Jatinder Singh: Dr. Masani’s Sikhphobia Needs To Be Called Out
"Why he feels he has some kind of cultural superiority to dictate to Sikhs what parts of the faith they should adhere to is mind-boggling."
August 3, 2022 | 3.5 min. read | Opinion
You can be a renowned historian, get published in newspapers from across a broad spectrum of political views, create documentaries for the BBC, and still feel comfortable in knowing none of this will be impacted if you openly display a complete disdain for Sikhs. Especially with some kind of cultural superiority, not too dissimilar from what you see with India’s urban elite, that makes you think you can just tell Sikhs how to live their faith and ridicule aspects of it that you do not approve of.
And so it is with Dr. Zareer Masani, D.Phil (Oxford) in Modern History, who has published several works and often writes or is quoted in many of the UK’s leading papers.
Much of his recent work has been to push back against those criticizing colonial rule. He is also a member of the disingenuously named Oxford Ethics and Empire Project, which received backlash from 170 academics for being apologists for British Imperialism.
In discussing First Nations, for example, this project selectively posed a question of whether Indigenous peoples in Canada “have a right to cultural immunity from ‘modernity’”. This Seemingly simple question actually pulls at the stereotypes that some have of the Indigenous and is devoid of the myriad of issues the Indigenous themselves are raising. It is an attempt at crafting an argument, making the reader believe this is of paramount concern to the Indigenous, when in fact it says more about the intentions of the one posing it.
Similarly, when countering factual errors in an article on Jallianwala Bagh, Dr. Masani reminds the reader that Sikhs at the Golden Temple honoured Dyer and that the Maharajah of Patiala also defended his actions during the massacre.
For those not well versed in the history, at the face of it, this seems jarring. How could Sikhs and the Maharajah come to the side of Dyer?
Yet, anyone with even an inkling of historical knowledge would know that Harmandir Sahib and the Akal Takht were in the hands of the colonial government, and Sikhs had been demanding control of the complex and Sikh institutions away from them. In fact, these demands increased after Sikh disgust at the honouring of Dyer. Also, princely states, such as the Patiala one, were well known to be aligned with British interests. It would be shocking if a Historian like Dr. Masani was not aware of these basic facts, yet he crafted a false narrative to promote his positive view of British Imperialism.
In a discussion on Burberry having a young Sikh model with a patka, and how such representation is being welcomed by some Sikhs, wishing such marketing had existed when they were younger and facing overt racism, Dr. Masani chimed in that he faced no such racism when he first came to the UK.
An ensuing Twitter debate on the racism faced by those who had worn patkas and turbans resulted in him stating “get rid of your turban”. He then described such Sikhs as “fundamentalists” and that most of the Sikhs he knew had “discarded their smelly turbans & beards”.
Despite claiming he is not Anti-Sikh, but anti-religious fundamentalism, he seems completely unaware of what the Sikh faith is. Why he feels he has some kind of cultural superiority to dictate to Sikhs what parts of the faith they should adhere to is mind-boggling.
He sees any Sikh with a turban and beard as somehow being against “modernism”. He applies to these Sikhs a prejudice similar to the ‘savage’ trope that is used to attack Indigenous peoples.
In his case, and in the case of many others, he is presenting us with the backward, violent, Sikh. He refers to ‘Bhindranwale and his gang’, blaming Operation Bluestar entirely on the Sikhs and denying any genocide occurred. Yet, he seems completely ignorant of a decade of mass cremations running up into the tens of thousands, if not more, of predominantly young Sikh men in rural Panjab following Operation Bluestar and the Delhi Genocide.
His continued attack on religious observances such as the topknot just reeks of Sikhphobia.
I suspect Dr. Masani will continue to be approached, write and spin his historical narratives, not only on British Imperialism but perhaps on matters related to the Sikhs.
The question remains, however, will the Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Penguin Books and History Today come to their senses and refuse to publish the words and thoughts of a Sikhphobic bigot?
Jatinder Singh is National Director for Khalsa Aid Canada. You can find him on Twitter at @jindisinghka.
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