Currently Browsing: Punjab
Latest Update on Sikhs and Dera SachKhand from the Punjab

My last post was about what we knew at that time. Since then, there are new updates.

After the attack in the Vienna temple (actually a dera of the Sach Khand group), there are news confirmations that Sant Rama Nand has passed away from his injuries, while the Dera head Niranjan Das is in stable condition.

There are also reports of violence in Punjab. IBN live reports the death of 2 people in the Doaba region and also one should note that it seems that the army has been called in to parts of Punjab.

One person was killed and four others were injured as Army jawans opened fire in Lambra village, 30 kms from Jalandhar. Another person was killed after the police opened fire on protesters at Jalandhar Cantonment railway station. [link]

In some ways I believe that this is a tragedy of the 80s and 90s.


More Sikh Art: mool mantar through oil paintings

Thematically Sikh paintings are rare. Thus, when I came across the paintings below, I thought I should share. The oil paintings below are the work of Jaswant Singh Zafar. He’s a poet, photographer, and painter in his free time and an engineer in Ludhiana by day. This year, he’s spending his free time creating a series of paintings under the theme of ‘Gurbani.’ The paintings completed thus far weave the mool mantar through various aspects of nature, shapes, and other backgrounds.

At the end of the year, the series will be in an exhibition at the Artmosphere Gallery in Ludhiana. Artmosphere was created to provide a platform for budding artists in Ludhiana and Punjab such as Jaswant Singh Zafar. Such an endeavor cheers me and gives hope that the visual arts scene there is growing.


I appreciate these paintings because they provide some insight into the art scene in Punjab- an example of what’s happening there. More works from this series can be found here.

Leaving Punjab on the Cancer Train

train.jpg“…the first troubling clues in the late 1980s and early ’90s: Peacocks – India’s national bird – disappeared from the fields.”

A recent story on NPR discussed the “cancer train” in Punjab. The train is so named as it routinely carries about 60 patients and their families from Bathinda to the town of Bikaner in order to get treatment at the government’s regional cancer center. Studies now suggest that populations with high use of pesticides have an increased risk of cancer. This seems to be the case in Punjab, where the introduction of the Green Revolution in the 1960s not only led to increased production of agriculture but also adverse health outcomes. The NPR piece discusses how villages that use pesticides were shown to have higher rates of cancer than villages that did not use pesticides.

On a recent evening, just before the train arrives, waiting passengers wrapped in shawls sit glumly on the bare pavement. Vendors hawk tea and chapattis. “He has blood cancer,” says one man, explaining his upcoming journey by gesturing at his skinny, pale 16-year-old son, Jassa Singh, beside him. Another man points toward his little boy, and says bone cancer has attacked his hip.

A gaunt but dignified-looking man wearing a bright yellow turban says he is going to Bikaner for treatment of cancer in his throat. “It’s difficult to talk,” he says, pushing a button in a device inserted in his throat that makes his voice sound like a computer synthesizer.

It is important to note, however, that as with many public health studies – an association between pesticide use and cancer does not necessarily suggest a causal link. Many people are hesitant to blame the Green Revolution and new technologies on the prevalence of cancer in Punjab. Neverthless, it seems clear that the correlation with the higher rates of cancer can not be understated and suggests that environmental factors could quite possibly be the cause.


From Peru to Punjab

gallery20.jpgAs someone who considers herself honorary Peruvian (it’s a long story) – I was especially proud when I heard about Operation Walk – an organization established by Harpal Singh Khanuja and his wife Maria Khanuja.The non-profit organization is dedicated to providing free knee and hip replacements tounderserved people around the world. The concept behind the organization was to perform complicated surgeries on people in developing countries, “where arthritis progresses to its end stages and reconstructing joints becomes technically challenging.” Often times, it is people who are most at need who cannot afford the surgery. A news article discussesOperation Walk’s recent trip to Lima, Peru where they performed 48 surgeries to replace knee and hipjoints. Here onTLH welike to highlight examples of seva – this is another important example of what it means to do selfless service,

“It was very rewarding to do this work for people and not expecting anything in return,” Harpal Singh said. “It’s really their gratitude that you cherish the most.”

Theorganization’s goal is to replicate the Peru mission to Panjab where the need is also great (some of which can be attributed to the chemical farming of the Green Revolution).


Silencing truth through rape; an inquiry of the Sikh struggle survives

Cynthia Mahmood, author of the groundbreaking work, “Fighting for Faith and Nation,” just published an incredibly personal and powerful account of her rape and assault, possibly by Indian police, in an attempt to silence her mahmood.jpganthropological work on Sikhs in Punjab in the early 1990s. Luckily for all of us, the rape did not accomplish its goal and instead seems to have fueled Ms. Mahmood’s fire. She courageously continued her work and has again shown courage in speaking publicly about such a deeply personal, and deeply difficult incident. Ms. Mahmood’s work has been incredibly important to revealing the human side of the violent Sikh movement for independence and the brutal suffering of Sikh civilians in Punjab during the 1980s and 1990s. Without her contribution, the movement for justice for 1984 and the following decade would not be where it is today. Through her rigorous scholarship and powerful writing, she exposed a side of the story of Punjab that otherwise perhaps would have been left uncovered. In addition to “Fighting for Faith and Nation,” she co-authored the also ground-breaking work, “Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency and Human Rights in Punjab.” I can’t emphasize enough how important her scholarship has been to the Sikh community. She’s a frequent speaker, commentator, and expert on Sikh separatism and human rights in Punjab.

I’m astounded and inspired. You must read the entire account, though I’ve copied a few passages below. Ms. Mahmood reveals herself to be resilient, committed to truth, and irrepressible in spirit.

During 1984, Ms. Mahmood was in India studying ancient Buddhism for her dissertation, “Rebellion and Response in Ancient India: Political Dynamics of the Hindu-Buddhist Tradition” when the struggle between Sikhs and the central government was constantly in the news. She travelled to Bihar in 1992 to study a tribal group, and in a north central Indian state, was discouraged- severely- by (possible) Hindu nationalists from studying the Sikhs of Punjab. The discouragement came in the form of a severe assault and a brutal gang-rape.

Her account of the rape is visceral and will leave you haunted.

Slash, slash, blood. I see the blood dripping, even in the dark. I smell my own blood over the smell of the rotten tangerines.

I cannot fight back, not against this. I should survive, only survive.

Oh! I hadn’t noticed. Black-shoe man is raping me. [link]


Protesters to Martyrs – Whither the Sikh Revolutionaries?

ramrahim.jpgNext month marks the two year anniversary since the Shahadat of Bhai Kamaljit Singh. It has been quite some time since I last blogged about Dehra Sacha Sauda and unfortunately maybe I am also guilty of only following the story as the Indian media does or does not.

It was at the end of 2007, when this blog was first starting out, when I wrote about the Sikh Successes of 2007 with the incident of the confrontation of Dehra Sacha Sauda as #1 on my list. This week, I read an interesting synthesis by two French graduate students Lionel Baixas et Charlne Simon. Lionel is completing his PhD in political science and is interested in democracy in South Asia, while Charlne is finishing her PhD in anthropology and has worked on issues related to the Ravidassia religious movement.

While I have commented on some of these issues, their recent article, titled From Protesters to Martyrs: How to Become a True Sikh re-evaluates the Dehra Sacha Sauda issue through interviews and fieldwork conducted last April in Punjab and Haryana. Their abstract is as follows:

This article studies the protest which started in Punjab in May 2007 following a ceremony performed by Baba Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh (GRRS), head of Dera Sacha Sauda, which was considered as blasphemous by a section of the Sikh community. The aim of this article is to understand the motivation of the actors of the protest itself: How did the Sikh protesters legitimate their reaction one year later? What kinds of reasons have led hundreds of Sikhs from very different social background to take the streets? What kind of emotions played a role in the Sikhs mobilization?


Feeling What We Remember

As we remember 1984 through concerts and acts of rebellion, let’s not forget the visceral spirit displayed by Singhs IN that time period.

Watch below the original version of a Punjabi kavita sung by Bhai Gursharan Singh during those turbulent times in Manji Sahib Hall located in the Darbar Sahib complex . This kavita captures the mood and spirit of those days. Tigerstyle later used it in one of their Shaheedi CDs to REMEMBER that spirit.

Intellectually, we can try to REMEMBER those days; but this kavita actually makes us FEEL how it was to live through that time.

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Has Punjabs Sex Ratio Improved?

Well, it seems like the sex ratio in Punjab is not improving despite the number of trees Mrs. Badal is planting and the SGPCs desire to raise unwanted girl children.

The Tribune

In 2001, the census of India recorded Punjabs sex ratio at 876 females for 1,000 males, one of the worst in the country. The preliminary findings of a Lucknow-based agency AMS engaged by the government to assess the current situation shows that sex-ratio in many districts of the state has plummeted further.

First, AMSs study has called out the Punjab governments bluff in data collection. Apparently, the data collected by Punjab government agencies painted an unbelievably rosy picture of the situation. The Social Security Department and Health Department have reported two different results. These results also do not match those of AMS.


Gurmat Gian Group: An Interview With One Of Its Members

Last week, I posted on the Gurmat Gian Groups performance of classical keertan. This all Sikh womens group, expect GGG_9.jpgfor a tabla player, is based in Ludhiana, Punjab. This week, I wanted to share a brief interview with one of its members, Keerat Kaur.

1. How did you come to join the Gurmat Gian Group? How long have you been with the group? How often does the group meet?
The Gurmat Gian Group was formed by my mother Gurpreet Kaur. My mother Gurpreet Kaur and myself used to do kirtan in the weekend gatherings of Gurmat Gian Missionary Trust. These programmes are held every Saturday and Sunday. Impressed with our singing, we were asked by the organizers and especially by Rana Inderjit Singh to train young boys and girls to do kirtan. Now Gurpreet Kaur takes regular classes at the Gurmat Gian Missionary College where many girls and boys of different age groups are learning kirtan.
Encouraged to go in to recording Gurabni Kirtan lead to the formation of Gurmat Gian Group which now has 5 CDs to its credit.


SGPC President: “Sikh religion doesn’t permit…jeans”

SGPC Chief Avtar Singh Makkar recently put forth the stunning idea that the Sikh religion doesn’t permit women to wear jeans. Apparently jeans, along with sleeveless shirts, “attract undue attention and distract others.” [link]

Avtar_singh_makkar.jpgThe background story:

…authorities in educational institutions run by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee are … advising girl students wearing jeans or sleeveless shirts to “go home and change”.

Though the gurdwara body does not have any written rule on the matter, its employees in schools and colleges across Punjab insist hip-hugging denims and bare female arms are too provocative and liable to distract male teachers and students. There have been many recent instances at Ludhiana’s highly-sought-after Guru Nanak Engineering College, where women students were turned out of classrooms and told to stay away unless they went home and changed into “more respectable attire”.

SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar actually acknowledges the unwritten rule. “We discourage girls from wearing anything other than the usual salwar kameez because Sikh religion doesn’t permit dresses like jeans, pants or other similar wear.” [link]

What’s wrong with his statement? So many things…only one of which isMakkar’s use of the Sikh religionto promote his personal viewpoint and ultimately, the failure in leadership it illustrates.


Fuss of a Sikh Calendar and Badal in 1984

1984_akal_takht.jpgIn time for the beginning of the Sikh New Year according to our own Nanakshahi calendar, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) has released its annual calendar. In this 25th year of remembering the events of 1984, it is a moment for Sikhs to reflect and take lesson as well as maybe something for India to reflect and takes lesson as well (hopefully not the so-called morally-bankrupt, heinous Punjab lesson.)

This years calendar includes a picture of the Akal Takht, bullet-ridden and tank-bombed, after the Battle of Amritsar. The call for SGPC recognition has been long overdue. Activists within the Sikh community have been calling for official recognition of the Third Sikh Genocide (Third Ghallughara) for years. Finally the SGPC has taken action.

Unfortunately, the SGPC does not act at the behest of the community, but only at the behest of Badal. In an election year, many are seeing the pictures inclusion as an attempt by the Akali Dal (Badal) to play upon Sikh public sentiments against the Congress Party in Punjab.


Happy Hola Mohalla and almost Sikh New Year!

I don’t know if it’s actually appropriate to say “Happy Hola Mohalla” or “Happy Sikh New Year”(doubt it) but these arethe awkward felicitations we’re going to have since we blog in English…

According to the Nanakshahi calendar (a solar calendar which begins on what’s understood to be the day of Guru Nanak’s birth in 1469), the new year is approaching. New Year’s Day falls on March 13th of the Gregorian (Western) calendar. And Hola Mohalla, which is celebrated according tothe Indian (lunar I think)calendar wascelebrated today (March 11) in Anandpur Sahib. Too many calendars.SV201100_2.JPG

I had the immense pleasure of going to a Hola Mohalla a fewyears ago and have to admit that it was thrilling. The roads leading to Anandpur Sahib were teeming with Sikhs from all over Punjab, and some from further parts of the country. Buses came fully loaded, as did tractors andtrucks with their backs open and passengers sitting inside, outside, and on top. Many people walked, some barefoot,from incredible distances. The roads were lined with sevadars serving langar to all the weary travellers- cha, samosay, cholay, pakoray! My mouth is watering at the memory… It was an amazing celebration and feeling of community. Gatka was fought, poetry was recited, and Holi revelers threw colors at anyonewithin range (such is the blend of celebrations in India… maybe everywhere for that matter).

Nihangs gathered to show off their weapons, athletic prowess and fighting techniques. Men of all ages- young and old-rode two horses at a time at full speed, standing up,(a few who had had too much bhang fell) down a long grassy field with the foothills that once gave their ancestorsrefuge frombattlein the backdrop. It was easy to imagine that it was 300 years agoand these Nihangs (except the ones who fell from too much bhang) were preparing for a real battle.

[some morepictures below the fold]


[The Times of India] needs a [NEW Columnist]

saiyar.jpgI have blogged about this issue before and since I find it so irritating, expect me to highlight them over and over. The most recent re-incarnation of the abuse of the Punjab Lesson comes from the always problematic Times of India. Swaminathan Aiyar, a libertarian columnist, in his Swaminomics has just written Pakistan needs a Beant Singh.

Decrying the truce reached by the Pakistani government and tribal forces in the Swat Valley, Aiyar sees parallels with India in the 1980s and specifically Punjab:

The Taliban’s rise in Pakistan has something in common with Bhindranwale’s rise in Punjab. A religious preacher, he sought to purge Sikhism of modern evils and return to pristine Sikhism. He was outraged by reformist Sikhs like the Nirankaris, and his followers killed many Nirankaris including the Nirankari Baba. [Emphasis added][link]

Nirkankaris were reformists? Claiming a living Guru that was greater than the Guru Granth Sahib and opening fire on protesting Sikhs in 1978 is reform? But I digress.


Dont Feel Sorry For Me, I Am The Daughter Of A Shaheed

As the 25th anniversary of 1984 approaches us, TLH posts have covered some activities commemorating this devastating time in our history.

My most vivid memories of “1984” are watching Indira Gandhis funeral on television and the border of photos inside my local Gurdwaras Langar Hall of the men who had been tortuously killed during the Khalistani movement. As I got older, I always wondered how Sikh women were impacted by these events, aside from the infamous photo of a widow crying with her child in her arms.

I read about a woman who was strongly involved in the Sikh student movement in Punjab but now lived on the East Coast (USA). At the Fremont Gurdwara, I remember the single picture of a woman who helped make the border of Shaheeds’ photos hung high in the Langar Hall. I recall the emotional testimonies of widows left deserted by our community and the Indian government in the film, Widow Colony. Most recently, I came across this poem, Dont Feel Sorry For Me, I Am The Daughter Of A Shaheed written by woman who lost her family in the 1984 riots in Delhi.


India’s Shoot-Out Cops


We recently posted on Ensaaf’s new report that studies the all too common practice of extra-judicial killings (usually referred to as ‘encounters’) and the mass cremations that followed by the Punjab police forces during the 1980s and 1990s. Well it looks like these practices were not limited to Punjab and these serious human rights violations are finally hitting the mainstream media.

This week, Time magazine writes about “Rights Groups Probe India’s Shoot-Out Cops“:

Scarcely a day passes in India by without news of an encounter between the police and criminals elements “encounter” being the local jargon for shootouts involving the police, who are allowed to fire only in self-defense. On Wednesday, it was a “dreaded mafia don” who was gunned down by the Uttar Pradesh police shot dead, and therefore unable to challenge the police account of the circumstances of the shooting. But some in India have begun to question the frequency of such “encounters”.


UN grades India’s freedom of religion for religious minorities

The UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief visited India last year and just released her reporton the country, highlighting, amoUN_LOGO_copy.jpgng other things 2 matters that are of specialconcern to Sikhs: (1) the situation of religious or belief minorities (generally) and (2) justice for victims and survivors of communal violence (including Operation Bluestar in particular).

This report will serve as a great tool for future advocacy and education campaigns, as the UN Special Rapporteur is by mandate,an independent entity (though also a diplomatic entity whose mandate is funded by the States she monitors, so of course there are limits to what can be said and done).The officeis also a widely respected authority, whose reports arepersuasive and create pressure in courts and government offices. Having official internationalsupport and recognition of issues that have long been a struggle for Sikh activists to legitimate (lack of accountability, lack of compensation) should advance the Sikh movement to hold accountable Indian government authorities identified as responsible for innocent civilian deaths. Between this report, and the recently released Ensaaf report, 2009 looks likeit’s going to be agood year for advancing accountability for crimes by Indian authoritiesagainst Sikhsin the 80s and 90s.


The Power of Toy Planes

Planes_In_Gurdwara.jpgStuck in Punjab? Want to go abroad? Just buy an airplane.

Not a real one of course, that would be silly. A toy plane will do. Buy one, donate it to a gurdwara and wait. All your vilaiti dreams will soon come true. If you think I’m pulling your leg, just ask the people at Tihan gurdwara near Jalandhar. They’ll tell you it works.

In the realm of “truth stranger than fiction”, here’s an absurd story that simultaneously highlights how desperate people are to move abroad and how fantastical they imagine living in the West to be.

Who are the smartest guys in this whole tragi-comedy? The guys who’ve set-up shop outside the gurdwara to sell, yep, toy airplanes.


She Was The Ticket To A Better Life


Pawandeep holds a framed photo of her sister. In the photo, Amandeep is wearing a pink salwar-kameez, a Punjabi dress. “She dreamed of a better life for herself and her family. All she wanted was to live happily with her husband and son like any other woman.”

I don’t even know where to begin with this story. The grisly facts of Amandeep Kaur Dhillon’s murder and her father-in-law’s arrest have been covered before, but this weekend, the Toronto Star’s Raveena Aulakh wrote a detailed story. You can read the full article here and it will break your heart, not just because of Amandeep Kaur’s tragic story, but because her story is all too common in our community.

Baldev Mutta knows the stories of immigrant women all too well.

The executive director of the Punjabi Community Health Centre in Brampton says hundreds of young Punjabi brides arrive in Canada every year. Many have arranged marriages. “They don’t know anyone, don’t have any support system and battle pressures most people can’t even imagine exist,” he said.

In the Punjabi culture, men are raised to be dominant while women are expected to be subservient. “The level of thinking of men in the Punjabi community leaves a lot to be desired,” said Mutta, a Punjabi himself. Mutta, who runs programs at four Sikh temples in Brampton, Rexdale, Malton and Oakville, and hosts a radio show, wishes he had been able to reach Amandeep.
Some women are so isolated that they are not allowed to have any communication even with their parents, said Kripa Sekhar, executive director of the South Asian Women’s Centre on Lansdowne Ave. in Toronto. “There are times when we get emails or phone calls from a woman’s family saying they haven’t heard from her ever since she came to Canada, can we check on her,” says Sekhar.

In some cases women, bruised and beaten, have been locked up in their homes, not allowed to make or receive any calls. “It’s a problem women face everywhere, but what is unique among South Asians is that we don’t acknowledge it or want to talk about it.”

We can deny it all we want but here’s the sad reality for many (not all) Punjabi families:

On Sikhs, Nukes, Pakistan, and India

india_house.jpgIn the previous post, I had summarized a Stratfor report on the strong possibility of an Indian strike on Pakistan. Some Sikh groups in the UK, recently, released a formal appeal asking the Indian government to remove Indian nukes from the Punjab territory. Additional copies were given to the Pakistani embassy as well as the UN Security Council through the French Embassy. These Sikh groups have correctly surmised that East Punjab’s geography places it on the frontline of any conflict between India and Pakistan.

While news of the appeal has been reported in some Sikh media outlets, it is interesting that the mainstream Pakistani press has also picked up the report. The influential English-language Dawn writes:

The Sikhs maintain that they are not a party to the Indo-Pak dispute and, as non-combatants in the event of a war between the nuclear rivals, their population centre and homeland should not face what military experts have said is the likely outcome – a theatre of war in Punjab which becomes a nuclear conflict causing horrific casualties on a massive scale.[link]


The Future of Panjab?

Bleak is all I can say!

Some posts require a soundtrack click on the following to play along as you read.

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Last week, Raja Parkash Badal crowned his son, the young prince, the new Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab. In a move unprecedented even in the nepotistic land that is India, Parkash Singh Badal coronated his son. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising in the land of five rivers, where Badal Senior had already elevated his family members to 5 of the top 18 cabinet seats.


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