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Beyond Bhangra

Once upon a time there circulated a stupid joke that the only culture of Sikhs was agriculture. Despite the stereotyping of yesteryears, for tooa6_1.jpg many the only associated culture to be promoted is bhangra (and sometimes giddha).

There is a growing legion that are seeking to promote Sikh arts, such as the classical kirtan tradition in Guru Granth Sahib’s ragas, visual expression (some examples were discussed on an earlier post), the art of gatka, and many more. However, still despite these and other efforts, when promoting to large audiences, we do bhangra.

With full transparency, I must admit I am not much of a fan of Bharatnatyam, but I completely agree with Bharatnatyam dancer Navtej Singh Johar‘s assertion that:

Punjabi culture is very rich and we are just not about giddha and bhangra. Our folk tales, Sufi music and poetry traverse boundaries.

Although I don’t agree with his elitist hierarchies of South Asian dance forms, I am intrigued by his production: Fanna: Ranjha Revisited.

So here is my question. What is life beyond bhangra? Whenever Sikh organizations have an opportunity to exhibit whether to Sikh crowds or non-Sikh crowds, what are other alternatives outside of bhangra (and gatka when certain measures don’t allow for it)? Any other thoughts or ideas?

A jago for landless laborers and more on Int. Women’s Day

Punjabis (at least in East Punjab) love to protest. The cause is usually grim, the consequences leave one hoping for more, but the spirit and energy behind the gathering leave one (at least this one) with a sense of contentedness in belonging to such a proactive community. In honor of International Women’s Day, women from various groups were found on the streets highlighting the problems they face.

int._women__s_day__amritsar.jpgIn Amritsar, a group of women burned an effigy in protest of the state and central government’s “anti-people” policies, according to The Tribune (I hope that journalists become a little more investigative soon- which “anti-people policies” did the burning effigy represent? We’ll never know. If only Mr. Vishal Kumar had bothered to ask a few follow up questions…)

In Nawanshahr, a Kavi Darbar and seminars were organized in honor of Int. Women’s Day where Punjabi poets read their works urging women’s empowerment. (Ironically, the poets were all male.)

Our neighbors to the West (in Lahore) noted that most efforts in their half of Punjab for Int. Women’s Day did nothing for the most vulnerable women- those struggling to survive. Expressing dissatisfaction, some women called the efforts of Ministers, NGOs, and government organizations “ploys to attract foreign donations.”

Perhaps the most interesting celebration of Int. Women’s Day was in Shahkot (Jalandhar area), where dalit women put a new twist on Jago, the traditional dance meaning “wake up” performed by women before a wedding. They ingeniously took out a Jago to highlight the sham free electricity that had been promised to landless laborers by politicians during election time. I would love to hear the boliyan they came up with for the occasion…

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On a Lighter Note

While this week, in The Langar Hall we heard about ‘Boogeymen,’ Darsh Singh, and Going Green, I thought this old video might throw in some humor. Although old and produced by our siblings to the West, few other videos better depict Chachu and his headlights. Have a great weekend.

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Where are Sikhs in the U.S. presidential campaigns?

Apparently everywhere! The Sikh News Network recently ran an analysis (imperfect stats, but interesting) on Sikh fundraising patterns in the current election. They claim that the “longtime affinity for Republicans” has been broken by Hillary Clinton [I’m not sure how prevalent that so-called “affinity” is for either party, but it is true that folks have funded Clinton heavily]:

According to data from the Federal Election Commission, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., led in Sikh contributions, receiving almost $248,000 through Jan. 31. Thats more than half of the total $412,000 from 241 donors. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was next with about $64,000. And among Republicans, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson led with $24,400… While Sikhs gave slightly more to President Bush than Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the last election, the contributions to Democratic candidates have surged this time.

The article goes on to highlight the leadership roles that Rajwant Singh (Chair of SCORE and Clinton-supporter) and Ravinder Singh (attorney and policy advisor for Obama) have in the Democratic campaigns. I’ve already disclosed my bias, but I’ve found this election season to be really inspiring. I may be plagiarizing Michelle Obama, but for the first time in my adult (voting) life I’ve felt compelled to really engage in the political process. I’ve been excited by the number of Sikhs and young people in general taking ownership in the elections. This engagement also helps build a small but growing voice for long-term political advocacy.

We know that Sikh engagement in politics is not entirely new, and there are certainly a number of Sikhs in elected office across local governments in the U.S. However, it seems like the nature, dynamic, and depth of Sikh involvement is growing by leaps and bounds.

  • What does this engagement mean for us as a community,
  • and how does it guide our work inside and outside of formal political bureaucracies?
Introducing: Darsh Singh

Can a kesdari Sikh man excel at high levels of athletic competition in the U.S. and practice his faith? Just ask Darsh Singh, junior starter and co-captain of Trinity University’s basketball team:

Darsh Singh

This season, fans havent had to chant for Darsh the team co-captain has appeared in every game, and every time he plays, he makes a statement. As a follower of the Sikh religion, Darsh speaks volumes by wearing a turban and allowing his beard to grow. In fact, its believed that he is the only turbaned Sikh to play in an NCAA basketball game.

Maybe you weren’t as impressed as I was by his exploits as a jock. Not to worry, beta is an active engineering student, making honors every year and working in a number of student organizations.

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Who Speaks for Sikh Americans? (Part 1 of 2)

While Sikhs have lived in the U.S. for over 100 years, our numbers have grown tremendously after 1960s immigration reform. With this increase in numbers, we’re beginning to see the first long-term interactions between waves of immigrants and within generations of immigrants. These shifts in demographics, in concert with growth in the population of U.S.-born Sikhs, have created a space in which we are re-visioning and exploring advocacy and expression on behalf of the Sikh community.

Among many U.S.-born and 1.5-generation Sikhs, this advocacy and participation has happened through the creation of new institutions. Sidestepping the process of sangat-based decision-making, a slew of new “community-focused” advocacy organizations have popped up. Many of the organizations we now think of as household names (SALDEF – formerly SMART, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, Ensaaf) were founded in the last 15 years. While these same organizations provide important legal advocacy tools, a lack of coordination between organizations, paired with a hesitancy to engage Sikh spiritual organizations, at best leads to confusion around a cohesive, unified Sikh voice/message. At its worst, this failure to work together leads to the creation of campaigns that often either duplicate efforts or undermine each others’ work.

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Silver for the Prince of Patiala

Although we have been following the story for some time, it seems Rohanpreet Singh, the Prince of Patiala, fell short in winning SaReGaMaPa’s Little Champ’s competition. Although winning the “North Zone” that includes Punjab as well as having a 200,000 margin in the ‘international voting’, receiving 3,847,176 put him far short of Assam’s Anamika Choudhury, who gained 4,482,738 votes.

Despite falling short of the prize, Rohanpreet won a place in the heart of Sikhdom (at least until the next competition)! So here is the hero of the moment’s homecoming in all of its stereotypical glory. Oh well I am also a sucker for it too….YouTube Preview Image

The Power of Nightmares

Recently, I watched a brilliant documentary called The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of Politics of Fear. Produced by the BBC, this documentary is 3 one-hour films comparing the rise of the American Neo-Con movement with the radical Islamists. It discusses certain parallel ideologies and the symbiotic relationship of the two that serves only to create fear and terror.

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So before you head out to watch Will Ferrell’s Semi-Pro, this movie deserves your time. Maybe less laughs, but I found it absolutely fascinating.

Although I saw it in a theatre, Youtube has the beginning clip and the entire movie can be streamed here.

Your thoughts?

Dear Momma

sikh_mom.jpgThere are no words that can express how I feel
You never kept a secret, always stayed real
And I appreciate, how you raised me
And all the extra love that you gave me
I wish I could take the pain away
If you can make it through the night there’s a brighter day
Everything will be alright if ya hold on
It’s a struggle everyday, gotta roll on
And there’s no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated
(2pac – “Dear Momma”)

While Sundari beat me to the punch, I submit a slightly differently emphasized take on the same story as well….

The historic bravery of Sikh mothers run deep. From our history (although possibly still not highlighted enough) to our family households, often we are in the company of greats. From Gurbani to Manak’s Maa Hundi Maa, celebration of these women is deeply ingrained. Here is another dedication, with an asterisk.

The timesonline published some promotional pieces about an upcoming book written by its Business columnist, Sathnam Sanghera. The book is his personal memoirs titled, If You Don’t Know Me By Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton.

Sathnam takes us into his world. A matriarchal family in a patriarchal society. His mother, a hardworking devout Sikh woman, makes ends meet and bravely survives and loves despite difficulties. Living with a schizophrenic and at-times abusive husband and again raising a schizophrenic daughter, Surjit Kaur is the heroine of Sathnam’s book.

Traditional and controlling as she is, Surjit comes out as the heroine of the book, an almost universal loving mother figure, who could equally be intensely Jewish, or Catholic. When Sanghera comes home, he admits, she still has his bath running, and sprinkles holy water in it. And even when she could not provide material things, even when mental illness put a shroud over their lives, she still gave her children a sense of worth.

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Nanak Kheti: Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Natural Farming In Punjab

Guru Nanak Dev Ji is admired and well-known for his travels, for example, across South Asia and the Middle East by foot in an effort to begin the development of Sikh theology through engagement with others of different faiths and belief-systems. gurunanakfarming.jpgEven though I have always had great admiration for his travels and their significance, I always wished people would also give more focus to how he lived his life as farmer after he gave-up his Gurdadhi. As we know, Sikhi is a way of life so as a Sikh how did he farm why did he farm … what significance did it have for him as a Sikh?

Interestingly, there is a growing group of small farmers in Punjab who are taking up natural farming based on Guru Nanak Dev Jis teachings. These farmers have seen the destruction caused to the soil through chemical and mass farming resulting from the Green Revolution in Punjab. Umendra Dutt writes:

There is a silent and constructive revolution happening in Punjab to save the environment, regenerate ecological resources bring back soil productivity and re-establish ecological balance in the farms. This is the natural farming movement of Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), a civil society action group headquartered in the Jaitu town of Faridkot district. The movement is led by experienced farmers who believe in Guru Nanak’s tenet of Sarbat da bhala (well being of all),” says Amarjeet Sharma, a farmer from Chaina village, district Faridkot who heads the village level Vatavaran Panchayat.

Along with the concept of Sarbat Da Bhala, KMV asks common farmers

to adopt the famous verse [by Guru Nanak Dev Ji], Pavnu Guru, Panni Pita Matta Dharat Mahat (air is guru, water is father and the earth is mother).

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Pink Ludoos

Recently, in Cheema Kalan village near Ludhiana, some well known Punjabi singers entertained to bring awareness of socialbhangra_men_and_women.jpg problems like sex-selective abortion. Singers in attendance included Sarabjit Cheema, Jaspal Jassi, Babbu Mann, Jasbir Jassi and Inderjit Nikku. Why were these singers willing to take time out of their recording and busy performing schedules? Sarabit Cheema said:

Singers do have an ethical responsibility to spread meaningful messages among the people which helps bring a transformation in the society. We want the youngsters should listen and join us because usually they follow us after watching us on television. It is our duty to share consequential messages to the society which the youth will follow.

harmandir_sahib.jpgMeanwhile, in Amritsar, a new-born girl was found abandoned in the Harmandir Sahib complex with a letter written by her mother, requesting that the girl be looked after.

We have no option but to raise the girl, SGPC secretary Dalmegh Singh said from Amritsar…

An SGPC official said the important thing to realise was fate and her mother had willed the child to live in a state where aborting girl children was rampant.

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Will the Revolution be Televised? Sikhs and the Media

So, Im a fan of Waris Singh Ahluwalia. It should be no surprise hes an actor who makes incredible jewelry and Im all about diverse talents. Last year, with the release ofwaris2.jpg The Darjeeling Limited, he did an interview and responded to being honored for his positive portrayal of Sikhs in the media. I thought it was significant,

I don’t want to be honored that much. I really don’t. I’m humbled and utterly confused to be put in this position. All these galas and fundraisers, they’re really important–especially after 9/11, when we’re seen as one of the major religions, and nobody knows who we are. In terms of the Sikh community, we’ll raise our families, go to work, pay our taxes, be American citizens, and that [should be] enough. Guess what? That’s not enough.

Why is it not enough? Regardless of how citizen-like we act, will wecontinue to fight the typecasts and stereotypes the media has imposed on an unfamiliar community?

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Domestic Abuse

I will happily admit I am an Opraholic. In the years of watching Oprah she always does episodes on domestic abuse. I remember where a man had video taped the abuse of his wife. I don’t remember the details or the name of the victim – but I remember her tears, and the visuals of her husband hitting her and verbally abusing her. I can vividly remember her face and his and in a matter of seconds I am nauseous, angry and frustrated.

I felt the same way when I read this article . Why do we hear this so often? Brutal murders of wives by their husbands. What disturbed me even further was that the family was completely shocked that this happened. In no way or form do I pass any blame on the family – but I feel that as a community our awareness of domestic abuse is so limited that we wouldn’t even be able to recognize the signs if they were in front of us.

Where does the solution start? At the Gurdwara? At the family level? How do provide resources not only to victims but their families as well?

Gurdwaras and Religious Tolerance

While reading Bruce La Bracks ethnography on Sikhs in Northern California my attention was drawn to his writing on Sikh and Muslim relations in the Gurdwara. He wrote,

Muslims, particularly Punjab-born-Muslims, had regularly joined the Sikhs of California at the annual celebrations of national holidays and in welcoming dignitaries from India. There are stories told by older Sikhs about how Muslims were welcome to spread their prayer rugs in the gurdwara so long as they did not place their backs to the granth (this being no problem as the dais of the gurdwara is oriented east-west) (219).

He was referring to the Stockton Gurdwara in California prior to 1947. I admit at first I was little shocked because it debunked my own beliefs about what I was socialized to believe a Gurdwara was supposed to be. I thought the Gurdwara was only a site of worship for Sikhs. However, after I got over that, I saw the beauty in the religious tolerance and ethnic commadare in allowing the Gurdwara to also be a place of worship for Muslims as long as they respected the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. I believe my Gurus would have practiced a similar peaceful religious tolerance (despite our history with Mughals) and this to some degree was an extension of that act. I wonder if we would practice a similar tolerance today in our Gurdwaras? When I think of my community, I am doubtful. Maybe its the changed socio-political backdrop of relationships between Sikhs and Muslims following partition or just the shear size of our communities in the Diaspora. What do you think? How about your community?

Raising awareness or a turban commodified?

A few days ago, Kenneth Cole unveiled one of his new ads on a wall of Rockefeller Center in New York City. The model is, surprisingly, a sardar.

kenneth-cole-sikh2.jpgMost Sikhs will be (and should be) proud to see a sardar breaking into an industry that traditionally has narrow ideas of beauty, desirability, or glamour… most of which don’t encompass the features -facial hair and turbans – that identify many Sikh men.

This ad is a breakthrough. Perhaps that’s what motivated the designer.

I’ve heard Kenneth Cole is socially conscious and apparently he uses his brand as a platform for campaigns on AIDS awareness, human rights, and alleviating urban poverty. (Even if the effectiveness of such a strategy is questionable, the motivation and effort should be appreciated.)

Maybe the ad is a reaction to national conversation that divides ‘us’ against ‘them’/the ‘other’ (reiterated in Monday’s State of the Union Address). Maybe it’s a visual trying to show that ‘us’ and ‘them’ are not so easily definable or distinguishable, breaking stereotypes of who ‘us’ and ‘them’ are. In that case, it’ll be an opportunity for many people to learn who Sikhs are and maybe break some stereotypes in the process. But in trying to break some stereotypes, is Kenneth Cole reinforcing others (the exoticism of the ‘other’)?

Something else makes me uncomfortable about this ad. Is something that’s supposed to be a symbol of high ideals, if not sacred itself (a sardar’s appearance), being commodified? If it is, is it inevitable that everything will one day be commodified?

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You a African? Do you know what’s happenin?

The Dead Prez song remains one of my favorites. For the past month or so, the violence and allegations of rigging following Kenyas election has led the country to a dangerous standstill.

africa.JPGSince we concern ourselves with issues of the diaspora, too often our discussions are centered in the US, Canada, and UK. In trying to think of the greater Sikh community, our populations in South East Asia, Africa, and a number of different locales are often forgotten and overlooked.

With this in mind, I have been thinking about the Sikh population in Kenya (Many of us are familiar with Sikh-Kenyans in the US, UK, and Canada, due to their often high-levels of education, successful businesses, and distinctive pagris, this is an example of a unique exaggerated Kenyan style). Googling on the internet, I found an article in the Chandigarh Tribune, dated over 3 weeks ago, lamenting about the Punjab Governments apathy towards the Punjabi community there as opposed to the Gujarat Governments involvement. In that article, a comment was made that no Sikhs had yet been injured, but loss of property was substantial. I found another article discussing the Sikhs engagement with the issue and providing a refuge centered for those that have been displaced. This was particularly refreshing.

Here is another blog, written by a Sikh-Kenyan with some beautiful pictures of a Sikh camp held there a few years ago.

It seems Gurdwaras throughout Kenya are coming together on February 3rd to organize a ‘Sanjhi Ardas’ (United Prayer) and have simultaneous Sukhmani Sahib, Simran, and Kirtan in hopes for peace to that land.

While we have a few Kenyan (infrequent) readers to our blog, can any shed some light on the current political situation there?

Consciousness

dubois.jpgW.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of Double Consciousness is used to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets. I recently read a Mexican-American’s short autobiography on his own Quadruple Consciousness and to say I related to it would be an understatement. The writer has very distinct fragments of his consciousness that I personally am not able to define as of yet. But I can feel the internal struggle between the three, four, five however many there are.

I don’t want to rant on about the craziness that is in my head, but am curious as to what readers out there are experiencing. How many different “selfs” do each of you have? Does your gender play a role? Your family background? Your class? Your own religiosity?

Between Martin and Malcolm

Today across the country, many Americans, but by no means all, will come together to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. (true, others will just enjoy the day off). Many Sikhs, undoubtedly, will attend interfaith functions, make promises for more interfaith functions, and never talk to those people again until next years MLKs holiday. martin.jpgOn the other hand, Indians will pat themselves on the back as the media will use MLK to link it with the life of Gandhi, though as a Sikh the Gandhi hagiography as well as the movies portrayal proved hollow many years ago.

However, in critically reflecting on Martin, I cannot help but think of Malcolm. Maybe the era of my youth coincided with X hats or the powerful performance by Denzel Washington in Spike Lees movie, but the place of Malcolm for me has always been equal if not higher to that of Malcolm Martin. Traditional history and mainstream media takes a freeze shot of the two without looking at both mens changing lives and worldviews, making them polar opposites. While in someway I am going to continue with this simplification for the purpose of this blog entry, the reality should not be forgotten. I merely wish to make a comment for other activists to reflect upon.

Revolution or evolution? Maybe they shouldnt be posed as choices, but rather as a relationship. Most movements begin by those that call for the replacement with the old with something fresh and new. However, most movements succeed (but not all) when a more conciliatory tone makes change more palatable, or possibly even inevitable.

Revolution or evolution? The problem with this approach often comes when I see that two groups that have the same general beliefs will fight each other like the worst of enemies, despite their general agreement. Freud calls this the narcissism of minor differences. It seems to plague many activists.

Revolution of evolution? The way out, I think, is to recognize who you are. Know thyself. Are you taking an evolutionary or revolutionary stand (I HATE the terms moderate and extremist)? Recognize the value in those that may be fighting the same fight, but taking a different path.

Just a thought and reflection. Maybe even a reminder for myself. Other thoughts?

Baby Boys and their BMWs

The news of the tiger attack in the San Francisco Zoo made national headlines. A few days later it was revealed that two of the three people attacked came from a Sikh background. bmw_1.jpgPaul, 19, and Kulbir, 24, Dhaliwal were hospitalized but recovered from the attack, unlike their friend Carlos Sousa Jr. Further evidence has come to light suggesting that the three boys had provoked the tiger. All three seem to have had high levels of alcohol and marijuana in their systems.

However, it seems that this incident was not Paul and Kulbirs first panga. It seems that they have been arrested for public intoxication in the past. At the time of the tiger attack, Paul was on felony probation after pleading no contest to reckless driving, driving under the influence, resisting an officer, and providing a false name.

However, while reading the latest updates, something caught my attention.

Police found a small amount of marijuana in Kulbir Dhaliwal’s 2002 BMW, which the victims rode to the zoo, as well as a partially filled bottle of vodka, according to court documents.

How did I know they drove a BMW? I am not going to further indict the Dhaliwal brothers. They are going to have enough problems of their own as I am quite convinced their original story of not harassing the tiger will soon fall apart. But this article is really about the majority of the male youth in our community.

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Lohiri Celebration: Girls and Boys?

Recently I attended a Lohiri Party celebrating the birth of a baby boy. Complete with bhangra, ghidda, food in the garage, a fire in the backyard, peanuts, rarroya, ladies in the family room, and the Babujis in the living room. While there I had a conversation with the new bride in the family about Lohiri. Our family friends son had married a Latina and this was her first Lohiri. She told me that the dancing had started hours ago and that her husbands female relatives had pushed her into the middle of the ghidda circle because then ju can have a boy too if ju dance in the middle during Lohiri, while eyeing her stomach. They just got married a few months ago! She then went on to say that she asked her husband if they could have a Lohiri if they have a baby girl in the future he said “I dont know we usually only celebrate it for boys. She seemed to have this look of disappointment in her eyes, while smiling when she said well we are going to change that one. I responded that they should definitely celebrate Lohiri if they have a baby girl and give out laados too! She said, Yeap I am changing this tradition! I began to wonder if there were similar conversations taking place at other Lohiri parties.

Did anyone recently attend a Lohiri Party for a baby girl or a girls marriage this year? What are your thoughts after attending any type of Lohiri celebration this season!

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