From Product to Process: Sikh Diaspora in
In order to characterize the sociological homogeneity and heterogeneity of the Sikh population in Southeast Asia it is necessary to build on detailed ethnographies. Unfortunately, to date only brief and fragmentary information is available on Sikh communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, et al., and even this data is encapsulated within the rubric of “Indian communities” (cf. Sandhu and Mani 1993). Sikhs in other parts of the world, especially in the United Kingdom, Canada and USA have been studied in greater detail and over a longer period of time with the result that a book on the Sikh diaspora (Axel 2001), based on multi-sited ethnography, is able to cover “four kinds of Sikh subjects or, more precisely, four sites of Sikh”, namely, the colonial Sikh subject, the Sikh subject constituted by the nation-state, the “khalistani” Sikh subject, and the Sikh subject constituted by Sikh Studies. The author, Brian K. Axel, is careful to point out that these four sites cannot be neatly separated since they indicate the complex historical interrelations of the Sikh diaspora to formations of empire and nation. To indicate the complexity and occasional intractability of using these diverse but interrelated sources let me point out, to take one example from many, the geographer late Kernial Singh Sandhu’s contribution in the anthology mentioned above. His chapter, entitled, “Sikhs in Malaysia: A Society in Transition”, gives virtually no information on the fission and fusion aspects of Sikh community formation in Malaysia which, as we shall presently see, is a salutary feature for sociological analysis of many other contributions about diasporic Sikhs in Southeast Asia. Uncharacteristically, his piece ends with a lament on the lack of unity among Malaysian Sikhs and some dark speculation on what forces might weld them together (Sandhu 1993a: 558-67).