From the Ashes: Death Rights and Sikh Migrant Community in 20th Century North America


This was not the
first Sikh death. Other deaths had already
occurred by then, by 1907. A coffin more or less in the
center of the photograph, and that contains the body of
the person who passed away. And it is surrounded by maybe 20
other Sikh men and also some– a host of other people
of European descent. It wasn’t furtive. It turns out that
this was something that was publicized in
the newspaper prior to it, and so there were a lot
of people who showed up to this, people who
were not connected and they showed
up as spectators. So we’re talking about newspaper
representatives, journalists, and clearly at least
a photographer. So it ended up being
more like a spectacle, and people from the
neighboring town actually showed up
to witness this. Over a period of time, they
started to accommodate to this. Funerals require the presence
of others as much as possible. They require the
presence of next of kin or whoever can stand
in for next of kin. Among migrants,
that’s oftentimes not people who are
not necessarily part of your family, although
they can be sometimes, but they are people who
have traveled with you. They are people
who you live with. They people you socialize with. These funerals were
opportunities for them to be able to
constitute community, and they would come together
to perform these ceremonies. They would come to observe
the rights of mourning as much as possible. We think of loss or grieving
and mourning as private things, particularly among migrants. And they are not very
many of them, right. So to lose one person
or even a few people carries a fair amount
of weight at the time. The question ultimately
about death rights is a way to foreground questions
of race and religion and gender and nationalism and
state forms of governance that are shaping who
belongs here and who does.

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