Though not a very big community as such, the Sikhs living abroad
seem to have become a rather popular subject for the diaspora
studies. Apart from the individual scholars carrying-out
researches on the Sikh diaspora, some of the Western
universities have also opened-up Centers and Chairs devoted to
the study of the community and its religion. The Sikhs living
there have also taken a great deal of interest in presenting
themselves in positive terms and have been financially
supporting some of these chairs.
the estimates mentioned by the author, of the total Sikh
population of around 20 million, as many as 3 million (roughly
15 per cent) are currently living in and moving between North
America, Africa, East and Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand
and Europe. Their largest concentration outside India is in
Britain, the United States and Canada.
focus of Brian Axelís book is, however theoretical, concerning
the prevailing conceptions of diaspora. He contests the popular
notion, which looks at diaspora communities as homogenous
people, united by their "place of origin". Such an
understanding assumes that diaspora "is essentially
produced by the homeland".
with such an approach, Axel argues, is that it tends to
substitute/ confuse "one kind of spatiotemporal totality
(the nation state) with another (global capital)".
Diasporic perception emanates from the spatiotemporal context of
the globalised world and it is from within this new global
reality that "diaspora is supposed to derive its definitive
quality as diaspora". The case of Sikhs seems to fit rather
well in his frame of things.
Though it was
after the happenings in 1984 that the Sikhs living abroad got
involved with the Khalistan movement, Axel contends that they
already had a notion of Sikh homeland. This notion of homeland
was, in a way, different from the notion of nation-state and was
produced primarily by their experience of migrations and
displacement. Thus, instead of a distinctive Sikh diaspora
having been produced by a shared "homeland", Axel
argues that for the Sikhs it was diasporic experience that
produced a discourse of homeland. He illustrates by examining
the case of Glassy Junction, a pub opened by the Sikhs in South
Hall. The pub was started by the Sikhs essentially to assert
their sovereignty and negotiate with the dominant white culture.
In other words, the pub was not merely a place for entertainment
but also a mode asserting distinctive identity. When it was
opened, it had life-size portrait of Maharaja Dalip Singh. It
now also has symbols of rural Punjabi life and map of the Indian
Punjab hung on its walls. A visit to the Glassy Junction has come
to symbolise a visit to the homeland Punjab.
Brian Axelís offers many
refreshing ways of looking at the Sikh diaspora and through that
at the Sikh history. It is a book that should engage not only
those interested in the diaspora studies but also those trying
to understand how the processes of globalisation are changing
our social identities.