Beyond Just Enough: The Promise of USA’s First Sikh Feminist Conference

safarGuest post by Sarina Kaur

“A Sikh’s entire life is life of benevolent exertion”. Sikh Rehat Maryada (Code of Conduct)

Benevolent exertion. These powerful words along with countless examples from history, gurbani, and rehat remind us that to question, challenge, and think for the purpose of informing our actions according to the Guru’s teachings is a Sikh’s birthright, privilege, and responsibility. This benevolent exertion toward an egalitarian world and empowered society devoid of oppression is a standard rooted in our collective psyche. But to know this, is not enough. The first Sikh Feminist Conference in North America, by SAFAR: the Sikh Feminist Research Institute, seeks to unpack what this means for Sikhs of the 21st century.

Personally, at every turn in my own journey toward creating a life imbibed with thoughtful action toward a more just and humane world, I have craved to understand and experience the unspoken viewpoints of the Kaur experience. Today, few can deny that no matter where you look- within the Sikh social context or in the global context-the dominant narrative is not inclusive of the female voice; that our calibrated center-where we collide as a society-is not in line with the standards our Guru’s introduced. A space for expansive revival, attention, voice and praxis to the feminist values and egalitarian politics inherent within Sikhi is a step toward a more calibrated center.[1] SAFAR’s Conference Program promises such progressive steps.

Distinguished keynote panelists, Dr. Nikky-Gurinder Kaur Singh, Dr. Inderpal Grewal, and Palbinder K. Shergill will launch the discussions and introspections for the day while exploring the topic “What Do We Know?” By exploring what knowledge exists from various sources, this panel promises to dive into an exploration of the intersectionality of Sikhi, feminism and discourse on Sikh Feminism. Each of the panelists is a pioneer in her own right; while Dr. Singh is often fondly thought of as the mother of ‘Sikh feminism’, Dr. Grewal from Yale is lauded for her seminal work on ‘transnational feminism,’ while Ms. Shergill is a trailblazer in the courtrooms in Canada, and just recently distinguished herself as the only female lawyer in the Supreme Court, that too while articulating the fundamentals of religious freedom in a case about the religious freedoms for a non-Sikh-Sikhi in action! I look forward to their discourse and interaction with each other as moderated by writer and activist, Inni Kaur.

The Conference will explore unheard voices through a myriad of ways, from reimagining women through the lens of the Ghadr Movement (Kanwalroop Kaur), to redefining honor for second generation Punjabi Females in Canada (Balpreet Chookar), to understanding the Sikh identity and ideas of cultural belonging through resistance and violence (Jaspal Kaur Singh), to examining the role of Sikh women during the Punjab Counter-Insurgency period (Tarnjit Kaur), to deconstructing the concept of Doli (Kirpa Kaur and Harroop Kaur). Discussions about translating knowledge into action will take place through a closer look at Sikh American Civil Society and the promise of Gender Equality (Sangeeta Luthra), children’s rights in Punjab and Ontario (Jaspreet Kaur), the role of Sikh female teachers in creating agency for Sikh students and families (Harpeet Kaur and Tina Sidhu), and Sikh religious leader’s perspectives of intimate partner violence in the South Asian community (Susan Kaur Chahal). Further, several poster presentations will provide attendees the opportunities interact with those working on and writing abut the politics of online activism (Nina Chanpreet Kaur) as well as higher education (Loveleen Kaur) as well as give an opportunity to meet and hear from those spearheading new Sikh institutions, including the blog Kaur Life (Lakhpreet Kaur) and the Sikh social services organization, Sikh Family Center (Bitika Kohli, Guneet Kohli, Mallika Kaur, Gurpreet Padam).

Finally, SAFAR’s own presentation on 1984: 1984 through a Sikh Feminist lens, as well as the Open Mic at the close of the evening, promise a very holistic day of inspiration and exploration.

Just as a conference with predominantly male panelists doesn’t immediately elicit the assumption that the sole targeted audience is male, SAFAR, with female presenters-though with several male and female volunteers on the back end-is a space for all genders. We hope you will be a part of this dialogue. As one Singh confirmed in his reflections after the last Conference, which took place in the Vancouver area, A Conference Like No Other: SAFAR–Our Journeys 2012, “We may not know what to call it, but a new diasporic Sikh social justice effort is here, it is happening, and it is transformational”.

Won’t you be a part of it?

***These efforts, entirely volunteer-run are not possible without all our support. I just donated to SAFAR, to enable them to bring the very promising researchers to the Conference. Won’t you? www.dvnetwork.org for a US tax receipt and directly at sikhfeministresearch.org for a Canadian tax receipt.***

Author Sarina Kaur currently works as a project manager for Samasource, a startup that creates tech-based jobs for women, youth, and refugees living in some of the largest slums in the world. She has studied economic development and social entrepreneurship, and aspires to work towards alleviating poverty in Punjab.


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