The Other Sikhs

Himadri Banerjee

in Sikhism in Global Context

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780198075547
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199082056 | DOI:
The Other Sikhs

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This chapter explores the Sikh’s dispersal within India, an area which has been studied less than their migration to the West. The author focuses on the ways in which Sikhs have moved into an area of Shillong in north-eastern India—beginning just after the Great Earthquake of 1897—evolving various links between Punjab and the rest of the country. Ramgarhia domination—with Nagina Singh being one of the most prominent Ramgarhia Sikhs in Shillong—more or less continued till the end of the 1960s. Erosion of Ramgarhia caste domination led to occasional frictions in the proceedings of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha. The author describes how the Ramgarhias yielded place to Harijans, who were brought in by the British army and worked as safai karamcharis (sweepers). In spite of their growing presence in Shillong, Harijans were generally lukewarm in asserting their rights over other Sikh caste groups, and maintained their distance from the Ramgarhias. Soniars constituted the last major caste group in the Shillong Sikh settlement, moving into Shillong as refugees from what is now Pakistan at the time of Partition in 1947. They were money lenders, ornament makers, and general traders, with trade links extending to their original home in West Punjab. The richer Soniyar Sikhs steadily marginalized the Harijans, after internal divisions among the latter. In conclusion, the author points out that caste considerations remain alive in diasporic Sikh communities—such as the Meghalaya Sikhs—even outside Punjab within India, and that globalization now demands the serious study of the lived experience of diasporic Sikh communities in any study of Sikhism and Sikhs in general.

Keywords: Sikhs; Sikhs in Shillong; Ramgarhia Sikhs; caste domination; Harijans; Soniars in Shillong; Sikh refugees; Sikh settlement; Meghalaya Sikhs; Sikh studies and Globalization

Chapter.  8675 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Sikhism

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