Guest blogged by Jaspreet Kaur
There has recently been a lot of stir in the Sikh community about the GAP’s new “Make Love” holiday campaign. The Gap used Waris
Ahluwalia, a Sikh actor and designer, as a model for one of their promotional pictures. The response from the Sikh and non Sikh community was mixed and social media started buzzing with reactions to the image. A large add of this picture in New York City was recently vandalised and the Gap immediately responded by changing their twitter background to the image. Once again, the Sikh community responded, this time with more positive comments and support for the Gap.
What seems to have been forgotten in all this commotion is that the Gap is a multinational corporation that is only about their bottom line. They are about making money, not love. Their primary interest is to sell a product and by claiming to capture and commodify love, they are selling clothes. While the Gap is being praised for their quick response time and progressive thinking what is dismissed is the understanding that by the time a corporation uses an idea, it is no longer revolutionary. Gap would not have used a Sikh model if it hurt their bottom line. It is already acceptable and that is why the Gap can profit from displaying a turban and beard.
Op-Ed printed in The Harlem Times December 4, 2013
White supremacy typically evokes images of Klansmen on night rides setting homes ablaze with burning crosses or white policemen hosing down African American protesters during the civil rights movement. However, white supremacy is also what led a group of black teenagers to violently attack a Sikh man in Harlem this September. Given that the attackers are not white, how then is white supremacy related?
Early reports indicated that a group of 15-20 young boys assaulted Dr. Prabhjot Singh yelling “Terrorist” and “Get Osama,” leaving him with several injuries including a fractured jaw. What Dr. Singh experienced is not an isolated incident. Though violence against Sikhs has increased in the last 10 years and some attribute this to 9/11, it is part of a much more complex narrative that pre-dates 9/11: long-standing histories of oppression and genocide of Sikhs in pre-colonial and post-colonial India as well as systemic racism in the U.S. Media reports of the attack against Dr. Singh have followed an almost prosaic plot, identifying post 9/11 backlash, Islamophobia, racial profiling and misidentification as the usual suspects but failing to address white supremacy as a root cause in both the past and present.
Though police have not yet identified the attackers, accounts from Dr. Singh and eyewitnesses intimate that his aggressors were young black boys. When Melissa Harris-Perry interviewed Dr. Singh, she remarked on her surprise that his assailants represent a group also targeted by racism. However, it is precisely their experience as targets of racism which likely motivated them. Black males continue to be targeted and profiled as dangerous or unsafe or less competent at work and school, as evidenced recently by the NYPD’s use of stop and frisk tactics and the murder of Trayvon Martin. Historically, groups systematically targeted by racism scapegoat other groups that pose real or perceived threats. During the founding years of the United States, divisions between communities began when slavery and colonialism were the reality of white on black relations. Tensions between people of South Asian and African heritage have an equally long history, spanning the 19th century when Indians first immigrated to Africa and the U.S. Lastly, race still defines our society, the way we see ourselves and other groups of people as it has for centuries though now in a more diverse context.
BREAKING NEWS: The Sikh Art and Film Foundation has responded by including a female speaker in next week’s Leadership Summit!!! Great progress. Yet, the lack of representation of women and girls from 2004 – 2012 in the film festivals and galas still needs to be addressed, and this is a community wide issue. See below for actionable solutions.
November 15, 2013 7:43PM Nina Chanpreet Kaur,
Dear Sikh Art and Film Foundation,
I am very glad to see that Rashmy Chatterjee will be speaking at next Friday’s Leadership Summit. This is a tremendous gain for our community as most of the speakers at the summit have been men since 2011. This represents a trend in many Sikh organizations I hope we can change together. As a Sikh woman and resident of NYC for the last 11 years, I have followed your organization since it’s inception. Over the years, I have attended many of your events and have been so inspired by the films, speakers and attendees. I have also noticed the lack of representation of women and girls in your programs. Though you took a step forward this week, I believe you could be doing more to address, highlight and celebrate the challenges and triumphs of Sikh women and girls whether in your Film Festival, Heritage Gala or Leadership Summit.
I understand that your goal is to transcend the dichotomies and binaries of gender and other categories to sustain the universality and equality that our Gurus envisioned in order to promote and preserve Sikh and Punjabi heritage. I share your vision and do not condone a gender binary or bias towards either men or women. I am also aware that you face limitations as all organizations do, in particular that you must base the selections of films on the submissions you receive. However, Sikh men and boys have been a central part of your programs in a way Sikh women and girls have not and this indicates a bias – whether intentional or not.
From 2007 to 2012, none of your Gala awards for Leadership and Vision have been presented to Sikh women. In fact, the only women who received awards were for Creativity/Art with the exception of Shonali Bose who received an award for Courage and Shelley Rubin who received an award for Leadership jointly with her husband. For 5 years in a row you have only presented Sikh women with awards for Creativity/Art and no other category. As a Sikh woman, this sends a message to me and the next generation of Kaurs that women can be honored for creativity and art but not for leadership and vision. It raises questions about your beliefs and assumptions related to gender roles and women’s capacities in relation to men. This is most certainly not the message young Kaurs should be receiving, nor do I think this is your intention based on the email I received from Ravi last week. Continue Reading »
There are only a few days left in the annual SikhNet Youth Online Film Festival. This year’s theme, “onKaur: Focusing the Lens on Women”, brings together a collection of 18 films by and about Sikh women. The films look at the idea of “Kaur”, what that means and how it can be represented in film.
The films have been categorized as documentary (“think”) and drama (“cry”) with issues including: Anand Karaj, bullying, hair, health issues of Panjab, gender justice, family, and gatka among others.
The film festival is important for several reasons and this year’s theme brings to light the need to include Sikh women’s voices in conversations around identity and community. It’s a valuable way of showcasing issues affecting Sikh women.
Here’s how to view and vote:
The film festival also provides a platform for young filmmakers to showcase their films to a wider audience.
Voting ends on October 9th.
Guest Blogged by Jaideep Singh
As the Sikh American community embarks yet another mobilization against hate attacks— since this latest episode of violence has really hit home with many Sikhs in a way rarely seen since Balbir Singh Sodhi— we would do well to first answer the difficult, necessarily critical questions posed by my sister Nina Chanpreet Kaur in her thoughtful, passionate piece from last year.
Our efforts at “education and outreach” clearly have yielded perilously little success— as measured by the safety of our communities. So education obviously is NOT enough. Reality is far more complex and ugly. A person who would attack a gurdwara is not coming to an open house or community feeding (langar) to abate their hatred. The long list of those in our communities who have been injured and killed, and the homes and gurdwaras defaced, testifies to as much. We cannot advance by hiding in our gated communities, far from the raw racial realities daily faced by our less fortunate sisters and brothers.
Fighting centuries of entrenched, utterly irrational white [and Christian] supremacy is neither an easy task, nor a short term one. Many of us cannot even bring ourselves to admit these forces even exist, let alone how they permanently define Sikhs as racial and religious outsiders. That naïve approach must end, replaced by a sophistication borne of serious historical study of U.S. history.
Sometimes I wonder where 1984 went
Sitting across the dinner table from my parents
Me stuck at the age of 1
The annihilation of my mind
I touch my long braid to make sure it’s still there
My brothers dressed as girls to pass through another village for safety
And I dance
Making ancient sounds with my body
Slapping my heels against bare earth
Raising my arms then spinning
I look down at dirty red brown
Guest blogged by Simran Jeet Singh
Last night, I received the kind of phone call that everyone dreads: a close friend was hurt, and on his way to the hospital. But the news got worse, as I learned that my friend, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a young Sikh American professor at Columbia University, had been brutally attacked on a public street, the victim of a violent hate crime. My brother and I immediately jumped in a taxi and rushed to the hospital, where we finally saw Prabhjot being wheeled in, bloody and bruised, his face swollen from a fractured jaw. He couldn’t speak because many of his teeth had been displaced, but he waved limply to let us know that he was okay.
We joined Prabhjot in his hospital room and were surprised to find it already filled with officers from the NYPD and its Hate Crime Task Force. As he struggled to give his statement, we came to learn that his assailants had taunted him as they beat him, calling him “Osama” and “terrorist.” He described being punched in the face repeatedly until falling to the ground. And then he recalled how the punches to the head continued as he laid on the sidewalk.
I saw Prabhjot shudder as he realized how much worse it could have been. He had just returned from dinner, dropping his wife and one-year-old son at home before going for a walk. He reached from his hospital bed and grabbed his wife’s hand.
He recounted the scariest moment, seeing a young male put his arm inside his coat, as if reaching for a gun. He also remembered people pulling at his long beard. He couldn’t provide any descriptions about his assailants, and it seemed to me that in some way, he didn’t want to remember them.
Prabhjot has dedicated his life to serving the underserved. He is currently the Director of Systems Management at the Earth Institute, and he draws upon his experiences abroad to help improve the health of local communities like Harlem. In addition to serving as an Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, he is also a resident physician at Mt. Sinai Hospital. His life’s work has been to help the underprivileged access quality and affordable healthcare, and he believes strongly that his countless hours of service are an investment in improving the health of impoverished communities.
Quebec is at it again. Just a few months after the Quebec Soccer Federation reversed its ban on turbans and other religious headwear on the field after a whole lot of public outcry, officials in Quebec have introduced a proposal to ban “conspicuous religious symbols” from public sector workplaces. These so-called symbols include the turbans, hijabs, and even yarmulkes.
The proposal is drawing lots of criticism, including from federal government officials in Canada. Minister of Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney stated, ”we are very concerned about any proposal that would discriminate unfairly against people based on their religion and based on their deepest convictions,” and promised to put any law that passes through constitutional review.
Ironically, two years ago, Kenney, not particularly concerned about people’s deepest spiritual convictions, announced a ban on burqas from citizenship ceremonies, citing women’s liberation as part of the justification. The new proposed policy in Quebec also includes a burqa ban:
The proposal also requires people receiving state services “to make their faces completely visible,” a measure aimed at banning the burqa, a traditional head-to-toe garment worn by some Muslim women.
Quebec premier Pauline Marois had told a Quebec newspaper that, for her, a day care teacher wearing a head scarf carries a “connotation of a certain gap between the respect of equality between men and women, of a sort of submission.” (link)
A recent BBC article titled, “Is there a Sikh code of silence on sexual grooming?” discusses how six men were jailed in the UK for offences including child prostitution – the case receiving significant attention since it was the first high-profile case involving a Sikh victim of sexual abuse leading to convictions. As a follow up to the article, BBC’s Inside Out London showcased a 30 minute report uncovering the “hidden scandal of sexual grooming of young Sikh girls by Muslim men.” The show is receiving much attention – particularly within the Sikh community – with much discussion around the tense issue, race relations and what’s being done (or not) to address the problem.
The documentary (which you can view below) showcases real cases where girls courageously discuss their experiences being “groomed” and forced into prostitution. Sexual abuse is a serious issue within many communities, the Punjabi community is no exception. Unfortunately, a lack of openness to talk about the issue often leaves victims and their families living in isolation. The report identifies the work of an organization within the UK called the Sikh Awareness Society that provides some assistance to these young girls and often bringing to light the criminal activity which local law enforcement agencies often neglect. The organization has committed to traveling to all the Gurdwaras in the UK to provide information about the issue and to help parents understand what their children may be experiencing. While it is unclear how large the issue really is or how long it has been occurring – it is nevertheless significant that this discussion is even taking place (especially in Gurdwaras!).
I found the report to be troubling for several more reasons.
Guest blogged by Shahe Kaur
On the eve of India’s Independence Day, it is difficult to not think about the haunting stories I have heard from my parents, grandparents, and others who lived through the horrific partition of India into azaad (independent or free) India and Pakistan. This partition uprooted over 10 million people and resulted in murders and brutality far too numerous to count with official accuracy, with estimates ranging from a few hundred thousand to a few million. Many of us will likely never truly understand how much our elders are haunted by the memories of forced migration, murder, and the other atrocities that occurred when they had to uproot to the newly independent India.
As a child and throughout the time I spent with my grandmother, I was very interested in the history of who I was and where our family came from. However, when it came to topics like partition or the atrocities that occurred in 1984, my family, particularly my grandmother did not want to talk about it. The memories were far too painful for my grandmother to ever completely tell me her story. “ Those days have passed, let them be,” was the common response that I got. Of course the vakeel (lawyer) in me, even as a child, could just not let things be. I had to know more about who we were as a family and the history that is part of the fabric of who I am today. As I pushed and pushed for more details regarding my grandmother’s journey, I began to piece together an image of the atrocities she witnessed and endured to become the woman that I knew. As she would tell me her story, each time proclaiming she had told me the same story a hundred times before, I probed more and more to gain more of her experience and account of what she had endured. Eventually she told me all that she cared to speak of, which was enough for me to get a glimpse of how deep her courage, strength, and love for her family truly was.
The Junior Sikh Coalition is an initiative of the Sikh Coalition to help develop leaders in local communities, providing young Sikhs with experience in organizing, advocacy, diversity education and civil rights.
In a new project, the Junior Sikh Coalition is harnessing the power of art in advocacy with an unprecedented art collection called the Nirbhau Nirvair Poetry & Art Book to bring attention to issues such as bullying and hate crimes. Young Sikhs across to country are invited to submit their art, poetry, and photographs, to showcase their perspective on the concept of Nirbhau Nirvair (“without fear and without hatred”), as first proclaimed by Guru Nanak in Jap Ji Sahib.
Find out more below about this unique opportunity for young Sikh artists.
Last August, a gunman walked into a Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, leaving six dead and several injured. It was a day that is etched into the minds of Sikhs around the globe. While we would like to think that this tragedy is seen as an American tragedy, the mass shooting in Oak Creek did not receive the same media or government attention that other similar tragedies received. What many Americans don’t know is that the Oak Creek mass shooting was the most lethal attack on an American house of worship since the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Nevertheless, we push forward with our Sikh spirit intact. In light of this, communities across the nation are coming together to remember the victims and survivors of the Oak Creek mass shooting. Here is a list of various events taking place both locally in Oak Creek and nationally.
The Chardi Kala 6K Memorial Run & Walk will be taking place on Saturday August 3rd in Oak Creek, WI. The event will be a community gathering honoring those we lost on August 5, 2012, as well as celebrating all that has been done to bring the community together. More information can be found here.
The Oak Creek community will come together throughout the weekend in remembrance. The Akhand Paath will begin on Friday August 2nd and the Bhog will take place on Sunday August 5th. On Monday August 5th, there will be a candlelight vigil. More information can be found on the Gurdwara’s website.
Across the nation, communities are coming together for a day of service. Day of Seva projects will be occurring in New York City, Detroit, San Francisco, Modesto and Houston. Projects include feeding the homeless, park clean-ups and volunteering at the library. More information can be found here.
Other communities are gathering to write letters of support to the survivors and families of the victims. Information can be found here.
The Surat Fauj Running Club has organized a national run in solidarity against violence, taking place on Monday August 5th at 7pm. More information can be found here.
In San Antonio, community members will be participating in a solidarity Chardi Kala 6K Run/Walk, taking place on Saturday August 3rd. More information can be found here.
In Houston, community members have organized a Bring a Friend Day at their local gurdwara as a way of raising awareness. The event will be taking place on Sunday August 11th and more information can be found here.
In Canada, The Sikh Activist Network, Coalition of Sikh Organizations and One Panth have organized a run/walk/bike event which will take place on Monday August 5th in Brampton. More information can be found here.
*If we are missing any events, please leave them in the comments section.
Over the past two years, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) has enabled vital training in advocacy, self-empowerment, and community change to over thirty Sikh American youth through SikhLEAD’s Leadership Development Program. Now, with two classes already pioneering their own projects, SALDEF is proud to be gearing up for the third class of rising Sikh leaders.
The Leadership Development Program brings together approximately 17 young Sikh American leaders from across the country to participate in six days of training spread over Columbus Day and Memorial Day weekends. Attendees will participate in a series of workshops aimed to challenge, inspire and support a group of intelligent and motivated Sikh leaders. The purpose of the program is to empower Sikh American youth to be confident, aware and resourceful individuals, equipped with all the tools they need to not only fulfill their personal potential, but also become change makers within the Sikh American community. For more details please visit www.sikhlead.org.
SALDEF’s SikhLEAD Leadership Development Program will ensure that our youth remain engaged with the issues that affect our community today and will provide them with the resources and skills they need to enact real change in the future.
The deadline to apply for the SikhLEAD LDP is Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 11:59 EST.
Guest blogged by Simran Jeet Singh
As I strolled outside my Manhattan apartment this morning, reflecting on the Trayvon Martin decision, I had one of those moments that would shatter any possible artifice of living in a post-racial society.
I heard a woman cry in pain and turned around to see her lying on the street, clutching her bleeding knee. I rushed over and extended my hand to help her up. She looked up and her entire body recoiled the moment she saw that my face was adorned with a turban and beard. She shook her head and muttered “foreigners…” just loudly enough so that I could hear. I stepped away, understanding her reaction, and I turned to hold the traffic as she gathered herself.
I watched her limp to the sidewalk and was surprised when she looked back at me over her shoulder and mouthed the words “thank you.”
And I realize now that I should have thanked her. She reminded me that despite being a social construct, race is absolutely real in our world, and in the rules of this game, so many of us find ourselves to be the typecast. It’s a lesson we receive repeatedly throughout our lives, but it bears repeating for a reason.
To forget the rules of the game is to forget the reality in which we live. As Keyser Soze said in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
I’ve been invited to and participated in a number of interfaith gatherings, conferences, retreats, and discussions over the years. Time and time again I find myself being the only Sikh in these spaces. And often find that the well-meaning, progressive faith-based activists in these spaces don’t know other Sikhs besides me nor do they know much about Sikhi. So then it was refreshing to hear about the 2030 Faith in America Challenge, an interfaith gathering to strategize around creating a more just society, from a Sikh friend who is helping organize it. On October 6-7, the Nathan Cummings Foundation will host leaders in the 20s and 30s for a retreat in upstate New York to explore important and urgent questions around religious diversity. The application deadline is Monday, July 15th! Check it out and consider applying. Sikh voices are greatly needed in this discussion.
More information follows, and visit the website here.
In a rapidly changing world, where faith is as often a force for inspiration as well as polarization, how might we as people of faith, support individuals and communities connected to their religious and spiritual identities, to amplify their voice, vision and public leadership?
Is this a challenge that resonates with you or keeps you up at night? Would you invest four days of your life to wrestle with this challenge with a diverse group of leaders?
If yes, we invite you to complete an application to join us for the 2030 Faith in America Challenge gathering application due on by Monday, July 15, 2013. If selected, travel, food and lodging will be covered by the Nathan Cummings Foundation. Below you will find the articulation of the broader context in which we are locating this challenge, our belief in the importance of a strong religious and spiritual voice in the public arena, information about outcomes, methodology, profiles of potential participants, and a Frequently Asked Questions section.
Please review the required preparation and questions and please submit the completed application online by 11:59pm EST on Monday, July 15, 2013. Please send questions to [email protected].
Guest blogged by CitizenSoulja, follow him on twitter at @citizensoulja
This year I went to the Lalkaar 2013 conference in Davis California. Lalkaar run by the Jakara Movement, a Sikh youth organisation, is now in its 14th year. This was by far the most interesting and inspiring Sikh educational event I have ever been to. Like many young Sikhs that grew up in the UK I failed to engage with the local Gurdwara, when it came to learning about Sikhi in an inclusive and non-judgemental environment. This gap in learning was filled by Sikh youth camps that sought to connect Sikh youngsters with the philosophy of the Sikh Way, but these too had their drawbacks.
I came across the Jakara Movement on social media and my first impressions were of a progressive, interesting and established organisation. I remember when I first saw Lalkaar advertised I really wanted to go but it wasn’t possible. When I began planning my travel to the States this summer my plan was to attend Sidak, a two week intensive Sikh Studies course run by SikhRi in San Antonio, I had no plans of coming to Lalkaar.
I spoke to my friend Narvir, who had attended Lalkaar previously and he had only positive things to say, I began seriously considering attending. My biggest worry was having a place to stay after Lalkaar. After I spoke to some of the sevadars, they connected me with other individuals that said they could house me. That’s when I packed my bags.
Christina Antonakos-Wallace is the filmmaker behind with WINGS and ROOTS, a 90-minute documentary that tells the stories of five people from different immigrant communities living in New York or Berlin, Germany, who have struggled to shape their identity in various ways.
The film features The Langar Hall’s own Sonny Singh, a Sikh living in New York. Part of his story was featured in the well-received short documentary Article of Faith, spawned from the with WINGS and ROOTS project, that portrays Sonny’s activism around bullying of Sikh school children in New York. Another short film, called Where are you from from? was also produced out of this project.
Below, Christina Antonakos-Wallace discusses the film and provides great insight about its intended message regarding the immigrant experience and the search for identity. You can view the trailer for with WINGS and ROOTS at the end of this post.
University of Massachusetts – Boston
Department of Counseling and School Psychology
100 Morrissey Blvd, Boston, MA 02125-3393
University of Massachusetts Boston
Researcher: Dr. Kiran S. K. Arora
Study: Religious Discrimination and Race-Related Stress among North American Sikhs.
We are interested in conducting research with Sikhs living in North America. The purpose of the study is to examine how experiences of religious discrimination and race-related stress may impact the relationships, mental health, and overall well-being of Sikhs. To gather this information, we are looking for individuals over the age of 18, who self-identify as Sikh, and are living in North America, to complete a set of anonymous questionnaires online.
This study hopes to contribute to a dearth of academic literature on Sikhs and their families. Your contribution is valuable, as it would provide insight for family therapists and other mental health professionals working with Sikh families. Your participation is strictly voluntary. Confidentiality is of utmost importance, and measures will be taken to protect your identity.
The purpose of this announcement is to alert you to the research project and invite you to ask any questions you may have about this project. You may contact Dr. Kiran S. K. Arora at [email protected] if you are interested in participating, or learning more about the study. To learn more about the study or participate, you may also go to https://www.psychdata.com/s.asp?SID=153728.
About two months ago, I observed the continuing engagement by representatives of the Indian government with the Sikh American community, which in that instance took the form of an exhibition on Sikh heritage in Atlanta, Georgia, sponsored by the Government of India. This exhibit has just recently been presented in Washington, D.C., as well, and it is consistent with increased engagement and activity related to the Sikh American community — be it directly, or through lobbying of US officials — by representatives of India. The increasing effort by Indian officials to promote the Sikh community in the United States is problematic, however, as it runs contrary to India’s track record with the Sikhs in its own borders over the past several decades.
Whether in the aftermath of a hate crime (such as in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, or recently in Fresno, California), or in what appears a deliberate attempt to brand the Sikh identity with Indian nationalism, representatives of the Indian government are insisting that they be the custodians of the Sikh community in the United States.
Two of my fellow Sidakers from the class of 2012 have written wonderful blog posts that are succinct and tell you concisely what their Sidak experience was like. Please do give them a read: Santbir Singh on Sikhchic “Why I’ll Be There.” and Ruby Kaur on Sikhnet with the aptly titled, “Amazing Sidak.” It should come as no surprise that my post about my experience is long, but I’ve inserted photos to hide this fact.
Last July was a busy one for me. I attended a playwriting workshop in Cape Cod, and directly after that, it was off to Texas for two weeks of Sidak, an experience I still find difficult to put into words. It is officially:
“a distinctive leadership development program for young adults seeking to increase their commitment towards the Sikh faith. This two-week intensive immersion in Sikh culture, language, values and community though understanding bānī (scripture), tvārīkh (history), and rahit (discipline), is held annually in the Hill Country of San Antonio, Texas.”
There is nothing I disagree with in their description, but to me it is much more than just those things. I first learned about Sidak from a blog post on TLH by Sharandeep Singh, and I was very enticed by the Gurmukhi course. So enticed, I applied, despite my initial reservations. Those reservations were primarily based on the fact that I didn’t fit into the perceived demographic I had pinged in my head as the sort of person who would attend Sidak. I’m not a Sikh active in my community (at least not in the conventional sense), the gurduara, or even someone who had grown up attending Sikh youth camps, except one year at Jakara when I was 30 (http://ow.ly/l2F6X). I’m in my mid-30s, occasionally go to the gurduara, and while I read, write, and speak Punjabi “relatively well,” I am not well versed in Sikh theological terminology. I had no idea what the difference between a tuk, a var, or a bani were, when they’d be used in class or during Divan.