Friday, 17 October 2014

Sikhism in Manitoba - #CultureOfTheWeek

Sikhism in Manitoba

Sikhism is the fourth-largest religion in India, with its roots in the Punjab province over 500 years ago. To get a better understanding of the religion, I sat down with Chanpreet Singh, or Channing as is friends call him, who has only been in Manitoba for just under two years.

He told me about the beliefs of Sikhism being guided by their ten gurus, starting with the founder Guru Nanak. I learned that Sikhs are monotheist, meaning they believe in only one God. "We believe that God is one divine power, it has no shape or colour or race; It could be Jesus or it could be Allah, but it is the same for everybody," said Channing. In this way, the religion is nothing like the majority-religion of Hinduism in India.

"Sikhism is based on three pillars: contemplating God's name, working diligently and sharing with others," explained Channing. There are also five major sins to avoid: lust, anger, greed, attachment and selfish pride. "Sikh means student," said Channing before explaining that Sikhism is about respecting all of humanity and living life to learn how to be a better person.

The most identifiable characteristic of any Sikh man is the turban he wears. "Sikhism is based on natural things, and according to our Guru Nanak any human should not cut hair because it is a natural thing that is given by God," said Channing. Other identifiable characteristics include a bracelet worn on the right wrist, called the Kara, and a dagger called the Kirpan.

There is also a strong military element to Sikhism stemming from the fact that they have often had to fight against outside forces in the northern region of India. Some members carry the Kirpan as a symbol of this history in their religion. Channing did not emphasize this part of the religion during our sit-down, but he acknowledges its importance to the Sikh culture.

Mr. Singh came to Manitoba through the sponsorship program shortly after he graduated with a Bachelor of Technology in India. He spoke about how Sikhs are a minority in India and they are stigmatized because of this, especially due to being a monotheist religion among the polytheist Hindu majority. Landing in Manitoba in January of 2013, Channing recently finished a network systems administration course at Winnipeg Technical College and is now selling technology for Staples.

"It was hard for me at the starting, because of the freezing temperature and it took some time to get to know the different customs," said Channing. He says he'd love to live in Manitoba permanently because of the multicultural society and his positive relationships with people.

There are nearly 500,000 Sikhs in Canada and they are credited with being among the first immigrants from South Asia. Their history includes an embarrassing incident in Canada's past.

In 1914 the Komagata Maru, a ship full of 340 Sikhs who identified as British subjects, was forced to turn around because the federal government did not welcome them, despite being British subjects just like all Canadians at that time.

Canada has come a long way since then and Sikhs now have deep roots that continue to contribute to the cultural tapestry of our nation.

Chanpreet Singh, aka Channing, aka Channing Tatum
And ladies, he's single!

Sikhs aboard the Komagata Maru in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet, 1914
Library and Archives Canada)

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