Lalkaar NY 2014 ReCap

Guestblogged by Jagga Singh.

Screen shot 2014-07-28 at 5.29.13 PMIt was a hot June day, and I was stuck in traffic. This was the last place I wanted to be today. As the cars in front of me inched little by little, I imagined myself in my frigid air conditioned room reading a book or watching Netflix. Instead I was sweltering in the heat of my run down car slowly making my way across northern New Jersey so I could live in the woods for a weekend. When a friend I met at a book club told me about Lalkaar, a Sikh camp run by a progressive Sikh organization, I was excited to learn more about it and check it out. But at that moment in my car, I wish I had stayed behind.

It was only a week or so prior that I had finally decided that I wanted to go. Between job hunting and living at home, this summer was turning into a long rut. I wanted something to break the norm, I wanted to immerse myself into something larger than me. Unsure if they would consider my financial situation or the timing of my application, I sent a request in anyway. To my surprise, the folks at the Jakara Movement, the organization that runs the Lalkaar camp, accommodated my needs and were happy to have me attend. I couldn’t say no to that.

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From Khalistan to Palestine

Guest blogged by Moninder Singh

I am for Palestinian statehood, and at the same time I am for the existence of the state of Israel. I am against rockets fired into civilian areas killing innocents indiscriminately, but I am even more against what can only be seen as purposely targeted air strikes against the children and innocents of Gaza. I am against those who think the existence of Jews and Israel must be challenged, and in the same breath, I am against Zionist and Israeli nationalism that doesn’t recognize the state of Palestine or the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. It is indeed that simple in my mind.

A recent Palestine solidarity rally in the Bay area. Photo by Gurinder Singh Wadhwa.

A recent Palestine solidarity rally in the Bay area. Photo by Gurinder Singh Wadhwa.

It was only a recent photograph of a forward thinking and young Sikh waving a Khalistan flag at a pro-Palestine rally in California  that pushed me to give my views on the topic as well– but as a Sikh and not a wannabe political analyst. For weeks I have been listening to conversations from many within the Sikh community on the issue of Palestinian statehood versus the existence of Israel. The underlying question nobody is really touching on is, why does it have to be one or the other?

This illegal occupation and massacre instigated and carried out by Israel with excuses of Palestinian aggression has nothing to do with the fact that Yasser Arafat (former Leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization) was close to Indira Gandhi or the fact that Israel was instrumental in training Indian law enforcement agencies on dealing with threats to their national security which were also deployed in Punjab against Sikhs throughout the 1990s. These actions do not define the masses or their rights. It defines only misguided leadership and corrupt governments. What is even more troubling is the refusal of many Sikhs to comment on this issue by stating, “I am not an expert in Palestinian/Israeli affairs.” But who said you had to be? If it is only the “experts” that are needed to make decisions on the fate of an entire population, then we as Sikhs should take up shovels for digging graves and hauling carts of wood for funeral pyres because the oppressed peoples of the world who are resisting tyranny like the Palestinians will need them today, and make no mistake that we ourselves will likely need them tomorrow…just like we did yesterday.

A revolution never did and never will need “experts.” A revolution needs nothing but the people. And from them it demands their minds for the ability to think without fear, it demands their voices for the ability to speak without fear, and if needed, it will demand their blood to accomplish their dream to live without fear. It should never be that the oppressed of yesterday becomes the oppressor of today, but when that does happen and as it has happened in the case of Israel oppressing our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we as Sikhs have a duty to uphold the principles of our Gurus and stand in solidarity with and struggle alongside those who are being oppressed.
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Punjab 1984: An Opportunity for Discussion

Guest blogged by Shahe Kaur

 On June 27, 2014, Punjab 1984, directed by Anurag Singh, was released by White Hill Production and Basic Brothers Productions. Kirron Kher and Diljit Dosanjh play the starring roles in the film as mother and son. This is not the first movie released which discusses issues related to the events of 1984, and hopefully it will not be the last. Like those movies before it, this movie has evoked mixed reactions from its audience.

Many Sikhs have criticized the movie with claims that it distorts facts and is nothing but State propaganda that negatively portrays Sikhs. However, It is important to watch these movies without preconceived notions so that we don’t read our own personal bias into the message.

The film is not meant to be a film about the Khalistan Movement nor is it meant to be a historical documentary. In an interview with Anurag Singh, he states that the film was intended to paint the picture of a mother’s udeek for her son and the struggles and atrocities she had to endure at the hands of law enforcement when inquiring about her son’s whereabouts. This is the first time that this subject has been discussed in a movie from the point of view of a mother. Women are often left out of discussions about ’84, even though it is widely known that many Sikh women were attacked, tortured, and raped, often in front of their families. Rape was used as a weapon of war (as it often is), and many of the victims and their families remain silent today out of the misplaced shame that is associated with those atrocities.

The film showed the main character, like many Sikhs who joined the movement, taking up arms because of his family’s tragic circumstances, corrupt law enforcement, and a government that did not provide him with any other alternative. The film truthfully illustrated how local police officers engaged in lodging falsified evidence against innocent Sikhs, incarcerating them, and then later shooting them in “encounters” where officers falsely claim that those Sikhs tried to escape from custody.  Instead of enforcing laws to protect those who were being oppressed, law enforcement protected the oppressors and increased persecution of Sikhs to gain promotions and preserve their own self-interests. It also showed Sikh revolutionaries reciting Waheguru’s prayers and standing against attacks on innocent civilians.

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Palestine/Israel 101

185 Palestinians have been killed, thousands injured, and nearly 1,000 homes destroyed in the last week in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes (underwritten by American tax dollars). My last post about the dangers of Sikh alliances with pro-Israel groups has sparked some important and much needed discussion and debate in our community about this issue.

Many people I talk to (Sikh and non-Sikh alike) explain they feel like they do not know enough about the situation to take a stance or get involved. Or they feel overwhelmed about the complicated history of the conflict. If this sounds like you or anyone you know (or you just want a history refresher), check out this short video put out by Jewish Voice for Peace. 

And if you don’t understand why this is a Sikh issue, see here, here, or here for more about that.


Solidarity with Oppression? The Danger of a Sikh-Israel Alliance
IMG_20140707_200505

A rally in Brooklyn, NY in support of the BDS movement on Monday.

Monday evening in Brooklyn, about 50 people gathered to protest Israeli apartheid and encourage the boycott of Israeli goods, a part of the growing boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Inspired by the effective use of boycott and divestment tactics in the struggle against South African apartheid decades ago, the BDS movement is growing with recent victories such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) and many colleges and universities deciding to stop investing in companies complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people.

The mood of Monday’s rally was heavy. What was intended to be a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the BDS movement instead was a mourning of the many Palestinian lives taken in recent days by Israeli soldiers/bombs and civilians/settlers alike. Like Muhammad Abu Kheidr, a 16-year-old who was burned alive last week in what is widely assumed to be a revenge lynching by Israeli settlers after the bodies of three missing Israeli teens were discovered (blamed on Hamas without any evidence). Or Muhammad’s cousin Tareq, a 15-year-old Palestinian American who was badly beaten and detained for being at the wrong place at the wrong time (with the wrong ethnicity) a few days later. Or the 31 people in Gaza killed and countless others injured and displaced by 378 Israeli airstrikes in the last two days of its increasingly devastating “Operation Protective Edge.” Or the 10+ killed and over 360 kidnapped in Israel’s “Operation Brother’s Keeper” a few weeks ago in the West Bank, a form of collective punishment on the entire population after the  disappearance of three Israeli boys.

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Sikh Pride, Gay Pride

This past weekend was pride weekend in my home of New York City and many other cities around the country and world. I missed many of the festivities because I was traveling but did attend the annual Trans Day of Action last Friday, a march a rally organized by the Audre Lorde Project and many other groups on the historic Christopher Street Pier. It was a beautiful gathering of a very diverse and energetic group of queer people, trans people, and allies. The event was largely led by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people of color and immigrants, a breath of fresh air given how these individuals are so often invisible/marginalized/excluded in both the mainstream gay movement and in their own communities and families.

Towards the end of the rally, a young desi man came up to me, introduced himself, and asked me about local Sikh activist groups to get involved in. He, like so many others in our community, has not found a Sikh space where he can take action on the various social justice issues he is passionate about — including LGBT rights and justice. We had a nice, short conversation about the activist roots of Sikhi and our Gurus’ radical commitment to equality and liberation. Yet we are all too aware of the rampant homophobia in our community, which I have written about before.

Given this reality, I was happy to see a PSA circulating in the last few days that features a Sikh family speaking out against homophobia. We could certainly use one in Punjabi to reach more members of our community, but this Hindi video is a great start nevertheless.

4) PSA Hindi from Asian Pride Project on Vimeo.

 


Faith & Social Justice: Millennial Leaders Conference (applications due 5/23)

A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a planning and brainstorming retreat for an innovative pilot project that Union Theological Seminary  is launching this summer. UTS, which has a longstanding commitment to social justice, are aiming to bring together a group of 30 young(ish) (21-35 year old) leaders from different religious and spiritual backgrounds for five days in New York City this July to explore the intersection of faith and justice and build a stronger spiritual activist movement together.

The Millennial Leaders Pilot Conference will take place July 13th to 17th at UTS in Manhattan. All travel and room and board expenses will be covered for participants, who should have histories of doing social and economic justice work in their respective communities. According to the conference website, applicants “may be community organizers, staff of NGO/NPO, in ordained or lay service to a local church or religious community, as well as they may function is less official leadership roles. Formal affiliation with a specific religious tradition or community is not a prerequisite and people with no affiliation are encouraged to apply. In this regard, the only formal requirement is an interest in the intersection between spirituality and activism.”

This promises to be an exciting and unique gathering with the potential of building a more long-term, sustainable movement of activists and organizers from different faith traditions. At the planning retreat, many of us discussed how questions of spirituality and religion are so often left out (or are even taboo sometimes) in progressive social and economic justice spaces. And on the other hand, which we often discuss here at The Langar Hall, social and economic injustices are so often perpetuated in the name of religion, including Sikhi.

If these ideas resonate with you, I hope you’ll consider applying and spreading the word to your friends, family, and colleagues, Sikh and non-Sikh alike. All the details about the conference and the application can be found here. The deadline to apply is the end of the day this Friday, May 23rd.

 


The Last Killing

Guest blog by: Jaspinder Singh

manakOn the 23th of May 2014, Ensaaf will be releasing their documentary, ‘The Last Killing’ to the general public. It is an outstanding and powerful 20 minute film, showing the resolve of Sikhs who have faced indescribable hardships and terror, on their journey to bring to justice those who had destroyed their families.

The period under scrutiny is Punjab, India (1984-1995) where the Police had free reign to crack down on Sikhs campaigning for equal social, economic and religious rights. By systematically killing and torturing Sikhs they aimed to break the morale of activists and suppress the movement.

The documentary itself centres around Satwant Singh Manak, who, as a police officer, witnessed the unlawful killings of 15 innocent men by the hands of his colleagues. After seeing a 16 year old individual being beheaded and dumped in a canal, he raised his voice against his seniors. The result was for the Punjab Police force to begin a campaign of terror on Manak and his family. At first, Satwant Singh was held and brutally tortured for 42 days. Upon release he resigned from the Police force and filed an official case. The Police authorities responded with another savage attempt to silence him and this time it was his father who was picked up and tortured. Shortly after being released he died from the injuries sustained.

Despite this terrible ordeal, Manak persisted to fight the case of 10 of those victims and the film narrates this struggle, with the help of testimonials from key individuals involved.
It poignantly brings to life the statistics we have always read about and shows profoundly how the horrors of Punjab between the 80s and 90s is not an historic event but an everyday nightmare for all of those families who had seen their loved ones kidnapped or killed.

The director, Satinder Kaur, has captured the mood of Satwant Singh Manak’s story eloquently, where the viewer can intrinsically relate to the feelings and emotions of those deeply affected by the atrocities. The cinematography and editing is superb throughout which is befitting of the important message it is presenting.

I watched this documentary for the second time with my parents ahead of writing this review. As we discussed the film after it had finished, they began to reveal how we had also lost relations in Punjab in suspect circumstances. Between them, they concluded that at least 3 relatives had been killed or disappeared illegally by Punjab Police. This was something I had not known before.
It is in this context that I can see how powerful this film can be for our community. It will awaken us to come to terms with our past and inspire us to become like Manak, not intimidated but steadfast in our determination to prosecute those who ripped families apart and left them languishing in silence.

To conclude, there have only been a small number of occasions in the last decade where I feel the Sikh community has been able to adequately portray the deep sense of injustice felt towards the Indian authorities using media. This production from Ensaaf is by far one of the most courageous documentaries I have seen. I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone takes the time out to watch it and personally takes responsibility in making sure the brave voice of Satwant Singh Manak resonates in our community. Thank you to Ensaaf for their tremendous work.


Sikh Freedom Ride: Youth Embark on Caravan for El Paso 37

When most of us imagine what the people inside immigration detention centers in the United States look like, we usually do not think of Sikhs from Punjab. Our Sikh American community — and more broadly South Asian American community — has been reluctant to deeply engage with the harsh realities of immigration policy and detention here in the United States. Too often we have seen this as someone else’s issue or passed quick judgment on those migrants from various parts of the world who overstayed their tourist visas or crossed the border under the radar — in search of work, to feed their families, in hopes of a better life. Papers or not, this hope for freedom is what brings all migrants to the United States.

Right now at least 37 Punjabi migrants, who fled India in search of this illusive freedom, are detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in El Paso, Texas. News of these men and others at the El Paso facility protesting their indefinite detentions (they have been detained for over nine months now) came to surface in December. Last week, we learned that 37 Singhs — now known as the El Paso 37 — began a hunger strike. 

37 young Sikh men — many who are seeking political asylum in the US — have been detained for almost a year in Texas, yet we have heard almost nothing about it in our organizations or gurdwaras. There has been no major news coverage of these men’s plight. Their harsh journey to El Paso reportedly took them through Moscow, Havana, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Instead of finding respite, comfort, and safety in the US, they have found prison walls.

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Job Openings! Working for a Professional Sikh Organization

For a long time, it was a distant dream that the Sikh community would create institutional power in the form of Sikh organizations. Having been in America for over 100 years now, we finally are in a place where professional organizations exist in parallel to our Gurdwaras. Now, young Sikhs graduating from college or beginning their professional careers can join organizations representing the Sikh voice as full-time employees (and often, even with benefits!).

Below is a list of organizations that are looking for qualified candidates! Note: Please contact the organizations directly to confirm whether these jobs are still available.

Dasvandh Network – Associate Director, Summer Intern [learn more]

The goal of the Dasvandh Network is to bring Sikh and community giving to the next level. The progress of our community remains stunted due to the lack of consistent funds available to both established organizations and community projects. We must reignite the spirit of Dasvandh and promote humanitarian ideals by supporting innovative projects & organizations.

Seva Food Bank (Canada) – Volunteer & Staff Engagement Coordinator [learn more]

Act on the basic Sikh tenets of sarbat da bhalla (the well-being of all) and seva (selfless service) to provide a sustained supply of safe, nutritious and culturally-appropriate food available for distribution to low-income families.

Sikh Research Institute – Research Assistant/Content Developer [learn more]

The Sikh Research Institute aims to develop a principle-driven community by protecting the core and enlarging the resource pool. Our efforts are divided into three focus areas: Training and Development, Global Awareness, and Strategic Solutions.

The Sikh Coalition – Community Development Manager, Media Associate, Summer Interns [learn more]

The Sikh Coalition is a community-based organization that works towards the realization of civil and human rights for all people. In particular, we work towards a world where Sikhs may freely practice and enjoy their faith while fostering strong relations with their local community wherever they may be.

Ensaaf - Office Manager [learn more]

Ensaaf is a nonprofit organization working to end impunity and achieve justice for mass state crimes in India, with a focus on Punjab, by documenting abuses, bringing perpetrators to justice, and organizing survivors.

Fateh!


Vaisakhi Interesectional Inspiration

We Sikhs are celebrating ‪‎Vaisakhi this week, the 315th birthday of the Khalsa, a body of revolutionaries given the responsibility to tear down tyranny and oppression in all its forms. Hundreds of years ago, Sikhs had an intersectional analysis of oppression, recognizing that all forms of injustice were equally deplorable, whether based on caste, gender, economic class, or religion. Unfortunately today, we don’t always live up to this important ideal as a community as we so often perpetuate one form of subjugation while attempting to challenge another.

The last few days, I have been re-reading a bunch of feminist writing on the ways all forms of oppression are deeply interlocked in preparation for a workshop I am facilitating next weekend. I have long been inspired by women of color and Third World feminism and suddenly realized how related this all is to Vaisakhi — a moment when our ancestors formalized their commitment to Sikhi, to bridging the spiritual and political, to becoming freedom fighters, to initiating the Khalsa.

What follows is a passage from Marilyn Frye’s timeless 1983 essay, “Oppression,” which I find especially compelling when thinking about the necessity of understanding and challenging all forms of domination. This Vaisakhi, I am thinking about how these words connect to our struggle and path as a Sikh community.

The experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction. It is the experience of being caged in: all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby trapped.

Cages. Consider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.


Holding Members of Congress Accountable on Sikh Issues

220px-BhagatsinghthindYesterday, the Washington Post reported that a bipartisan group of 105 Members of Congress sent a letter urging the Department of Defense to end a presumptive ban on devout Sikhs who want to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Over the past several years, civil rights group, The Sikh Coalition, has been working to address the issue of equal opportunity in the Armed Forces allowing all Sikhs to serve.  Since 2009, three Sikh Coalition clients—Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, and Corporal Simran Preet Singh Lamba—have received rare and historic accommodations to serve in the U.S. Army with their articles of faith intact.  A timeline of the efforts can be found here.

The Members wrote:

Dear Secretary Hagel,

We respectfully request that the United States Armed Forces modernize their appearance regulations so that patriotic Sikh Americans can serve the country they love while abiding by their articles of faith.

Devout Sikhs have served in the U.S. Army since World War I, and they are presumptively permitted to serve in the armed forces of Canada, India and the United Kingdom, among others. Notably, the current Chief of Staff of the Indian Army is a turbaned and bearded Sikh, even though Sikhs constitute less than two percent of India’s population. Throughout the world, and now in the U.S. Army, Sikh soldiers are clearly able to maintain their religious commitments while serving capably and honorably.

After hearing from their constituents, many Members of Congress who represent large constituencies of Sikhs signed onto this letter representing the importance and value of political engagement.  Unfortunately, there were also Members of Congress – some who represent Sikh constituents, who fund-raise within the Sikh community and even sit on the American Sikh Congressional Caucus who did not sign this letter.  This includes my own Member of Congress, Devin Nunes who “represents” (or that’s what we thought) a large constituency of Sikhs in the Central Valley of California.  Other missing signatories include Congressman LaMalfa and McClintock – who, in the past, have reached out to the Sikh community for support.

It isn’t enough to simply invite Members to our Gurdwaras and offer them saropay.  We have to hold our Members of Congress accountable once they leave our Gurdwaras and are challenged to support our issues on the Hill.  Our presence and political engagement will only make a difference when we continue to take a leadership role to address inequity in our society and establish a strong voice on behalf of the Sikh community.


Hair double standards?

An unexpected video posted on the Jezebel.com has gone viral in the last 24 hours. The moving clip highlights the  story of 23-year-old Harnaam Kaur from Slough, UK who has a full beard. Harnaam’s polycystic ovary syndrome led to her facial and body hair growth as a pre-teen, resulting in intense bullying and harassment from her peers. Harmaan took amrit as a 16-year-old, proudly embracing her Sikh identity and her unshorn hair — facial hair included.  It seems the teenage Harnaam found the strength to overcome years of isolation and self-loathing in part through Sikhi.

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The Singh Nod

Happy Monday!


The Center for Change

harjitblogpicBlogged by Harjit Singh

Many people who know me wonder why as an astrophysics and geophysics major I interned in the office of Congresswoman Judy Chu. In her office I have was not only able to explore my interests, but I also served my Sikh community and built a network of friends and mentors who will likely be there for me as I ready to launch in the world- post- undergrad.

As an astrophysicist, I was assigned to conduct research on NASA’s priorities and goals. I read the Congressional Research Survey Reports about NASA, attended hearings on the topic of NASA reauthorization, and wrote memos summarizing those hearings. The internship helped me to understand the future of space exploration and become somewhat of an expert in the policy aspect of this field.

One of the highlights was meeting Bill Nye at a NASA event I attended through my internship. This man helped many kids fall in love with science so meeting him was inspirational.
In terms of advancement of Sikhs, I believe I contributed to the cause during my time in D.C. First, it was a positive step adding to the diversity but specifically increasing the Sikh presence and visibility in the city, especially on Capitol Hill. Even in a city filled with graduate and professional degrees, there remains much ethnic and religious ignorance. Luckily, I had the opportunity to dispel some of that ignorance through my daily interactions with people. Also, with Judy Chu being a co-chair of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, I worked on a few cool things for the caucus. My most important contribution would have to be writing the first draft to a resolution (H.Res. 334) that was introduced in Congress to commemorate the anniversary of the shootings at the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

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Raising Sikh awareness — without and within

Co-blogged by American Turban and Sundari

San Quentin State Prison, California.

San Quentin State Prison, California. (Image: San Quentin News.)

The Sikh Coalition, a civil rights organization, was recently asked to present to a group of inmates at San Quentin State Prison in Northern California.  Organized by the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, which has a weekly class inside San Quentin State Prison called SQ ROOTS (Restoring Our Original True Selves), the organization was asked to make a presentation about the Sikh community.  The class is modeled after Asian American Studies courses, covering topics such as history, culture, personal experiences as well as health and reentry issues.  The class is comprised of Vietnamese, Filipino, Cambodian, Hmong, Lao, Chinese, Mexican in addition to Punjabi Sikh men.

The presentation included a Sikh awareness talk followed by a discussion on the post-9/11 challenges experienced by the Sikh community, including hate crimes, school bullying, religious profiling and workplace discrimination.  It was a unique experience for both the Sikh Coalition volunteers as well as the inmates who noted at the end that they were “grateful” and “thankful” to have learned about the Sikh community and the issues that Sikh Americans were experiencing.  It was a moving experience and pushed us to think about restorative justice and the role of forgiveness within Sikhi.

Many of us on the “outside” have preconceived ideas about what life is like inside the prison system. To be sure, our few hours inside the prison and interacting with the inmates may not be a fully representative view of prison life. Yet, the warm reception we received by inmates before, during, and after our session was eye-opening; the inmates in our class were very engaged, courteous and collegial. We enjoyed the positive and warm atmosphere exuded by each member of our audience, and were touched by the obvious desire by these inmates to learn more about the Sikh community, and to even empathize with some of the issues that Sikhs in this country have faced.

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The Sikh response to homophobia in India and beyond

A few weeks ago, the Indian Supreme Court re-criminalized sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex. The Supreme Court overturned a 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court to strike down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which came directly from a British colonial law from 1861. Section 377, which was just reinstated, states:

377. Unnatural offenses — Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

As Prerna Lal states about the recent ruling, “the Indian Supreme Court has re-criminalized gay sex in India, rendering almost 20 percent of the global LGBT population illegal.” As a result, LGBT Indians and their allies in India and around the world have taken to the streets, signed petitions, and engaged in creative actions through social media, showing their outrage about this backwards decision.

But what has the Sikh response been? I have previously written about the homophobia rampant in our community and how ironic it is, given our Gurus’ deep commitment to equality and social justice. In the days after the ruling on 377, I wondered if any Sikh activists committed to LGBT equality would come out of the woodwork. I also wondered about the Sikh response to the ruling in India and if any Sikh institutions publicly supported or lobbied for this ruling. Embarrassingly, Sikh institutions have publicly campaigned against LGBT equality in the past, including supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the US a few years back.

Enter Kanwar Saini, aka Sikh Knowledge, a young, openly gay hip hop artist in Toronto. In protest of 377 and as a part of a social media campaign, Saini posted a photograph of him kissing another man on Facebook, which went somewhat viral and led to a lot of discussion and debate about Sikhi and gay rights. Facebook removed the photo from his page for 16 hours, quite possibly due to a whole lot of homophobic Sikhs reporting the picture to Facebook as offensive.

Saini recently appeared on CTV discussing the incident and his response.

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Year in Review: The Best and Worst Sikh Moments of 2013

The Best:

  1. Bhai Gurbaksh Singh went on a hunger strike for 44 days which led to the release of 4 political prisoners and increased international attention on human rights in India. We were all deeply moved and inspired, and Bhai Sahib sparked a new movement!

  2. Sikh women claimed their place in new and outstanding ways!

    • Balpreet Kaur gave this inspiring talk. We all love her.

    • SAFAR held it’s second annual Young Women’s Leadership conference, took us beyond International Women’s Day and shared a beautiful message on the International Day of the Girl.

    • The Sikh Coalition acknowledged International Day of the Girl for the first time.

    • The Sikh Activist Network featured poems about rape in India.

    • Sikhnet hosted an online youth film festival focused on KAUR. How amazing is that?!

    • The Sikh Art & Film Festival added a female speaker to their panel and 18MillionRising stepped in to support gender equality.

    • My awesome friends are building a Dastaar Tutorial Project for women (more details to come soon). Maybe now I can figure out how to keep a patka on my head that doesn’t slip off underneath my dastaar. Win!!!!!

  3. We marked the one-year anniversary since Oak Creek and grieved several other hate crimes but still came out on top.

    • Piara Singh was attacked in Fresno and the community rose to the occasion in inspiring ways, serving meals and buckets full of compassion to local families.

    • Dr. Prabhjot Singh invited his attackers to worship with him and shifted the narrative of justice when it comes to hate crimes.

    • The Sikh Coalition released a new version of Fly Rights. Rockin it!

    • Jasjeet Singh spoke at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. No big deal.

    • Dr. Kiran Arora began a study on religion and race-related stress among North American Sikhs. Much-needed.

    • Turban Myths was released, the first national public perception assessment on the Sikh American community, conducted by SALDEF in collaboration with Stanford University. Nicely done! Continue Reading »


Sikhs fight for rights in the largest democracy in the world

Guest blogged by Kirpa Kaur

A few weeks ago, India joined the world in mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary whose armed resistance and leadership rendered him a “terrorist” and imprisoned for 27 years. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated: “A giant among men has passed away. This is as much India’s loss as South Africa’s. He was a true Gandhian. His life and work will remain a source of eternal inspiration for generations to come.”

It’s been 44 days since a Sikh farmer and activist from Haryana decided to launch a hunger strike unto death at Gurudwara Amb Sahib (Mohali, next door to Chandigarh) to protest the long sentences being served by political prisoners who have been denied any legally mandated review of their cases; and India remains largely silent. BBC Radio yesterday recognized that while the protest has caught momentum around the world, and from various quarters in Punjab, including the oft-vilified Punjabi singers, mainstream India is largely aloof on this issue.

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Making money not love

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.

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