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The Sikhs


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About the Author

Patwant Singh's books and articles on India, international affairs, the environment, and the arts have been published in India, Europe, and North America. He has broadcast frequently on television and radio in many countries, and has travelled and lectured all over the world, often as the guest of governments. From 1957 to 1988, he was editor and publisher of the international magazine Design. He lives in New Delhi. From the Hardcover edition.


After describing the ten Sikh gurus and the contribution of each to the evolution of the religion, Singh, the longtime editor of Design magazine, narrates the seemingly constant struggle the religion has faced to survive in the north Indian plains. Alas, his bias toward his religion is all too apparent: All Muslims are treacherous, all Brahmins disreputable, and the British duplicitous. Singh's concentration upon forces affecting the Sikhs makes the work most defensive and hinders the ability to discuss the growth and evolution of this unique group, which has contributed so much to life in modern India. An optional purchase for public libraries that already possess J.W. Grewal's The Sikhs of the Punjab (in the "New Cambridge History of the Punjab" series). Other, better purchases are W.H. McLeod's The Sikhs: History, Religion, and Society (Columbia Univ., 1989) or Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change, edited by Pashaura Singh and N. Gerald Barrier (New Delhi: Manohar, 1999).--Donald Johnson, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

In his preface, Singh, a Sikh writer and editor, explains that he wrote this book, in part, to counter the notion that Sikhs are little more than terrorists--a picture, he suggests, that's at least in part the product of a systematic disinformation campaign waged by the Indian government. In accessible if scholarly prose, Singh traces Sikh history from its origins in the 15th century through Indira Gandhi's 1984 storming of the Golden Temple (the holiest Sikh shrine and the event that led to Gandhi's assassination by her Sikh bodyguards). Sikhs, he argues, have for centuries been an embattled people because their culture and religion defy the predominant religions in the region, as well as the Indian caste system with its ruling elite. For this reason, Hindu and Muslim rulers strove again and again to violently crush the Sikh religion; over the centuries, Sikhs grew increasingly militarized in order to defend their religion and themselves. In the riots that followed the storming of the Golden Temple, for instance, 3,000 Sikhs were killed in New Delhi when, by Singh's account, government troops were withdrawn and the Sikhs were left unprotected. The author discusses how the partition of India, the rise of fundamentalism and the perceived indifference of the Indian government to their concerns led to Sikhs' desire for a separate state in the Punjab. He does occasionally criticize what he sees as indiscriminate Sikh violence ("less saintly companions" is what he calls those who commit violent deeds), but for the most part Singh keeps his focus on demonstrating that the word terrorist is used much too often to describe Sikhs. Although Singh sometimes steers clear of important complications in his story, on the whole, this is a balanced, nuanced and well-documented study of a people little understood in the West. 8 pages of photos and 7 maps. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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