Sikh Heritage Month Promoted by MPP Jagmeet Singh in Canada

Jagmeet Singh, MPP for Bramalea Gore Malton spoke to members of the Guelph Sikh Society Sunday to promote the new Sikh Heritage Month, which he championed.
Jagmeet Singh, MPP for Bramalea Gore Malton spoke to members of the Guelph Sikh Society Sunday to promote the new Sikh Heritage Month, which he championed.

GUELPH, Ontario, Canada—”Despite being part of the Canadian fabric for 100 years, Sikhs continue to face discrimination in this country,” Bramalea Gore Malton MPP Jagmeet Singh said during a visit to the Guelph Sikh community Sunday.

For that reason, Singh has long championed a deeper understanding of the Sikh faith and culture in this country, and was recently successful in having the month of April declared Sikh Heritage Month by the Government of Ontario.

He visited the Guelph Gurduara on Stevenson Street during the Sunday worship, where he encouraged about 200 in attendance to promote Sikh Heritage Month to the broader Guelph community. He hopes the celebration will eventually become a national one.

The Guelph Sikh Society continues to raise funds for its new multi-million dollar Gurduara on Clair Road in the city’s south end, a major construction project that could finally get underway later this spring.

In an interview, Singh said shortly after he was elected to the Brampton area riding, tragedy struck the Sikh people in North America. A shooting at a Gurduara in Wisconsin left six men and women dead.

“It was fueled by racism, by hatred,” he said.

As he spoke, a melodious voice filled the interior of the Guelph Gurudara with chanting, and the scent of Indian food was in the air.

“There were some hate crimes that happened in my riding and there was also a YouTube video that was released that had a lot of hateful comments in it,” he said. “I thought that, though we live in a country that’s quite diverse, there is still a lot stigma around the Sikh community, particularly because we are quite unique looking. We stand out with our turbans and our beards.”

He said a recent survey by Maclean’s magazine found that Muslims were the most negatively perceived group in Canada, followed closely by Sikhs.

“But one of the silver linings of that survey was that if people had contact with Sikhs and they met Sikhs, there opinion was the opposite . They felt they [Sikhs] were one of the nicest people they met,” he added.

“Exposing mainstream society to Sikh culture would go a long way to eliminating stigma, he said. Human beings have a primal fear of the unknown, and fear leads to hatred. Remove the unknowns and the fear dissipates.

I thought that if we could expose people more to Sikhs and talk about what we’ve contributed to Ontario and to Canada, and talking about our principles and values, equality, love, respect for all people, and the social duty we have to give back to our community. I think people would be less likely to have negative associations, and that stigma might be broken down.”

Last December, the Government of Ontario passed Singh’s bill calling for April to be declared Sikh Heritage Month. The month is very significant for Sikhs given that it is the month in which the faith was formalized back in 1699. April 13 marks the Sikh New Year.

“One of the things that happen when you have a provincially recognized month is that it gives the community a sense of belonging, that the government has actually acknowledged that you are a unique and distinct spiritual tradition,” he said. “That recognition gives some solace and some confidence to a community that is marginalized.”

It also creates a platform that can be used to promote inclusiveness and diversity, and inspires the creation of a number of community events to promote the month.

The Guelph Sikh Society has been in the news in recent years as it plans for a major new Gurudara in the south end. The early development of the project was met with some neighborhood opposition, and preliminary measures were taken to challenge the project at the Ontario Municipal Board. That challenge was withdrawn in late 2010. The project has been slow to get off the ground.

On Sunday, Varinderjit Daroch, president of the Guelph Sikh Society, said the community has submitted the foundation plan to the city for approval and is waiting on the permit. He said once the permit is forthcoming, excavation on the foundation will begin shortly after.

A building permit will be applied for after that. Once that is in hand, the community will seek quotations from builders.

The local Sikh community, which numbers about 400, continues to raise funds for the project, but it is not yet known what the final cost will be.

“The plans are finalized, we just need the building permits so that we have permission to build everything,” Daroch said. “That is in process.”

Manmohan Grewal is a member of the local Sikh community’s building committee. He said they hope to begin work on the construction project in the next two months, if the necessary permits come through. The city has about 20 days to respond to the excavation permit application, he said.

“And we project that we need another 15 months to finish,” Grewal said.


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