The Gujaratis have come to Canada from several countries, but they all trace their ethnic and cultural heritage to a state in northwestern India called Gujarat. Facing the Arabian Sea and sharing an international border with Pakistan, the Indian state of Gujarat covers nearly 196,000 square kilometres. The Indian census of 1981 recorded 34 million inhabitants in Gujarat, but, with an annual population growth of 2.7 percent per year, it is estimated that the population has now reached about 50 million.
Based on the 1981 figures, 91 percent of the population speak Gujarati, an Indo-Aryan language of partly Prakratic and Sanskritic origin that over the centuries has been strongly influenced by Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Portuguese, and English vocabulary. Gujarati has its own script and since the twelfth century has developed a rich literature whose most famous writer was the twentieth-century religious and political leader Mohandas Gandhi, known throughout India as the Mahatma, the Hindi word for “Great Soul.” The vast majority of Gujarat’s population are Hindus (89.5 percent), followed by smaller numbers of Muslims (8.5 percent) – both Gujarati- and Urdu-speaking – Jains (1 percent), and a tiny Zoroastrian/Parsi minority. (See also ISMAILIS;  PARSIS;  SOUTH ASIANS. )
In early times the Gujarati homeland was known by different names. It acquired its present appellation in the tenth century, when the kingdom of Gujarat, or Gurjardesh, was founded in the northern part of the present-day state. In subsequent centuries, Gujarat’s boundaries changed under a succession of different political regimes headed by Hindu, Jain, Mughal, and finally, at the end of the eighteenth century, British rulers. In 1810 the British incorporated Gujarati lands into its Indian state known as the Bombay Presidency. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Bombay state was renowned for its growth of cotton, with the chief centre for the production of cloth based in the Gujarati city of Ahmadabad. After India became independent in 1947, Gujarati territory came under various administrative entities until in 1960 the separate state of Gujarat was created.
Gujarat’s complex historic past and the absence of a distinct territorial entity in modern times has contributed to the internal divisions that characterize the present-day state. Gujarat has six regions, each of which is distinguished by physical geography, dialectal differentiation, cultural nuances, and local pride. Nevertheless, a sense of Gujarati cultural unity has been nurtured over the centuries by the Gujarati language and literature. These have been the main sources of a distinct Gujarati identity that has been sustained regardless of which regime has ruled in the homeland or in which country Gujaratis have lived as immigrants abroad.
Gujarat’s proximity to the Arabian Sea has been responsible for the ceaseless mercantile and maritime activities of its people. Through the ports of Gujarat, some of which date back to the dawn of history, trade and commerce flourished, and colonizers left for distant lands. These activities led to the rise of a well-to-do middle class in which the acquisition of wealth became an important goal in life and its display a virtue. During the British colonial period in India, Gujarati mercantile and trade activities continued and flourished. In particular, a strong migratory link came to be forged with East Africa, with which active trade relationships had existed for centuries.
At the end of the nineteenth century, many South Asians, largely Punjabis, were imported by British and German colonial powers to work as indentured labourers in the construction of East African railways. As towns sprang up behind the advancing railheads, creating opportunities for trade and settlement, Gujaratis also began to migrate to East Africa, where they established themselves, largely in business, in a middle position between the white Europeans and black Africans. Initially they concentrated on retail and wholesale trade and the import and export business, but over the years they moved into many other sectors of the economy: clerical services, banking and money lending, property rental, construction, primary-products processing, manufacturing, and a variety of professions such as law, medicine, accounting, and teaching.
Within a couple of generations, many Gujaratis became wealthy, even extremely rich. They lived by their caste and kinship ties, spoke Gujarati at home and in business, set up Gujarati schools, and practised their religions. Outwardly, they were more open to influences from European life than their relatives in India, and they often went to England for higher education. In their personal lives however, they lived in closely knit groups, not only as Gujaratis or Hindus and Jains, but also in smaller caste units such as Patels, Lohanas, and Visha Oshwals – all within the larger framework of fragmented, non-intersecting groups of Africans, Arabs, Asians, and Europeans that was characteristic of East Africa. The complex socialization that took place in East Africa at the first stage of the Gujaratis’ immigrant experience created a set of skills and values and a world-view that would give them an operating principle for the second stage of their immigration, to Canada.
The end of British rule in East Africa in the decades after World War II let loose forces that rudely disrupted the comfortable existence of Gujaratis and all other South Asians who had settled there. Black East Africans had envied and resented the economic prosperity of the South Asians under colonial rule, and there were anti-Asian riots towards the end of the colonial period. After several African states gained their independence, a deliberate policy of Africanization and a leaning towards socialism began to make life increasingly difficult for the Gujaratis in the newly independent East African states of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Most South Asians did not become citizens of the new countries and had to suffer the economic restrictions imposed on noncitizens. In the late 1960s the Gujaratis, like most other South Asians, began to leave for Britain. It was not long, however, before they faced racial attacks, harsh economic conditions, and the imposition of more stringent immigration laws in the “mother country.” As a result, the South Asian exodus from East Africa was redirected to Canada, and in 1972 voluntary migrants were joined by refugees fleeing from Uganda.
Gujarati immigration to Canada, which started in the late 1950s and peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, is composed of two different immigrant streams. One group came to Canada directly from the Indian subcontinent, primarily from Gujarat itself, while the other group of immigrants are those who came, in a two-stage migration process, from East Africa and Britain. For the first group, immigration to Canada reflects the strong migratory impulse that has characterized the long history of Gujarat. For the second group, however, the decision to emigrate from East Africa in the post-colonial period arose from uncertainty and fear, and even, in the case of Uganda, as the result of outright expulsion.
Direct Gujarati immigration from India started in the late 1950s. Canada’s immigration policy had long discriminated against non-whites and placed severe restrictions on Indian immigration. Now, because of its altered position in the post-war international community, and also under pressure from the newly independent Indian government, Canada began to change its discriminatory immigration laws. It admitted a token annual quota of 150 Indian immigrants, which was later increased to 300. Because the immigration selection criteria favoured immigrants in professional and managerial categories rather than farmers and working-class immigrants, a number of highly educated Indians immigrated to Canada throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. Many came via a brief sojourn in England and the United States, where they had earlier migrated as students seeking higher education. A total of about 2,500 Gujarati professionals, scientists, teachers, and so on immigrated to Canada between 1961 and 1971, and this trend intensified during the following decade.
Between 1962 and 1971, about 4,000 South Asians entered Canada from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. There were approximately 1,800 immigrants from Kenya alone, of whom 80 percent were Gujaratis. In 1972 Idi Amin expelled all South Asians from Uganda, about 80,000 of whom were Gujaratis. Bewildered and destitute, they came to Canada as political refugees, about 5,000 in 1972 and 2,000 in 1973, and were settled by immigration authorities across the country. Parallel flows of South Asian immigrants from Kenya and Tanzania, who could not claim refugee status, came through normal immigration channels in much larger numbers, 9,654 and 11,618 respectively, during the period 1972–82. About 70 percent of these immigrants were Gujaratis.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the two streams of Gujarati immigration, the one from East Africa and the other from India, came together in Canada and led to the emergence over the next decade of a very interesting Gujarati community. It was wide-ranging in its economic pursuits and diverse in the subnational loyalties attached to caste and kinship networks, but both groups shared an overall Gujarati framework of relationships and values.
In the 1991 Canadian census, 42,175 persons responded that Gujarati was either their only mother tongue (38,075) or one of them (4,100). This made Gujaratis the second-largest group in Canada among speakers of South Asian languages. Based on mother-tongue census data, the majority of Gujarati Canadians live in Ontario (60 percent), with smaller numbers in Alberta (about 15 percent), British Columbia (14 percent), and Quebec (8 percent). Gujarati immigrants are heavily concentrated in only five major cities: Toronto (51.5 percent), Vancouver (12.6 percent), Calgary (8.4 percent), Montreal (6 percent), and Edmonton (5.5 percent). The remaining 15 percent live in smaller cities in Ontario, such as Ottawa, London, Hamilton, Kitchener, Sudbury, and Thunder Bay, and, in smaller numbers, in western cities, such as Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Regina.
The economic strains of immigration were felt by both groups of Gujarati immigrants. The East-African Gujaratis came to Canada, not in search of a better life but with a sense of loss and regret for the settled life they had left behind. For the Ugandan exiles, trauma and destitution were their shared experience. Those who came in the 1960s, however, particularly from Kenya and Tanzania, had been able to transfer a good part of their wealth abroad and were generally in a better economic position to establish themselves in Canada.
All the immigrants from East Africa, including the Ugandan exiles, had experience functioning in a Western business environment, and many of them had British education and professional experience. In an amazingly short time most of them had established themselves in business or the professions, in jobs in the government sector or in small manufacturing, or in skilled trades. None of the Ugandan refugees remained on welfare. More than one major industrial family brought considerable wealth to Canada when they immigrated. Since their business establishments were already international, they had no difficulty in reaching a very high level of economic activity in Canada, and today they are multimillionaires.
For the Gujaratis from India, however, who came with less sense of loss, and in the hope of making a better life for themselves in Canada, functioning in the new society was more difficult than for the East-African Gujaratis. Often their educational qualifications and professional credentials were not recognized unless they had earned them in Britain or the United States, and they lacked the Canadian experience necessary to qualify for a good job. Particularly in the 1970s, when anti-Indian racial feelings were aroused by a dramatic influx of South Asians into the Canadian economy at a time when it was undergoing great strain, many Gujaratis were forced to accept almost any job, usually below their qualifications and often unrelated to their skills. But they slowly moved into jobs in sales, insurance, or real estate. Some, with the advice and even financial help of their kinship networks, were able to set up small businesses. This pattern was particularly true of the Patidar community, which had a tradition, based on internal cohesiveness and kinship connections, of helping new immigrants until they were comfortably set up in business.
Gujarati family, kinship, and community connections extended all over North America, and with their help, it was not uncommon for a Canadian-Gujarati immigrant to obtain an American “green card” and establish a business in the United States. A classic case of this kind of chain help among relatives and friends with caste or village ties can be seen in the dramatic expansion of the Patel community’s hotel and motel business in the United States, where they are thought to control 30 percent of the industry. By offering members interest-free loans and access to capital available within the group, they have risen above conflicting self-interests and built a small economic empire in the hotel industry.
Most Gujarati Canadians have achieved a fair degree of economic security, and some have attained high levels of prosperity. Both men and women across all age groups participate significantly in the labour force. According to the 1991 census, their total labour-force participation in Ontario is about 74 percent, compared to Canada’s national rate of 67.9 percent. Although the unemployment rate among Ontario Gujaratis, both male and female, is 12 percent, compared to Canada’s national rate of 10 percent, the unemployment rates for male Gujaratis in Ontario and all male Canadians are almost identical at 10 percent.
Gujarati Canadians are generally seen as enterprising and entrepreneurial; they engage in diverse occupations, but with heavy concentrations in the professional, business, managerial, and sales and service sections and relatively little involvement in the industrial labour force or farming. The 1991 census figures for Ontario show that about 45 percent of Gujarati men in the labour force work as professionals, businessmen, and senior and middle managers; 30 percent are employed in sales, service, and clerical jobs; 18 percent are in semiskilled and manual jobs; and only 7 percent work in crafts. An overwhelming proportion of Gujarati women in the labour force (66 percent) are engaged in sales, service, and clerical work; only 16 percent are professionals or middle managers and none are senior managers; almost 18 percent are in semiskilled jobs.
Some Gujarati professionals and businessmen operate internationally, while others are small shopkeepers and grocery-store owners, whose businesses play an important role in the Indian community’s economic and social life. In between, there are equally enterprising and variably successful pharmacists, insurance brokers, medical practitioners, chemists, lawyers, computer-store owners, travel agents, real-estate agents, car dealers, owners of sari and jewellery shops, developers, and so on.
Although there is a fair amount of income disparity among Gujaratis, their average income in 1991 was close to the national average. The census data, however, do not reveal the true picture because there is a significant accumulation of wealth in the Gujarati community, and a number of its members are millionaires. In addition to earning income from their employment or businesses, Gujaratis have a strong tradition of managing their personal finances shrewdly through investment. The wise management of a private portfolio is regarded as a sign of intelligence, and the display of wealth through pomp and philanthropy is the means of attaining high social status. The Gujarati word Abru has the double connotation of honour and credit worthiness, and thus the two are often equated in common thinking. To remain on welfare or any form of charity, except temporarily, is regarded as dishonourable. Mutual financial help among relatives, kin groups, and close friends, however, is expected and given without legal formalities, and debts are almost always honoured without default in the time-honoured tradition of this mercantile community. The social and economic ties reinforce each other and result in the strong cohesiveness of Gujarati kin groups.
With their professional and business orientation, many Gujaratis have been active members of the high-profile Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce in Toronto, and several have served as directors or presidents (including the first president) of the organization. A few Gujarati business houses operate worldwide in both manufacturing and trade, and many have close links with India. The only South Asian on a Canadian delegation to Cuba a few years ago was a Gujarati businessman from Toronto. Several successful Gujaratis have entered mainstream public life in Canada and have been elected to the boards of directors of universities, hospitals, and charitable foundations.
There is a high level of philanthropy among wealthy Gujaratis, who contribute large sums to religious causes and charity. The Chandaria Foundation in Toronto, which does charitable work in India, Canada, and other countries, is a glowing testimony to this aspect of Gujarati well-being. The Toronto head of the multigenerational and multinational Chandaria family business was recently honoured with the Humanitarian of the Year award given by Toronto’s Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce, and a year earlier another member of the family was chosen for its Businessman of the Year award. The family has a large number of business interests around the world, and their Toronto company, Comcraft Canada, controls a range of companies in Canada and the United States. The business interests of this leading Jain Gujarati family have evolved steadily since the family settled in Kenya in 1917. By 1978, when they immigrated to Canada, their business enterprise had grown, in a single generation, from its humble beginning in Nairobi to the position of a multinational giant.
There are a number of success stories among Gujarati entrepreneurs and professionals. A businessman who came to Canada as a Ugandan refugee has risen in less than twenty years to his current position as the president of a number of companies which operate a chain of pharmacies in Ontario in less than twenty years. The president of a highly successful real-estate brokerage and investment firm that is now at the top of its field came to Canada in 1965 and got his first job as a cashier for the Magistrates Court in Toronto. Two Jain Gujarati brothers, who came to Canada as students in the 1970s, have built up a multimillion-dollar business as North America’s largest supplier of dough to bakeries, and an innovative young Gujarati immigrant from East Africa has developed reflecting overhead highway signs, which have been installed along highway 401 in Toronto and which are now marketed all across North America and Europe. Gujarati women have set up thriving catering businesses, which not only provide food for large gatherings like weddings and official functions but also supply cooked food on a small scale to individual families. In short, Gujarati Canadians have lived up to the proverbial Gujarati spirit of economic enterprise, innovation, and hard work.
Individual life in the Gujarati community is lived in relation to many social groups that form a set of concentric circles. At the centre is one’s family, which is surrounded by ever-broadening networks based on kinship; caste and subcaste; broader Gujarati organizations – social or religious; the still larger Indian community; and finally Canadian society at large. All these national and subnational group identities animate Gujarati life in varying degrees. A similar situation exists in other immigrant groups, but what distinguishes the Gujarati community, particularly in Toronto, is the emergence of the many intermediate levels of groups and group identities, such as caste, subcaste, religious sect, and subregional Gujarati organizations.
For many Gujaratis, the most intense social, intellectual, emotional, and cultural intercourse occurs within the three inner groupings of family and kin, caste and subcaste, and broader Gujarati organizations. Except on a few occasions even other segments of the Indian community do not touch their lives very much, and generally the interaction with the rest of Canadian society occurs only in the workplace and in other economic spheres. Gujaratis do not, however, live in small enclaves of their own caste or community but are fairly scattered in mixed neighbourhoods. Yet, the tendency to buy houses not too far from other Gujaratis or from a centre of socialization, such as their newly emerging temples and cultural centres, is beginning to result in rather broadly based concentrations of higher-income Gujaratis in some townships and suburban areas in the greater Toronto area.
The intermediate groups between the family and the larger Gujarati community have become viable where the community is large enough, as in metropolitan Toronto. In other places, Gujaratis have organized themselves into one social group, often not limited geographically to one city, such as the Gujarati Society of British Columbia and the Gujarati Cultural Society of Manitoba. Even when the size of the community does not warrant caste or subcaste organizations in one city, these identities are fulfilled by participation in nationwide or even continent-wide caste networks, although not on a day-to-day basis.
Toronto is an important centre of many of these networks. While the Maharashtrians in that city have only one community organization and the Bengalis two, there are more than fifteen Gujarati groups. The two oldest community organizations are the Gujarati Cultural Society of Toronto, founded in 1969, and Gujarat Samaj of Toronto, founded in 1972. The reason both came into existence within a three-year period, even though the entire Gujarati community at the time was too small to need two social organizations, lies in the north-south cultural division in Gujarat itself. The Gujarati Cultural Society is strongly associated with immigrants from south Gujarat, and Gujarat Samaj with those from the north, although both associations are formally open to all Gujaratis.
Below the community-wide groups, such as Gujarat Samaj and the Gujarati Cultural Society, are caste groups, such as the Brahmin Society of Toronto, Vanik Samaj of Toronto, or Patidar Samaj of Toronto. At the next level there are subcaste groups, such as Surati Patidar Mandal (a regional division of the Patidar caste associated with south Gujarat), the Lohana Cultural Association of Canada (largely for Gujaratis of East-African origin), and Chovisgam Patidar Samaj of Toronto (a Patidar subgrouping mainly for endogamous marriages originating from the designated twenty-four villages in north Gujarat). In addition, there are Gujarati religious associations, such as Shri Swaminarayana Satsang Mandal of Toronto and Shi Swaminaraya Bhakti Mandal, Toronto, the Sanatan Mandir Cultural Centre, and the Jain Society of Toronto. Toronto also boasts of an active youth group called the Young Gujarati Horizon Association of Toronto.
All these organizations maintain large, independent memberships, with some obvious overlapping among them, and a busy schedule of activities. Their separate identities are asserted most strongly when they compete with one another and with Gujarati groups from other cities in North America in the Gujarati Raas-Garba (folk dances) competition every year. They also cooperate with one another and participate in common community activities as constituent members of Toronto’s two umbrella organizations, the Federation of Gujarati Associations (FOGA) and the FOGA Charitable foundation, which were set up to coordinate the many Gujarati organizations in Toronto. Although the system has worked efficiently for the last seventeen years in allocating jurisdiction over activities to the FOGA or to its constituent members, a certain amount of strain has developed recently in this relationship. Defying FOGA’s jurisdiction over folk-dance competitions, Gujarat Samj and Vanik Samaj organized their own competition last year. Strained relations have also arisen over the construction of the Sanatan Mandir Cultural Centre, which Gujarat Samaj has completed recently after its offer to turn the project over to the FOGA was refused.
In traditional Gujarati society the family is the basic social unit, and life is organized around a set of mutual obligations and expectations among its members. It is within the family that economic and emotional support systems are built and that values, roles, and rules of behaviour are defined. Canadian Gujaratis value their traditional family life very highly and try to preserve as many of its details as possible. The family thus becomes a sensitive arena where intercultural and intergenerational conflicts must be confronted.
The husband or the father is the head of the family, with ultimate authority and responsibility for decision making in all matters affecting the family and its individual members. In Canada, the wife, who is often the second income earner of the family, is treated with greater respect than in Gujarat, because of her financial contribution and also her larger awareness of the outside world. But ultimately the authority of the husband and father still prevails. The scope of his decision making extends over all matters, including family finances, housing, social relations, the wife’s job and her other activities, and the children’s education, their jobs, and their marriages. What from the Canadian perspective may be seen as undue interference in the individual freedom of other family members is regarded in the Gujarati value system as the basic duty and obligation of the husband and father. This creates a setting for conflicts, adjustments, and greater understanding, but also for strife, pain, and much resentment.
Although the concept of family that many Gujaratis still hold to emotionally is the multigenerational joint family, it is generally impractical to try to set up such a family in Canada. Even in rapidly urbanizing India, the joint family, defined by a common residence, common property, and a common purse, is fast disappearing. In both India and Canada, however, the emotional ties and strong bonding between brothers, cousins, and grandparents keep alive the idea of the extended family in which cousins are often introduced as brothers or sisters.
Although nuclear families are the generally accepted pattern in Canada, Gujaratis often sponsor relatives, who live with them for short or long periods until they are financially well established. An unmarried brother, even after he is well established, may continue to live with the family of his married brother so as to avoid setting up his own household. When sponsored parents come to Canada, they live almost invariably with the family of the eldest married son or rotate among several sons for reasonably long periods of time.
For the most part the resulting multigenerational family has worked happily enough, creating much-valued bonding between grandparents and grandchildren. However, in some cases retired parents, having lost their social group in India, find themselves not only economically dependent but also socially disoriented. Although they are respected as the family elders, they have no real authority over their own son, daughter-in-law, or grandchildren. Dismayed and frustrated, these seniors may want more freedom or more social space, and they may even wish to live with other Gujarati seniors.
The Gujarati community has creatively addressed this problem. Many organizations have set up special activities, outings, reading rooms, volunteer work, and so on for seniors. Also, the newly-built Sanatan Mandir Cultural Centre of Toronto is already proposing to build a Gujarati seniors’ home on its land. The Gujarati Mandal of Calgary and the Alberta Gujarati Association both have seniors’ wings in their organizations, while in Vancouver there is an independent association of seniors, called the Gujarati Hindu Senior Society of British Columbia.
The spirit of the joint family and the traditionally nurtured bonding among close relatives and kin are reflected in the practice of “chain sponsoring” Gujarati immigrants and offering them long-term economic help. Although they do not live jointly, the emotional ties do not weaken. Sometimes in fact, virtual joint-living is undertaken, as in one Toronto Gujarati family of five brothers who bought a row of adjoining town houses. In another long-established Gujarati family, the two highly educated professional sons, both born and raised in Canada, have chosen to continue to live, after their own marriages, in the household of their father, mother, and a younger unmarried brother, and their wives have happily adjusted in this rather remarkable example of joint living.
The modified joint family that functions as a unit economically and has joint financial holdings but no common residence is fairly common among business-oriented families. Business partnerships among brothers and cousins was a strongly established tradition among Gujaratis in East Africa, and they tend to reproduce the system in Canada. For those who have come from an agricultural background in rural Gujarat, the extended family that not only embraces cousins and close relatives but includes others of the same village is still alive in their thought processes. In a recent interview with a Gujarati woman in Toronto, for example, it was only after three sessions that it became clear that the man she had been referring to as her brother was not a blood relation at all, but someone from the same village in Gujarat. The practice of not marrying someone from one’s own village arises out of the custom of regarding the whole village as one’s family. These feelings are intensely felt and acted upon in Canada, as the marriage practices among some groups of Canadian Gujaratis clearly indicate.
Filial bonding between parents and children is highly cherished and is reflected in some child-rearing practices. In many families the infants share the mother’s bed for a fairly long period, although baby cribs are bought for daytime use. Young mothers often give up good jobs to look after their children until they go to school. The use of baby-sitters is avoided, even at the cost of the family’s social life. Parents try to give their children the best possible education, and many activities, such as classes in Indian music and dance, Gujarati language lessons, swimming, hockey, and so on, often dominate the social life and leisure time of the parents.
Beyond their genuine concern for their children’s welfare, Gujarati parents also desire to maintain control over them through close involvement in their upbringing. There is always the fear of losing one’s children to a totally Canadian way of life, a fear that conjures up a variety of problems, often exaggerated. These include loss of religion; loss of respect for elders and loosening of family bonds; social behaviour that would bring shame to the family honour; marriage to someone outside the acceptable circles and effected without family involvement; pursuit of a line of work that is unsuitable, undignified, or ill paid; neglect of duties towards family members and other kin; and finally a general drifting away from their Gujarati or Indian heritage. These fears are common to most immigrant parents, but, in the collective consciousness of Gujaratis, traditional values seem to be lodged even more firmly than in other groups. Thus, Gujaratis are often portrayed as adventurous in the economic sphere but conservative in their social and personal lives.
Although Gujarati parents are equally caring towards sons and daughters, a certain gender bias is built into their value system. Equal opportunities for education and other kinds of development are offered to girls and boys, but girls are still thought of as potential homemakers, mothers of children, and custodians of the family honour, while boys are cast in the role of enterprising breadwinners, competitors, and builders of family fortunes. The behaviour of girls must be restrained and untainted by moral lapses such as smoking, drinking, free dating, and premarital sex. Such behaviour among boys, although not encouraged, is far more readily tolerated.
Ideal marriages are still arranged marriages for both young men and women, but there are obvious differences in the degrees of freedom allowed to them in their arranged choices. Although marriage partners chosen by the young people themselves, sometimes without parental consent and sometimes to their complete disapproval, are not unknown in the Gujarati community, marriage choices generally fall within a somewhat conservative framework. There is a broad spectrum of preferred behaviour, ranging from marriages within a narrow subcaste through increasing degrees of openness and freedom to inter-caste marriages within the Gujarati community, and, at the other end of the range, to marriages within the general Indian community. In all cases, parental approval and blessings form the basis of normal marriages.
The Patidar caste displays the most tenacious adherence to its traditional marriage practices. The Patidars of Gujarat are divided into six major marriage circles, each circle comprising a set number of villages within which endogamous marriages have to take place. The practice goes back to 1697–98, when the Patidar leader, Vir Vasandas, laid down the hierarchy among Patidar villages and grouped them into circles within which caste members enjoyed equal status and thus the right to give and take each other’s daughters in marriage.
The most prestigious of these circles were the Chhagam (union of six villages), followed by the Panchgam (five villages), and the Chovisgam (twentyfour villages). These circles operate very actively in North America. Chovisgam Patidar Samaj of Chicago publishes a family directory of its members in the United States and Canada, listing their North American addresses, the original village affiliations, the names and dates of birth of sons and daughters, and useful information about other relations. The information is updated often, and is now available on the Internet. Toronto’s Chovisgam Patidar Samaj is one of the leading centres in the North American network. It is preferable for marriages within the Chovisgam circle to be arranged within the same geographical area, such as Toronto, Canada, or even North America as a whole, but marriage partners may be sought in England, other European countries, and India. Chovisgam young people from North America who marry into their circle of villages in India then sponsor their spouses for immigration to North America.
In rare instances, girls born and raised in North America have gone to live in India after their marriages. The tradition of the payment of a dowry by the bride’s family to the family of the bridegroom has not disappeared in North America, although its incidence is much reduced. Further, marriages outside one’s village circle into the larger Patidar subcaste, or even into the larger Gujarati or another Indian community, are also occurring with increasing frequency. What is true of the Patidar caste is also true, with variations in degree, of other castes and subcastes, such as the Brahmin, Vanik, Lohana, and Jains, although the endogamous marriage circles of traditionally specified villages are a distinctive feature of the Patidar caste alone.
Although generally outgoing and enterprising in the public sphere, Gujarati youth are more traditional in their personal life, as in their marriage practices. Given strong family cohesiveness, deep parental involvement in their upbringing, and their early socialization in kinship groups and the community, young Gujaratis from stable, middle-class families generally favour marrying within their religion and within the Gujarati community. Many of them, both men and women, defend arranged marriages. Most feel that marrying only within the caste or subcaste is unnecessarily restrictive in the North American context; they are nearly unanimous in expanding the set of arranged choices to the Gujarati Hindu community as a whole. Only a very few argue that young people should choose their own marriage partners. The situation is different for the young Gujarati boys from lower-class or unstable families who are not concerned about the Gujarati community and wish to marry white girls of whatever background.
In some areas there are departures from tradition among Gujarati Canadians. Many Gujarati women adopt Western dress, particularly in their workplace. Young people participate in social dancing in the Western style and indulge in a hybrid form called “discoras” or “disco-garba,” and girls may be allowed to indulge in chaperoned dating. A non-vegetarian diet, excluding beef, may be fed to children, although vegetarian food habits, even for children, are generally maintained in Jain families. Gujarati men, and sometimes women, indulge in more open drinking of alcohol than they would in India. As a major concession to their children and to their own Canadian life, Gujarati Canadians are increasingly allowing English to be used both outside and inside their homes, although most often they use Gujarati as well as English.
The major religious groups of Gujarat – Hindus, Muslims, Jains, and Zoroastrians (or Parsis) – are represented among Gujarati Canadians. As in the homeland, Hindu Gujaratis are the dominant group, and it is primarily their religious practices and values that are discussed here. The Parsis and the Muslim Gujaratis (or Ismailis) in Canada, although they are Gujarat-speaking, define themselves, and are defined by other Gujarati Canadians, almost exclusively in terms of their religious identity. (See also ISMAILIS;  PARSIS; ) Gujarati-speaking Jains in Canada, however, are almost completely integrated with the Hindu Gujaratis, and their religious affiliation has not been a barrier to their full participation in Gujarati-Canadian communal life. For example, many Jains served as trustees during the construction of Toronto’s Gujarati Sanatan Mandir (temple) and have donated large amounts of time and money to bring the project to completion.
Religion plays a very important role in the individual and collective life of the Gujaratis. Most Gujarati homes display pictures of Hindu deities and often reserve a room or a corner for daily worship of their chosen deity. Their personal religious discipline may involve anything from private communion with their gods to meditation to a more complex program of religious observations, including fasting and devotional singing. Some families organize in their homes occasions for collective worship and religious discourse to which friends and relatives are invited.
A Hindu Gujarati’s life from birth to death is marked by a large number of occasions with religious and ritual connotations. These become important socio-cultural events for the family and community. They mark the birth of babies and their naming, and other rites related to life-cycles including weddings, death, and cremation, the blessing of business account books, laying the foundation of a building, and settling in a new house. When Gujaratis first arrived in Canada, ceremonies on these occasions were performed by any knowledgeable Brahmin of the community; now they are increasingly being taken over by official priests attached to Hindu temples in large cities like Toronto.
Although there are differences of emphasis and in some details of the rituals among the sects of Hinduism, and its off-shoots, for practically all socio-religious and cultural purposes these differences are of little relevance. Gujaratis of all sects live under the overarching framework of Hinduism. This is true even of Jainism, which, despite its basic philosophical difference, still belongs to the same broad family of religions as Hinduism and Buddhism. Most Gujaratis, therefore, respect, and some even worship, a whole range of gods, including the Jain Tirthankaras. In Sanatan Mandir, the newly built Gujarati temple in Toronto, there are idols of various Hindu and Jain deities installed side by side, to which the Gujaratis offer worship.
The emphasis on a basic unity of all sects, however, does not negate ritual diversity. In fact, Jains, and also the members of the Swaminarayan, maintain their own temples in Toronto, as they would in India, while at the same time contributing generously to the Sanatan Mandir. Gujaratis, like most Hindus, see no contradiction between belonging to a narrowly focused sect while being acutely conscious of its relation to other sects and their equal validity. They do, nonetheless, recognize differences between the sects. The Waminarayan sect, for example, which started as a reform movement within Hinduism in the nineteenth century, enjoins upon its followers a strict code of conduct that requires purity of food, conduct, and soul. For the initiates and saints of the sect, the precepts are stricter still, requiring, among other things, observances of an eightfold celibacy that includes avoiding looking at a woman – an extreme attitude for the followers of other Hindu sects.
Canadian Gujaratis consider religion a firm anchor for their way of life. They accord the highest priority to the building of a centre to serve both as a temple for religious worship and as a true cultural centre that gives the community, particularly children, a strong link with their heritage. With this aim the Gujarat Samaj of Toronto set up a building committee as early as 1977 and started on a twenty-year course through zoning laws, neighbourhood concerns, economic recessions, and conflicting attitudes and perceptions within the community. During this period, inspired by a different vision, the FOGA acquired a small church in Thornhill and set up a centre called Gujarat Bhavan, which combines religious and cultural functions.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat Samaj persisted in its efforts to build its own centre. Finally, a grant of $750,000 from the government of Ontario, combined with generous funds raised from the community, and a change of site enabled the Gujarat Samaj to complete the $3-million Sanatan Mandir Cultural Centre in August 1996. The centre, with a built-up space of 32,000 square feet, sits on a five-acre site in the township of Markham near Toronto. In its religious aspect, it is a centre for the worship and rituals of a number of sects, and it is served by a full-time priest, who also officiates at ceremonies for important individual occasions, such as births, weddings, deaths, and on such collective religious festivities as Diwali (Festival of Lights and Gujarati New Year), the Nine Nights Celebration in honour of the mother goddess, the birth of Lord Krishna, and so on. The centre also promotes public discourse on a variety of religious, spiritual, and philosophical subjects, conducted by wellknown spiritual leaders from India. Although mostly Gujarati, these lectures are sometimes given in English for the benefit of young members. In its socio-cultural aspects, the centre has large halls for weddings and receptions, a gymnasium for young people, a performance area with a stage, a library, a meeting place for the elderly, and a centre for women’s activities.
Another centre, also supported by a grant from the Ontario government for $750,000, is being constructed by the Gujarati Cultural Society of Toronto in the Brampton region, northwest of Toronto. In cities with smaller Gujarati populations, the religious needs of the community may be served by a Hindu temple which does not reflect Gujarati social life and cultural symbols. In these cases the strictly ritual and broadly sociocultural needs of the community are somewhat separated.
There is some ambivalence in the use and development of the Gujarati language in Canada. On the one hand, its use in daily life seems to be declining as an increasing number of parents communicate with their children in English. On the other, a high level of literary activity as well as a vibrant Gujarati theatre scene in North America contribute to its rich development.
Although there is a strong awareness of the linguistic distinctiveness of Gujarati and past literary achievements, the preservation and transfer of the language to the second generation seem to be losing ground in Canada. Language classes are regularly offered by community organizations as well as school boards in cities like Toronto, but the enrolments have been small and are declining. First-generation Gujarati immigrants use the language for active communication among themselves, but they intersperse it with a large number of English words, thus creating a somewhat strange hybrid. Gujaratis from East Africa brought with them a tradition of preserving their language in a foreign land, but their use of it is generally for daily living, business, and religion, and not for creative self-expression. When Gujarati is used for basic communication, the speech differences typically associated with different regional and religious groups remain alive and contribute to a continuing awareness of multi-level subgroup identities.
In sharp contrast to the linguistic apathy of most Gujarati Canadians, there is, paradoxically, a vibrant development of highly sophisticated Gujarati creative literature and popular theatre. The literary activity is confined to a very small, select group of poets and writers, who find their readers mostly in Toronto and Montreal. More active is the Gujarati literary community in the United States. The founding of the Gujarati Academy in New York City, coupled with the publication of a literary quarterly called Gujari Digest (Eagleville, Penn.), created ideal conditions for an outburst of high-level literary work in many North American cities, including Toronto and Ottawa.
The Gujari Digest, which is a joint enterprise of Gujarat and the United States, has, among its editors and contributors, famous writers from Gujarat and from North America, and readers from everywhere. The Toronto group that contributes to it fairly regularly has organized itself into a literary society, called Shabda Setu (Verbal Bridge), that meets monthly and occasionally produces an evening of public readings of the works of its members or of invited poets.
In the area of popular theatre the initiative and leadership have, again, come from Gujaratis in a number of American cities. Gujarati musicals have played on Broadway to packed houses. Today Gujarati theatre seems to be the most visible Indian theatre in North America. It has profited from the participation of several professional actors from Gujarat who have settled in the United States, and it has created an audience base that now also supports visiting troupes from India. These activities have begun to take root in Toronto.
The Gujaratis in Canada have made fundamental contributions in a variety of performance, visual, and cinematic arts. In some areas they have remained on the cutting edge of their respective fields. The foremost Indian classical dance artist of Canada is a Gujarati, Menaka Thakkar, who has lived in Toronto since the early 1970s. Her school, Nrityakala/Canadian Academy of Indian Dance, has trained a large number of young dancers across Canada, many of them Gujaratis, in classical systems of Bharatanatyam and Odissi. The choreography and performances are presented nationally and internationally through the Menaka Thakkar Dance Company, which is the first professional Indian dance company recognized by the Canada Council as on a par with mainstream Canadian companies and supported by an annual operating grant. Menaka’s older sister from Bombay, Sudha Thakkar, now settled in Toronto, has been making innovative contributions to traditional and contemporary Indian dance forms at international dance festivals and through conferences for Kala Nidhi Fine Arts of Canada.
A classical Bharatanatyam dance school called Manu Kala Mandir, founded in Calgary by another Gujarati dancer from Bombay, has been training a large number of young dancers, many of them Gujarati children. Other more community-oriented art institutions which cater to the Gujarati taste for traditional dance dramas are the Disha Art Academy, Navaranga, and Bindu Shah Dance School, all in Toronto. Similar community-oriented dance and music activities in other cities are generally conducted through their Gujarati Associations.
Despite the contributions of individual Gujarati artists to classical dance, cinema, and the visual arts, the main artistic strength of the Gujarati community as a whole is, as it has always been, in the folk arts. There is a rich variety of folk dance and folk music associated with religious occasions and festivities, gods and goddesses, weddings, the birth of babies, the changing seasons, the harvest, full-moon night, and other joyous occasions.
The most popular of these folk dances are Garba, associated with the mother goddess and performed by women, particularly during the Nine Night Celebrations; and Rass, associated with Lord Krishna and performed by men and women, often using two colourful sticks which they strike to keep the beat while whirling in variegated rhythmic patterns. There is a specialized literature of Garba and Raas songs, some surviving over centuries in folk memory, while others are composed and preserved. Because of their popularity they have grown beyond the traditional framework, and sometimes choreographic innovation now replaces folk spontaneity. Annual competitions of Garba and Raas performances are held in major cities in India and abroad.
Toronto has been hosting North American competitions for the last seventeen years, and teams from a large number of cities in Canada and the United States, as well as Toronto’s own several teams, come to compete. The competitions attract audiences of more than 3,000, who come for two to three days to witness the skills and artistry of second- and third-generation Gujarati youth. This competition has become the foremost symbol of Gujarati culture and identity at the popular level. A similar Western Canada Raas Garba Competition, in which teams from Edmonton, Regina, Calgary, Vancouver, and Winnipeg competed, was held in Calgary in 1994 and in Vancouver in 1996.
Community organizations also present a variety of public performances of light and semiclassical music, and folk and devotional singing, by local as well as visiting artists. Among the local groups, the most popular in the Toronto area are Geetanjali, Radha Krishna, Payal, Jalaram, Sur Sangam, and the Kitchener Group.
Gujarati involvement in Canadian public life is generally confined to a few areas such as business and the economy, education, and some social causes. Gujarati Canadians are active in chambers of trade and commerce as well as the Rotary Club and the Lions Club, and they help to raise funds for charities such as the United Way and the Heart and Stroke foundation. They have also helped to establish academic programs in Jain studies and Indian studies (including a Gandhi Lectureship) in a number of universities. Gujarati Canadians have not been active in politics or public policy making. Very few have been candidates for public office, and none has been elected to political office or won a seat in parliament or a provincial legislature or even on a local school board.
Gujarati Canadians maintain fairly close links with India. Those who can afford to do so make frequent trips to their home towns and introduce their children to the life and culture of Gujarat. They maintain relations with their kin and caste groups and help promote their immigration to Canada. They also invest in Indian industries, buy real estate in India, and contribute to charities in their home towns. Some Gujaratis have built housing complexes in places like Baroda and Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Many Gujarati seniors, after obtaining Canadian citizenship, spend large parts of each year in India. Gujarati parents often arrange their children’s marriages or strongly encourage them to select their marriage partners in India, and wedding ceremonies are often performed in India even though both bride and bridegroom live in Canada. Gujarati Canadians display a strong desire not to lose their connections to the life and society of their homeland. This feeling is most intense, understandably, among those who came to Canada directly from India, rather than from East Africa.
There are no works that deal specifically with Gujaratis in Canada. For works on South Asians in Canada in general, of particular importance are Milton Israel and N.K. Wagle, eds., Ethnicity, Identity Migration: The South Asian Context (Toronto, 1993); and Diane McGifford, ed., The Geography of Voice: Canadian Literature of the South Asian Diaspora (Toronto, 1992).
Milton Israel, Into the Further Soil: A Social History of Indo-Canadians in Ontario (Toronto, 1994), 44–45, includes a brief passage on the Gujaratis in Ontario; and Milton Israel and N.K. Wagle, eds., Polyphony: The Bulletin of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, vol.12, nos. 1–2 (1990), a special issue dedicated to South Asians in Ontario, contains two articles about individual Gujaratis: Rasesh Thakkar, “Portrait of an Indian Dancer in Canada: Menaka Thakkar” (53–58) and “The Films and Photography of Sudha and Abdullah Khandwani (59–63).