Why global Sikh community needs to control its narrative
It needs a new breed of Khushwant and Patwant Singhs.
- Total Shares
I just read a piece about racial attacks on American Sikhs published in the Los Angeles Times.
I am not sure it would have educated me adequately about the community if I was a non-Sikh born and raised in the United States.
It doesn't have to. In fact, no newspaper or TV story about communities can be expected to serve as an encyclopaedia on their evolution and philosophies.
More so in this Google age. No Wikipedia read can turn a reporter overnight into a science, diplomatic, military, space, financial or political expert, off her beat.
Google and Wikipedia, at best, offer them a decent opportunity to be factually accurate.
"Sikhism, which has roots in the Punjab region of northern India and eastern Pakistan, is the world’s fifth-largest religion," read the story in the Los Angeles Times, which is absolutely correct and so is every other line in the piece about attacks on the members of the American-Sikh community.
The reporter has done a great job. If I were to write a news report about Mormons, I too would turn to authoritative sources for my storytelling in order to be accurate. That's how gold-standard journalism works.
But it's a sheer myth circulated by PR agencies and PR-savvy individuals that mass media can be a vehicle to promote religions. In one of my previous blogs, I wrote in detail about the global deficit of expert reporting on faiths.
Religions in the lead don't turn to TV stations and other media outlets to build narrative. They control it.
The global Sikh political power - Jagmeet Singh, Ontario MPP, launching his bid for Canada's New Democratic Party. Photo: Harmeet Shah Singh
And there lies the key.
During my last trip to North America, I had a chance to meet up with the who's who of the diasporic community.
Some of them were big legal brains, some top political leaders, some economists and some entrepreneurs.
Almost all of them exhibited a genuine desire to help the Sikh community back in India, in whatever way they could.
Ajaib Singh Chatha, a Brampton-based barrister, shared his passion about introducing moral education in Punjab's school curriculum.
The gentleman has already commissioned several books on morality, several of them contained short stories.
In Mississauga, barrister Harminder Singh Dhillon spoke fervidly about the struggle and rise of Sikh migrants in Malaysia.
At his plush suite-office in downtown Toronto, an elderly Sikh, who preferred not to be named, pulled out books depicting rare Sikh art in what was a stunning departure from his public image as an economist.
I am citing North-American Sikhs as examples because they thrived in what is perhaps one of the world's finest ecosystems.
But who I still missed meeting there was a Sikh running a thoroughly-professional media property.
I sat with some owners of bilingual newspapers and TV outlets, but none that I could look up to as a skilled professional. Most of them had real estate as their main business.
I am not really sure how many of them have employed how many journalists drawn from the media industry.
No wonder reporting from their outlets resonate thinly outside of the community audience, which too is limited to migrants from the 1960s onwards.
The diasporic Sikh story thus remains dependent on media houses managed by non-Sikh professionals.
The late Patwant Singh and Khushwant Singh were perhaps the only two Sikhs in independent India who were gifted with a rare ability to communicate compellingly with the world outside.
Among them, Khuswant Singh, for the record, called himself agnostic.
Why is it that the Sikhs have made a mark in every sphere other than communications?
Ajaib Singh Chatha, a Brampton-based barrister, shared his passion about introducing moral education in Punjab's school curriculum. Photo: Harmeet Shah Singh
Why is it that Sikh-controlled media, both in Punjab and in countries as advanced as Canada, has yet to come out of age?
Throughout their lifetime, the Gurus laid heavy emphasis on scholarly and intellectual pursuits. Compiled in Sri Guru Granth Sahib are writings not only of the six of the 10 Gurus but also of thinkers and philosophers from various other traditions.
Guru Gobind Singh had a galaxy of 52 poet/scholars in his court.
That's how the Sikh narrative developed under a hostile reign.
Sikhs in the modern world have invested in everything but tools of information.
A local newspaper here or a TV/radio station there can at best be a means only for intracommunity networking.
Paid PR campaigns, press statements fizzle out of public memory, sooner or later.
Physical and ideological attacks on visible minorities are stemming from the eye of what I call a global storm of aggressive right wing.
The real power to counter it lies in the narrative. And for the narrative, you need to produce a new breed of Patwant and Khushwant Singhs - my Sikh metaphors for an irresistible talent in communications.