Response to Doris Jacobsh’s Controversial work ‘Relocating Gender in Sikh History’ by Dr. Baldev Singh PHD who is an academic. This is just the first chapter of his response.
University of British Columbia (UBC)
Jakobsh’s work is a typical example of Ph.D. research
produced by a Western university with an “endowed Sikh
Chair.” Her work throws light on the motives behind Sikh
studies programs. To begin with, let us examine some
background information on UBC and her thesis supervisor.
Generally a graduate student investigates the reputation of
7 the university, the department of study and the supervisor
before committing to begin studies. It seems Jakobsh
relinquished this early homework because at the time, UBC
was already knee-deep in a controversy with the Canadian
Sikhs about the objectives of the “endowed Sikh Chair,” as
disclosed in the following advertisement:1
The Department of Asian studies anticipates making a one-year
visiting appointment in Punjabi language and literature and Sikh
Studies for the academic year 1987-1988. We invite your
application or nomination of others who may be qualified to teach
courses in beginning and intermediate Punjabi language and at
least one other field such as Sikh literature, religion or
history. Ph. D. degree required, as well as a very good command
of spoken and written Punjabi.
Candidate should send a complete C. V., samples of research
papers and publications, and the names and addresses of three
referees to Professor Daniel L. Overmyer, Head, Department of
Asian Studies, Asian Centre, 1871 West Mall, University of
British Columbia, Vancouver, B. C., Canada V6T 1W5. Candidates
should request their referees to send confidential letters of
recommendation directly to the same address. The deadline for
completion of applications is May 15, 1987.
The department expects to make a tenure-track appointment to an
endowed position in Punjabi and Sikh studies beginning in July
1988, following the University’s normal procedures. The person
appointed to the one-year visiting position may be a candidate
for the tenure-track appointment the following year.
Daniel L. Overmyer,
Professor and Head.
However, without regard to the above advertisement, UBC
hired Harjot Oberoi. Amazingly, this fellow had neither
expertise nor fluency in the Punjabi language. He grew up
in Delhi and consequently had very little appreciation of
the Punjabi culture. Moreover, his paper “Popular Saints,
Goddesses and Village Sacred Sites: Rereading Sikh
Experience in the Nineteenth Century” that he read at the
University of California, Berkeley, in February 1987,
revealed that he had no knowledge of Aad Guru Granth Sahib
(Sikh Scripture). And his knowledge of Sikh history was
somewhat parochial–learning from the writings of Hindus,
Christians and Marxists/Communists. Sikhs (scholars as well
as laity) criticized Oberoi’s paper for gross distortions
of Sikh religion and history.2, 3 Sikhs were alarmed and
rightly questioned Harjot Oberoi’s qualifications and
suitability for holding the Sikh Chair. To investigate his
credentials further, they requested a copy of his Ph.D.
8 thesis from Australian National University, but the
librarian denied the request on February 9, 1990:
With reference to your letter dated 7th Nov. 89, concerning the
following A. N. U. Ph.D. Thesis.
Oberoi, H. S.
A world reconstructed: religion, ritual and community among the
A.N.U. Ph. D. Thesis 1987.
I regret the author has denied us permission to make copies. Your
order is, therefore, cancelled.
The published version should be released soon and wishes
potential readers to consult it, when available.
Please find enclosed your open cheque.
Lending Services Librarian,
User Services Division,
R. G. Memzies Building.4
Pursuing this matter further, on July 22, 1994, a
delegation of India-based Sikh scholars: Professors Balkar
Singh, Darshan Singh, Kehar Singh, and Gurnam Kaur held a
meeting with Professors Harjot Oberoi and Kenneth Bryant of
UBC and Professor Hugh Johnston of Simon Fraser University,
to discuss the objectives of the Sikh Chair. It was the
unanimous opinion of the Sikh scholars that the incumbent
Dr. Harjot Obroi was not contributing to the fulfillment of
the objectives spelled out in the agreement concerning the
Elaborating on the sordid affair of UBC Sikh Chair, Jasbir
Singh Mann writes:
It is very interesting to note that the Sikhs paid the money and
signed the contract with the UBC in 1985 but the chair was not
started until 1987. Sardar Mohinder Singh Gosal, the president of
Federation of Sikh Societies of Canada and signatory to the
contract, made a statement on July 22, 1994 “that there is
evidence to prove that the two-year delay to start this chair was
intentional under the pressure of anti-Sikh political forces.” It
seems very clear from this statement that UBC became a part of
the plan to defuse the Sikh identity from the inception of this
chair. It is possible that UBC waited for two years to hire an
applicant who was being groomed for anti-Sikh propaganda. As is
evident from the objectives of the Sikh Chair, the applicant must
be qualified for Punjabi language, Literature and Sikhism
(doctrine, religious practice, and philosophy). Dr. Oberoi has
admitted himself that he is only a student of Sikh history, has
nothing to do with religion and his qualifications for Punjabi
language and literature remain questionable. Many other
applicants with appropriate qualifications were rejected. How the
selection process was held to fulfill the special objective, as
9 outlined in the contract, is a serious matter and needs thorough
The following memo by Fritz Lehman lends credence to
Gosal’s assertion that UBC was consulting the Indian
Government regarding the objectives of the Sikh Chair:
TO: U. B. C. South Asianists
From: Fritz Lehmann, History (x5748)
Re: Highlights of Shashtri Indo-Canadian Institute Annual Meeting
India’s acting High Commissioner, Mr. K. P. Fabian wishes to
visit U. B. C. in the very near future to meet South Asia
Specialists and administrators. He would likely address us on an
aspect of Indian foreign policy (he prefers North-South dialogue)
and wishes to discuss the proposed chair in Sikh studies, about
which his government is concerned. He seemed to me to be a
reasonable and sympathetic person.7
Since it was the Sikh community of Canada that raised funds
for the “Sikh Chair,”8
one may ask why the Indian government
was concerned about it? And why was UBC consulting the
Indian government about the objectives of the “Sikh Chair”
and who should hold this chair? The answer to these
questions lies in what happened in India shortly after the
British imperialist relinquished their rule over the Indian
subcontinent in 1947 and divided it into two nations: one
Hindu, India and the other Muslim, Pakistan. The world
community is well aware of the genocide of Jews and Gypsies
by the Nazis, but not many people except Sikhs, Jains and
Buddhists, know the “constitutional genocide” of the three
communities by the framers of the Indian constitution. In
1949, Jawaharlal Nehru, handpicked successor of the
“apostle of peace,” Mahatma Gandhi, led the Indian
Parliament to declare Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists as Hindus
under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution in spite of the
vehement opposition of two Sikh representatives, Hukam
Singh and Bhupinder Singh Mann who refused to sign the
document. To date, the Sikh community has not signed to
ratify the Indian Constitution. Shortly thereafter, Hindu
Code Bill was imposed on them. In other words, in India,
the world’s “largest democracy,” it is the majority Hindu
community that determines the religious identity of its
minorities and imposes Hindu values and customs on them.9, 10
Distortion of Sikh history and theology to defuse the “Sikh
identity” is a common theme of the Indian Government
propaganda and Hindu controlled news media. For example,
two historians of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Satish
10 Chandra and Bipin Chandra have distorted Sikh religion and
history via books prescribed by the National Council of
Education Research and Training (NCERT) for high school
classes, XI & XII, respectively.11, 12, 13, 14 This is the
reason why the Indian government was concerned about the
Sikh Chair at UBC or for that matter at any other
university. Why did the UBC administration comply with the
wishes of the Indian government? After all, UBC kept the
chair vacant until a suitable candidate who met Indian
government’s approval was found. And that is why Harjot
Oberoi, who grew up in Delhi and got his M.A. degree from
Jawaharlal Nehru University was selected whereas several
other well-qualified candidates with better credentials
were rejected. According to Oberoi:
“My interest in social history was originally provoked
and then sustained by my teachers at the Jawaharlal
Nehru University, particularly Professors Bipan
Chandra, Sarvepalli Gopal, Romila Thapar, K.N.
Pannikar and Satish Saberwal. I hope this work
reflects what I learnt from them.”15
Under a storm of strong criticism against his qualification
and suitability to head the Sikh Chair, Harjot Oberoi
vacated it in 1995. Nevertheless, UBC found him a place in
the Department of Asian Studies from where he continues his
schedule of distorting Sikhism at every given opportunity.
1. Jasbir Singh Mann, Surinder Singh Sodhi, and Gurbakhsh
Singh Gill (Eds.). Invasion of Religious Boundaries.
Vancouver: Canadian Sikh Study & Teaching Society, 1995,
2. Ibid., pp. 1-373.
3. Ibid., Appendix III.
4. Ibid., Appendix II.
5. Ibid., Appendix III.
11 6. Ibid., p. 303.
7. Ibid., Appendix V.
8. Ibid., Appendix I: Memorandum of Agreement Between the
Federation of Sikh Societies of Canada and the University
of British Columbia.
9. Sangat Singh. The Sikhs In History. New Delhi: Uncommon
Books, 4th edition, 2001, pp. 280-83.
10. J. S. Grewal. The Sikhs Of The Punjab. New Delhi:
Cambridge University press, 1994, p. 183.
11. “Legal Fight Against Distortion of Sikh History.”
Abstracts of Sikh Studies, 1996, April-June, p. 120.
12. “Misrepresentation of Sikh History in NCERT Textbooks.”
Abstracts of Sikh Studies, 1996, July-September, pp. 77-84.
13. M.S. Rahi. “Sikh History as it is being taught in
Indian Schools!” Spokesman, June 1998, pp. 39-41.
14. M.S. Rahi. “New Brand of Indian Secularism and the
Sikhs.” Spokesman, January 1999, pp. 8-11.
15. Harjot Oberoi. The Construction of Religious
Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh
Tradition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004, p.