History and study of the Jats/Chapter 9

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History and study of the Jats

Prof. B.S. Dhillon

ISBN-10: 1895603021 or ISBN-13: 978-1895603026

Chapter 9: South Asian Jats in Western Countries

South Asian Jats in Western Countries

During the British and the post-independence periods, the Jats from South Asia have settled in various parts of the world. Overseas travel of many Jats, in the service of the British Empire as soldiers or policemen began prior to the 1880's. Up until early twentieth century, almost all of these Jats belonged to the Sikh faith who finally settled in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South-East Asia, and East Africa. A significant migration of the other two great faiths in South Asia (Hindu and Muslim) occurred during the 1950's or after. At the same time, the migration of Jat Sikhs especially to countries like the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom occurred on an unparalled scale. As the result, it appears that a vast majority of the Jats in the West are Jat Sikhs. There are three main factors for this: A vast majority of the followers of Sikhism are Jats as well as same may be said for their migration to these countries. Thus, the Jat Sikh community is very visible in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In comparison to their brethren in Sikhism, from the percentage point of view, the Jat proportion of the population in Hindu and Muslim faiths are extremely low (5% or lower). This pattern may also be true, for their migration to the United States, Canada, and the United Kigdom. (However, here it must be pointed out even though they are a minority, their visibility is out of proportion. Hindu Jats have produced one Prime Minister of the independent India (Charan Singh) and one Deputy Prime Minister (Devi Lal). Their visible presence in the Indian Province of Haryana and in the surrounding areas is indisputable). Out of the combined total population of the Indians in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the Jat Sikhs account for approximately 50%. Due to the large Sikh population in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States and other relevant factors, Jat Sikhs are very visible and have caught the attention of various western scholars. As a result a considerable amount of published literature on this community is available. Since most of the Jat Sikh population outside India is in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, discussion on Jats will be restricted to these three countries. Professor McLeod [1], commenting on the principle reason for the migration of the Jat Sikhs to various parts of the world, cited Sir Malcolm Darling [2,3], "The fundamental cause was the Jat custom of subdividing each patrimony, a practice left some sons with uneconomic holdings".

9.1 Jats in Canada

After attending Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in London in 1897, a detachment of Sikh troops passed through Canada. In 1902, a contingent of Sikh troops, supplied for the coronation of Edward VII in London, also visited Canada [4]. There is no doubt almost all of these troops must have been Jats as the British Authorities were basically recruiting Jat Sikhs for their Infantry Forces [5-7]. However, with certainty we can say that the grandson of the Maharaja ("great" king) Ranjit Singh (the famous Sikh ruler and a Jat) named, Prince Victor Duleep Singh, was most likely the first Jat to visit Canada in 1889 [8]. He was second lieutenant in the first Royal Dragoons and subsequently joined Sir John Ross, Commander of the Imperial Forces in Canada as aide de camp in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Even though Prince Victor Duleep Singh arrived on the east coast of Canada, almost all of the early Jat Sikh settlers (up to mid-twentieth century) arrived on the west coast, by sea. Professor Dusenbery [9] indirectly supports this assertion by saying, "the Jats dominated migration to the Pacific rim". Furthermore, this was the most viable route from India to Canada in those times. According to reliable sources, it was not until the middle of 1903 when ten Punjabi immigrants arrived in the Province of British Columbia. But, within the next four years their total strength jumped to over 5,000. As per Dillingham Commission's report, 85 per cent of the immigrants from India in those years, were Sikhs and in turn 90 per cent of those Sikhs were Jats [8]. (It appears even today well over half the immigrants from India to Canada are from the Jat background). In 1907, Sikhs established a society named Khalsa Diwan Society and the first Sikh Church (Gurdwara) in Vancouver was opened on January 19, 1908 [10]. One of the important events in Canadian Sikh history, particularly for Jat Sikhs, took place in 1914, when a Japanese ship named Komagata Maru, carrying over 300 Sikh passenger, was turned back from the Vancouver harbour by Canadian authorities. The majority of the passengers on board were Sikh immigrants wanting to land in Canada. According to the sources cited by Professor Johnston [11], "76% of the 291 Komagata Maru passengers identified by caste were Jat Sikhs".

The Sikhs have been in Canada for over a century, and make up roughly 300,000 Canadian citizens. This represents just over 1 per cent of the total population of Canada. An approximate percentage for the Jat component of this total Sikh population is at least 70 per cent and many of these Jats are the fourth or fifth generation Canadians. In Canada, today the Jat Sikhs can be found in every walk of life: doctors, lawyers, engineers, university professors, politicians, farmers, manufacturers, and so on. Some of the well known Canadian Jat Sikhs are Jaswant (Steve) Sander, a multi millionaire who donated over 140 million dollars to the Charities and making this the second largest charitable donation in the history of Canada, Assa Johal, a lumber tycoon of Vancouver who donated a large sum of money to the Sikh and Punjabi studies chair at the University of the British Columbia, Harb Dhaliwal, a member of the Canadian Parliament and the secretary for the Fisheries, Gurbax Malhi, a member of the Canadian Parliament, Moe Sihota, a cabinet minister in the Province of British Columbia, Wally Oppal, a judge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Monica Deol, television personality and reporter, and Bhupinder Liddar, editor of the Diplomat Canada, a popular magazine for the foreign and Canadian diplomatic communities.

9.2 Jats in the United States

As in the case of Canada, the migration of the Jats to the U.S.A. is also linked with the first arrivals of the Sikhs in Canada. For example, Professor Loehlin [12] said, "Sikh immigration to the United States was a "spill-over" from Canada about the turn of the century. These Sikhs mainly went to the western states of the United States, particularly California. In Professor Loehlin's [12] words, "At first, many Indians had been admitted as "Caucasians", and so could become citizens". In those days, 90 per cent of the Sikhs who came to Canada were Jats, thus, it is safe to say that because of the immigration of Sikhs to the United States was a spill over from Canada, then the Jat proportion to the United States must also have been very close to the Canadian figure. In 1912, the Sikhs opened a Church (Gurdwara) in Stockton, California [10], most likely the first in the United States.

Recent estimates of the Sikhs in the United States indicates that their population is between 250,000 to 400,000 and at least 150,000 reside in California alone. Furthermore, at least 70 per cent of these Sikhs belong to the Jat background. Some of the most successful farmers in California are Jat Sikhs. For example, Didar S. Bains owns over 10,000 acres of land and over 60 per cent of the California Peaches are grown by Jat Sikh farmers. In California, Jat Sikhs form substantial communities in many areas. For example, Professor La Brack [13] wrote, "The contemporary Sikh community in the Yuba and Sutter County areas approaches 10,000 individuals and is numerically and culturally dominated by Jats from the districts of Hoshiarpur and Jullundar (Punjab)".

Today, from the most recent immigrants to fourth and fifth generation Jats, many of them may be seen in various different walks of life in the United States. However, they may not be as visible as their brethren in Canada, because of greater population in the United States in comparison to that of Canada. They are to be found virtually in every job category: doctors, lawyers, politicians, landlords, farmers, academics, scientists, engineers, and so on. Some examples of the successful Jat Sikhs in the United States are Didar S. Bains, one of the most successful Californian Farmers and an owner of over 10,000 acres of farmland, S.S.Dhaliwal, a multi millionaire who has donated a large sum of money to a community college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin which now carries his name, A.S. Brar, a real estate developer in Washington, D.C. area who's assets are estimated to be worth over $150 million, and D.S. Dhillon, President Clinton's appointed Assistant Secretary of Transportation who is now running for a seat in the United States House of Representatives.

9.3 Jats in the United Kingdom

The largest Jat Sikh community outside India seems to be in Great Britain. Professor Dusenbery [9] estimates the Sikh population in the United Kingdom to be between 300,000 and 600,000. A recent estimate indicates that their number could be as high as 700,000. Just like in the case of United States and Canada, the Jats account at least 70 per cent of the total Sikh population in Great Britain. For example, Professor Ballard [14] of Leeds University in England wrote, "Sikhs living in Britain, and of these well over half are Jats". (The clan names of many Pakistani descent people living in the United Kingdom indicate that there is also a substantial number of Muslim Jats.). The son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (the famous Sikh ruler and a Jat), Maharaja Duleep Singh, probably was the first modern Jat to live in England on a permanent basis in the nineteenth century. However, most of the Jat Sikhs came to England after the end of the 1940s. The first Sikh Church (Gurdwara) was founded in Shepherds Bush, London over a hundred years ago by the Maharaja ("great" king) of Patiala, Punjab (himself a Sidhu Jat). Professor La Brack [13] wrote about the Jat culture's influence in the United Kingdom on other Punjabi background communities, "As half of the British Sikhs are Jats, there is a strong bias in community life towards Jat ideas and customs, although other Sikhs, Hindus, and Punjabi Muslim groups do maintain their". Professor La Brack's judgement appears to be fairly accurate. For example, Professor Helweg [15] reported, "The 1980 census showed that Indians comprised 5,184 of Gravesend's (a town in the Kent area of England) total population of 94, 756 of these, 70% were Sikh Jats". Furthermore, the British Jat Sikh Bhangra music has not only influenced the South Asians and others living in the United Kingdom but it also became very popular among the South Asians' young population people living in Canada, the United States, and Australia. It is finding it’s way back to Punjab today the Bhangra dance's place of origin.

In general, many of the first to third generation Jat Sikhs in the United Kingdom are employed as doctors, lawyers, academics, accountants, engineers, etc. However, a substantial proportion of them are self- employed and own corner stores, newspaper shops, garages, and pubs [14]. The most successful ones own wholesale warehouses, supermarkets, cloth manufacturers concerns, and so on. Thus, some of the Jat Sikhs have become millionaires. It is not uncommon to see them living in expensive houses and driving Mercedes or Roll-Royces [14]. Finally, Professor Ballard [14] wrote, "Although most Sikh children have only attended relatively inferior inner-city schools, their educational achievements have been remarkable".

9.4 References: Chapter 9 - South Asian Jats in Western Countries

[1]. McLeod, W.H., The First Forty Years of Sikh Migration: Problems and Some Possible Solutions, in The Sikh Diaspora, edited by N. Gerald Barrier and V.A. Dusenbery, Chanakya Publications, Delhi, India, 1989, pp. 34-35.

[2]. Darling, M.L., The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt, Oxford University Press, London, 1925.

[3]. Darling, M.L., Wisdom and Waste in the Punjab Village, Oxford University Press, London, 1934.

[4]. McLeod, W.H., The Sikhs: History, Religion, and Society, Columbia University Press, New York, 1989, pp. 106-107.

[5]. Falcon, R.W., (Captain), Handbook on Sikhs for the Use of Regimental Officers, Printed at the Pioneer Press, Allahabad, India, 1896.

[6]. Bingley, A.H. (Captain), Handbook for the Indian Army: Sikhs (Compiled under the orders of the Government of India), Printed at the Government Central Printing Office, Simla, India, 1899.

[7]. Barstow, A.E. (Major), The Sikhs: An Ethnology, reprinted by B.R. Publishing Corporation, Delhi, 1895, first published in 1928.

[8]. Singh, N., Canadian Sikhs, Canadian Sikhs' Studies Institute, 21 Jay Avenue, Ottawa, 1994, pp. 31.

[9]. Dusenbery, V.A., Introduction: A Century of Sikhs Beyond Punjab, in The Sikh Diaspora, edited by N. Gerald Barrier and V.A. Dusenbery, Chanakya Publications, Delhi, India, 1989, pp. 5-6, 7.

[10]. Singh, K., Canadian Sikhs, Published by Kesar Singh, 13487-98-A Avenue, Surrey, B.C., Canada, 1989, pp. 31, 92.

[11]. Johnston, H., Patterns of Sikh Migration to Canada, in Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century, edited by J.T. O'Connell, M. Israel, and W.G. Oxtoby, Published by the Centre for South Asian Studies, Unviversity of Toronto, Toronto, 1988, pp. 229.

[12]. Loehlin, C.H., The Sikhs in California, in Essays in Honour of Dr. Ganda Singh, edited by H. Singh and N. Gerald Barrier, Punjab Past and Present, Published by the Punjabi University, Patiala, Punjab, 1976, pp. 292, 293.

[13]. La Brack, The New Patrons: Sikhs Overseas, in The Sikh Diaspora edited by N. Gerald Barrier and V.A. Dusenbery, Chanakya Publications, Delhi, India, 1989, pp. 262, 274.

[14]. Ballard, R., Differentiation and Disjunction Amongst Sikhs in Britain, in The Sikh Diaspora edited by N. Gerald Barrier and V.A. Dusenbery, Chanakya Publications, Delhi, India, 1989, pp. 208, 215-216.

[15]. Helweg, A.W., Sikh Identity in England: Its Changing Nature, in Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century, edited by J.T. O'Connell, M. Israel, and W.G. Oxtoby, Published by the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, 1988, pp. 359.


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