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Dr Darshan Singh Tatla, also known as Darshan, was a renowned figure in the field of Sikh and Punjab studies. His unfortunate passing at 74 after a prolonged illness has left a void in the scholarly community, as he was considered to be one of its most underappreciated heroes. He belonged to the second generation of scholars who emerged from community and ethnic studies in the English Midlands during the turbulent times of 1984. Along with others, he played a pivotal role in establishing the Punjab Research Group (PRG), which culminated in the creation of the International Journal of Punjab Studies (IJPS) (Sage) a decade later.

Tales about his younger years 

Darshan was born in Bharowal, a village in the Ludhiana district, to Sardar Isher Singh and his wife, Chand Kaur. He completed his primary education in his hometown and later pursued a degree in science from Lajpat Rai Memorial College, Jagraon. He further pursued a master's degree in economics from Punjabi University, Patiala.

Darshan went on to graduate from several universities, including Patiala, Cambridge, Birmingham, and Warwick. He obtained his PhD in 1994 from the University of Warwick, where he specialized in Sikh and Punjab studies. His academic journey began in 1974 when he moved to the UK to study economics at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. He later obtained another master's degree in economics from the University of Birmingham.

From 1985 to 1996, Darshan worked as a lecturer in the Department of Languages and Community Studies at South Birmingham College. He published his PhD thesis, titled "The Sikh Diaspora: The Search for Statehood," in 1994. In the 1980s, Darshan dedicated much of his time and effort to developing bibliographies of research on Punjab and encouraging researchers, especially PhD students, to share their findings at the tri-annual PRG meetings. He single-handedly managed the PRG and its growing output of research papers, which were highly sought after, for almost a decade after 1984.

His contributions towards recording Sikh history 

In the early 1990s, Darshan convinced his colleagues in the PRG that their efforts were worthy of a journal. In 1992, during the hot summer, Darshan and the author travelled to New Delhi to sign an agreement with Sage for the IJPS. There, they met important figures in Punjab studies, including the late Khushwant Singh. Despite being capable of leading as editor, Darshan chose to be in charge of the reviews to accommodate others' egos. Unfortunately, Darshan's contribution to the IJPS and the PRG decreased significantly when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack while doing fieldwork in Vancouver in 1996.

The Sikh Diaspora: The Search for Statehood (1998) was the product of this study, which was based on his doctoral work at the University of Warwick under Robin Cohen. The book continues to serve as a gold standard for meticulous empirical study and contains a wide variety of Punjabi sources that are typically disregarded by academics. A unique viewpoint on the vernacular, setting, and organisational flaws of the Khalistan movement in the diaspora was made possible by Darshan's comprehension of its inner workings. The rich backdrop for their collaborative publication Sikhs in Britain: The Making of a Community (2006) was provided by this similar understanding of the Sikh community and its participants.

From the early 2000s, Darshan spent more time in his village in Punjab and worked with institutions in the state to promote interest in diaspora studies. His co-edited volume with Verne Dusenbery, Sikh Diaspora Philanthropy in Punjab: Global Giving for Local Good (2009), remains an important and timely contribution. During this period, Darshan wrote numerous key articles and made many contributions. His work was always lively, and provocative, and challenged the prevailing conventional wisdom.

Leaving his legacy behind 

Darshan's legacy extends beyond his scholarship, as he will always be remembered for his exceptional kindness and generosity towards established scholars, young researchers, and anyone with an interest in Sikh and Punjab studies. This was reflected in the overwhelming affection and support he received from various segments of the research community. Darshan was happiest in his village, and those fortunate enough to visit him there were struck by his exceptional hospitality and unwavering dedication to Sikh and Punjab studies.

In the 1960s, Joyce Pettigrew, a renowned anthropologist, conducted extensive fieldwork in this area, which led to her seminal work, "Robber Noblemen: A Study of the Political System of Sikh Jats" (1974). Upon hearing of Darshan's passing, Pettigrew shared an Irish blessing that is particularly fitting for someone from Punjab and the diaspora:

"May the road rise to meet you and the winds be always at your back. May the sunshine warm upon your face, and the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand."

He was the driving force that is keeping Sikh literature going 

Darshan was a driving force in his field, having published numerous books and papers on the Punjabi diaspora in the UK and North America, Sikhism and development, and Sikh nationalism. He co-authored Sikhs in Britain: The Making of a Community (2006) with Gurharpal Singh. Darshan held positions at Punjabi University, Patiala, Coventry University, and the University of Birmingham, travelling between the UK and Punjab.

Darshan returned to Punjab in 1998 after leaving Birmingham and setting up the Punjab Centre for Migration Studies at Lyallpur Khalsa College, Jalandhar, which became operational in 2003. For his contributions to the study of the Sikh diaspora, Darshan was given a lifetime achievement award by the University of California-Riverside in 2017.

Recently, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee appointed Darshan as the founding director of a Sikh Diaspora Museum and Archives at the Tohra Institute of Advanced Studies near Patiala. Darshan had a passion for growing fruits and vegetables, and he helped provide food for local families in Punjab.

To those who knew him, Darshan was a loyal, supportive, and enthusiastic friend and colleague. He is survived by his wife, Gurmeet Kaur, whom he married in 1968, their children, Hardip, Harjeet, and Rajwant, six grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

 

*Based on an article by Eleanor Nesbitt in The Guardian on 8th August 2021, and another one by Taylor & Francis on 20th August 2021

 

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