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Update! Its Happening in the Bay

Tragedy falls upon our community again. Just two days ago, two Sikh men were killed in cold blood inside their Richmond, CA (Bay Area) Sahib restaurant. Paramjit and Ravinder Kalsi seemed to be well-liked recent immigrants in the East Bay community. Members of the Berkeley Sikh community may remember these brothers as the two use to repair apartments and do tile work in the area.

kalsi-brothers.jpgNewspapers quoting members of the El Sobrante Gurdwara sangat seem to indicate that these brothers were honest, hard-working, and well-liked. “They were totally pure guys, not in a fanatical way, just really hard-working,” friend Gurman Bal said. “They were very spiritual. They listened to Indian religious music, watched religious TV. They knew their path, and they stayed on it.”

At this point, police seem baffled by the murders. A Richmond Police Detective said, It does not look like a robbery. It looks like these two guys went in there to kill. That’s what worries me. Why?”

Another officer commented that the motive is completely unknown. Even veterans to law enforcement are puzzled by this. Based on the brothers lifestyle and the dynamics of how it went down, its very unique. Its also very disturbing.

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HIV/AIDS In Punjab and India: The Impact on Women

According to the World Health Organization at the end of 2005 there were 5.7 million adults and children living with HIV/AIDS in India with a population of approximately 1.1 billion. India is the second largest country behind South Africa with the highest number of HIV/AIDS patients. red-ribbon.thumbnail.jpgIn India, Mumbai is generally viewed as the Indian city with the most HIV/AIDS patients. However, the state of Punjab is not immune to the epidemic, even though the numbers are relatively small compared to major urban centers such as Mumbai. Numbers aside, the primary source of transmission of the HIV/AIDS within and outside of Punjab is heterosexual intercourse and intravenous drug use. Prof. Sehgal S. of the Department of Immunopathology, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh states, that 80.5% of HIV/AIDS patients contracted the virus heterosexually in Punjab, while Indias National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) believes that the bulk of HIV infections in India occur during unprotected heterosexual intercourse. Furthermore, the International Womens Health Coalition cites that one of the highest risk factors for women contracting HIV/AIDS is marriage with 4/5 of new infections in women resulting from having a sexual relationship with their husband. Hence, women, particularly, those in rural areas are one of the fastest growing populations of HIV/AIDS patients in India as well as other countries. A CBS News report states that for Dr. Solomon, 90% of female patients [at his AIDS hospital in Madras] are not prostitutes, but monogamous women who’ve contracted HIV from their husbands. Many of these women are like Periasamy Kousalya whose husband from an arranged marriage was a trucker. He had HIV before they got married.

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The Nightmarish Joke that is the Punjab Police

I just saw this post on Sepia Mutiny on Ruby Dhallas recent trip to Punjab. As previously blogged by Anandica, Dhalla, the Canadian MP of the Brampton, was there to attend the Punjabi NRI Sammelan. It seems one of her staffers had her bag snatched in the village Pohir. Dhalla was in the village to speak at the SDP College for Women. Encouraging women to reach for their dreams, she saw the nightmare that is the Punjab Police.

Their tender age didn’t stop Punjab police from thrashing them mercilessly,” the Times of London wrote. “The kids begged and pleaded for mercy but the cops didn’t relent: they kept raining blows on them.

punjab police.jpgAlthough this blog is still very young, I am sure future blogs will continue to impunity in which the Punjab Police functions. Earlier this week we read of the prison rebellion after the Punjab Police prison officials forcibly cut a Sikh inmates hair.

Although a popular joke in the Punjab, unfortunately it speaks of its realities.

The CIA, UKs Scotland Yard, and Punjab Police all try to prove that they are the best at apprehending criminals.

They decide to have a competition. A lion is released into a forest then the police agency will go out to capture it. The police agency that succeeds in the least time will be the winner.

The CIA goes first. They place animal informants throughout the forest. They question all plant and mineral witnesses. After 1 hour of extensive investigations they catch the lion.

Next it is the turn of Scotland Yard. Following tracks and examining changes in the foliage, they are able to capture the lion in 45 minutes.

Finally, it is the turn of the Punjab Police. Hours go by and the judges get no response. Deciding to check on the Punjab Police, the judges venture into the forest. There they see a donkey hung upside by its hind legs. A Punjab Police Officer (probably KPS Gill) is lashing the donkey with an iron rod, screaming Bol thu sher hai (Say/Admit you are a lion!).

Punjab NRI Conference

Economic development and investment opportunities in Punjab were discussed at the Punjab NRI Sammelan, in Chandigarh and Jalandar, on January 5th and 6th. This brings about an important topic of maintaining our heritage and the significance of NRIs giving back to their communities in Punjab. There was a time when NRIs were investing their money made overseas by going back to their village and building a big haveli with a huge artificial plane sticking out of the roof (so they, and everyone else, could see their house when flying over their village!). Thankfully something positive, and more meaningful, is being asked of Punjabis overseas. We are all fully aware of the lack of employment opportunities, education and healthcare and how these issues have created dire consequences of drug-use and alcohol abuse. The conference was attended by prominent NRIs including Dr. Ruby Dhalla, M.P. from Canada; Ms. Neena Gill, Member of EV Parliament in Brussels; and Mr. Varinder Sharma, former Major of London and Member of Parliament UK. The purpose of the conference was to present initiatives Punjab Chief Minister Badal, and his committee have created as improvements needed to increase the efficiency of Punjabs infrastructure. nri punjabi.jpgThe goal of this conference is to attract technical and financial investments from NRIs. The attendees were given the opportunity to voice their opinions of what they felt should be noted as additional initiatives concerning the NRIs continuing financial support in future projects. One such request has been validated with the creation of an eleven member Advisory Committee to preside over issues related to the welfare of NRIs investments.

During the conference a British NRI pledged Rs. 5 million for the renovation and upkeep of a state-run school in his village, which was met by an equal pledge from the Chief Minister. Hopefully this action will encourage other individuals to follow suit, especially considering Sikhi teaches us values to help others less fortunate than ourselves and strive to create equality amongst people. Education is a key element in creating a sense of pride back into our Punjab, and a little can go a long way. I applaud this conference and hope we will hear and see more positive consequences from it. There is the likelihood of some negativity, such as the incident of Deepak Obhrai, the highest-ranking Indo-Canadian in the present government, being ignored by the Punjabi government. He feels he was excluded due to being Hindu Punjabi and not Sikh Punjabi. This does not bode well for us, especially when the purpose of this conference is to gain support from ALL Punjabis, and that we should be striving for equality. Differences need to be put aside for the selfless purpose of improving Punjab and allowing the people of Punjab to reach their true potential. Hopefully that purpose will be achieved successfully, and we can finally make a difference.

Looking Beyond.

Guest Blogged by Mewa Singh

Fresno is home to one of the United States larger Sikh populations and the Fresno Bee is often the battleground for local Sikhs. Articles on Sikhs appear rather frequently so it is no surprise that this weekend had another (thanks Sundari).

The article details the life of a Gurdeep Sihota. Transparency in The Langar Hall calls for me to acknowledge that I have known Gurdeep for many years and she truly is a wonderful and remarkable woman. Most Sikh students at Fresno City College know Gurdeeps bright smile. The article states what many know: she goes out of her way for her students, even opening her home as a safe haven for those in need.

While some Langar-ites may focus on her personal life and decisions, I was hoping we could move this in another direction and spark a conversation on issues of the American media and even reflections within our Sikh community.

First off, I (and Gurdeep through a personal correspondence) have problems with the title. Gurdeep has found her spiritual peace choosing another path. Then why in the article still label her a Sikh? The story occurs often enough where a woman (or man) chooses to go against the status quo and create a life that is best for them. The individual is lauded for their bravery. However, should the rest of the community be demonized? In the article, Gurdeeps father encouraged her to pursue her degree, saying, Education is more important than anything. Things may not have turned out how her father may have planned, but his love for his daughter in the article is still apparent:

Her father said he’s proud of Sihota, but he wishes he saw her more often. “She comes once in a while, but mostly I call,” he said.

Still why through the title and through the general tone does the American media love to laud itself by pushing against others cultures and traditions? Are other cultures really like the Mafia?

My other question actually refers to the future in our community. While our parents generation may not be able to accept those that go against the status-quo (e.g. older unmarried men and women), is there still a place for these people within our community? Will our generation have less of a problem? At this point, unfortunately, I dont see positive signs in this direction. Will members of our community be shunned and be forced out if they dont fulfill what are considered norms? Does the stigma fall more on women than men? How large is the embrace of our arms?

Prisoners Rebel in Jalandhar in Defense of Sikhi

jail.jpgThis morning 1500 prisoners in a Jalandhar jail rebelled due to the attack by prison guards on the Sikh religious icons. Initial reports seem to indicate that the guards forcibly cut the hair of the Sikh inmate and others had prisoners had been pressured to cut their hair as well. The acting superintendent alleges that the cutting of the hair was a concocted story, but widespread abuse by the Punjab Police seems to give little credence to his comments. Such rebellions were common during the British Raj and it seems the zulm (injustice) continues.

The rebellion became violent as maltreatment, lack of justice, and deteriorating medical and food provisions had been grievances. BBC News has reported on the story and more reports seem to filtering in. More updates soon.

Womb for Sale

This article didnt sit well with me. While the author tries to maintain some sort of objective tone to voice the ambiguities, it all read as a surreal story of perverted neo-colonialism and dominant commodification.

womb.jpgThe NY Times author writes about the spread of a surrogate mother industry in India. Whereas surrogacy in America can cost upwards to $80,000, globalized outsourcing cuts the cost to a mere $5000 in India. This fast-growing $445-million-a-year business is extremely lucrative. However, I cant understand the ethics.

Listening to the NPR piece, the sense of entitlement the American Julie borders on the absurd. She languishes that American surrogates may be smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugsno one policing her in the sense that you dont know whats going on. For Julie she prefers India where surrogate women are stored in a clinic or one of the supervised homes, making it easier to monitor diet and health. This kind of control just wouldnt be possible in the States, says Julie.

The author believes that leasing wombs can be empowering. For individual women this may be the case when faced with abject poverty. Indias poverty is brutal. Thus I pass no judgment on the poor rural women. However I MUST condemn the institutional hierarchies and poverty that makes such global inequality possible. For me, there can be no hesitancy or ambiguity. Such practices occur because of the conditions that make people sell their kidneys in India. This only furthers the problem of commodification of women in that their womb is nothing more than a money-maker. Does this lead to greater violence towards women? The effects of the commodification of women have already been discussed on this young blog. Global inequality must be condemned in the strongest terms. There is no moral relativism. Where there is such disparate global inequality, we have global injustice.

Sikh Leaders and Speaking Up for the Sikh Identity

Recently I have read a few articles about instances where Sikh leaders have partaken in activities with various anti-Sikh groups, such as theRSSandDera Sacha Sauda.

In part, the controversies that have arisen are rooted in the questions of what role Sikh leader ought to play in the context of anti-Sikh propaganda.Should our leaders be attending functions organized by anti-Sikh groups? Should they boycott them? Many leaders have been seen supporting such organizations byhobnobbing with,accepting gifts from, and turning a blind eye to their activities.

Jathedar.jpg

Onerecent instanceof this is the Jathedar of the Akal Takht and others accepting pictures which expressly co-mingle Sikhi with Hinduism (with Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Sri Ram) at an RSS function. It may not seem like a big deal, but one of the RSS’s assertions is that Sikhs are derivatives of Hinduism and that the Guru’s are the descendants of the Hindu God Ram. I wonder if anyone else feels that our Jathedar’s acceptance of such a picture is a bit shady?As a Sikh I expect my leaders to stand up for Sikh beliefs and the Sikh identity – not accept memorabilia which dilutes my identity and depicts something that they sit on stages across the globe and negate.

As I write this post, I realize that some of you may be thinking that of the instance above does not amount to much, but I think it is illustrative of a much larger issue …if our leaders do not take a stand on something as simple as “Sikhi and Hinduism are not the same,” then where does that leave us as a Sikh nation? How are we to face other challenges to our identity in the West? What are our expectations of our leaders? And are there any avenues we can take to enact change?

Plot to murder father of bride for not enough dowry- foiled!

Veerharinder Singh and Pawanjot Kaur were married on November 1, 2001. Apparently this ill-fated relationship started off on the wrong foot.

Veerharinder had said he was a graduate owning gas stations. He turned out to be class 12 pass and an employee in a factory. Pawanjot was B.Sc medical.

Veerharinder then left for Surrey, abandoning his bride in Punjab.

Ranphool (Pawanjot’s father) claimed the man and his family were all good till they gave wrong information to the embassy that had rejected the papers of my daughter to emigrate to Canada.

As if abandoning the bride wasn’t enough: Veerharinder demanded 30 lakh (a mere $75,000!) for dowry, and his father was camped out in Punjab, waiting to receive this from Pawanjot’s family.

contract-killers.jpgPawanjot came to Canada on her own and stayed with her grandfather in Edmonton when Veerinder’s family rejected her. Then, the plot thickens… Veerharinder tried to teach his father-in-law a lesson for sending Pawanjot to Canada.

Police charges allege that the husband and his cousin hired a group of contract killers for 120,000 rupees (about $3,000) after the father of the bride could not raise the dowry for his daughter.

Luckily the killers were amateurs discussing their plan at a dhaba … where they were overheard and reported to the police.

Veerharinder, how do you face yourself in the mirror?

Top 5 Sikh Successes of 2007

Although this blog is new, I couldnt resist getting the in the countdown spirit with another useless list. Oh well, the end of the calendar year (although not the Nanakshahi Sikh calendar) gives us some time for thoughts and reflections. Here is my list of this years top 5 events that will influence 2008 and beyond.

05-khalsakids.gif5. Khalsa Kids The Sikh diaspora is coming of age and creating new tools for the community. It has been over ten years since the suicide of 13 year old Vijay Singh in the UK after being repeatedly bullied in school. Unfortunately the bullying of young Sikh boys tends to be the rule and not the exception. The Sikh Coalition released a harrowing report that showed 77.5% of Sikh boys surveyed in Queens reported being teased or harassed on account of their Sikh identity. However, the community is beginning to respond and it reveals a coming of age here in the US Sikh population.

A Sikh teacher, SriNam Singh Khalsa, recently published Break the Bully Cycle: Intervention Techniques and Activities to Create a Respectful School Community. This book provides strategies to enable school teachers and administrators in helping not only the victims of bullies, but also the bullies themselves. Another book, written by a Sikh high school student, Harkirat Singh Hansra, helps to give non-Sikhs, especially students, a basic understanding on Sikhi. Titled Liberty at Stake Sikhs: The Most Visible Yet Understood Minority in America provides a Sikh teenagers perspective of the world around him. Finally, perhaps the most innovative project was the Sikh Coalitions launch of its Khalsa Kids website. Fun, interactive, and professional the Sikh Coalition must be commended for creating a real tool that will serve Sikh communities throughout the world. That the Sikh community has a multi-faceted approach and is using its resources is a great success of 2007 that will set the bar for 2008 and beyond.

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Sikh Diaspora 2007: Year in Review

newyear.jpgAs we celebrate the New Year and look forward to what it holds in store for us (at the very least an election!), it is important to look back and remember what we have experienced as a community this past year. In celebration of the Sikh Diaspora and what it represents to us today, here is a look back at some of the global stories, books, films and websites that impacted our community in 2007.

  1. Young Sikh Men Get Haircuts, Annoying Their Elders. Its usually college-going students who are more worried about looking good than about their spiritual identity[It] releases a certain amount of pressure.
  2. A new website, Sikh Chic, discussing articles related to the art and culture of the Sikh Diaspora was launched. We need to re-think the Sikh idea in the North American idiom, in our language, in our way of articulating our thoughts.
  3. The Sikh clergy issues an edict directing the Sikh Sangat to snap all ties, including social, religious and political, with Baba Ram Rahim Gurmit, head, Dera Sacha Sauda, and its followers.
  4. Several books for and about Sikhs are published and discussed including Shame, Sacred Games, Sikhs in Britain, Londonstani, Sikhs Unlimited, I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion.
  5. A Sikh-Canadian group slams the long-standing immigration policy that forces people with the surname Singh or Kaur to change their last names. It was later noted that the immigration letter sent out was poorly worded.

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Bhutto Assassinated

bhutto.jpgThe news is ablaze; the blogs are on fire; Rawalpindi and Sind are burning. Former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated today at a political rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

While few Sikhs will shed any tears for Bhutto as she was personally responsible for the deaths of many Sikhs during the 1980s, the current crisis of the neighboring state cannot be ignored.

The ramifications for the global war on terror are yet unknown. In Pakistani circles, most believed that a Washington-brokered power-sharing agreement had been reached between General Musharraf and Bhutto. Despite the Generals declaration of martial law, Bhuttos criticisms had been muted. However her outcry became shriller as opposition within her political party called for her stronger support towards its beleaguered party members, who were coming under arrest and greater security scrutiny. In recent times the relationship (at least in the media) has soured.

The ramifications for Pakistani democracy may be severe. Many are speculating that Musharraf will use this event to postpone (perhaps indefinitely) the upcoming elections and further trample on any that oppose him.

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