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British Sikh Police Officer Humiliated For Practicing Sikhi

gurmeal_singh_2_1482866c.jpgA couple of months ago the Sikh community was elated to see the Queen of England make two Sikh gentlemen her bodyguards. Thisact was seen as a huge step forward for Sikhs in the fight against discrimination for our religious articles of faith. It tremendously inspired many of us to continue the fight against Sikhs in the US Army and other places in the United States and Europe. It reflected what generations of hard Sikh work against discrimination for our religious articles of faith had done in the UK.

However, a recent case of a Sikh police officer in the UK feeling humiliated and offended for refusing to remove his turban as part of the Greater Manchester Police has shown us that as we take great steps forward we are still far away from taking a great leap against discrimination.

Gurmeal Singh, who is based in Wythenshawe Police station, near Manchester, said that he was coerced into walking into a petrol fire and told to wear a modified turban by colleagues. Despite telling police trainers that he had applied a flammable gel to his beard and refused to look like a character on a British comedy show, the officers told him- this is what you signed up for.

Singh said,

My turban is not an article of clothing like a shirt or tie – it is part of me, a part of my religion and I feel as though my religion and I have become an issue for GMP.

It has made me feel alienated. I was deeply offended and humiliated.

The British Sikh Police Association are supporting Singh in his legal action. The hearing in his case continues.

Seva & I

AI_04260901_Sep._15_22.40.gifI was nervous. It was my first day on the job as a crisis hotline volunteer. Although I had just completed weeks of rigorous training on how to handle all types of calls – from anxiety, to depression, domestic abuse, and the dreaded suicide – I was still a little uneasy.

I met my mentor for the evening, an elderly white woman who lived in a suburb not too far from me. We made small talk, then she turned to her Danielle Steel novel, and I started thumbing through my training manual – both of us awaiting the next call.

Almost immediately, the phone rang.

“This one’s yours, kid” my mentor said.

I took one deep breath and picked up the phone. Apparently, there hadn’t been one for months, but sure enough, my first call was a suicide. Even though we spent an extensive amount of time covering this topic in training, I instantly froze up.

I placed the caller on speaker and my mentor immediately took over.

What happened over the next 30 minutes will stay etched in my memory for the rest of my life. The caller was severely depressed about a health condition he had been battling since he was a child and – to make a long story short – while on the call, he had the dangerous combination of the means and a motivation to end his life.


Take Action To Make Kirpan Education Bill Into Law

Kirpan1-150x150.jpgThe California legislator has unanimously passed a Kirpan Education Bill (AB 504) through both houses (Assembly & Senate); it is now headed to Governor Schwarzenegger’s desk. This bill, carried by Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach) and other co-sponsors, will only become law if the California Governator signs off on it. AB 504 is a historic bill because it is the only piece of legislation in America that focuses on Sikhs and our kirpan. Furthermore, the bill is being pushed through the law-making process in California-a state with the oldest and largest number of Sikhs in America.

The Kirpan Education Bill (AB 504) requires that all California law enforcement officers be trained on Sikhs and our kirpan. This training would teach California law enforcement officers about Sikhs and the importance of our religiously mandated articles of faith. Sikhs wearing a kirpan are often disrespectfully approached by law enforcement officers and arrested for concealed weapons charges. Often law enforcement officers will pull Sikhs over for minor traffic violations or safety concerns and as soon as officers see the kirpan the situation is escalated into a criminal offense; although the Sikh was only practicing his/her faith. These officers are unaware that the kirpan is a religious mandated article of faith-a gift from our Guru that we wear with care, respect, and love.


To The Last Hair, To The Last Breath

combing_kesh_10_03_2007.jpgA few weeks ago, while at the park with my family, an elderly woman dressed in a sari came over to say hello. After a brief introduction, she said to us “wait here for a second” and called out “Alex…come here!” A little boy with light skin and brown hair ran over to us. The lady in the sari bent down and said to Alex, “See…this is what your grandfather looked like. He wore a turban and had a long beard just like him.” Alex wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but he forced a quick smile and ran back to the swings.

As a dastaar-wearing Sikh, I come across these interactions quite often – some pleasant, some not-so-pleasant, and some downright awkward. But because they happen so often, I tend to brush it off and forget all about them quickly. For some reason, this incident stuck with me.

It made me think about the days in Gurmat camp decades ago when the Uncles would scare us in to keeping ourkesh or else keshdari Sikhs would become a “thing of the past” and “only be seen in museum exhibits.” I never bought that theory, but the incident in the park did shake me a bit.

Although Sikhi is such a large part of my life, truth is…I really dont think aboutkesh much. As a matter of fact, when I lead presentations about Sikhi to Sikhs or non-Sikhs, I make a point to downplay thekesh aspect. Not that it is any less important than any of the other kakaars, but with non-Sikhs, the “mystery” behind the kesh seems to overtake discussions, and we miss some of the most important and central tenets of the faith…equality, self-less service, self-realization, and universality of the message. And even with Sikhs,kesh is made such a focus that many in our community feel that as long as we retain the external image of a Sikh, the rest of maryada and discipline does not apply. It is essentially a free-pass and gives us the right to criticize those who do not keep their kesh.


Taxi Cab Drivers: Who Is Protecting Their Rights?

Last week a Punjabi Sikh cab driver suffered a gruesome act of hate in the middle of the night in the Bay Area. He was called Bin Laden, a terrorist, and someone who had come to this country to kill Americans. His attackers where white males working professional jobs in real-estate. Not your stereotypical attackers, but committing a very typical act of hate. Although, the attackers posted bail with their money; the injured cab driver can not work to provide for his family.

We have laws to protect the attackers, but who is protecting the taxi-cab driver? How is it possible that assaulting a taxi cab driver is not a felony in every American city? Taxi cab drivers have one of the most dangerous jobs because of the environments in which they transport clients and how money for service is exchanged. They never know the character of the person they are picking up or if he/she will have enough money to pay. They function off the assumption that they wont be attacked and their client will pay them. Otherwise, they could not make a profit in this business. They cant let their fear overtake them.

At a recent conference, Driving For The Future, a taxi cab workers alliance in the Bay Area called United Taxi Cab Workers, announced that they are working towards a bill of rights. The Asian Law Caucus is working closely with this group. The bill of rights would demand, for example, that attackers suffer more severe penalties and there be a safety-net of benefits to help cab drivers who have been assaulted. In an industry employing large number of immigrant men who are not fluent in English; the need to legally protect taxi-cab drivers rights is very important. We need to encourage Punjabi Sikh taxi cab drivers to participate in this alliance to make sure their needs are protected.

Miss World Punjaban 2008

I found this video of the Miss World Punjaban 2008 contest interesting because the contestant chose to highlight her Sikh identity that is intimately linked to Punjabi culture. I find that it is easy for us to “intellectually” talk about the separation of the two identities. However, for many, being Sikh and Punjabi are intimately connected. They mutually exist-one does not envision oneself without the other.

Ms. Gurpreet Kaur Khaira from Canada chose to highlight this co-existence of the two identities in the talent portion of the contest. She performs dhadi vaar, while wearing a simple white suit and kessari chunni.

Who is Miss Punjaban and what does she look like varies … there is not only one notion of Punjabi “beauty” or identity … at least in this beauty contest! You can sing dhadhi vaar in simplicity or a Punjabi song in a bright red chunni and kokaa.

(FAST-FORWARD TO 1:44 to see Ms. Gurpreet Kaur Khaira from Canada)

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Half The Sky

AI_04260901_Aug._26_11.47.gifThe issue of forced marriages and domestic violence clearly struck a chord with many of the TLH readers. But somewhere deep in the comments over titles, or whether these are Sikh or Punjabi issues, or whether or not we should air our “dirty laundry” in the first place I feel some of the issues themselves got lost. In formulating my own thoughts on the topic and trying to build a broader perspective on womens issues in general, I came across a fascinating article in last weeks New York Times Magazine called Saving the World’s Women. The premise of the article is that many of the countries that are disproportionately poverty-stricken and absorbed in fundamentalism and chaos, are also those same countries where women are the least educated and most marginalized. And by focusing (and investing) on women and girls, a dramatic impact can be made to fight global poverty and extremism.

Take the example of Saima Muhammad (pictured above) from Pakistan. Saima didnt have a rupee to her name, was routinely beaten by her unemployed husband and other family members, and had to send her kids away due to lack of food and other basics. Even her mother-in-law contributed to her troubles by encouraging her son to marry again because Saima was only giving birth to girls. However, after Saima signed up with the Kashf Foundation, a Pakistani microfinance organization, things turned around.

Saima took out a $65 loan and used the money to buy beads and cloth, which she transformed into beautiful embroidery that she then sold to merchants in the markets of Lahore. She used the profit to buy more beads and cloth, and soon she had an embroidery business and was earning a solid income the only one in her household to do so. Saima took her elder daughter back from the aunt and began paying off her husbands debt.

…Saima became the tycoon of the neighborhood, and she was able to pay off her husbands entire debt, keep her daughters in school, renovate the house, connect running water and buy a television.

As the economics of Saima’s situation changed, so did the relationship with her family. She now has a better relationship with her family and has earned their respect. It is unfortunate that this is what it took for Saima, and many will never have the golden opportunity Saima had, but it does send a clear message – that although it may seem impossible to break down cultural barriers, economics can change the game quickly.


Elderly Not A Burden But A Source Of Cohesion

1384721922_d15c6b73f2-150x150.jpgOften times the elderly are considered “high-cost” because they take money out of American system. They are seen as a “liability” because they withdraw medicare and social security benefits. Foriegn elders are similarly viewed as a group that “takes” through government benefits, but is not expected to serve the American system for very long.

However, in a recent study at the Center for Intergenerational Learning at Temple University, scholars found that “older immigrants are not inert drains in the U.S. system but an invisible force of community contributors in the United States”.

The study found that immigrant elders contribute to community cohesion by playing leadership roles in families. Also, their sense of interconnectness, rooted in religious and cultural values, forces them to look out for the collective good. They are also a good source for motivating the younger generation to support community members.


New immigration option for battered Sikh women

It used to be the case that women who came to the US as dependents on their husbands’ immigration status were punjabi_woman.jpgsometimes caught between a rock and a hard place. In cases where one spouse was abusive, the other spouse wouldn’t leave the relationship for fear of losing their immigration status and being sent back to their original country. If they returned to their original country empty handed and without their spouses, they would be perceived as failures. And so, many women have just endured extremely abusive relationships.

One option that has been available if the abuser is a permanent resident or a US citizen is a self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act. But this wasn’t available if the abuser was in the US on a temporary visa, as many immigrants initially are, or to women outside the US.

Thus, a recent development in asylum law has the potential to open a door to safety for at least some women who are most seriously abused in domestic violence. To qualify for asylum (or refugee status), one must have been a victim of persecution, or have a well founded fear of persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or “membership in a particular social group.” Before this summer, women who were victims of horrendous domestic violence were not recognized as a particular social group, though the issue has been argued for 14 years in a battle to allow battered women to seek asylum in the US. [link]

The government’s prior position under the Bush administration was illustrated in the case of R-A-, a woman who suffered horrific violence at the hands of her husband, a former soldier of the Guatemalan army. She was kicked, whipped, and beaten unconscious, nearly had an eye pushed out, was repeatedly raped, sodomized, threatened with machetes and guns, dragged by her hair, and had windows and mirrors broken on her head. [source 1, 2]. The Guatemalan police refused to help each time she went to them, deciding that hers was a domestic matter. RA fled Guatemala and her husband, seeking asylum in the US.


So You Think You Can Serve Your Gurdwara?

Blogged by: sikhpulse

seva.JPGThe Christian community is confronting the development of the Sixth American: those individuals who do not exist in or identify with any particular space and ultimately congregate together. These integrated congregations are hopeful signs that the elements of discrimination and racism which infiltrated most churches over the last two centuries are slowly being eradicated.

Strangely enough, Sikh-Americans arent evolving in the same direction. In less than fifty years, Sikh-Americans have (get this) provided an anti-model for our adopted culture by dividing into self-identifying congregations, sects and denominations!

This may in part be explained by our natural connection to our social networks. Like members of other faiths, we choose to go to a place of worship that is attended by our families. We go where our friends attend. We go where our language is spoken. We are segregated by whether we are brand-spankin-new-citizens or third-generation Sikh Americans. We are separated by our interests and our jobs.


Yudh Gatka Tournament

9769adb74cb7a8ebad8ea88b0312-150x150.jpgGatka is becoming popular amongst Sikhs and non-Sikhs in the West. Raveena Aulakh writes that this resurgence in the Toronto area is primarily because of The Annual International Yudh Gatka Tournament that originated in Toronto in 2003. This year the tournament is being held in New Jersey. The Toronto leg of the tournament will on August 23rd the Rexdale Gurdwara Sahib. You can find out more information at

Why is Gatka becoming so popular? writes that, “Not only does Gatka emphasize the physical training of martial arts, but it puts a special focus on ‘mental’ training which is needed to be successful in any sport”. Thus, this traditional Sikh martial arts from the early 17th century is a place to relieve stress, heighten awareness, but also learn sportsmanship and respect-for both people and weapons.

For those of you who attend the Tournament, please let us know how it goes.

Sikhi Aaj Kal

TLH_SAK.gifI’ll admit…Bollywood movies were boycotted and banned in my household as far back as I can remember, so maybe these “religious sensitivity pre-screenings” are common…but the course of events surrounding this new movie is still quite strange…even for Bollywood’s standards.

Last week, a new movie titled “Love Aaj Kal” was released, with Saif Ali Khan playing a Sikh as the lead male role. However, shortly before the release, the Punjab Cultural and Heritage Board objected to his portrayal of a Sikh.

Explaining their stand, Charan Singh Sapra, President of Punjabi Cultural And Heritage Board informed a tabloid, We are objecting on the grounds that Saif is shown with a very trim beard.”

Long story short, after Khan’s formal apology and a paparazzi-filled press conference at Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Dadar – 15 seconds of a questionable scene was cut from the movie and Khan declared he would not portray a Sikh “incorrectly” again in future roles. All smiles, the Punjabi Cultural And Heritage Board gave the movie “two thumbs up” and the green light to proceed.

I guess I should be happy that an organization is concerned enough about the image of Sikhs to raise such a fuss…except for the fact that we’re talking about fantasy-land. My question is…where is the organization that cares about the Sikh image in real life?


Sikh Marriage Counseling

weddings_THUMB.jpgSince I exist in the age bracket where many of my friends are married or getting married, I am aptly aware of the concerns couples have about adjusting to one another after marriage. For example, how will living habits change? How will your husband/wife fit into your family? It’s a pretty daunting concept – especially for individuals who wait to get married later on in life, after years of education and commitment to careers, and along with this, years of being single. I’ve known many couples over the years who have had a difficult time adjusting to being part of a union. How can we blame them? Our community offers very little as far as pre-marital counseling for Sikh couples. In fact, a quick google search for “Sikh Marriage Counseling” doesn’t bring up anything pertinent.

For many, it is also very important to know that your partner is on a similar spiritual path. This may be one of the most important elements to think about prior to marriage – as it impacts your day to day living and the way you may raise your children in the future. Some religions actually require couples to go through marriage counseling prior to marriage. We don’t seem to have this in our community but it’s not a bad idea. How many couples do you know who have gone to the Giani at their local gurdwara to elicit marriage advice? If any, i’m sure the number is small. Nevertheless, i feel this is integral to the success of marriage as there are certain questions which should be discussed before marriage.

What I did come across, however, are the following two tools. First, the Sikh Research Institute organizes the Grihast Retreat which,

is a 2-day event for young couples to strengthen marriage and family relationships by offering deeper communication between wife and husband. Grihast incorporates diverse themes that are at the foundation of a married life. New perspectives provide insights on building meaningful relationships while workshops and discussions offera glimpse of the Gur?s vision and ideals on marriage.


Saanjh-Bay Area Sikh Retreat In Late August


Saanjh-the annual Bay Area Sikh Retreat is taking place Thursday, August 27th-Sunday, August 30th at the Monte Toyon campsite near Santa Cruz, California. Share your experiences and connect with other Sikhs through a Guru-inspired sangat. This years theme is Developing a Panthic Vision Towards 2084. In 2009 we commemorate the 25th anniversary of 1984. When we fast-forward to its centennial where do we want to be as a Panth-a Sikh community? What is our collective vision for 2084? How do we need to develop as individuals and a community in order to heal ourselves and find solutions to our communal problems? Come share your opinions and connect with other concerned Sikhs through a collaborative approach to finding solutions. You will be inspired by diwans, conversations, debates, and laughter. Register by August 3rd to avoid late fees. There is a separate fee schedule for students and professionals. For more information visit If you have any questions, e-mail [email protected]

As way of background, Saanjh began last year by a group of Bay Area Sikhs who were inspired by their personal experiences of engaging with sangats world-wide. They felt there was a need in California to retreat from our daily routines into a relaxed space where we could be inspired by our Guru. With this inspiration we could go back to our real lives as better engaged Sikhs spiritually, socially, and politically. The focus of the retreat is on learning from our experiences as diverse Sikhs in order to develop a collective vision for our community.

Oregon carves an exception as big as equality into new “freedom of religion” act

Oregon recently passed a bill to repeal its ban on religious attire in the workplace, a policy adopted 100 years ago as part of anti-Catholic backlash. However, it let stand an exception to this act — specifically, it continues to ban wearing “religious attire” in classrooms. Its decision strikes against its stated policy goal: to ameliorate religious discrimination in the workplace.

Religious affiliation is a protected class under U.S. equal protection (14th Amendment) and Civil Rights law, but it is subject to a much more lenient standard of review than other forms of discrimination (e.g., race). In 1980, the Supreme Court upheld Oregon’s workplace ban. The Legislature supports its ban by claiming that it is designed to avoid proselytization in the classroom. This is both misguided and continues to advance discrimination.


A neoliberal development pathway for Punjab?

SEZ.jpgEarlier this month TLH discussed how the unseasonably dry summer in Punjab is threatening its agriculture and economy. This week, the Punjab Assembly adopted a resolution authorizing the development of additional Special Economic Zones, or SEZs, while streamlining and supporting the existence of pre-existing SEZs.

SEZs are not entirely new to Punjab. In 2006, Punjab cleared thirteen (13) SEZs for development and approval, and the proposal was approved by the Indian central government in 2007. The current number of “greenlit” SEZs in Punjab currently totals 12, but the number could increase extensively.


Money Is Available But No Punjabi Teachers

Punjab has been divided numerous times. Both during and after partition. Anita Rau Badami eloquently writes, First it was Partition and half our land disappeared. Now our own leaders are chopping it up like a piece of meat. The Punjabi language was one thing we hoped would cross borders despite all the chopping. Ultimately, it was the language of the Punjabi soul regardless of how political borders were drawn.

However, the Punjabi language is being lost. It has been granted second language status under the Official Language Act. Although extremely disappointing that Punjabi is given a 2nd status-one walks away thinking at least it still has some official status. However, Punjabis actions are speaking louder than our words when Punjabi is virtually not being taught in schools or used in official administrative work in Chandigarh. This abandonment is occurring despite the availability of financial assistance from the Central Government government to hire Punjabi language teachers. This financial assistance is supposed to cover the entire financial costs of language teachers appointments and salaries.

Prabhjot Singh writes for The Tribune that the Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal (a Punjabi himself) stated:

None of the northern states other than Himachal Pradesh had applied for financial assistance for the appointment of Punjabi teachers during the past three years. Only Himachal Pradesh had obtained a grant in October 2007 for the appointment of 100 Punjabi teachers.


Proud To Be Six

TLH_Six.jpgIt’s that time of year again…camp time! Sikh youth all over the world are packing their bags and heading out to their favorite Gurmat camp to learn, reflect, and have a blast with their Sangat! I’m very lucky to have been involved in Sikh youth camps for most of my life – as a camper, counselor, and administrator…and boy do I have a few stories to tell! To mark this exciting time, I’d like to share a story I call “Proud To Be Six.”

I remember the first time I was ever a counselor. I was 18 years old and my first task was to lead an orientation for the youngest kids at camp. After several unsuccessful attempts to a lead a discussion, I went with what I knew…and just did a bunch of jakaray!

The kids were all riled up and having a blast! Then I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Are you proud to be Singhs & Kaurs of the Guru!” They all yelled out “Yeeeaaahhh!” “Are you proud to be Khalsas!” They all yelled out “Yeeeaaahhh!” “Are you proud to be Sikhs!” Silence…

I thought perhaps they didn’t hear me. I said, “Are you proud to be Sikhs!” Still, silence…then all the kids started looking around at each other in confusion.

Then finally, one brave little boy raised his hand and said, “VeerJi, I’m only five.” Quickly, hand after hand went up with kids saying “me too, me too…I’m only four”

After holding in my laughter and finally composing myself, I thought I would try an experiment. Although I had to cringe when I said it, I yelled out:

Are you proud to be Seeeeks! They all yelled out “Yeeeaaahhh!”

Canadian Sikhs run cross-country

In order to provide a little bit of cheer as we head into the weekend, I thought I’d share this news bit.

A team of 32 Sikhs partnered to run across Canada, as well as fundraised $10,000, on behalf of children’s hospitals in Canada and in Africa. The runners were commemorating the 10th anniversary of a previous fundraising effort, and they hoped to expand the scope and reach of their efforts.

The runners belong to the Guru Gobind Singh Childrens Foundation, which did a fundraising run from Toronto to Ottawa 10 years ago. This years run is in honour of that effort, but on a much larger scale.

In addition to running legs of the race, the team had a van of supporters who provided nourishment and supplies. The runners were housed by Sikh families all across the country as they ran to Ontario, where the remainder of the relay was run by another team, in partnership.

Lack of Jobs In Punjab

Punjabs historical economic dominance is well known. We hear about it when studying The Raj and the years following it. However, we also know that Punjabs current economic position does not provide many new jobs for college graduates. Thus, these graduate are looking for jobs outside of Punjab-often in Western countries. Recently, there was a comparative study by the Economics Department at Punjabi University, Patiala to provide research data for these conclusions. This study revealed that Punjab is lagging behind for providing employment to its educated and skilled people in the last two decades.


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