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Making money not love

Guest blogged by Jaspreet Kaur

There has recently been a lot of stir in the Sikh community about the GAP’s new “Make Love” holiday campaign. The Gap used Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh actor and designer, as a model for one of their promotional pictures. The response from the Sikh and non Sikh community was mixed and social media started buzzing with reactions to the image. A large add of this picture in New York City was recently vandalised and the Gap immediately responded by changing their twitter background to the image. Once again, the Sikh community responded, this time with more positive comments and support for the Gap.

What seems to have been forgotten in all this commotion is that the Gap is a multinational corporation that is only about their bottom line. They are about making money, not love. Their primary interest is to sell a product and by claiming to capture and commodify love, they are selling clothes. While the Gap is being praised for their quick response time and progressive thinking what is dismissed is the understanding that by the time a corporation uses an idea, it is no longer revolutionary. Gap would not have used a Sikh model if it hurt their bottom line. It is already acceptable and that is why the Gap can profit from displaying a turban and beard.

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Prayers for Boston & for an End to Racist Backlash

As you have probably heard by now, Boston is reeling in the aftermath of a few explosions near the Boston marathon this afternoon. Two people bostonhave been killed and dozens injured and being treated at local hospitals. I’ve been texting, calling, and checking up on friends in the area all afternoon. We are all shook up and confused by what is happening, searching for answers or explanations for something so hard to comprehend (though something commonplace in other parts of the world like Pakistan, where 4 were killed by a US drone yesterday, and Iraq, where over 50 were killed in a bombing today). Very little is yet known about who did this and why, but of course, the mass media are already making lots of unsubstantiated claims, while accusations and assumptions are spreading quickly on Twitter and Facebook.

As something as horrifying as this afternoon in Boston is literally unfolding, as we are worrying about loved ones who may be affected, we already have to worry about the consequences of backlash violence. We have to worry about the sensationalism in the media. We have to worry about being attacked because of the color of skins, the turbans or hijabs on our heads, the beards on our faces. I pray that people in the United States and beyond have learned something in the last 11 and a half years. I pray that the collective response to today will be drastically different from the knee-jerk racism that pervaded the days, weeks, months, and years after 9/11/01.

But honestly, I’m not so sure how hopeful I am.

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“Sadda Haq” and the role of the government and media

Guest Blogged by: JSD

saddahaqToday, the government of India has once again proved why it’s claim to being the world’s largest democracy is laughable. Not to mention the media in India, which claims to be fair and democratic in nature, however, this is simply not the case. India’s media is clearly state run and its news outlets make stories that create divides within communities. Why am I saying all this?

Sadda Haq is a fictional movie based on real events surrounding the militancy era in Punjab during the 1980s and 1990s. Showing accounts of “false encounters” and police brutality, the movie aims to show why average citizens were forced to take up arms against the oppressive regime. The movie was set to release worldwide today on April 5, 2013. Although the Indian Government can’t ban the movie worldwide, the Punjab government did manage to ban the movie in Punjab and other parts of India in just a few hours prior to its opening after the movie was privately screened to Punjab Police members and state government officials.

These officials who watched the private screening included the likes of DGP Sumedh Saini. Interestingly enough, the ban comes from the Punjab government run by Parkash Badal of the Akali Party, a party that is supposed to represent Sikh interests, but at the same time has promoted Saini to the ranks of DGP(Deputy General of Police) even after countless human rights claims exist against him for his participation in the post 1984 Punjab genocide of Sikh youth.

Over the past few days the Indian news outlets have been talking about Sadda Haq being a controversial film promoting Khalistan. It is no doubt that Sadda Haq discusses the militancy era, but its aim is to show the truth that has been pushed under the rug by the government and media.

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Fauja Singh to Run His Last Marathon At Age of 101

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We love Sardar Fauja Singh.  We really, really do.

On Sunday, Fauja Singh will run his final race in Hong Kong at the tender age of 101.  Jezebel recently covered Fauja Singh in a piece about  women’s rights, and just today Jordan Conn wrote a compendious and inspiring article for Outside The Lines on ESPN about Fauja Singh’s life and the “missing” Guinness Book of World Records title.  This article, along with stunning photographs, spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter today – reminding us just how much the world loves Fauja Singh and what he represents.

On the first day of training, Fauja arrived limber and energetic and dressed, as he believed was perfectly appropriate, in a dazzling three-piece suit. Harmander told him he needed a wardrobe change. After adamant protests, Fauja relented, ditched the suit and bought running gear. He showed up every day after that, building his routine around his training schedule. His mileage increased as the weeks passed. Race day arrived. After 6 hours and 54 minutes, 4:48 behind winner Antonio Pinto, Fauja crossed the finish line. At age 89, he was a marathoner. Soon, he would be a star.

We will be wishing you well on Sunday, Fauja Ji!  Thank you for continuing to be such an activist and a positive soul and for reminding us of the importance of health and happiness.

– The Langar Hall

 

A Positive Spin: Celebrating Gurpreet Singh Sarin on American Idol

Guest blogged by Simran Jeet Singh

Last week, people around the world watched a Sikh with a turban and beard – Gurpreet Singh Sarin – charm the judges on the iconic television show, American Idol. The show’s judges and producers played up his nickname, the Turbanator, and almost immediately, #Turbanator began trending nationwide on Twitter. As is often the case, however, the ugly face of bigotry reared its ugly head and reminded us all of the problems faced by Sikhs around the country. Countless Americans equated the contestant’s turban and beard with terrorism, and #Osama also began trending across the country.

Gurpreet has little control over how the producers of American Idol choose to project his image. Yet he has done an incredible job of working within the system to create positive change, and his breakthrough performance is something from which we will all benefit for years to come. More importantly, we as a community cannot learn how to build our image in greater America if we do not see Sikhs experiment within mainstream media and learn from those experiences. Certainly there were moments on the show that could have been improved, and while it is important to recognize and build upon these for the future, it is also important for us to take this moment to enjoy this unprecedented moment in our community’s history.

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The Turban(ator) Goes Mainstream

(Disclaimer: I’ve never watched American Idol before. It’s true.)

Most of you are probably already well aware that a young Sikh named Gurpreet Singh Sarin appeared on American Idol last night and made it through the first hurdle. In case you missed it, here is the clip from his audition in front of the judges.

Like most of you, I’ve been barraged with posts on Facebook and Twitter about Gurpreet’s success on the show last night, mostly expressing excitement and support for the self-proclaimed “Turbanator.” The vibe I’m getting from all the posts I’m seeing from Sikhs is that this big moment for Gurpreet is a big moment for the Sikh community in the US, perhaps an opportunity for some positive representation in popular culture. The Sikh Coalition and SALDEF have tweeted congratulations to Gurpreet as well, and the overall sentiment appears celebratory.

I share some of this excitement, or at least fascination, but the whole thing is also making me cringe a bit. I don’t want to unnecessarily rain on this parade because I do think it is an interesting moment and opportunity. I also think Gurpreet is a solid singer and did a great job at handling what must have been an uncomfortable situation on many levels.

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SIKLIGAR: The Weapon Makers of the Khalsa Army

As a community, we have an incredibly rich history and yet we often know so little about it. The first time I learned about the Sikligar community was after watching Mandeep Sethi’s documentary at a local film festival, about this community of Sikhs known to be the weapon makers of the Khalsa army.Unfortunately, very little is known about the Sikligars by those living both within and outside of India and Mandeep’s film will be a first glimpse into the community for many. The Sikligars are found across India – displaced through years of colonization and government oppression. It is known that the community was given the name Sikligar by the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji and yet even this honor has not prevented the community from struggling – Sikligars now live in extreme poverty in the slums of Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra. There are alsoencampmentsin Punjab. Although this community has been largelyilliteratefor the last 300 years (focusing on their trade and thus livelihood), the Sikligars are beginning to empower themselves through different means such as education.For the first time, the full length documentary is available online! Over the past few months, I’ve joined Mandeep at several film screenings of his documentary and I’ve asked him some questions about SIKLIGAR which you can find after the jump.

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Be Proud?

Guest blogged by Nina Chanpreet Kaur

August 5th, 2012. 1:33pm. A text message from my best friend: “hostage situation at sikh temple in wisconsin. on al jazeera right now.” We pulled over and exchanged glances, holding our breath it wasnt an attack perpetrated by someone within the Sikh community. Earlier that morning we rowed in unison, kayaking down the Hudson. Her voice coaching my every movement. Later, riding side by side, we biked to the tennis courts. The wind blowing in our faces and trailing behind our backs, sheer joy and pleasure breezed through me. We had been riding our bikes home when we pulled over. After we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, I went to hit some tennis balls. The news hadnt yet sunk in. Once home, my entire being collapsed. I couldnt avoid the flood of emails, messages and calls. I kept replaying the last few hours. The extreme contrast of the deep pleasure of my morning and the tragedy of Oak Creek felt like some sort of betrayal.

As the shock lifted and the news sunk in, I laid my forehead against the naked floor of my Manhattan apartment and wept. I wept for children, little bare feet hitting cement pavement running for safety. I wept for women crammed into a closet, gunshots threatening to penetrate their bodies. I wept for the pain of separation. I wanted to be there, I wanted to hold each of the bleeding victims in my arms. I wanted to sit next to Wade Michael Page. Make him stop. Have a conversation, maybe a cup of tea. I wept for the memories of the safe gurdwara that cradled me with kirtan as a child. Such a place no longer existed.

News from Wisconsin consumed me. Guilt. Grief. Why wasnt I there? How does the universe exist in such extremes? At sunset, I picked myself up and started to write. I wrote emails. Long emails. I asked for a vigil. I planned a vigil. I wrote poems. I published them. I lost my appetite and any desire to eat, sleep or cook. I stayed awake through the night to organize. There was no such thing as comfort or rest for me in the weeks following Oak Creek. Heartbroken, the sadness cut through my very center. Organizing was my only way out.

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Two Muslims attacked in one week by bigots (and the media)

Last week, two separate brutal attacks against Muslim men took place in Queens, New York. On November 24th, 72-year-old Ali Akmal was nearly beaten to death while going on his early morning walk and remains in critical, but stable, condition.

CBS New York reports:

Akmals tongue was so badly swollen that he couldnt talk for two days. When he finally could, he told police that when he first encountered the two men, they asked him, are you Muslim or Hindu?

He responded Im Muslim, and thats when they attacked.

The beating was so savage and personal, Akmal was even bitten on the nose.

Just a few days earlier, 57-year-old Bashir Ahmad was beaten and stabbed repeatedly as he entered a mosque in Flushing, Queens early in the morning on November 19th. The attacker yelled anti-Muslim slurs at him, threatened to kill him, and also bit him on the nose. Ahmad was hospitalized and received staples in his head and stitches in his leg.

These vicious attacks come just a few months after the white supremacist rampage that left six Sikhs dead in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August, followed by a string of at least 10 separate anti-Muslim attacks around the country in the two weeks that followed. And just over a year after the elderly Sikh men Gurmej Atwal and Surinder Singh were shot and killed on their evening walk in Elk Grove, California.

Needless to say, I was horrified last week when I heard about the attack on Ahmad and am even more horrified today after learning about Akmal, a grandfather, nearly being killed in this act of violent hatred a few days later. The trauma of the Oak Creek shooting is still fresh for us Sikhs in, and there is little doubt that these recent attacks on Muslim men in Queens are rooted in the same type of bigotry that has so often made Sikhs targets since 9/11. As Ive said before, our struggles are deeply connected.

The way I heard about the attack on Ahmad last week, though, was almost as troubling as the attack itself. I read this headline on NBC New Yorks website: Queens Mosque Stabbing Victim Says Hed Retaliate if Given Chance.

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Turbans on the Runway: What does it mean for Sikhs?

By now, you have surely been inundated with Facebook posts and discussions expressing excitement, amazement, or maybe skepticism about French designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s recent showcase of (non-Sikh) models wearing colorful “Sikh-style” turbans.

Gaultier has a thing for India, it seems. According to a recent news article, “The designer is known to visit the country quite often and owns a vast library of intensely coloured textile swatches here since his first visit to Kolkata in West Bengal and Puri in Orissa, in the 1970s.” In a recent interview, Gaultier said, “In every collection I have done, there is always an Indian inspiration.”

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been fascinated by the buzz about the turbaned models in Sikh circles and have been trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it and if I have anything useful to contribute to the conversation. I can’t promise this will be useful, but here are some thoughts and questions that have been swirling around in my head lately.

First, there is obviously a lot of excitement about this in the Sikh community. And perhaps with good reason. So rarely are we Sikhs represented positively (if at all) in popular culture in the United States (or in India) that even non-Sikh models wearing paghs on the runway seems like a milestone. So often are our turbans the target of discrimination, profiling, and violence that seeing turbans portrayed as aesthetic objects of high fashion feels like redemption.

We Sikh men are not used to being seen as attractive or desirable through the lens of mass media. In Bollywood we are buffoons, in Hollywood we are nonexistent, save the English Patient and the occasional shoutout Waris Ahluwalia gets in the press. So yes, there is something amazing about seeing these models rocking turbans like they are the hottest accessories imaginable, when we, for so long, have received little to no positive reinforcement from the mainstream.

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Challenging Misinformation about Sikhi on BBC Radio

Guest blogged by Naujawani Sardar

bbcAsianNetwork.jpgSikhs in the UK celebrated a victory of sorts today with the news that the national broadcaster, the BBC, ‘regretted’ comments made by a presenter on their digital radio station, the BBC Asian Network. On 13 March, DJ Nihal Arthanayake had suggested on his daily call-in show that Sikhi was “made up from other religions i.e. Islam and Hinduism” [see related article]. When corrected by a listener who texted in to challenge the presenter’s comments, Nihal showed shocking arrogance in asserting that he himself was correct and replied that he knew “more about your religion than you do”. But today’s news is only a victory of sorts with Lord Inderjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations describing it as “not a very good sorry” and in this writer’s humble opinion, a mere bone to keep us from tackling the real problem.

The daily call-in show on the BBC Asian Network has been steadily gaining in notoriety over the last 18 months fuelled largely by an increasing move towards discussions that court controversy. From 1pm-3pm, Monday to Friday, listeners tune in to hear the presenter, callers and occasionally guests debate a topical issue that is usually relating to a section of the South Asian community, followed by a sparse selection of music and further, more light-hearted discussion. Sometimes the initial debates have been incredibly engaging and informative, on other occasions they are needlessly provocative and disparaging.

In recent months, I have been called upon as a contributor to the show a handful of times, speaking live on air as a Sikh voice and I have publicly commended the production team of the show on two separate occasions for talking about challenging issues that are otherwise ignored by mainstream media. Following a discussion show about the recent Immortal Productions release ‘Jaago’ , a show to which I contributed by a pre-arranged telephone call, I took to Twitter to voice how fair I thought the production team had been in allowing Sikhs such as myself to make our voices heard about the rife corruption, inequality and poverty prevalent in the Indian State of Punjab over the last sixty years. Having been in Sikh political circles for over two decades now, I was unsurprised by the immediate level of hate I received from fellow Sikhs for being seen to ‘support’ Nihal and the BBC Asian Network on that occasion, but it did make me realise that Nihal in particular seemed to be drawing much of the ire. Whilst this is to some extent deserved, it would be foolish to reason that replacing the presenter might provide scope to change direction. But this is a difficult reality to impart upon a very unforgiving Sikh diaspora. I made the mistake of trying to explain to a young Sikh female on Facebook that a presenter of a call-in show usually acts in accordance with the briefing given to them by the production team, who in-turn are loosely guided by the direction given to them from the station controller or management, and that if she did have any complaints here they ought best be directed towards the BBC as well as the individual. She proceeded to reply that I must be a blind fan of Nihal’s and was planning on giving him a siropa. Oh the joys of ‘debating’ on social media(!)

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Raising Kaurs
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Source: Miss Representation (click to enlarge)

Today is International Women’s Day and while our attention often (and rightfully) focuses on ways to improve the lives of women and children living across the globe, it should also be a time to reflect on ways we can positively influence the lives of young girls growing up all around us.

As the Masito an amazing seven-year-old girl, it’s been on my mind how important these formative years are for ensuring that my niece feels confident in who she is. I recently watched a documentary called Miss Representation (click here to see the trailer) which discusses the role the media plays in being both the message and messenger in the portrayal of young girls and women – one that is often negative. Quite honestly, the documentary scared me – how can we control what messages young men and women receive? American teenagers get approximately 10 hours of media consumption a day – that’s an awful lot of messages that they need to digest and make sense of. As one expert notes in the film, “little boys and little girls, when they’re seven years old, in equal number want to be President of the United States when they grow up. But then you ask the same question when they’re fifteen and you see this massive gap emerging.” The film includesfootage from a focus group of teenagers discussing media and the consequences. They speak of their low self-esteem, their anxieties, their sheer anger and frustration. I’m not even a mother and yet i worry.

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A review of Sikh history comics from sikhcomics.com
Cover of "Guru Tegh Bahadur: The Ninth Guru of the Sikhs" (photo: sikhcomics.com)

Cover of "Guru Tegh Bahadur: The Ninth Guru of the Sikhs" (photo: sikhcomics.com)

Let me first take the opportunity to thank the bloggers of TLH for welcoming me to this blog. A few might recognize me from americanturban.com, and I’m excited about the opportunity to engage with the audience on this blog in discussing many of the issues we face as a community, and particularly in the United States.

Most of my early education in Sikh history came from comic books, namely those published by Amar Chitra Katha, based in India. My father purchased every title related to Sikhism that was released by this company — covering the stories of the Sikh Gurus to those of Sikh legends and heroes — and I loved reading and re-reading these comic books until I knew the stories by heart.

It was a great introduction to Sikhism that captured my imagination. As I got older, I moved on from these comics to literary works on Sikh history that filled my growing mind with more knowledge and detail.

I started reading those comic books almost 30 years ago (I’m astounded as I write that number), and I’ve recently come across a new effort to bring such Sikh stories to today’s young audiences.

Gyan Khand Media has recently begun producing a new set of Sikh-based comic books. While now based in India, author Daljeet Singh Sidhu saw the opportunity for such a comic book after living in the west:

When Daljeet Singh Sidhu wanted to introduce his three-year-old son to Sikh heroes and history, he was not at a loss of words. But what he did not have, was a story that his boy could see, feel and later read. Thats when it struck Sidhu; that Sikh history has many heroes, but no graphics. So after 12 years in the US, he packed his bags and moved back to India to chronicle Sikh history, its great gurus and warriors and present them in the comics format. Thats how www.sikhcomics.com, a Sikh comics project, was born.

Gyan Khand Media has currently published three titles covering the stories of Baba Deep Singh, Guru Tegh Bahadur, and the Battle of Saragarhi. Many more are planned, and I had the opportunity to download and read the first two titles using Amazon’s Kindle app on my mobile device.

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CENSORED: Take Action to Protect Internet Freedom

As you may have noticed, today is a national day of action to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act, two bills being decided on in US Congress right now. Tons of sites, including Wikipedia, are on a 24-hour blackout to protest the bills and urge action.

Needless to say, we at The Langar Hall are deeply concerned about this threat to online freedom and encourage our readers to take action and spread the word.

A Sikh Minstrel Show? YouTube Preview Image

This video from the popular South Indian television show Adhurs Ultimate Talent Show has gone viral in the last couple of days. In it, the so-called Warriors of Goja, a group of Sikh men “performing” with a giant Khanda as their backdrop and upbeat bhangra music as their soundtrack, win a cash prize of 300,000 rupees for their efforts.

There is much to say about this video, how it reflects upon our community, and how it fits nicely into the Indian media’s representation of Sikhs. Others have written about Sikhs and Bollywood, and I am not going to do a thorough analysis or history here. But what is painfully clear to me is that this “performance” of chest-beating (literally), hypermasculine Sardars acting like a bunch of baffoons as they pound themselves into bloodiness is simply a more blatant, egregious version of how Indian popular culture has represented Sikhs for as long as most of us can remember.

What does the viewer take away from this video? What does the average Indian (and non-Indian now that the video is going viral) learn about Sikhs as they see this group of men, proudly wearing their turbans and very deliberately representing their Sikh identity through their performance, smash each other with sledge hammers and run over each other with cars and motorcycles? Is this the kind of Sikh bravery and courage we want to show the world? Is this Guru Gobind Singh’s legacy? Or is this a bunch of clowns trying to make a quick buck and get their five minutes of fame by perpetuating stereotypes about Sikhs being violent and blood-thirsty on the one hand, and idiotic buffoons on the other.

Stereotypes sell, don’t they?

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Help UNITED SIKHS Win!

Seems to be a rather slow week for me and the fellow langa(w)riters. Maybe we’re at #occupywallstreet, or preparing for Fauja Singh’s appearance at SikhLens this weekend in Los Angeles, or who knows what else we’re doing. Still one thing we all made sure to do is vote for United Sikhs in the Chase Community Giving. As of my posting, they are currently #2. Can’t help but think that the competition has gotten considerably less over the last few years as the money has increased. Other Sikh orgs (read: ENSAAF), where you at!!

Regardless, vote NOW. You have to “like” Chase Community Giving. Many of you probably already have done it from the Jakara Movement’s win back in 2009. So now just go back and keep on voting. Let’s help push United Sikhs to the win. VOTE NOW! The competition ends on November 22, 2011. Let’s push United Sikhs to first place!

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A Glimpse Inside the Darbar Sahib and the Role of Women

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This video, part of a longer version produced for the Discovery Channel, invites viewers inside the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar [via Gurumustuk Singh]. It’s a rare opportunity to see some remarkable moments inside the complex and apparently this is the first time it has been televised. I believe it was recently shown in India and will be shown worldwide soon.

Some thoughts after the jump…

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Article of Faith: A Portrait of a Sikh-American Activist

When I met Sonny, I felt that his story demanded to be told. I was moved by his willingness to share difficult stories about how racism, xenophobia, and islamophobia impact him in a very daily and intimate ways. But more importantly, I was inspired by how he had turned this hardship into a motivation to fight for social justice for all people. I was welcomed with incredible warmth, and inspired by the Sikh traditions seeing the divine in all people, and fighting for equality.-Christina Antonakos-Wallace, Producer and Director of Article of Faith

To continue a discussion about bullying and bias-based harassment that seems to be appearing both here on The Langar Hall and also within langar halls across the nation, we wanted to take the time to highlight an inspiring documentary which discusses this very issue. Article of Faith is a short film, directed and produced by Christina Antonakos-Wallace, portraying one Sikh activist, Sonny Singh, who organizes New York City Sikh youth to combat harassment in their schools. Sonny shares his own, very personal experience with bullying recognizing how incredibly important it is for us to openly dialogue about these issues, so that other children who are experience similar challenges do not feel like they are alone.

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Sikh runner featured in NYC marathon: Cast your vote!

Following in the footsteps of great Sikh marathon runners like Fauja Singh, a young Sikh Ph.D. student named Simran Singh is currently training to run the largest marathon in the world — the New York City Marathon. And he’s running for a good cause. Simran is working with Team in Training and raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This is probably blogworthy in and of itself, but here’s what is extra exciting: Simran was selected by the NYC Marathon as one of just six featured runners this year!

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Simran is already representing our community well in the public spotlight as one of the featured runners, but we can all help him get selected as the grand prize winner, meaning more positive representation and mainstream media attention for a turban-wearing Sikh. Hopefully Simran’s presence will help break down stereotypes and barriers (not to mention support cancer research).

Here’s what we can do to support Simran: Go to the ING Featured Runner’s Page, click “View Featured Runners,” and then you can vote for Simran once a day until the contest ends on November 4th. The runner with the most votes wins.

Good luck Simran!

Democracy Now Features Sikh Voices

The daily news program Democracy Now has long been a trusted source of information and analysis for progressives in the US and around the world. Their coverage of the attacks of 9/11/01 and the aftermath has been crucial for so many of us. You can check out an impressive and thorough timeline of their post-9/11 coverage here.

On today’s broadcast, Democracy Now correspondent Jaisal Noor highlighted the plight of the Sikh American community after 9/11, which you can see below.

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