Doris Jakobsh

Doris Jacobsh
Associate Professor, Religious Studies
Acting Director, Women’s Studies
University of Waterloo






Doris Jakobsh is a leading authority in Canada on women in Sikhism, Sikhism and the World Wide Web, and Sikh youth in Canada. Jakobsh's work in these areas is underscored by a deep concern for questions about community-building and identity. Professor Jakobsh brings to the conference her expertise in these areas as well as her first-hand knowledge of Sikhs and Sikhism in central Canada (i.e. the greater Toronto area).

Presentation Time and Location: Friday October 3 - Panel IV – 9:30-11:30am in EA 1031
(co-presenting with Professor Marget Walton-Roberts)
Room Capacity: 110

A Century of Miri Piri: Securing Sikh Belonging in Canada

In this paper we reflect on the Komagata Maru as a fundamental foreshadowing of a century of Sikh negotiation with the Canadian state to achieve inclusion and belonging. Gurdit Singh’s chartering of the Komagata Maru was a case of Jugaad, an enterprising work around of Canada’s continuous passage legislation. The deep sense of conviction those on shore and on board the vessel held was also emblematic of miri piri, the idea that the spiritual and political cannot be separated in the fight for justice. We use miri piri as a lens through which to examine a century of struggle of Sikhs in Canada since the Komagata Maru arrived in Burrard Inlet. Gurdit Singh’s action marks one key moment of formal engagement with the state through legal, political, cultural and economic means, and we use this as a springboard to reflect on a number of other keys moments of state and Sikh society engagement. We understand the ideal of miri piri as foundational to activating and advancing the demand to belong in the Canadian state as a Sikh. We explore several moments of debate over Sikh religious symbols to highlight how miri piri is represented in a diversity of ways for communities with heterogeneous political, economic and ideological interests. At its best, these struggles maintain the essential connection between the spiritual and the political that miri piri represents, but they also reveal active citizenship, identity assertion, and the demand for Sikh belonging. We highlight how through the sentiment of miri piri, Canadian Sikhs have developed a constructive engagement with the state. We conclude that this symbolism of Sikh spirituality ultimately coheres with Canadian Multiculturalism and values of good governance and human rights. We also argue that Canada has something to learn as well as to gain from Sikh spirituality; the state learns something about itself through this engagement with the demands of minority communities. While we cannot say that the lessons of the Komagata Maru have been fully learnt by the state—for they have not—but in that moment of failure was the grounding of a century of engaged struggle leading to other successes.