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MIS-ADVENTURE OF THE JAT SIKHS
The lure of land combined with bravado can be a deadly combination
which can get one to achieve great heights and occsionally
can result in disaster. In Bolivia, the latter was the case
of Sikh Immigrants in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a city in South
East of Bolivia where almost couple of hundred of them migrated
in the Eighties to look for their El Dorados. Many of them
have sad stories to tell and most have either returned to
Punjab or migrated onwards to North America etc. Although
bad luck is always a factor and an important contributor,
unfortunately the worst traits of the Jat Sikhs came into
fore as adversity hit them. The remnant immigrants still have
their faith in the “Waheguru” and have a Gurudwara
(probably the earliest in South America) to turn to for the
monthly “sangat” but who do not have enough money
for a regular “granthi” the earlier one having
moved to Argentina. Turbaned Sikhs are almost non-existent.
From an all time high of 150-200 or so families in the Eighties
and Nineties, presently there are only a few families left
with a population of about 40 or so Sikhs.
A very interesting meeting with a Bolivian Sikh lady in La
Paz with white turban and white flowing dress was a heart
warming experience as to how people find solace through the
Sikh dharma and how Sikhism is catching up albeit very slowly
in South America as followers of Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO.
The Early Sikh Immigrants:
The Sikhs have been passing through Bolivia en-route to Argentina
from early Twentieth century but they did not establish roots
in the country. There are references of Sikhs landing in Chile
or Peru and moving on to Argentina via Bolivia. But nothing
is mentioned about any of them settling down in the country.
Harsh climate, relatively poor economic situation and unfertile
land might explain Sikhs’ not establishing early roots
in Bolivia. It is the author’s belief though that some
Sikhs must have settled but there is no specific information
available. Names of some Sikhs as early settlers are mentioned
but more investigative effort is needed to get details.
The Country and its Culture
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries of South America and
topographically may be termed as the Tibet of the Americas.
The Spanish conquest of the country began in 1531 and silver
was struck in 1544, mining of which underwrote the Spanish
economy. Bolivia won independence from Spain in 1825. However,
Chile annexed part of Bolivian territory including its only
port of Antofagasta leaving the country landlocked. Since
the Fifties, the country has been ruled by “in and out”
Governments of civilians, army, leftists etc. Cocaine-production
in the country in the early Nineties complicated relations
with the US followed by acute recession and.....
Article Published in The
Sikh Review - January 2005 - No. 625