The Sikh Diaspora in Vancouver: Three Generations Amid Tradition, Modernity, and Multiculturalism


276 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8947-X
DDC 305.8'91412'071133




Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.


Since Sikhs make up the largest non-Christian group in the Greater
Vancouver area, it is surprising that a social anthropology of the Sikh
community has not been written until now. Nayar’s ethnographic study
of the Sikh community is timely, given the often-reported community

Nayar examines the processes of adaptation and integration through
three generations of Sikh informants by applying the standard method of
ethnographic practice, participant observation. Nayar discovers that
generational differences are the source of much community tension. She
traces the origin of three generations of Sikhs into Greater Vancouver
through five waves of emigration starting in the 1920s and continuing
through to the present through the generation of political refuges after

Nayar rejects the multicultural view of lumping the Sikh community into
East Indian, South Asian, or Indo-Canadian categories, for she finds
that the Sikh community originates in a traditional rural farming
village level of culture, originating in the Punjab. The Sikh community
represents, for the most part, a people rooted in a traditional rural
society that has been abruptly dropped into a modern state, without
having gone thorough a period of industrialization. While the Sikh
community has embraced economic modernity, it refuses social modernity
in the form of Western values that stress individualism. As a result of
this disparity, Nayar finds that the older generation fails to accept
that it is Western values that are integral to the Western economic
order. She explores this disconnection through themes such as
traditionalism and modernity, generation and gender, and morality and

Nayar’s carefully researched ethnographic study has broader
applications for other ethnic groups trapped in the traditional/modern
dichotomy. Although many of her conclusions are intuitively predictable,
such as finding that tensions between generations lie at the heart of
current community issues, it is surprising and refreshing to read her
well-supported scholarly research. In the end Nayar makes a strong case
against Canada’s multiculturalism policy, finding that it promotes
ethnic insularity and prolongs or even obstructs the Sikh community’s
adjustment to modernity.


Nayar, Kamala Elizabeth., “The Sikh Diaspora in Vancouver: Three Generations Amid Tradition, Modernity, and Multiculturalism,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,