If England were like a langar hall thered be no riots

Guest blogged byEren Londonwala

Each day I walk down Ferry Lanein Tottenham to my workplace. On Friday 5 August a police cordon blocked my usual route. I learned later that police had shot dead 29 year-old alleged gang-member Mark Duggan the night before. The precise facts remain unclear but early reports suggesting an exchange of fire between police and the dead man have been undermined Duggans gun wasnt discharged. This was a tragedy I thought and perhaps another instance of excessive force by police in a poor London borough with a large black population. Few anticipated what was to come.

On the next day members of Duggans family who by then had still not been contacted by police and other locals went to Tottenham Police Station for answers and to stage a peaceful vigil. Senior police ignored the group and around this time a young female, remonstrating, was apparently set upon by police with their batons. Unlike a previous contributor to this blog, who described this incident as relatively minor, given the understandably heightened passions live then in Tottenham, I feel the police action was heavy-handed and incendiary. I invite readers to view the evidence and make up their own minds. It was after these events that Tottenham, and in subsequent days other areas in London and England, erupted into the worst civil unrest for a generation.

Then, the causes were unmistakeable racist policing of ethnic minority communities and social deprivation. So, like some others, I viewed the outbreak of recent violence as a reaction to the continuation of unresolved problems, sparked by the suspicious killing of Duggan an understandable, and even legitimate, rebellion in other words. The fact that police cars were among the first targets of the Molotov bombs seemed to confirm this. Yet, as the days unfolded, and disorder spread throughout the capital and country, a distinction between the two eras became apparent: 2011 was marked, to a far greater degree than 1981, by opportunist looting which came to devastate as many small independent businesses as insured corporate chains and, amid the chaos, most tragically, led to further loss of life with Duggans death being all but forgotten.

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Fatting It Up at the Langar Hall

Guest blogged by Navdeep Singh Dhillon

My wifes family is Hindu, with varying degrees of connections to the religion. Some of them have statues of deities like Krishna and Ganesh scattered throughout the house, others have entire rooms sectioned off for bhajans and pujas, and then there are those, who shall remain nameless, that go on random fasts they cant explain. It is a potato diet. I will eat potatoes today. Who else wants aloo parantha and aloo pakodas? is the only explanation given during fasting for the nine days of Navratri. I still dont get it. Nor do I get why some Sikhs dont eat certain foods on Thursdays, or why Jains have such a problem with potatoes because living organisms might be killed, but have no qualms about dousing their bland food with ghee, or eating vast quantities of paneer.

Many of my wifes family live in a concentrated area in Central Jersey a few minutes from each other. In the neighborhood, there is a Hindu temple, which they visited once, and never returned to. No, not because of politics, or religious differences. The reason: they didnt like the food. It is a Gujarati Hindu Temple, and they are very Punjabi. So they go out of their way, driving through the most industrial and uninspiring landscape New Jersey has to offer, to eat Punjabi food at the Gurdwara.

The irony is not that they are Hindu and attending a Sikh Gurdwara when a Hindu temple is a few minutes away. Sikhism has, from its inception, been welcoming to all religions, and many of the verses in the Guru Granth Sahib were written by Muslims and Hindus. The four openings at the Harimandir Sahib invite people from all directions and walks of life. The irony is that through their food, which Gujaratis and Punjabis take very seriously, both communities have been the hardest hit by ailments like heart disease and diabetes, affectionately known as sugar.

My post is an expansion on Brooklynwalas post Working for Langar Justice, which talks about making the move for our Langar Halls to go organic, a move I highly encourage.

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Working for Langar Justice

I love food. I love to cook. I love to gather with friends, community, and sangat and share a meal together.

Because food it our most primal need and our common bond to the earth and one another, it can ground us as we stretch ourselves to draw in all the interlaced threadsso we can weave a whole, meaningful picture for ourselves. I still believe food has this unique power. With food as our starting point, we can choose to meet people and to encounter events so powerful that they jar us out of our ordinary way of seeing the world, and open us to new, uplifting, and empowering possibilities. – Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe, from Hopes Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet

The Sikh institution of langar has always been something near and dear to me, partially because of my borderline obsession with food, but also because it really gets to the heart of Sikhi. The practice of langar, our free community kitchen, was started some 500 years ago by Guru Nanak to meet a basic human need eating and to create a space for community-building that reflected the Gurus radical vision of equality. Rules about food preparation and eating were (and still are) one of the central ways that caste oppression was enforced. Langar turned this all on its head. With everyone sitting together on the same level (on the floor) and eating the same simple food, which was prepared by people from all caste backgrounds, langar was nothing short of a revolutionary accomplishment.

It is with this lens that I want to discuss the food of langar itself.

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The Langar Hall Evolves in the New Year
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New Years Day at the Darbar Sahib

From all of us here at The Langar Hall, we’d like to wish all our readers a very happy new year! As youmay havenoticed,our posts have been intermittentlately. This is a result ofcommittment changes and transitions occuring in the lives of many of our bloggers. As is the case in all communities, change is inevitable, and TLH is no exception.

While the basic premise of this site will remain the same (see more here), 2011 is bringing us some fresh new voices and exciting changes. You can expect to see more posts by a number of guest bloggers (Mehmaan) and by February several new permanent bloggers. We are excited about the new writers who will be contributing to TLH this year, and we continue to encourage readers who are interested in participating in this process to send a note to admin[at]thelangarhall[dot]com.

Also, as previously mentioned, we hope TLH can be a place where Sikhs all over North America (and hopefully even beyond!)can find out about Sikhi related events happening in their areas. We are still working out the technology to make this happen, but we hope to get an events calendar up and running early this year.

Let the conversations begin,

Fateh!


A [Simple] Langar

Challenges_Sikh_Studies_Academia_Ajeet_Courm4d156542.jpgThe concept of langar is probably one of the most unique aspects of the Sikh faith. For hundreds of years now, Sikhs have carried on this tradition which was first started by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and later institutionalized by Guru Amar Das Ji. W.O. Cole, who studies Sikhi, states “, the unique concept of universality and the system of Langar (free community meal) in Sikhism are the two features that attract me towards the study of Sikhism. Langar is the exclusive feature of Sikhism and found nowhere else in the world.”

There are essentially two elements of langar. One is clear in its definition of free kitchen and the tradition of expressing the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness and oneness of all humankind. The second element is that langar should be simple. The cost of langar is covered by voluntary donations from the sangat and is made through the hands of seva.

Today, langar has transformed into (as some people joke) the dollar buffet. I dont find this joke to be amusing at all. Everytime I go into a gurdwara now, I am overloaded by the amount of food which is made (and often times wasted). Langar was meant to be simple probably so that we could feed the most amount of people in the most efficient manner. Everyone wants their langar to be the most complimented and delicious meal but too often we forget that is not the intention.

We want the sangat to participate in langar seva and we want them to be able to afford to do so. Lets not add the adverse health impact of food we serve in gurdwaras today to this equation. If our standard today is that langar should include lavish spreads at breakfast time and lunch time, I am not surprised why gurdwaras need to constantly ask the sangat to please do langar seva. Lets keep the costs down and encourage the making of simple langars and this way, all community members (not just middle and upper class Sikhs) have an opportunity to do this seva.

An interesting read on the Sociology of Langar can be found here.


The Langar Hall Community Grows

Dear Langarites,

Over the next few weeks, we will be presenting posts by several individuals who answered our call for additional bloggers. We hope you welcome their writing andopenly dialogue with them. Just this past week, you have seen two of our guest bloggers emerge. As a collective decision, several of these bloggers will joinThe Langar Hall team- your commentary andfeedback will help us determine this next phaseof our growth. Please join us in welcoming our guest bloggers!

- The Langar Hall Team


The Langar Hall in 2008

As we approach the calendar year 2008, it also marks a year of our existence.

Looking at our top 10 posts in terms of the number of hits, I guess it is sort of a mixed bag on how The Langar Hall is finding its voice. Our top hit getters were usually part of the first comers rule. Our bloggers were the first to put up the Kenneth Cole Sikh Ad and our comment board became a one of the first internet hubs for fans to mourn the loss of Ishmeet Singh.

Still our breakthroughs, in my opinion, were our original commentary that sparked various discussions whether it was about Sikhs and the Media in Will the Revolution be Televised?, the issues of drug distribution in our community in the still popular Balbir Dhami article, looking at the role and effects of Punjabi Sikhs in the ensuing mortgage crisis, or even in creating our desi list in Sikh Medicine.

For the full list, see below the fold:

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Langar Hall Kaneda

As a young kid, the langar hall was my favourite space in our local Gurdwara. Located in the basement of the building, it was a home away from home. My parents helped build the Gurdwara in the 1970s and I spent many weekends helping with the preparation of Sunday morning langar. I occasionally helped with the cooking, often with the serving and always with the running around. The wide open empty space in the hall provided many hours of fun with playing tag and football with a ball made of tied-up ramaals (handkerchiefs). It was a place to hang out with kids that looked like me and who were going through the same things as me.

As I moved through my late-teens and what I affectionately call my “hard-core” phase, I saw the langar hall as a place serving only two specific functions; serving meals and eating meals (on the floor). Idle social conversation wasn’t what you were going to Gurdwara for. You could do that during the famous multi-family dinner parties that all Punjabi parents dragged their kids to. Gurdwaras were for serious matters and all these people sitting around and gossiping were just taking up valuable time space. Thankfully, I lightened up.

Fast forward a decade (or two) and now, I’ve reconciled my past. Growing up, while I was hanging with other kids who called “jooda time-outs”, the adults were also drinking chaa, talking and sharing stories with other adults. Through the universal acts of serving a meal and sharing a meal, the langar hall became a hub for my local Sikh community.

I’ve seen many an animated conversation in a langar hall. I’ve seen people talk with passion about faith, family, politics, business, sports. In fact, aside from the langar hall, our community has few other forums that provide for all walks of life to come together and share their ideas.

That is why I love that the Langar Hall has gone online. In the same spirit of my community Gurdwara, this site brings together ordinary Sikhs to talk about the issues of the day. The only difference here is that you have to supply your own chaa and mutheai (how the heck do you write that in English? Its worse than paranthas).

I’ve been asked to take on the seva of contributing to this great project. I do not have an English degree from a fancy American university like my illustrious colleagues, in fact I probably should have taken up my Grade One teacher’s offer of English as a Second Language classes. Regardless, I will promise to add another voice to the conversation. Not one that is highly educated or representative of all Sikh-Canadians but one of a second generation Sikh-Canadian born and raised in a country he loves as his own.

Let the gup-shup begin!


The Spirit of Langar

After attending a recent workshop organized by the Sikh Research Institute on The Guru: Connecting with the Divine Light, I have been pondering much of what was discussed. The focus of the workshop was becoming Guru centered and one of the questions that arose in the discussion was related to the discrepancy we see today between what our Gurus teachings say and how they are actually practiced. What many of us struggle with is asking difficult questions about whether our words and actions follow those principles that have been bestowed upon us in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Its dismaying to constantly hear about the divisions being created in our community. So, I was happy to come across a press release from Sikhcess, relaying information about a forthcoming global langar project providing an example of unity:

Today, Sikhcess, a community service organization, unveiled definitive plans to feed the homeless worldwide through its Feed the Homeless campaign on March 1, 2008. Sikh communities throughout the globe will participate, with efforts to feed the homeless and needy in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. [link]

I think this is what our Guru Ji intended when the revolutionary concept of langar was introduced. And to me, it is a good example of how Sikhi is working today.

Through this ideal of equality, the tradition of Langar expresses the ethics of sharing, community, inclusiveness, and oneness of all humankind.

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Not Quiet, Not Idle – A Voice Against Sexual Abuse of Sikh Boys

Screen shot 2014-07-31 at 12.05.13 PMGuestblogged by Daler Singh

Warning: This post contains graphic depictions of sexualized violence.

I was about 7 years old when a respected granthi and my dad’s friend sexually molested me. I would spend much of my afternoons and evenings at the gurdwara. My father is a devout Sikh and made sure he went at least once a day after work to visit, but Sundays were the days I remember my entire day could be spent at our local Gurdwara.  One evening, while divan was occurring, I went to go play hide-and-seek with my friends. During one of these games, I ran past a van that was parked on the premises of the gurdwara. It was brown and I remember there were curtains in the van. The door slid open and a young boy, a little older than me, climbed out. He immediately called over to me and asked me to come look inside the van, so I did.

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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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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
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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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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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