Toronto: Sikh leaders in North America blame conversions, drugs and migration for the decline in the growth rate of Sikh population in India from 1.9 percent to 1.7 percent as per the 2011 census.
“While Punjab leaders are promoting their family businesses, the youth has sunk in drugs. So what do you expect from drug addicts?” asked Toronto-based Sikh leader Nachhattar Singh Chohan.
Chohan, who heads the Indian Trucking Association in Canada, said: “Yes, migration from Punjab to the West is one reason. But the bigger factor is that people are abandoning Sikhism and joining various ‘deras’ in Punjab. The SGPC has failed the Sikhs.”
Vancouver-based community activist Balwant Sanghera said: “First and foremost reason for declinign Sikh population is the migration from Punjab to the West. Second, there is growing awareness to have smaller families.”
Shrinking land holdings in Punjab are also forcing people to have fewer children to avoid further division of land among siblings.
“Finally, drugs are taking their toll on the Punjab youth. The drugs are reported to be causing impotence amongst boys, resulting in fewer births,” Sanghera told IANS.
Los Angeles-based Bhai Satpal Singh Kohli, the Ambassador of Sikh Dharma in Western Hemisphere, said the Sikh population is declining because people are “not adhering to the Sikh code of conduct and leaving Sikhism to join various ‘deras’ due to poor leadership and discrimination against Dalits and poor Sikhs in Punjab.”
He too said Sikhs were migrating for better opportunities. “Moreover, the trend is that Sikhs are increasingly marrying out of their religion. So the majority of their children now end up not being Sikhs.”
Kohli welcomes the directive of the Akal Takht jathedar to each Sikh family to have four children. “But more importantly, Sikhs need not select family planning for a male child and stop female foeticide.” Yuba City-based Jasbir Kang blames the destruction of the economy of rural Punjab for the migration of Sikhs to foreign lands.
“Events and after-affects of 1984 had serious impact on the Sikh psyche… Sikhs never committed suicides until the last two decades. People have lost their pride and self-respect,” Kang told IANS.
Kang said Sikhs are converting to other religions as the clergy has failed to address the “issues of caste divisions, drug abuse and failure the issues of gender gap. “If moms lose respect for faith, then children will not follow it either. We are at a crossroads.”
Washington-based Sikh leader Rajwant Singh, who heads the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, said: “The turbulence of the 80s impacted average Sikh family dependent on agrarian economy.
“Political mishandling of economic and social issues, and militancy in the 80s and its suppression by security forces added to the woes of Punjab. These have had a direct impact on the average Sikh family.”
Singh says the lack of opportunities have also pushed young Sikhs to try their luck elsewhere in the world, even if it means selling off valuable assets and facing migratory restrictions in many Western countries.