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A costly error by the Ministry of Women and Child Development

renukha_chowdhury.jpgIndia’s Women and Child Development Minister, Renukha Chowdury recently unveiled an expensive initiative to combat sex selection in India.

India has launched a dramatic initiative to stop the widespread practice of poor families aborting female foetuses by offering cash incentives for them to give birth to the girls and then bring them up.

Families can expect to earn around £1,500 per girl under a government scheme announced this week.

In many parts of India, especially in remote and rural areas, male babies have long been the preferred child of expectant parents. Such is the perceived cost of marrying off a daughter and the contrasting anticipated benefits of having a male child that millions of daughters are often killed before they are born.

Unfortunately, the plan suffers from a giant blind spot. The economic incentives that are at the plan’s foundation assume that it is primarily families in poverty who abort female fetuses. The incentives offered ($3,000 over the course of 18 years) will only entice families who do not own multiple cars and take vacations to hill stations.


Follow up: A “Sensible” Religious Response to LGBT Sikhs

Earlier this week I blogged about how Queer/LGBT Sikhs have been (shamefully) excluded from the Sikh community by religious leaders. Today, I was sent the following blog post and BBC article about “marriages of convenience” for queer desis who feel they cannot come out, by virtue of their religious or ethnic identities (thanks, Jodha!). Balbir Singh, a leader in the Southall community comments:

“The whole family suffers. We are living in 2008 and it’s time they should come out to the parents… I’ve even heard that parents have died because of the shock of finding out about these pretend marriages. But for Asian gays and lesbians, the situation is very difficult.”


Towards a Queer ethos

Queer Sikhs are largely invisibilized in the greater Sikh community, although some are present within the U.S./Canada diaspora. Last month, the debate over the Sikh-perspective on GLBT unions bubbled up in Canada when a leader in the Vancouver community denounced homosexuality [link]:

“I hate homosexuality. Most Sikhs believe homosexuality is unnatural and you can’t produce kids through it. And, secondarily, no major religion allows it.”

This comment echoed an edict issued two years ago by Jathedar Akal Takht that Sikh [Canadian] MPs ought vote against a bill that would legalize civil unions for queer couples. When this conversation has come up (rarely, but a few times in recent years), the conventional wisdom is that Sikhi’s family-oriented mission and denunciation of kaam [lust] trumps its egalitarian sensibility and tips the scales against homosexuality and towards heteronormativity. Testimonials from out Sikhs are sometimes uplifting, but oftentimes heart-breaking.

SGGS Ji, unlike other religious scriptures, is entirely silent on this issue. Among those who decry homosexuality, the most common argument is that homosexuality is an indulgence, and that those who fall out of the straight-jacket should either marry straight or stay celibate. They are told to “overcome” their homosexuality because sex is solely for procreation.


Sikhi, Light, and Social Activism

Recently, when I was watching Shaheed Jaswant Singh Khalra’s speech that he gave at a Gurdwara in Toronto in 1995, I found his metaphor of Light and Darkness particularly inspirational for social activist. He said (English translation of Panjabi),

“There is a fable that when the Sun was setting for the first time, as it was completing its journey, light was decreasing and the signs of Darkness were appearing. jyot.gifIt is said, lamentation was rife amongst the people that the Sun will set, Darkness will spread, no one will be able to see anything, and what will happen to us? Everybody was worried, but the Sun set. In order to show its strength, Darkness set its foot on the earth, but it is said – far away, in some hut, one little Lamp lifted his head. It proclaimed, “I challenge the Darkness. If nothing else, then at least around myself, I will not let it settle. Around myself I will establish Light.” And it is said, watching that one Lamp, in other huts other Lamps arose. And the world was amazed that these Lamps stopped Darkness from expanding, so that people could see. I believe, today when Darkness is trying to overwhelm Truth with full strength, then if nothing else, self-respecting Panjab, like a Lamp, is challenging this Darkness. And I pray to the Guru, who identifies with Truth to keep this light lit.”

Even though Shaheed Jaswant Singh Khalra was talking about all those individuals who make-up Panjab and were fighting against the Darkness of the lies prepuatated by the Indian State and were trying to spread the Light of Truth about the murders during the 1980s and 1990s, I would like to extend this metaphor to talk about local and global social activism. As Shaheed Jaswant Singh Khalra said about the Lamp, “I challenge the Darkness. If nothing else, then at least around myself, I will not let it settle. Around myself I will establish Light.” I believe our activism needs to start locally … we need to start with spreading Light around our local communities and preventing Darkness from engulfing them. Too often I have seen activism begin globally, but have little effect locally because we fail to understand how global issues take a unique form in the local context. Therefore, with little knowledge of the local context we try to implement global solutions that mean very little and let Darkness spread. Don’t get me wrong, I think the global and local should constantly be in dialogue and inform each other, but solutions are based on local implementation. As we become more strategic and effective at local implementation, I think we can inspire more Lamps to spread the light around themselves and begin to build local activism into a larger global social movement with practical solutions.

Also, as Shaheed Jaswant Singh Khalra spoke about how one Lamp arose and inspired other Lamps to also arise, I began to think how social activism is a form of seva which makes it a crucial component of our spiritual journey as Sikhs. To some degree, I kept equating the Lamp and it’s Light to the Divine Light that resides in all of us. As Sikhs, our spiritual journey is based on seeing the Divine Light (jyot) of Truth in others and ourselves. It is this recognition that makes us act. We act to fight the Darkness (i.e. injustice) that engulfs and dims the Divine Light in people and ourselves. As we allow this process to take place, our individual and communal Divine Light becomes more visible, larger, and stronger in fighting Darkness (i.e. injustice).

What does everyone else think?

Farmer suicides continue…

A couple of years ago, in the farmer suicide capital of Punjab (Sangrur-Mansa belt), the first People’s Tribunal on farmers’ suicides took place, organized by the Human Rights Law Network and the Voluntary Health Association of Punjab. Word got out about the tribunal by word of mouth and women traveled to Lehragaga, Sangrur by bus and foot to have their stories heard and recorded.

farmer-suicides.jpgAs people from 10 villages spoke of how their families had witnessed double, even triple, suicides in a year, everyone knew of the havoc debt and unsustainable agricultural practice had wreaked on farmers in the state.

So they spoke fearlessly, revealing shocking details. National Samples Organisation data shows “whereas the average annual loan taken by farmers in India is Rs 13,000, the corresponding figure for Punjab is Rs 40,000.” It also shows that around 40 per cent Indian farmers want to quit farming due to the cost it involves.

Why are farmers in such debt? Agriculture is no longer the profitable livelihood it once was, yet many do not have the skills or education to turn to other forms of livelihood.


Bruised Body, Mourning Mind, Soaring Spirit

Some readers to this blog may be aware of the great work done by Ensaaf in advocating for human rights. Jaskaran Kaur, Sukhman Dhami, Jasmine Marwaha and the rest of their team deserve the community’s praise for their tireless work advocating for justice in Punjab and beyond. They are among a number of fearless warriors in our community including HS Phulka, Jaspal Singh Dhillon, and the late great Jaswant Singh Khalra.

torture.gifHowever, in addition to their tireless efforts, they should be praised for bringing greater awareness to the wider community about the injustices perpetrated upon the Sikhs by the Indian State. One such example is in the latest edition of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

A team of researchers, including Dr. Andrew Rasmussen of New York University School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital, Dr. Barry Rosenfeld, Kim Reeves, and Allen S. Keller, secretly entered Punjab to conduct their research on Sikh torture victims. Evading the Indian Government’s efforts at censorship, the research team, invited by Ensaaf, documented the trauma suffered by these victims of state violence.

The article titled “The Effects of Torture-Related Injuries on Long-Term Psychological Distress in a Punjabi Sikh Sample” sheds light on the psychological ramifications of torture. The findings of the study are those typical of a scientific journal.


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