SAN IN THE NEWS – Sikhs say they are being stereotyped

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Sikhs say they are being stereotyped

By Carl Meyer
Published May 12, 2010

Members of Canada’s Sikh community are bristling at what they believe is a hijacking of their faith by extremists to make headlines, which they fear has again painted the entire 300,000-strong diaspora in a negative light. They are also defending legitimate community fundraising efforts, charging that statements like those made by India’s high commissioner to Canada, which linked fundraising with Sikh separatism, are unfair.

While many had considered the movement to separate from India andestablish a Sikh homeland called Khalistan as dead in Canada, on April 15, two days before an annual Sikh new year parade in Surrey, BC, parade organizer Inderjit Singh Bains singled out Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh and BC politician Dave Hayer as not being welcome and warned that “they are responsible for their own safety.” Both men are Sikhs who have publicly opposed the separatist movement. Mr. Dosanjh was attacked in 1985 and Mr. Hayer’s father was assassinated.

Over the past week, Embassy contacted more than a dozen Sikh organizations across the country to talk about the community’s views and mood in light of these recent events. Most declined to give their views on the record, saying privately that they were afraid to be grouped together with extremist organizations in news stories. Some, however, expressed concern that Canadian media provide only negative coverage of the Sikh community.

Liberal MP Navdeep Bains, one of several Sikh MPs, said that when there are incidents with the police, media coverage tends to “give a negative impression of the overall community.”

“The community believes that these negative incidents that take place do receive a high level of coverage, and sometimes the good work that’s done does not necessarily receive that kind of coverage,” he said.

Mr. Bains cautioned that, like any other community in Canada, it is difficult to take the measure of the Canadian Sikh community as a whole, as it is not a homogenous group.

“We’ve had Sikhs come to Canada over the last hundred years, so different generations come in with different economic backgrounds, different political views…. It’s just as diverse and complex as any other community in Canada,” he said.

Indeed, Canada has a number of ethnic communities that are often  painted with the same brush but are, in fact, anything but homogenous. Canada’s large and extremely diverse Chinese community is but one example. Perhaps a closer comparison to the Sikh community would be Canada’s large Tamil diaspora.

Tamils came in for intense scrutiny over the past few years, in particular after the Conservative government listed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist organization. Much of that focus was on fundraising activities, with the fear that money raised in Canada was being used to buy weapons for the nationalist movement in Sri Lanka.

In comments to Embassy last week, Indian High Commissioner to Canada SM Gavai said that the recent rise in violent and provocative gestures related to the Sikh separatist movement may be more about raising money and trying to have influence than true nationalism.

But what a few individuals may or may not be doing, say Mr. Bains and others, doesn’t affect the fact that majority of Canada’s Sikh community is making a positive contribution here and abroad through fundraising activities that are legitimate. As an example, Mr. Bains pointed to the Guru Gobind Singh Children’s Foundation’s run across
Canada this past summer. The run collected money for local children’s hospitals and Plan Canada.

“That didn’t receive the same level of media coverage as some of these other events that took place,” he said.

Gurvinder Dhaliwal, a radio host in Richmond, BC, on whose show the parade organizer made threats against Messrs. Dosanjh and Hayer, argued that the Canadian public should focus instead on the good deeds
the Sikh community partakes in.

“We, as Canadian Sikhs, funded about half-a-million dollars for the victims in Haiti. So how can any person [focus] on Sikhs using funds for wrong purposes?” he said.

“Don’t paint the whole community with one brush, and don’t stereotype the Sikh community.”

Jagmeet Dhaliwal, a spokesperson for the Toronto-centered Sikh Activist Network, wrote in an email that comments that include “sweeping allegations” of the Sikh community are “dangerous and
inflammatory” and “may incite hatred against the Sikh community, a vulnerable and visible minority group.”

Mr. Dhaliwal agreed that news of the Sikh community has been biasedtoward negative coverage, writing “the Sikh community has not been given an opportunity to deny these false generalizations.”

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