stated, “India is an exemplar par excellence of power sharing and political accommodation in a multi-ethnic, multireligious society.”
Unfortunately, the contributor and the newspapers editorial board failed to consider the religious and ethnic in-tolerance development in India under the Hindu ultranationalist rule. A Nation sieged by hate and fear of intolerance to an extend where Aamir Khan, a Muslim Bollywood superstars of International fame and an Oscar nominee, have to face unpleasant consequences upon expressing his thoughts of the suffocating religious in-tolerance environment in India. This is the same nation where intellectual and authors have returned their prestigious Government awards in protest again in-tolerance movement spear headed by Hindu Nationalists.
It seems that the article is written and published in poor taste not withstanding the Canadian values of journalistic standards. One must understand the Sikh legacy of their heritage to understand Sikhs. I look forward to see Canadian media playing a fair role in the future.