As Sikhs make headlines, the Vancouver Sun tries a little psychotherapy (and it works)


There’s been a lot in the Canadian press recently about Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party and their dealings with Sikhs. More than 30 years ago, a Sikh man living in British Columbia shot a visiting Punjabi official from India and ended up serving five years in prison. Normally, such folks wouldn’t be allowed within blocks of the Canadian prime minister.

Which is why a lot of people were shocked a few weeks ago when the shooter ended up at a Mumbai reception sponsored by the Canadian government and was on the invite list for a similar event with Trudeau in Delhi.

Naturally, more questions were asked as to just who and what is Canada’s Sikh minority. Which is why the Vancouver Sun’s spirituality and diversity columnist Douglas Todd decided to interview the folks in the Sikh community who know where all the bodies are buried: Psychotherapists. Here's what he came up with:

Canadian journalists have been reporting on how Trudeau and his entourage, including Sikh MPs, invited a convicted Sikh terrorist to diplomatic galas in India, and how early videos have been uncovered linking the NDP leader to Sikh activists and militants pressing for a separate homeland in India called Khalistan.
The Canadian news media have, in the midst of the commotion, sometimes been accused by activists of stereotyping the country’s roughly 500,000 Sikhs, “by portraying all Sikhs as violent extremists.” Sensitivity has been exacerbated by U.S. cases, following the 2001 terrorist attacks, where some turban-wearing Sikh Americans have been attacked, even killed, after being mistaken for Muslims…
However, as Sikh activists urge Canadians to find out more about what Sikhs think, there is one source we have not heard from: Professional psychotherapists of Punjabi Sikh origin. Such insiders work on the front lines with the country’s eclectic Sikhs, especially when they’re distressed.

There is no ordained priesthood among Sikhs, so am guessing the therapy community was the next best thing.

One important thing to note: Sikhs have not polled well among western Canadians in the past because they're perceived as violent. Todd wrote only last month about how Canada's Hindus look askance at the Sikhs.

Some of these psychotherapists have written scholarly papers about the way emotional difficulties are handled by Western Sikhs as a result of coming from a largely rural culture, in which many stressed stoicism, philosophy and have been uninterested in talking about feelings.
B.C. therapist Gurjit Thandi says Punjabi Sikhs, like members of most ethnic minorities, “do not respond well to traditional Western (therapeutic) interventions and prevention methods.” Scholar Kamala Nayer writes that, because of the deep-seated cultural norm of “saving face,” many Sikhs are reluctant to open up about personal problems.

So, how does their religion help?

Surrey-based Jaswinder Singh Sandhu is one of the Sikh psychotherapists in Canada, Britain and the U.S. who have published journal articles that aim to help counsellors work with Sikhs. Such therapists often remark on Sikhs’ relatively high rate of religiosity, noting distressed Sikhs can find it helpful to re-embrace their 450-year-old spiritual tradition.
When Sikhs are undergoing emotional troubles, B.C. psychologists Robinder Bedi and Amritpal Shergill say, some can exhibit helplessness and defeatism, since they “draw upon the concepts of karma and kismet, or fate based on past deeds and destiny.” The psychotherapists recommend directing Sikh clients to explore “religious scriptures that provide guidance on how to undo bad karma.”

The rest of the article is heavily laced with Sandhu quotes, probably because the psychotherapist understands how to communicate Sikh anxieties in western terms. He also warns of a nascent youth radicalism.

Sandhu is aware of highly popular Canadian-made Sikh rap videos that extol semi-automatic weapons in the name of fighting for a separate Sikh homeland. He also follows the way some of the Twitter profiles of young Sikhs feature revolvers, rifle-carrying Sikh warriors and maps of India emblazoned with the words “Sikh Kingdom.”

This may not be an ISIS-in-the-making movement just yet, but there are some parallels with youth who live between two cultures and dream of life in a place where their religion is the dominant faith.

I will mention that Sikhs aren't new in western Canada. They've been around for about a century, starting out as laborers in lumber camps, saw mills, railroad construction, salmon canneries, fruit orchards and cattle farms. So why the angst now?

The piece didn't address that question, but read it to get a glimpse into this slice of Canadian life. Typically, Todd doesn’t so much do hard news any more as he blogs about slices of life in sophisticated and polyglot metro Vancouver, which gives him freedom to insert opinion, such as his assertion in this piece that Canadian journalists have been fair in their Sikh coverage.

Covering the religion beat has always been a stretch in that writers were traditionally expected to know the basics of Judaism and Christianity’s many shades. Starting in the 1980s and ‘90s, more reporters began boning up on Islam and in the last 20 years they’ve had to also get instant expertise on a huge list of other faiths: Sikhs, Baha’is, Wiccans, various traditions of Buddhists including expertise on the Dalai Lama; Hindu nationalists and Yezidis, not to mention more politically active Pentecostals and charismatics and a pope whose read on Catholic doctrine seems to change by the day.

So when a reporter decides to get into the heads of one newsworthy group and explain all their contradictions to his readers, such writing humanizes that minority greatly.

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