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Disputing Sikh extremism

The article below is a response to the growing [mis]representation of Sikhs in Canada. It’s an interesting article – let us know what you think.


Reprinted from the Ottawa Citizen. Authored by Balpreet Singh.

As a Sikh Canadian, who was born in a Toronto suburb, roots for the Leafs, did law at the University of Ottawa, and works for a human rights organization, I’m astounded to hear claims from politicians that so-called “Sikh extremism” in on the rise.

If that’s the case, there’s no word of it among the more than 400,000 members of the Canadian Sikh community. The only thing we see on the rise is racism fuelled by these reckless comments.

As someone who wears the garb of his faith, I can tell you that the backlash we’re feeling is beginning to look like state-sanctioned vilification of Sikhs.

The evidence justifying this hate campaign is minimal. Most cite an offensive Facebook page attacking Vancouver MP Ujjal Dosanjh. I share his outrage and can understand his fear. Everyone knows Dosanjh’s personal history includes being beaten by thugs, and I sympathize with how that experience must have shaped his life.

But that doesn’t give him the right to turn Sikhs into the bogeyman. Or whip up hatred for a visible minority.

The other piece of Canadian evidence comes from 2007: a float in the Surrey, B.C. Vaisakhi parade displayed a picture of Talwinder Singh Parmar, who died in Indian police custody in 1992 and is widely believed to be one of the masterminds of the Air India bombing. What most people don’t know is that Parmar’s handful of supporters call him a martyr because they believe he is wrongly accused in the Air India tragedy. Some people, particularly of past generations, can’t believe anyone connected with the faith could be involved in a mass murder.

That makes them naive, not radical.


In the News: 1984

25 years ago history was made for several different reasons. Today, as we reflect on the invasion, on the assassination, and on the massacres, we come across multiple news articles which provide information and commentary on the events of that year. I wanted to take the time to document and highlight these articles as they’re worthy reads in providing information to readers around the world. I encourage you to read these pieces – they are vital to our understanding and they will inform Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike about events in our history.

sikh_1022.jpg1. TIME magazine featured an article titled, “India’s 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots: Waiting for Justice.” Our readers have previously argued against the use of the word “riot” and suggested that “genocide” is the more fitting description of what happened. Regardless, this is an important article which discusses the often silent victims of 1984 – the widows and their children and the impact the events (and lack of justice) has had on their future.

The widows’ colony in Tilak Vihar is a cheaply built and neglected cluster of homes, which were given by the government to hundreds of women and their children who survived what have become known as the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. But as the grim event’s 25th anniversary nears at the end of this month, crime, addiction and prostitution have taken root in what was supposed to be a survivors’ safe haven. Residents say this is because of the damage to the mental health of children who were witness to their parents’ and siblings’ murders and who grew up in impoverished homes and weren’t given any medical help physical or mental for their problems. [link]

Of note: for the 25th anniversary of the event, advertisements by Ensaaf showing an old woman wiping away her tears, with the words, “25 years ago, our loved ones were burned alive in front of our eyes,” and in the next line, “Why has India, the world’s largest democracy, denied us justice?” are scheduled for the month of November in the San Francisco Bay Area’s transit system!


For Many, Being a Sikh Means Being an Activist

mosaic04d7a7b2ed2428b58c207456836565d64dfed88b.jpgWhile everyone seems to be pretty excited about Kamaljit topping the Billboard charts – it seems that Jay Sean is not the only musician from our community who is gaining a ton of attention lately. In the October/November 2009 issue of East West magazine, an article by Navdeep Singh Dhillon titled, “The Brown Underground” discusses the five new names in hip-hop worth knowing. While on TLH we have featured these names in previous posts and are fans of their work – we wanted to highlight this new article as it provides a very intimate look at these artists. Musicians, rappers, emcees or whatever you may call them – they, at the end of the day, are regular guys (believe me, they are). They work, they go to school, they feel strongly about adversities that are going on all over the world. Unlike many, however, they are using their talent to channel that emotion into creativity and into their music. We definitely like what we’re hearing and whether they know it or not, these artists are paving a path for generations to come.

The article highlights the work of Canadian-based Humble the Poet and Sikh Knowledge, D.C.-based Saint Soulja of G.N.E., Hoodini from Los Angeles and Mandeep Sethi from San Francisco. You can read about their quest into this industry and how being a Sikh plays a role (or does not) in their music. What’s clear about these artists is that while they are Sikh, they don’t necessarily only rap about Sikh issues or only about issues affecting our community and that’s what makes them stand out in my mind. Injustice to any group is an injustice to humanity and as Sikhs, that is something we should resist. We can rest assured that these artists are having that dialogue.


The Southall Story

A few months ago, with our first TLH book club, Jodha blogged about Sikhs In Britain. The book was a fascinating insight intohow the lives of Sikhs living in England have beenshaped overgenerations. In a similar attempt to historically document the Punjabi Sikh community in the UK, The Southall Story is a project that celebrates a town that has “welcomed new communities throughout the last century, enabling them to excel and influence both the social and political structures of this country.” Through a series of public events, performances, exhibitions and forums, the project aims to educate and inspire people about their heritage.


Southall is also a place that has come to be affectionately known as Little India, but for many it is much more than that. Being a port, (Heathrow is a stones throw away), Southall has been a home to such diverse groups as the West Indians, Indians and Pakistanis in the 50’s through to the Ugandan Asians in the 70’s. Most recently, new arrivals include Sikhs from Afghanistan and Somalians.

These settlements invariably have influenced and shaped Southall. Pivotal moments such as the racist murder of teenager Gurdip Singh Chaggar in 1976… meant that as a community issues of race and gender could no longer be avoided. [link]