In search of my ‘ethnicity’

The sooner 'they' accept that they are not Indians any more but certainly 'Sikh' and set about strengthening their 'Sikh' ties, the better it would be for their future generations - DYA SINGH


By Dya Singh | OPINION

There is an uncomfortable widening rift between Sikhs who are born and live in India alongside those who are born in India and have only recently moved overseas, AND those born outside India and have lived all their lives outside India, with minimal ties to India. NRI for some means ‘Non-Residential Indians’, but for me it means ‘Not Really Indian’.

The rift is over ‘ethnic’ and also national identity. For example I was born in Malaysia and have lived outside India all my life.There is very little ‘Indian’ about me. Maybe a little ‘Punjabi’ but very little ‘Indian’! Though I do have very close ‘Indian’ friends.

Even food-wise I could not eat curries, chappati, rice, or even idli-dhosa every day. I get exhausted watching the odd ‘Indian’ movie because they are soooo long. I do not celebrate the ‘Indian’ festivals like Diwali, Dussehra, Holi, Puranmasi etc. I do celebrate Vesakhi as Khalsa Day and other ‘Sikh’ celebrations mainly associated with our Guru Jis. I listen to Indian classical music and ghazals alongside western music. Yes, I do kirtan – but that is Sikhi. I do dabble in some bhajans occasionally alongside chants from various religions like Gregorian, Hindu, Sufi, Islamic, Budhist and even Jewish, Bahai and Zoroastrian.
I go to India, and even Punjab as a tourist, a foreigner, and at best a pilgrim. I am certainly not going ‘home’. I know of fellow Sikhs who get off the flight at Delhi or Amritsar and immediately go down on their knees and kiss the ground in emotional reverence. I envy them, because I do not have that kind of attachment to ‘Mother India’ or in the case of Sikhs, ‘Stepmother India’! I am tensed, ready to defend myself from the hoards of taxi drivers, beggars and other shifty characters I am confronted with from the moment I step outside the airport! ‘They’ know as soon as they see me that I am a ‘foreigner’ and easy picking!

I see hoards of ‘Indians’ living, working and/or studying,  and earning their livelihood, in Australia, yet donning Indian team colours to cheer on the Indian team against Australia. I go to such games dressed in Aussie colours because I am Australian as my passport says, cheering on ‘my’ team Australia. Their emotional attachment, quite rightly, is India!

Unfortunately when the gentle ribbing and slanging between ‘us’ and ‘them’ starts it normally ends with insults as the game heads one way or the other, like – ‘Traitors! You will never be accepted as Australians!’ – from them and – ‘What are you doing here, earning your living here and staying here. Go home!’ – from us.

Proportionally, if there are say, 30 million Sikhs, my guesstimate would be that there are perhaps about 5 million of ‘my’ kind or even less, and the rest ‘Indian’. So I am in a minority, but my kind will grow in numbers into the future as global migration slowly but surely becomes more restricted and more of us are born outside India. And we, outside India do, desperately, want to establish our global ‘Sikh’ identity.

In UK currently there is a huge internal tussle going on between those who want to be able to declare that their ‘ethnicity’ is Sikh rather than the vague ‘Indian’ tick box, at least for ethnic monitoring purposes.

Lobbying has been ongoing since the last British census. The other side maintain that Sikhism is strictly a religion and should not be confused with ethnicity. The effluent amongst the ‘Indian’ Sikhs who have strong business and other vested interests with India even have ‘Friends of India’ organisations to thwart the Sikh ethnicity lobbyists.

So, what is my ‘ethnicity’? The simplest Internet Dictionary definition of ethnicity is …. a social group that shares a common and distinctive culture, religion, language … . There is even a legal precedent of Sikhs being considered an ‘ethnic minority’ in what is referred to as the Mandla case.

My physical image and my deep spiritual attachment is to Sikhism. Even my ‘culture’ is Sikh. I also have strong ties with those from other backgrounds who have converted to Sikhi. My loyalty lies with the country that provides me with my livelihood and stay, and assures the continued stay of my future generations and their livelihood. Those who have migrated here from India and earn their livelihood here might well consider themselves ‘Indian’ but their future generations certainly will not. One generation might, reluctantly, maybe even two, but not any further.

I believe that the sooner ‘they’ accept that they are not Indians any more but certainly ‘Sikh’ and set about strengthening their ‘Sikh’ ties, the better it would be for their future generations. That is the harsh truth!

Let us all aim and push for our global identity of being Sikhs and for ethnic monitoring purposes to be accepted as SIKHS. This is our present and future global identity which takes in background, race, ethnicity, culture, religion and way of life. Whether we were born in India or not, it does not matter. We are first and foremost Sikh, before looking at ourselves as Indian, British, Malaysian, Kenyan, Canadian, American, Australian and so on.

You can barrack for India if you like and I will cheer on Australia, but first and foremost, we are SIKH.


Malaysian-born Dya Singh, who now resides in Australia, is an accomplished musician and a roving Sikh preacher. The Dya Singh World Music Group performs full scale concerts on ‘music for the soul’ based on North Indian classical and semi-classical styles of music with hymns from mainly the Sikh, Hindu and Sufi ‘faiths’. He is also the author of SIKH-ING: Success and Happiness. He can be contacted at

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



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[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Asia. How to reach us: Facebook message or WhatsApp +6017-335-1399. Our email: For obituary announcements, click here]


  1. Dya, I concur with you on some of your sentiments, especially on the Hippocratic mentality of cheering for India when India had not much to offer for them and they came to Australia for good living. If you are not born in Punjab, you are not Punjabi, you adopt your identity where you are born, we are Sikhs, Proud To be Sikh is the bold statement, be it British Sikhs, American Sikhs, Canadian Sikhs, Australian Sikhs, Malaysian Sikhs, Singapore Sikhs, etc etc , we respect the country that supports us, it’s righteous to defend the country that protect and gives us shelter.

    These days, the new God man for Indians is Baba MODI, he thinks he is some messiah for India, Gujeratis revere him as Savior of India, as long as India has tea, you will have more Chaiya walas as future PM of India.