In Canada, Sikhs are the largest religious group among Indo-Canadians; the 2001 Canadian Census puts their number at 278,410 Sikhs in Canada. According to the 2004 Census, however, a more accurate number puts the number closer to 400,000. In the 1890s up until the early to mid 20th c., all immigrants coming from India were indiscriminately called and labelled under the general designation “Hindu” even if beyond 98% of South Asian immigrants were in fact Sikhs (figures and facts taken from “Sikhism” art., in The Canadian Encyclopedia).
Since the Partition of India in 1947, along with immigration trends in Canada, as a direct result of so many circumstances, Sikh communities have elected to make Canada their home. Nowadays, even if the Sikh community seems to benefit and thrive in Canada’s national policy of multiculturalism, which promotes cultural minorities; although, despite this, the Sikh community has in recent years undergone some integration issues as a consequence of all of the polemics surrounding Sikh police officers wearing turbans in the RCMP, and also all of the press generated by the Quebec kirpan debate. In my last blogpost (Colourful Languages) I had briefly examined the British Raj – the British rule in India – and some of the cross-cultural linguistic influences that made it into our vocabularies, words from which Modern English has inherited among Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit and Hindi-Urdu terms they learned in the Asian Subcontinent. In one of my earlier articles from last month (Canada Speaks), I also examined StatsCan results showing the rise of Punjabi (the language spoken by Sikhs) as one of the top immigrant languages in Canada. In short, all of this got me thinking about the origins of Sikhism – which as you shall read (at least I hope you will) – a belief system which emerged as a direct result of the Muslim conquests of India and Mughal rule; it is a syncretic was of thinking that resulted from a from a clash of cultures… All this inspired me to talk a little bit about Sikhism and some more about India’s colourful past – to take a look at its rich history and origins.
Sikhism is often a misunderstood religion, therefore I thought that maybe taking a quick look at its historical foundations would assuredly make many people appreciate it more.
In the Indian Subcontinent, while the commonly-shared origins of Jainism and Buddhism developed during a period of intense social and cultural disruption – dating back to the 6th century BC – the story of Sikhism is not too dissimilar. The origins of the Sikh religion/dharma also comes from a great social upheaval, and this time the appearance of this new way of thinking would come about from a great dialogue between the two great religious traditions of 15th century India. Then, the obvious question that begs to be answered: What are these two great religions which are the “parents” of Sikhism.