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Picture of Canadian Field Hockey Team with Sikh Turbans

Everyone seems to be searching for it online. The Langar Hall got it first. So, for those of you that missed the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, here is a picture of the Punjabi Sikh field hockey players on the CanadianHockey.jpgCanadian field hockey team with their pagris (turbans). Pictured from left to right: Assistant Coach Nick Sandhu, Bindi Kullar, Sukhwinder Gabbar Singh, Ravi Kahlon, and Ranjeev Deol.

For previous coverage of the Canadian Field Hockey Team on The Langar Hall see:

Canadian Field Hockey – individual biographies
Sikhs in the Olympics, Beijing 2008 – for a discussion of their turban-wearing decision

Recent Results:
The team lost their first game against the #1 ranked Australians. They will be playing Pakistan next on Day 5 (Wednesday) at 6am EST. Pakistan lost their first match to Great Britain.

Sikh Summer School

In light of the recent post on Punjabi classes in California high schools, I ran into this article in the Chronicle Herald about Sikh summer school:SundaySchool.jpg

A couple of years ago Aman Tuts seven-year-old daughter asked her if she could wear a Christian cross. Tut was surprised because she and her husband are Sikhs… So they enrolled their girls in summer school at the Golden Triangle Sikh Association temple near Petersburg, just west of Kitchener.

The Tut family works weekends and isn’t able to attend the weekly Sunday services and school programs at their gurdwara. The local gurdwaras have come up with a really interesting model to augment their typical “Sunday school” courses.

Four years ago, organizers started a weekday program that runs from 4 p.m. to about 9 p.m. each day. Unlike most vacation Bible school programs that run for a week or two at many churches, kids attend the Sikh program from early July to the end of August… At the beginning of each class, about a dozen students take music lessons on instruments that are used during Sikh worship services. The boys learn to beat rhythms on tabla drums, and girls are taught the basics of the harmonium, an instrument resembling both a tabletop organ and an accordion. By 5 p.m. the majority of students have arrived for classes in Punjabi language, Sikh history and religion.

I don’t know if, as an adult, I would be able to make it to a class every day, but I really liked how the organization had set up their summer school classes, and I wonder if it could be extended or expanded into a “night classes” model for adults during the rest of the year, as well. It seems like a really helpful and interesting alternative to Sikh youth camps, which are often too short or lack enough context to help kids build long-term knowledge and skills. It also has the added benefit of being close to parents who may be concerned about sending their kids away but still want them to benefit from a religious education. What do you think, readers? Between high school programs and night courses, what model of instruction (and time commitment) would work for you, individually, and possibly for your child?

Canadian Field Hockey

In these commentary posts, I will be republishing my original writings as well as include pictures of the athletes and the timings of their events.

There will be four Canadian field hockey athletes that come from Punjabi Sikh backgrounds on this year’s Canadian Olympics Team. Our Sikh community’s fearless foursome will all be wearing turbans (pagris) during the Opening Day Ceremonies.

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Jasveer Singh – Canadian Sikh Weightlifter

Representing the world of weightlifting, 53 Jasveer Singh (sometimes written Jasvir Singh), who came from Punjab in 2002, has become a Canadian and Sikh sensation (many communities have even held akhand Jasveer_Singh.jpgpaaths to raise money for him). He is the first British Columbian weightlifter to go to the Olympics in twenty years. Jasveer (Jasvir) Singh has been sponsored by many Sikh groups including the Khalsa Diwan Society New Westminster in hopes of bringing Olympic glory to Canada. On the right you can see Jasveer Singh being honored and given a check by members of the Westminster Sangat.

Jasveer Singh will be competing in the Men’s 62kg category. According to the official Beijing 2008 Olympics schedule, the event and the medaling ceremony will all be on Day 3 of the Olympics (Monday August 11, 2008).

Sikhs in the Olympics, Beijing 2008

So today will mark the opening of the Olympic Games. Some will cheer for their states; some will cheer for their heroes; some wont care.sikhs_olympics.jpg

Well, here are FOURTEEN reasons to care: reasons that transcends national barriers and in many ways is more reflective of our Sikh-centered, globalized outlook. It is related to the fact that Sikhs from throughout the world congregate here at The Langar Hall and that issues ranging from Kenya, New Zealand, Canada, Panjab, England etc. all interest us

So in this spirit of continuing to foster a globalized Sikh diasporic community, I present to you the untold story of Punjabi Sikhs in the Olympics. The reason I am using the term Punjabi Sikh is because I dont really know how they identify themselves, but their names indicate that they come from a common ethnic stock a Punjabi Sikh background.

I am trying to make this list comprehensive, so if I left anyone out, please feel free to post a comment and I will go back to add them. Lets make this a project we do together, by posting their finishings and results. [also thank you to Mandeep Singh for correcting some of my mistakes]

Sikhs in the Olympics:

Sikhs are one of those great unknown Olympic stories. It is a diasporic story where Sikhs have representeed many countries and many continents. In the Beijing Olympics, there will be Sikhs (on as far as I could figure out using the wikipedia lists) coming from India and Canada. In years past, Sikhs have been included on teams from Kenya, Great Britain, and even Malaysia. From the regions of the five Olympic Rings (Blue Europe, Yellow Asia, Black Africa, Green Oceania, Red Americas), Sikhs, including those in the diaspora have been at the center of many Gold medal winning teams especially in field hockey. As far as individual glory, Milkha Singh the Flying Sikh disappointing fourth place finish in the Mens 400M in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

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Jessica Alba and Batnaa

02120801-178x300.jpgSo its wedding season for many Panjabis in the Diaspora and one key product commonly used across South Asian groups is batnaa (the yellow mixture used on a groom/bride a day before the wedding to clear up the complexion). Guess what? Jessica Alba is now on boxes of Batnaa! When I saw this I laughed and got confused what is going on here? I find it interesting that Alba is on the box maybe its because she looks more South Asian than say Hillary Duff? Any other ideas?

Also, American stars are being used to market traditional South Asian products rather than relying on Bollywood stars. Anyone else out there seen something similar in marketing other traditional South Asian products?

When should Sikhs get legal protection for religious belief?

An interesting case arose recently in Canada– Av Singh, a British Sikh, was fired from a Canadian company because his beard raised safety concerns relating to the proper use of a required gas mask.

sikh_alberta_job.jpgRemoving the beard is against his religious beliefs, so Singh refused the razor and instead hired a human-rights lawyer. [link]

The point that has raised controversy is the length of his beard- about 5 mm (pictured on the right). The objection has been raised by some that he isn’t entitled to protection, becuase he doesn’t keep a full beard.

Now, if this guy is just using religion as an excuse because it’s convenient, then this case is not so hard- religious protection for convenience de-legitimizes real cases of religious discrimination for people that are truly trying to follow and practice the faith. Maybe it won’t be too hard to figure out whether this guy is sincere or not (but maybe it will). But my concern, and the tension, in my eyes, is – where do we draw the line?

I don’t want to underestimate the importance of the physical appearance of a Sikh. But is anyone who doesn’t completely follow the Rehat undeserving of religious protection? Under that definition, there are few real Sikhs in the world, and many that are trying to follow the path want protection against discrimination at airports and on the streets. Why should protection for physical appearance be given over internal belief- just because it’s easier to discern?

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Two well known [Sikh] enemies now becoming allies

Sorry for my long absence. Expect an explanation post very soon.

Although there is more current news, there are two past due topics that need to be discussed in The Langarbalwantsinghgill.jpg Hall. I begin with the first.

Now while Mack-10’s lyrics in the title of this post may not be completely appropriate, I use them to highlight a possible historic event in the Sikh community in Canada and beyond.

For those of us that grew up in the states, the Dasmesh Darbar of Surrey and the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple of Surrey entered our popular imagination in 1998 when Sikhdom was shaken by the inane tables and chairs controversy. A local Surrey conflict soon ballooned throughout the world and even saw violence at a number of different Gurdwaras in North America and Europe. A conflict, which most did not understand, divided local communities and caused rifts that still fester within the Sikh community today.

The worst-affected area was where the controversy initially began Surrey, Canada. A new vocabulary entered into the language of Sikh-British Columbians: fundies verses moderates. A generation of Canadian youth saw rishtas broken and dinner conversations centered around uthay ja thalay (up or down).

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UPDATE: Navraj Bassi – Sikh CFL Football Player

Since the Sikh community first learned about Navraj (Nuvraj) Singh Bassi, many on the internet have rushed to create facebook groups, orkut groups, and other fan displays.bassi_camp.jpg I think the CFL in general, but the SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS, in particular, will see a new group of excited fans.

Many have wondered about Nuvraj Singh Bassi’s status and luckily here in The Langar Hall, we have made friends with some great Roughrider fans, including Behaving Bradley, photographer Downtown Aaron Brown, Giventofly (GTF), and others on the Roughrider Fan Forums.

So from what I gather, Navraj is still a ‘raw’ player, but many are excited about the player he may become. He seems to have suffered a foot injury, but is still in attendance at training camp. We hope him a speedy recovery and the Roughriders a great season! We’ll try to keep you updated with the help of Behaving Bradley and others from the forum!

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A long time ago, my fellow Langa(w)r-iter, posed the question:

Can a kesdari Sikh man excel at high levels of athletic competition in the U.S. and practice his faith? [link]

Back then she was introducing us to Darsh Singh, Trinity University’s keshadhari (turbaned) Sikh starter and co-captain.

Today, I introduce you to Navraj Singh Bassi.

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Justice for Jassi? A Pyrrhic Consolation?

Many of us either saw or heard of CBCs broadcast (for those of us here in the US, it was on Dateline NBC) of Forbidden Love chronicling the death of a Sikh Canadian, Jaswinder Jassi Kaur Sidhu.

The basics of the story are as follows:mithu_smiles_th.jpg

Jaswinder, or Jassi, was 25-years-old when she was kidnapped, tortured and killed in the spring of 2000 after going against her family’s wishes and marrying Mithu.

Mithu, a poor auto-rickshaw driver, was hacked by swords and left for dead after his wife was whisked away.

After several weeks in a coma, he awoke to be told that Jassi, whom he had secretly married, had been brutally slain. [link]

Punjab Police later revealed that Jassis family had paid up to $50,000 for the hit on their daughter. (I have commented a few times on the rise in contract killings in Punjab here and here) However, even after the death of his beloved Sukhwinder Singh Mithu still could not find peace. Jassis family was able to find a false witness, a former employee of theirs from their village, to lodge a false case against Mithu claiming that he had raped her.

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Confronting our own Demons

Usually on Friday, I like to post something musical, something funny, or even something just plain stupid. However, when I saw this news article, I was just so incensed. Yesterday I commented in another discussion that Sikhs need to begin to confront our own Muslimophobia. Another pervasive demon is our prejudice against those of African descent (and yes, dark skin in general).

Apparently at a cricket match at the Mohali Stadium, two black British cheerleaders were asked not to participate by an organizer due to their skin color. The women even allege that the organizer used the ‘n-word.’

Newton told a newspaper: “An organiser pulled us away. He said the people here don’t want to see dark people. The ‘N’ word was used and they said they only wanted beautiful white girls. We were crying. I could understand if it were the crowd, but they were very receptive.”[link]

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Too Crooked

Although in the blogosphere, I was beaten again by Shindas blog, I did want to highlight it again here at TLH.

The Toronto Star reported today that Brampton bridegroom murdered in Punjab. Although the tragedy is fresh, the Toronto Star is putting together the story as follows.parents.jpeg

One Jasvir Singh Dhaliwal had been dating a girl, Amandeep Gill for four years. Recently he decided to break off their relationship and marry a woman from Punjab. At the pre-wedding celebrations in his native village, a car came and committed a drive-by shooting killing Jasvir and one of his cousins.

The Punjab Police have moved to bring charges against Amandeeps Punjab-based parents and even have submitted extradition procedures to the Canadian government for questioning about the case.

Never too far from the scene, a crooked Punjab Policemen has also appeared:

Ashwini Kumar, a police constable with the Indian Reserve Battalion, has been charged with first-degree murder in the case. [link]

I have commented on this topic before, but, unfortunately, I am sure more and more new cases will continue to pop up.

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Not a Tribute Song

Skimming the other Sikh blogs, I found this post (on a great blog that I am starting to like and not just because he is also an Immortal Technique fan) about a Sikh conscious rapper from Toronto. Although I couldn’t find too much on the internet about Kanwer Singh, other than the fact he is a recent college graduate, the comments on his works have received much praise on youtube. Kanwar goes by Humble the Poet (maybe an allusion to Bhat Bani? SGGS 1400). I personally found this track amazing. (Don’t worry Joolz/Bobby/Suzy, no bad language here)

The track deals with a number of incidents that have plagued the Punjabi Sikh community in Toronto, Canada (although unfortunately Kitimat is there too). However these problems are hardly limited to Canada. They are the stories of our diaspora. From male youth violence, AIDS, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse, this song hits on it all. In fact many of these are themes that get talked about at the Sikh conference I mentioned yesterday. In case you were interested, you can download Kanwer’s track here.

Looks like I have another favorite Sikh rapper along with Mandeep Sethi from the Bay. Your thoughts?

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Seva Does the Body (Mind and Spirit too!) Good

Those that join the teaching profession tend to be do-gooders. I recently came upon a Houston (Canada, not Texas!) teacher, Carroll Airey.NewS.14.20080505233023.AireyAdj_20080507.jpg

Carroll Airey is making a difference.

Airey, a retired Twain Sullivan teacher-librarian, has been fundraising for a town in Nicaragua Santa Rosa del Penon for almost 10 years.

Aireys reach into Central American began in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch tore through the country. Airey set up the Children Helping Children club at Twain Sullivan and the group managed to raise $10,000 that helped out two communities: Santa Rosa del Penon and El Bosque. [link]

The article describes some of Carrolls exceptional work. Through the sales of Fair Trade organic coffee, tea, and chocolate she has helped support a maternity clinic, nutrition program, garden project, and a sewing school. Recently, while in Nicaragua, she has begun efforts to house a library and a small computer center. Googling her on the internet, I found that she has also initiated a global arts exchange program between children in Houston (Canada, not Texas!) and Santa Rosa del Penon (Nicaragua).

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The Fierce Community?

While we’ve heard a recurrent Canadian voice that claims that Sikhi is incompatible with being openly LGBTIQ, a new Sikh-specific support group has grown in Vancouver. There have certainly been South Asian-specific support organizations in the diaspora for the last decade or so (within the U.S., Trikone in SF, and SALGA on the east coast). However, these organizations have been challenged to create space for those at the intersections of regional and religious identity — i.e., between a Punjabi/South Asian ethnic identity and a Sikh religious identity. Similar organizations have recently sprouted up in the queer (South Asian) Muslim community, but this is the first formal Sikh support group I’ve heard about.

This made me reflect on other issues of integration and advocacy across communities. I think it’s vitally important to have community organizations, in part because they play a large role in creating sustainable institutions. However, I also resent that “mainstream” organizations sometimes use these institutions as an excuse for failing to provide comprehensive services for the true diversity within a larger, umbrella community. I also worry that it’s only possible to get this level of specificity in areas where there is a large enough community to achieve a critical mass.

What do you think, readers? Would a Sher in your area provide a necessary safe space? Would it be feasible?

Previous coverage: Towards a Queer ethos, A “Sensible” Religious Response to LGBTIQ Sikhs

A Canadian Narrative?

I was a little hesitant to post about this, especially considering the numerous discussions we’ve had on this blog related to the negative image of Sikhs in the media.poster_cropped-300x207.jpg While a big fan of independent documentaries, I admittedly sighed when I came across an article about Air India 182, a film which was the opening feature at HotDocs, a film festival that was held in Toronto last weekend. My initial thought was that this was yet another way of perpetuating negative race relations in Canada.

Air India 182, as it is simply titled, is a first-person account of the events leading up to the Air India tragedy and weaves together stories from those who are “directly involved,” including the families of those who died, investigators, and the “conspirators themselves.” Considering this, I didn’t expect to come across the director’s apt observations of how these events unfolded for the Punjabi community and what that meant for Sikhs in Canada,

Ultimately, Gunnarsson wanted to personalize the tragedy, to show the people involved, and give much more of a voice to the victims’ families, whom he believes didn’t get enough political recognition. “I felt at the time that people in Vancouver in the Punjabi community were being deprived of their rights as citizens of Canada. They did not have the same relationship to law enforcement or to political leadership as I did. It was being brokered through so-called community leaders, and the brokerage tended to happen at temples,” he says. [Link]

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Did I mention I like Sikh T-Shirts?

I like T-shirts. I am a self-described scrub.surreyKhalistan_T_shirts.jpg

22. scrub

Someone who doesn’t care much about what they do or how they look doing it. Or if you just do something very very stupid.

((Girl walks into classroom for a class one day dressed in XXL sweatpants and a huge baggy sweatshirt, no makeup, hair looks nasty, but shes in perfect good health, just very lazy))
“Wow Anne, you are dressed like a scrub.”

T-shirts are my staple. For every season I have a Sikh camp/organization T-shirt. Need brown, I got it; need blue, I got it; need maroon, I got it. Did I mention I like T-shirts?

Apparently, so do a group of Sikh high school students in Surrey. Recently, the Canadian press reported here and here that:

Thirty students at Princess Margaret Secondary School say theyve been put on suspension notice after wearing contentious T-shirts to class.

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Multiculturalism: Canada’s Biggest Mistake?

This week the National Post launched a series about Canadas Biggest Mistakes. Written by different columnists, yesterdays big mistake was deficit spending. In todays installment of the top 5, columnist Barbara Kay sets her sights on multiculturalism.

I must admit I am not an avid reader of the National Post. In fact, I dont think I had ever even heard of it prior to this column. However, Wikipedia informs me that it is a voice for Canadian conservatives. A brief perusal of Kays biggest hits, including as “Hug the Earth, kill the humans, ” “Barack Obama’s selective silence on his racist pastor, Jeremiah Wright,” and “The College Campus: Anti-Semitism’s last North American Refuge and Taking Back the Campus” helps me situate her on a political spectrum. In America, we call her David Horowitz and Bill OReilly. Well, enough of that, let us try to engage the substance of her argument.

Kay doesnt mince her words on her stand:

Multiculturalism is Canadas greatest mistake, but if it is any consolation, it is every western countrys greatest mistake. And now some of them are paying a terrible price.

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Murder of Elderly Punjabi Sikh Man: Rethinking Elderly Care In The Diaspora

Recently there was a news report of an elderly 70-year old Punjabi Sikh man, Pargat Singh Kahlon, who was found decapitated in Alberta, Canada. His right hand was also damaged, according to Police, in an effort to prevent identification based on tattoosmug.jpg commonly seen on elderly Punjabi Sikh men and women.

Police say they believe Kahlon was slain because there was a high level of physical violence visible on his remains.

Kahlon had moved from Vancouver to Calgary and was currently living at a Sikh Society Center. Last time, anyone saw him was when [he] got a ride to the bank.

Apparently, like many elderly parents in Canada/U.S. with children left behind in India, he was providing his sons with financial help.

“He had to send money to one of his sons in India. He went to the bank in the northeast and from there he withdrew $2,500,” Aujla told reporters.

He wasn’t seen again.

Police are still investigating the crime to discover a motive for the killing and possible suspects. Does anyone have recent updates on the case?

Khalons death also made me reflect on the need for us to rethink elderly care in the Diaspora based on the varied circumstances and needs of elderly Punjabi Sikhs. For example, different waves of South Asian immigration to North America has created an elderly Punjabi Sikh community that has raised 1.5, 2nd and 3rd generation children in the Diaspora; while many elderly men and women have recently immigrated to the United States/Canada with financial and moral responsibilities to support and resettle children still in Punjab. How do these issues influence elderly care in the form of day-centers, nursing homes, and in-home assistance for our community?

Update: The Flying Sardar?

sikhhelmet.jpgUPDATE: Canadian courts ruled against Baljinder Singh’s request for a religious exemption to its mandatory motorcycle helmet law. While the court found that the law DID violate his right to religious freedom, they felt that the net benefit to the country’s healthcare system justified such an infringement [Globe & Mail]. The court also argues that failure to wear a helmet raises the potential for emotional risk and trauma should Mr. Singh — and other Sikhs — suffer injury in a collision. I found the last point a little weird; was the court attempting to avoid civil suits against it for negligence or some other such duress (lawyer-readers, can you help me out here)? Mr. Singh will be appealing the Ontario decision.

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We saw this story last week, but I wanted to comment on the recent coverage of a kesdari Sikh who challenged Ontario’s motorcycle helmet statute under grounds that it is unfairly applied to turban-wearing Sikhs [cite 1, cite 2]:

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