When the first small batch of Sikhs arrived in Canada in 1897, they could have scarcely imagined the role their community would go on to play in the country’s socio-political arena. The earliest Sikh immigrants found work in laying the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway, in lumber mills and mines. Besides alien land and the unfamiliar, this hardworking community had other things to cope with, such as racism and discrimination, highlighted by the Komagata Maru incident in 1914. However, known for their grit and unwavering resilience, the Sikhs in Canada persevered. A century on, they have not only placed themselves in leading positions in every sphere of public life, but have also been able to change popular perceptions regarding them.
A lot of Sikhs also made Canada their home to escape the anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984, when members of the community were targeted, allegedly by leaders of the then Indian government, following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Once here, the Sikhs have upheld the highest values of dignity and honest labor and have contributed significantly to the Canadian economy and politics. Instead of being passive outsiders, they have become active participants in wider community initiatives.
This week, we feature the recently-held Sikh Centennial Gala, which honors the best of the Sikh community—in terms of social contributions and showcases some of the most promising talents. As General Walt Natynczyk, Canada’s Chief of Defense Staff, the keynote speaker at this year’s Gala mentioned, the Sikh community has proved its mettle in the country’s military and has a lot to be proud of. This recognition is an accomplishment in itself—not just of the Sikh community, but of all South Asians, and by extension of all immigrant communities in Canada. Sikhs in Canada are no longer second-class citizens at the mercy of “masters,” but deciders of their own fates as well as policy makers who have a say in local, provincial and federal politics.