French Sikhs commemorative practices and discourses about the first World War

Author Name

Christine Moliner

Author Address

Anthropologist Centre d’Etudes de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris


French Sikhs, World War I


This presentation will discuss how European Sikhs, particularly Sikhs in France, commemorate their forefathers who died on the Western Front during the First World War and the political use of these commemorations.

Sikh memory narratives and practices first be set in the French context of a commemorative surge linked to the 1914 Centenary: the social and political uses of the two World Wars in contemporary France will be briefly analysed, as well as the dominant national discourses about those events.

Drawing ethnographic data from interviews, material collected on the internet and participation at commemorative public events, such as remembrance day events in France and Belgium, I will examine how through their memorial activism, French Sikhs try to negociate a space in the national tapestry, while at the same time challenge French national identity narrative and ideological framework.

I will discuss in particular the way they have reclaimed and brought back to life forgotten and deserted local memory sites,such as Neuve Chapelle memorial complex, in Northern France, that hosts the only site in continental Europe dedicated to fallen Indian soldiers. This constitutes a unique example of bottom-up memorialisation, intertwinned with the politics of recognition of a small migrant group.A specific attention will be given to the prominent role of second generation French Sikhs. Through their active involvement in these commemorations, they make a claim to full citizenship and ground their on-going campaign for the right to wear the turban on the sacrifice of their forefathers. By doing so, they also demonstrate their full inclusion and participation in a Sikh diasporic space, where the politics of commemoration and the positioning of Sikhs as a model minority figure prominently.

Finally, we will analyse how European Sikhs use commemorations to renegociate their relations with the Indian State, with its representatives abroad and its own nationalist narrative of the WWI.


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