Intolerance between Western & Punjabi Sikhs

Here are some thoughts relating to this Discussion Topic posted on SikhNet.

There is definitely an element of this, however much of it has to do with cultural differences. I am a so called “Western Sikh”, though I am a mix of east and west since I went to school in India for 10+ years.

In my experience the cultural differences and some of the close-mindedness has kept the integration from happening. However in the recent years I have seen some very positive change. Part of it is people getting over the whole “yoga” thing which myself and many other western Sikhs practice. There are so many things which trigger a reaction in Punjabis because of historical and cultural things. Yoga is automatically assumed and looked at as a “Hindu” practice and something that the Gurus were against. Most have no idea what it is and know very little about it. I would say…Before criticizing…Learn more and actually try it! You might surprise yourself.

We don’t have these issues…So we look at it, try it…See the benefits and reap the rewards without getting hung up on these other things. Another example is something like a statue or picture representing a Guru. From the Punjabi perspective this is considered a big “no-no” and potential idol worship. However since we don’t have that background…we just take these representations as inspirational images (not as an item of worship). I think we are coming into the Sikh path with a clean slate, learning from scratch so it is very different.

I also think that it would benefit all our communities to mingle more. It has been one of my goals for a long time to find ways to bridge the gaps between the growing non-Punjabi Sikhs and the rest of the Sikhs. I think the youth are the key here (in both communities). My parents generation and the older Punjabi generation are from very different cultures, whereas the youth are more on the same page. It easier to relate and be open to new things.

When it comes down to it…it really has to do with people wanting to meet and have a relationship with other sikhs. It’s like when there is someone new in your community, it takes an extra effort to welcome them and say hello. It’s easier to take the easy route and just stay within your circle of friends and what is familiar.

Also I think when people see “western” sikhs there is a certain curiosity or unknown element which makes them feel very different. Your not quite sure what to make of them. I think a lot of people don’t really know much about “western” sikhs, so there is that part which keeps people at a distance. It’s kind of the same as a “John Doe” might see any Sikh and keep his distance because he is not sure what to make of the person with a Turban.

This will change in time as we get to know each other and get over each other’s hangups. I think the outlook is positive. It’s just a matter of time and people opening to change.

Well…that is it for tonight…it’s already way too late.

15 Responses to “Intolerance between Western & Punjabi Sikhs”

  1. Anonymous says:

    While I agree with some of your comments about Punjabi Sikhs – ignorance of Yoga etc. On the other hand – If you look at the subject of pictures of GURUS – even amongst Punjabi Sikhs they are divided , so you cannot say a general statement about Punjabi Sikhs against Westerns on pictures/paintings of Gurus. This could be because Indian government doesn’t recognize Sikhism as a separate religion and people like me looking at everything like pictures/paintings of GURUS relating to Hinduism.
    Older generation not mixing with the next generation is true but it always takes time to accept the changes of life and nature. This is true for both sides Punjabis as well as Western Sikhs. There was language barrier, now it is disappearing.
    My feelings about the Western Sikhs are the same like you have for Punjabi Sikhs but the other way around. I have always greeted the Western Sikhs. Sometimes I go especially to say Hi to them and introduce myself. I don’t see this from my Western counterparts. I have lived in California, Oregon and currently I live in New Jersey.

    I am sorry for the way you feel about us and hope this changes soon. Just like us Western Sikhs have lived in a small community by themselves. One thing I don’t like is Sikhs ( Western/Punjabi/non-Punjabi) try to control there environment by going to specific Gurudwaras. I can go to any Gurudwara without hesitation, it’s even better to go to a Gurudwara where you don’t know anyone (no socializing or other motives).

    I plan on taking a vacation trip to New Mexico to see Western Sikhs lifestyle. You have lived in India for 10 years and I was 23 when I migrated to USA. I know Sikhs are open minded and welcome everyone to their fold. I can assure you with Waheguru’s grace we will see changes in our life time, Sikhs living as Sikhs not Western Sikhs or Punjabi Sikhs or non- Punjabi Sikhs.

  2. Thanx for the comments. I agree. You can also see some more comments on this topic in the SikhNet discussion forum

  3. Jaspal Singh says:

    WaheGuru Ji Ka Khalsa, WaheGuru Ji Ki Fateh,

    There is definetly a rift, which will close very soon. Trust me it will.

    I also know everything is happening according to Hukam.

    Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogi Ji went to the West to teach Yoga, but Guru Ji had different plans and now we see Sikhi taking its true form as a Universal Faith for everyone.

    If it wasn’t for him, my dear brother Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa would not be standing in New Mexico donning a Dastar and looking like the Guru’s Tiger he is.

    1984 was a dark time, no attack like this had ever happened in the history of Sikhism, there was a plan for total termination of Sikhism.

    But what people do not realise is that……….

    “..hukam rajaa-ee chalnaa naanak likhi-aa naal. ||1||

    O Nanak, it is written that you shall obey the Hukam of His Command, and walk in the Way of His Will….”

    Soon we will see the whole world embracing Sikhi.


    Keep up the good work brother, we need more people like you and less like me.

  4. amrit says:


    I feel that those who take western sikhs as a seperate entity are merely trying to disillusion themselves. It really feels great when some from the westerm world adhers to the principles of sikhism. I am from india , delhi and i think that you guys are the true sikhs leading by examples to people back in india, who some how slowly but surely are alienating themselves from the Gurus tru teachings.. Keep doing the great work.My personal experience in sweden(stockholm) was of a utter joy when i saw a 3HO sikh proudly commuting through the underground with no remorse on what he is.

    cheers to you all!!


  5. Anonymous says:

    I realy liked your article about western and indian sikhs….its true that there is a great differnce in cultural background. I being a punjabi sikh still believe that we are kids of same God and I personaly have lot of respect for western sikhs as they realy tried, explored and accepted the religion which was gifted to us. Western sikhs have greater value for Sikhism than most of the punjabi sikhs especialy the new generation which is having hard time staying in rehat mariyada. I learned yoga as part of school activity in India as a kid and loved it, I dont see it as hindu. If we are asked to do simran , it actualy comes from meditation in yoga.
    Last but not least I would like to pay my greatest respect to all the Children of Guru Nanak , western or Indian.

  6. Kanwarjeet Singh Chadha says:

    Sat Sri Akal

    I read the blog – must say its pretty impressive. On the issues of western and eastern Sikhs – I think I can tell you from my experience. I grew up in Bombay India and faced a lot of remarks about being a terrorist etc. while travelling in trains buses etc while still a teen growing up (nope I am still 29). In my experience most Sikhs either completely give up their identity or become very rigid in protecting it. It becomes a sort of defensive mechanism to protect your identity and anything which the Guru Granth sahib doesnt mention automatically becomes a No-no for the Sikh culture. I think yoga fits in this category as does keeping pictures of the Gurus even though you may not worship them. And like you said yoga is deinitely beneficial and nothing to do with Hinduism. I think this seperates the Sikhs from the two cultures (not that western sikhs have not faced any opposition).

    Also I think there is an urgent need for Sikhs to educate our younger and older generations about the right principles of Sikhism (especially us Punjabi SIkhs). The media has helped create a lot of confusion via movies and TV programs that a) Sikhs are comparatively less intelligent and b) keeping our identity is optional. Having seen this repeatedly in media lot of Sikhs are confused – they think we have branched out from Hindusim (which is not true) and that there are Sehajdhari (clean shaven) and Keshdhari (with complete hair and identity) Sikhs. A Sikh is a Sikh with not attached conditions – either you are a Sikh or you are not – no gray areas. There is an urgent need to educate our youth with stories of Bhai Matidas etc – who gave up their life but not their identity.

    I hope my comments are in sync with the Guru’s.

  7. Kanwarjeet says:

    Just to add to my previous comment – it makes me feel proud and also ashamed to meet a Western Sikh – a Western Sikh is so proud and so humble about who he/she is and their identity – they walk with their head held high – in contrast I am ashamed to see some of the Punjabi Sikhs finding convenient ways to get rid of their identity – trimmed beard, wearing a turban only at the Sunday gurdrawa. We have a lot to learn from the disciplined western Sikhs.

  8. Anonymous says:

    To add to Kanwarjeet’s comments…I do feel ‘Western’ Sikhs set such a beautiful example of how Sikhi can flourish in the West. Honestly, they put the Punjabis to shame! May we learn from each other. The seva people like Gurustuk Singh Khalsa Ji are doing is incredible.

    I’m not a practising Sikh; I have been raised in England and I live the British lifestyle as opposed to the Sikh lifestyle. I guess my values are a mix of ‘Western’ and Punjabi; however, seeing people who have not necessarily been born into Sikhi embrace it really acts as a wake-up call.

    Thank you!

    B Kaur.

  9. Anonymous says:

    sat sri akal jee,
    i totally agree with jaspal singh jee that this rift is going to end as the panajabi sikhs get to learn more about the westren sikhs like shere khalsa mrsikhnet.there is a great need for a revolution in sikhi in india but i don't think that these motherf**k**s hindus will let that happen.they are too insecure and shallow a religion to let other religion flourish.whatever the circumstances may be to preserve sikhi in india we have to fight them.84 was a very dark period in sikh history and we shd all learn some lessons from it.we shd also be prepared for some 84 like events in the future.but there is a firm belief in my heart that sooner or later sikhi will spread to all parts of the world and will completely overtake the hindustan.
    waheguru jee kaa khalsa
    waheguru jee kee fateh

  10. Charanjit Singh says:

    Nice article & Comments. But everyone kept themselves between Western Sikhs and Punjabi Sikhs. No one talked of just “Sikhs”. When Sikhism did away with caste system, everthing else is washed away. We are Sikhs, thats all. Now what to follow to be on right path? Follow Guru’s teachings sincerely and like any other institution, follow the code of discipline blindly. For us it is The Rehat Maryada, The Code of Conduct & Conventions. All our doubts, whether yoga is right or not, whether Sikhs should keep pictures or not, will get clear.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Raised as Sikh in the UK and clearly seeing that the temple I attended turning a blind eye to forced marraiges, wife abuse and alcohol abuse, the thought of living a so called Sikh lifestyle scared me. I just could not cope with so much injustice these women lived with (including my mother and many other female realtives). Though years of being independant, working hard at building my career I have lived in the USA for 5 years. Having moved to Los Angeles, gotten married I have a child and desperatly seek a more peacful way of life. The Western Sikhs I see around Los Angeles make me feel ashamed to have turned my back on such great religion. I secretly envy their joy and they all seem so content. I too am seeking but where does one begin as a nearly 40 year old women wanting to relearn what it means to be a Sikh. Any suggestions?

  12. Anonymous says:

    i don’t think we’re trying to be intolerant (at least those of us who were born and/or raised here), it’s just that we don’t know where you guys are (except for n.m.). i live in chicago and only see one western couple and no where else. i don’t have any problems with you, in fact i think my kids could benefit from playing with your kids because then it’s not so obvious that they’re not like their non-sikh friends. come visit “our” gurudwaras-we’d love to meet you.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Waheguru Jee Ka Khalsa
    Waheguru Jee Ki Fatah

    I think the main reason of gap between Pujabi Sikhs and Non-Punjabi Sikhs is lack of communication. If there are more oppurtunities are created to practise the religon togahter then there would be no misunderstandings.

    Well I tel you my experience. I was born and raised in India and now live in Toronto, Canada. In 1999 Basakhi first time in life I saw a group of Western Sikhs at Anandpur Sahib. I was so happy to see that people from other cultures are becoming Sikhs and so was everyboy else at Anandpur Sahib who saw that group of Sikhs.

  14. p to the c says:

    yoga is just physical exercise.

    True yoga has nothing to do with postures.

  15. J S says:

    Great article…….but Gurmustak Ji, you posted it almost 4 years ago. Do you see any positive change between now and then? I would like to hear your take on this.

    And, this theme is beautiful.