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Sikh Women: Making History

Each year, SikhNet hosts an online youth film festival – to cultivate interest from Sikh filmmakers from around the globe.  The online film festival is an excellent way for individuals to dialogue about issues affecting us personally and as a community.  One of the films, titled Khalsa Has No Gender, is made by a group of young teen-aged Sikh women living in England and the goal of the film is to address gender [in]equality within our community.  The film was striking to me for several reasons.  Firstly, that these young women chose to use the medium of film to discuss this very important issue and secondly, that the concept of gender discrimination and inequality is prevalent in the conscience of very young Sikhs – Sikhs who are perhaps even 3rd and 4th generational living in the disapora.

305476_10150286660628170_515193169_7933261_1234383439_n.jpgWhile on one hand it’s disheartening to acknowledge that perhaps change is slower than we have hoped it to be (displayed by the film), there is – on the other hand – reason to be optimistic.  In just over a week, scholars and community members from across the globe are gathering in Toronto for the very first Sikh Feminist Conference, “Our Journeys”, hosted by the Sikh Feminist Research Institute (SAFAR).

[Our Journeys is] an opportunity for scholars and community members alike to openly connect, converse and engage in a dialogue and critical thinking about gender related issues that demand to be voiced, and heard, in order to be addressed.

The line up of topics and speakers is remarkable.  The keynote speaker, Professor Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh is well known for introducing the term “Sikh feminism” and will share a Panel with Geetanjali Singh Chanda and Mallika Kaur to explore how Sikh feminism is defined, its origins, the present-day reality and how it can be an impetus for social change.


Unlocking Sikh Creativity (in a Rainforest!)

Kudarat 2011 at Olympic National Park  on July 21- 24
“Inspiration from Within: Unlocking Sikh Creativity”

In my experience at conferences/retreats, or at youth camps there is a huge emphasis on sangat.  What is it? Who are they? Or, how as an individual, we can make impact.  In these discussions, I have intellectually understood sangat and, in some instances, would even go as far to say that I have experienced it.

It is in this moment of EXPERIENCE that relationships develop. Whether with each other through the shared experience, with the Guru, with a feeling, or with an idea.

Tolsoy has explained “art” within a similar paradigm. “The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man’s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it.”


What Happens When Lions Roar?

203017_505627674_1913310_n.jpgToronto is abuzz.  This weekend the IIFA [International Indian Film Academy] awards are being held in Toronto to many a South Asian’s delight.  We are, however, delighted about Toronto for another reason.  This weekend, The Sikh Activist Network will be hosting When Lions Roar 3 – a night of hip hop, poetry, R&B and other art to remember the events of 1984.

There is much that can be said about the comparisons between the two events.  The IIFA essentially celebrates bollywood – an industry that frustrates many conscious Sikhs living in both India and the diaspora.  The representation of Sikhs in bollywood films has been an area of discontent with Punjabis and Sikhs being portrayed as hypermasculine and other cringe-worthy stereotypical roles [read Navdeep’s piece, Media and the Sikhs].  While many applaud the increased presence of Sikh turbans in bollywood films, others may argue that this presence has not necessarily changed the typical Indian’s perception of Sikhs in a positive way.  For example, in Indian media – Sikhs continue to be portrayed with words such as terrorist, extremist and radical [read this inaccurate and uninformed article].  I’m not anti-bollywood by any means – there are definite exceptions to the bollywood trend of representing Sikhs in a one-dimensional manner.  However, I think it’s important that as a community, we stay informed and expect authentic representation of Sikhs (whether in books or films or other art forms).  Bollywood is a huge industry that has an enormous influence on building or breaking down perceptions of groups and communities.  [Side note: it’s interesting to me that discussions about Sikhs in bollywood never revolve around Punjabi or Sikh women.  This may be a good or bad thing, but perhaps it’s a discussion for another time].

It is clear that the Sikh community cannot rely upon an industry to change overnight – instead, we should focus on supporting and celebrating the immense diversity that makes up our community. 


“My Headcovering is Downright Sikh” – Sikhtoons debut book released

As mentioned last month, New York City-based Vishavjit Singh released his first “Sikhtoons” book this Spring.   Entitled My Headcovering is Downright Sikh: An Illustrated Intro to Turbans, the book “uses a collection of cartoons from to create a visual narrative to dispel the mysteries of the Sikh turban.  Featuring Fauja Singh, Waris Ahluwalia and many other Sikhs from all walks of life this visual journey is a turbanful introduction to Sikhs.”

The book features 30 cartoons and can be ordered online in the US, Canada, and UK for $10.

Though I have not seen the book myself yet, it has the endorsement of Sikh scholar IJ Singh, who states:

Vishavjit Singh’s topic is serious, his touch light, but not comedic. The sense of the absurd is critically important to the cartoonist. That, too, will emerge, I am sure, for I see their seeds in his work. I believe that the lightest matters deserve a serious undertone and the most heavyweight issues need some levity, even comedic treatment sometimes, lest the burden becomes too heavy to carry.

Congratulations to Vishavjit on this accomplishment.  As misconceptions and stereotypes about Sikhs continue to persist in the mainstream media and general public, I hope Vishavjit’s creative cartoon interventions reach a much wider audience through this book.

The Roar of a Lioness: Sikh Women in the Diaspora

Our mothers and grandmothers would be proud.  If we take a moment to pause, we’ll see the amazing mobilization that is occurring in the diaspora around Sikh women’s issues, particularly by youth.  I’m not quite sure if it is a legit rise in websites or events or whether we are simply paying more attention to the topic.  Regardless, it is clear that there are now more forums and platforms for discussion cultivating the need for women (and men!) to come together and address issues affecting Half the Sky.  This post will give a round-up of some amazing work that is happening in our community, bringing together our qaum to discuss important issues affecting Sikh women.

logo300.jpg{Kaurista} It is clear that Sikh women, like all women around the world, value an open space to discuss issues that directly impact us.  Whether it is conversations about clothes, hair, identity or our activism – there needs to exist a space that is catered to providing Sikh girls and women with a sense of unity.  This type of comraderie cannot be understated – it impacts an individual’s self esteem and confidence in a substantial way.  With the launch of and the immediate posting of the link all over Facebook, it is hard not to notice how much support there is for this type of forum.  Kaurista provides conversations on six different topics including, Lifestyle, Style & Beauty, Family, Inspiration and Health & Wellness.  One of my favourite sections of the website is “Ask Kaurista” where questions related to wanting to marry a sardar, going to prom, or overcoming alcohol abuse are answered.  The site is not only aimed at Sikh girls.  In fact, it actively includes Sikh men in discussions – and perhaps the hope is that through these types of discussions, Sikh men will value how truly dynamic Sikh women are!


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Vaisakhi {for Sikh Children}

Image: Copyright Saffron Press

As a very proud Masi, I often find myself wondering how we can make events such as Vaisakhi, more meaningful for the next generation.  Why is it that we exchange cards and gifts during Christmas, and yet for Vaisakhi, a Facebook status update suffices?  While I fully support children exploring and participating in global celebrations, I think it is just as important (perhaps more so) that Sikh children are raised celebrating Vaisakhi in a similarly joyful way.  For Sikhs living in the diaspora, Vaisakhi is often associated with nagar kirtans, melas, and gurdwara visits.  This is a great way for children to celebrate the occasion with the community, however, I am not sure the event really resonates with them.

For example, did you know about the significance of kite flying during Vaisakhi?

The spring air of Vaisakh makes kite flying a popular pass time. A kite is called a Patang or Guddi Manjha in Panjab. The wood and bamboo roll on which the string is wound is called a Charkhadi. Children often give their kites a special name to reflect their personal designs such as: Pari (fairy), Chand Mama (man-in-the-moon/uncle moon), Shakkar Para (a panjabi sweet). Poetry may also be written in Panjabi on the Patang to send messages to a special person up on the roof. [link]

How fun would it be to have kite flying events for Sikh children?  They could invite their non-Sikh friends and use it as a way to share their heritage.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important not to commercialize historical occasions – however, we have to be willing to celebrate our history so that it is meaningful.  So I’m curious – what does Vaisakhi mean to you and how do you celebrate it?  How would you like your children, your nieces or nephews to remember Vaisakhi?  Or if you are a parent, how do you make Vaisakhi meaningful for your children?

Here is a useful document for parents and educators, describing ways to celebrate Vaisakhi with children.  Happy Vaisakhi!

Sikhtoons book to be released

Happy 100th Birthday Fauja Singh!

New York City-based Vishavjit Singh, the creator of Sikhtoons, is releasing his very first Sikhtoons illustrated book next weekend at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival in NYC.  We’ve blogged about Vishavjit and Sikhtoons many times before, and are glad to see Sikhtoons going to the next level in book format.

According to Vishavjit, “The book focuses on dispelling the mysteries of the Sikh dastaar…target[ing] young and old, Sikh and Non-Sikh.  The book features Fauja Singh, Hip Hop Singhs, Waris Ahluwalia and much more.”

Sikhtoons has long been a creative and light-hearted medium to tackle important issues for our community from 1984 to Hindutva, bullying in schools to contemporary Punjab politics.  The details on the release event are below, and you can buy tickets in advance here and RSVP on Facebook here.  Hopefully the book will be available to order online in the future.  We’ll keep you posted.

Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival
MoCCA Fest 2011!
Saturday April 9th and Sunday April 10th 11am-6pm
At the Lexington Avenue Armory
68 Lexington Ave (Between 25th &26th Streets)
New York, NY 10010


Soho Road – Five Rivers to Five Boroughs

soho.JPGAn exhibition showcasing British Bhangra music and Culture, titled ‘Soho Road to the Punjab’, will be crossing the pond from the UK to New York City on March 18th 2011 at 6pm.  The USA version of the exhibition, Soho Road – Five Rivers to Five Boroughs, will be the world’s first visual arts exhibition inspired by Bhangra music and culture held outside of the UK.  The event is being hosted by 92YTribeca and is free to the public. 

Originally debuting in Birmingham, UK, Soho Road to the Punjab is an exhibition that includes photography, album sleeves, promotional art and rare prints from South Asian media. This contemporary archive uncovers the worldwide Bhangra phenomenon, showcasing individuals who have championed the UK and USA Bhangra scene.

“Soho Road – from the Five Rivers to the Five Boroughs” is a gift of a title.  The Punjab is, of course, the Land of the Five Rivers, while New York iconically comprises Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. This is a symmetry just too much too leave alone – it’s a sign! Queens is the largest and the most diverse, and famous as the birthplace of bebop and jazz. Queens also has the largest Sikh population outside California and the highest concentration of Indians anywhere in America. Punjabi is in the top ten of the hundred-odd languages spoken locally, and almost half of all South Asians who live in New York live in Queens. The NY experience will shape the show for the USA. [link]

The event will be held at 92YTribeca, 200 Hudson Street, New York.  For more information and to view the exhibition online, see the Facebook page.

Five River Flow/Beautiful Butterfly

155029_714746265708_11710257_39141022_4499056_n.jpgSo, in the new year we’ll be bringing about some changes to TLH and we hope that one of these changes will be a better way of highlighting events happening in and around North America.

In the meantime, for our California Langar Hall family, you can catch Sikh Knowledge + Mandeep Sethi + Humble the Poet + Hoodini & King! + Povan Beats + Baagi + Push at Sol Collective on December 22nd starting at 9pm.  The event will be hosted by the very funny AKA Amazing.

Please view the facebook event page here and a video below highlighting many of these artists.  The video is filmed by the very talented, Digitology.

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Lahir 2010 & Tears and Ashes

Though Sikhs have settled all around the world, roughly 20 million Sikhs still reside in Punjab. There, and elsewhere, Sikhs are facing serious problems including, but not limited to: farmer suicide, female infanticide, drugs and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, economic disasters, disease, poverty, illiteracy, and much more. [Lahir Press Release]

Many of my most recent posts have been about upcoming events happening in the Sikh Community.  I think this is a positive sign – that rather than idly discussing and debating issues that inflict our panth, we are actually doing something about it!  I would like to highlight two upcoming events occurring in North America.  These platforms will bring together talented youth to raise awareness and by doing so, will aim to address important issues within our community.  Please support these endeavors so that we can continue to move our panth in the right direction.

Lahir: Save Punjab. Save Ourselves | New Jersey | November 20th | 6pm

Lahir: Move the Movement 2010 is a night of spoken word, poetry, music, and the arts.  Artists will include G.N.E., Hoodini, Mandeep Sethi, Gunjiv “Baagi” Singh, MC G-Singh and Humble the Poet.  The event will kickoff the movement to respect and protect Punjab by donating all profits to the Baba Nanak Education Society (BNES), an organization which provides humanitarian assistance in rural Punjab to next of kin of suicide victims. These are families with small children left completely destitute by the death of bread-winners and have been neglected by the government. A donation of approximately $350 can help support one family for a year.  For more information, visit the facebook page.

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SikhLens: Sikh Art and Film Festival

We have previously written about SikhLens, an art and film festival which brings together Sikh filmmakers, authors, artists and actors.  For those of you who support the development of Sikh arts, you will be pleased to know that the second annual Sikh Art and Film Festival (SAFF) will be held from November 19th-21st, 2010 at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange, CA.  SAFF provides a venue for artists to present their “Sikh-centric” films, art, and music to the broader community with the intent of showcasing their talents and generating increased Sikh awareness.

main_photo.jpgThe Festival begins Friday, November 19th with a red-carpet Opening Night starting at 7:30 pm.  A youth-focused cluster will start off the Saturday events.  This cluster focuses on films and live book readings intended to incite interest and inspire youth, while teaching about Sikh history.  The focus then turns to creative Sikhs in the Visual, Audio and Entertainment Industries.  Hear their stories, watch and listen to their craft, and interact with and support Sikhs breaking ground in these unique areas. Also introducing for the first time an interactive segment on “Introduction to Film-making,”to demystify the film-making process. Rounding out the day’s events are a series of short films featuring a wide variety of genres, an eclectic mix of filmmakers, and a unique blend of topics, including special selections from the SikhNet Youth Online Film Festival. Sunday’s events start with an international flavor, with an emphasis on Sikh films and artists from all over the world.  The concluding cluster of the festival will touch upon Social Issues within the Sikh Diaspora. This segment is aimed to bring upon a meaningful and insightful look into the surroundings of the Sikh Community today.

I am especially interested in this final cluster which brings together films addressing the social issues that inflict our community.  We have spoken many times on this blog about how media and film are critical to dialoguing about important issues.  


The Best-Dressed Life of Waris Ahluwalia

Waris_3.jpgHaving just been named as one of the international best-dressed honorees by Vanity Fair, Waris Ahluwalia is getting noticed not only for his dynamic sense of style but for his versatile portfolio.  Best known for being a unique jewelry designer, Waris is also an actor (having starred in Wes Anderson and Spike Lee films) and recently co-wrote a book, To India with Love.

I never get tired of talking about Waris Ahluwalia by the way, but apparently i’m not alone.  Blogs and articles are abuzz discussing his jewelry company, House of Waris, his sartorial taste and even his interest in Bollywood.

Waris.jpgWait, Bollywood… really?

…Despite his turban and beard look, Waris says that he has never been stereotyped in Hollywood. “Everyone likes to put people in categories, whether its Hollywood, Bollywood or the media in general. Whenever I meet agents their big concern is that I’ll be stereotyped. Well, I haven’t been stereotyped yet. “Some of the roles I’ve played; camera man, a bank hostage, a Republican, a hypo-chondriac, none of these roles called for an Indian.” [link]


The Turban and The Crown: Hoodini & KinG!

37921_138174189545669_120944144602007_277614_3529312_n.jpgHere on TLH, we’ve covered a variety of talented musicians including Sikh Knowledge, Mandeep Sethi and Humble the Poet.  We’ve been following these individuals, their music, new collaborations and of course new albums. I am a huge believer that youth (yes, we have a particular interest in Sikh youth here in TLH) should be encouraged to pursue their talents regardless of what may be expected of us. These musicians are doing just that – and they are creating incredible music that speaks to the masses.

This post is for Hoodini & KinG.  I have to say Hoodini is one my favourites.  Not only is he extremely talented (listen to track 6/Keep it Rollin’ and track 10/Til I’m Through of the mixtape) but he’s a nice guy (a really nice guy)… and the kid has serious style.  It’s like he knows he’s going to make a mark on the world, and is dressed for the occasion…

So i didn’t mean to just mention this mixtape in passing – you really have to download and listen to it yourself.  It is a really dynamic piece of work.  Hoodini & KinG! Present: A California Classic, is available here.   While Hoodini is the emcee, the album was produced by KinG! né Keith Rice – a 21 year old producer from the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles (he’s really really talented).  Even though the two went to different high schools, their mutual love of hip-hop was destined to bring their forces together so that they could make music that would “make people fall in love again.”

I asked Hoodini what inspires him and what he told me was this,


Bhangra in the East Village

This video put a smile on my face – great beat and amazing vocals.  Enjoy!

About the video: “… Duke and I hopped into a great Punjabi food spot on 1st and Ave A, where he has a long history of jamming with the brothers there.The saag is spiced perfectly, the gulab jamun not too sweet, and vocals ring out non-stop through the night.” [link]

When Lions Roar II

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28687_877972245001_58005300_51463204_3062881_n.jpgLast year, Maple Leaf Sikh highlighted a revolutionary event which occurred in Toronto and brought together young Sikhs to pay homage to 1984.  The event, hosted by the Sikh Activist Network, returns this year and brings together artists such as Hoodini, Mandeep Sethi, Selena Dhillon and Yudh Gatka Akhara and more.  For those of you who are dealing with post-Sikh-conference-bluesWhen Lions Roar II promises to be yet another excellent event bringing together Sikh youth in an impactful way.

A Night of Hip Hop, Poetry, Spoken Word, Gatka and More…

To Remember 1984

Friday June 25

Mirage Banquet Hall

Admission: Pay What You Can

All Ages – Doors Open at 6pm

Young Sikh Girl Hopes to Audition for Glee

By now, everyone should have heard of Glee – a musical comedy-drama television series focusing on a high-school glee club.  A glee club is a musical group which traditionally specializes in the singing of short songs.  Before writing this blog post, i didn’t quite know how big this phenomenon was… but apparently it’s big and there is a large following of gleeks and gleemania

A young Sikh girl by the name of Raveena is hoping to audition and land a role on the show.  There is a Facebook page dedicated to helping “Raveena get on the show”.   

n113429498682986_3996.jpgI am auditioning for this TV show called Glee, I trust that you have heard of it and I need your help. As a Sikh, its been really hard for me to land roles in a more professional environment because there are very few roles available for Indians. With the nationwide casting call for Glee, I can hopefully show everyone what I’ve got and get a call back for a show that is looking for people who don’t quite fit the mold.

Here on TLH, we love to highlight Sikhs who are pursuing their passions.  Watch Raveena’s video and if you like it – take a few moments to rate/comment on her video so that she has a chance to audition for the show.

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti Returns with ‘Behud’

Behud2.jpgMany of you will recall the protests which emerged in 2004 when Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti went to stage her second play, Behzti.  The play, which covered issues such as rape and violence within the setting of a gurdwara, caused an uproar in the Sikh community in Birmingham and was later canceled.  Many community members welcomed the decision to cancel the play, while others argued that limiting the playwright’s free speech was actually detrimental to the Sikh community.  It was nicely put in a Guardian article stating that, “The dispute became a classic conflict between the artist’s right to freedom of expression and a community’s wish to have their faith treated with dignity.”

The Rep had taken the unusual step of inviting Sikh community leaders to a private preview to air their concerns, after which they agreed not to oppose the play if the setting was moved to a community centre. Bhatti refused. “I wanted to write a play about religious hypocrisy,” she explains, “for which the setting in a gurdwara was non-negotiable. The attempt to establish a dialogue with the Sikh community was well intentioned, but ultimately misinterpreted as an invitation to rewrite my play.” [link]

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti later found a card among her Christmas mail that read: “Seasons Greetings. This will be your last Christmas. You are a disgrace to the race. Sending you lots of hate.”  Bhatti was forced to go into hiding.  Behzti sparked protests and death threats, and now the playwright is attempting to address the controversy in her new play, Behud – which translates colloquially as “beyond belief”.


Fighting drugs in Punjab through theatre

Amongst the male youth in Punjab, drugs are a serious problem today.  With high unemployment rates, and a ajmer_aulakh.jpghistory of violence in the region, the environment is ripe for drug abuse.  A Punjab government survey found that one out of three male students use at least a form of tobacco. And on a recent trip to the region, as we were driving between pinds, my relatives pointed out the jeeps, distinctive with their black lights, that carried young drug dealers.  The young men sitting inside were all in their teens.

In response, Ajmer Aulakh, a well known Punjabi professor and writer has written a play, “Avesle Yudha Di Nayika” (An Unsung War Heroine), that recently attracted a large audience at the Government College for Boys in Ludhiana.

Aulakh is a noted playwright, artist and winner of Sahitya Akademi Award. He has dedicated his life to theatre and generally works on issues and problems confronting the common man. [TOI]

This much-needed play had students riveted, incorporating Punjabi poetry.

The play highlighted the menace of drugs, delineating how a family loses everything to the evil. Jodha Singh, a villager landlord, is survived by his wife and two children. Satwant Kaur, wife of Jodha Singh, wants their kids to go to school and study, but owing to drugs, the family property is lost. The play portrays the consequent struggle. It depicts how she fights odds to enable her children to continue their studies. The play was performed by artists who are part of Lok Kala Manch and was supported beautifully by Punjabi poetry. [TOI]


Kings of the Punjab at the Royal Ontario Museum

ManuKaurSaluja.jpgIf you’re in the Toronto area this weekend, a wonderful event awaits you!  The Royal Ontario Museum will be celebrating South Asian Heritage Day which will bring together artists, authors, performers and filmmakers to showcase South Asian culture.  The event will showcase Manu Kaur Saluja’s Kings of the Punjab portraits at the Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery.  Children will have the opportunity to enjoy a special reading by author Navjot Kaur of her children’s book “A Lion’s Mane” which explores Sikh identity and the many connections we share as global citizens.  Event details can be found here.

South Asian Heritage Day 2010

Royal Ontario Museum

Sunday, February 21, 2010

11am – 4pm

Celebrating Diversity


The Multifaith Calendar is looking for art submissions under the theme “Celebrating Diversity”.  They would like to feature art from as many different faith groups as possible.  This calendar is a great educational tool that lists and explains holidays that are important to 14 different world faiths including Sikhism.

The theme for the 2011 edition is: Celebrating Diversity.  Work can be of any medium. The interpretation of the theme will be determined by the collection, so we invite artists to submit images that capture a unique or poignant expression of art or people celebrating their faith. We are looking to showcase a diversity of faiths in the collection. We encourage all artists to submit images, including artists who have had their work showcased in past Multifaith Calendars. [link]

Sounds like a great project and a wonderful opportunity for the many developing artists in our community.  Submissions are due by February 28th, 2010.  For more information, please see:

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