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The Making of a Sikh Diaspora
A review of The Nation's Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the Formation of the Sikh "Diaspora" by Brian Keith Axel (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press); 2001; pp. xi + 297.
The American Historical Review, Feb. 1, 2003 (volume 108, Number 1)
Photo: The Nation's Tortured Body by Brian Keith Axel
It is fair to ask whether there is a Sikh diaspora. In a 1999 study entitled The Sikh Diaspora: The Search for Statehood, Darshan Singh Tatla carefully considered the question. Over ninety percent of the global Sikh population resides in India, and most Sikh emigrants have gone abroad voluntarily. If a forced dispersal is the criteria for a diaspora, Tatla conceded that the Sikh case did not fit. But if the sense of a contested homeland is sufficient, then it does. What made Tatla's answer particularly interesting was his position that Sikhs abroad did not constitute a diaspora until June 1984, when Indian troops attacked their most important shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab. It was at that point that Sikhs in Britain, Europe, North America, East Africa, and the Far East lost their sense of a secure homeland in India and became psychological exiles. Until then, Tatla said, these people belonged to emigrant communities but not a diaspora.