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Domestic Violence In Elderly Couples

A couple of months ago, maybe it was many weeks, I saw on the TV show, “Cops” with utter disgust a Bapuji and Biji, being a form of “entertainment” for a domestic violence assault. Along with my disgust, anger, and sorrow I had a “well yea it happens … you think it’s that shocking” attitude. I wasn’t “shaken” or “shocked” by the show because I knew this story was a reflection of what happens in many Punjabi Sikh homes in America. The only “shock” I had was that it was an elderly couple whose situation I was seeing aired on television. As the Bibiji cried and the camera focused on the knife and their small-living quarters (I think it was a labor camp in the Central Valley in California), while Bapuji was drunk, his hair and/or parnaa (i.e. casual turban) all ruffled, and handcuffed, I thought this never ends … it’s not just an issue affecting young or mid-age couples, but also older ones too … you never just “grow-out” of it and become “sayanna” (i.e. wise). I also thought about them living at what looked like a labor camp and how hard they must work, probably after many years in Punjab, to better their economic lives for themselves and/or their children. Then I thought … Bapuji will come back home and probably do the samehand.jpg thing again … what if Bibiji needs to leave him, permanently or just for a while, but has no family in the United States are close to the Central Valley where she may be working… where will she go? Plus, just the utter embarrassment she may feel because in their “budhaphaa” (i.e. older age) they are still facing this issue and she has to ask for help.

I’m wondering what anti-domestic violence advocacy campaigns and shelters are doing to address the issues faced by elderly women. The advocacy and services they offer save lives and offer hope to help women escape a cycle of violence. It think they tend to be geared more towards meeting the needs of younger women and their children. They may not explicitly state that or have policies restricting elderly women from receiving their much-needed services, but I have a feeling younger women frequent them more often not because more younger women may face the issue of domestic violence or live in the Diaspora. I think it’s because elderly women may just be more hesitant to reach out for their services at their age. I wonder what services these women’s organizations have to meet the needs of elderly South Asian, specifically Punjabi Sikh, women who are primarily of immigrant background? The circumstances of elderly Punjabi Sikh women are similar but also very different compared to those who are younger. Factors leading to these differences range from length of marriage to having grandchildren as well as son and daughter-in-laws. The reasons and circumstances for immigration may be different as well. Some elderly couples immigrate, at times, to help build an economic base and U.S. residency status to resettle their single and married children back in Punjab. Others immigrate after being sponsored by their U.S.-based children and work to add to the family-income.

Any ideas about domestic abuse in South Asian elderly couples, specifically those of Punjabi Sikh background? How about available resources?

Santa Singh and the Khalsa Tree

guru-gobind-singh.jpgThis time of the year always makes me wonder how children in our community perceive Christmas. As a child I don’t remember having a Christmas tree in my house or any talk about Santa Claus coming with gifts (maybe my parents wanted to “keep it real” for me!). However, now that I have a niece and nephew, I do wonder how to create a sense of celebration for them so they don’t feel isolated from their non-Sikh friends. New Year’s day has always held more significance for me, and our family tradition is starting the year with a sense of peace and renewal by attending the Gurdwara.

Family friends of ours in Toronto have been creating a Sikh celebration, in a sense, for their children on Christmas day. The children put ornaments on their Khalsa Tree, and wait for Santa Singh to bring their gifts. (I am also pretty sure ladoos are awaiting him as an alternative to cookies!). They don’t celebrate the birth of Christ, but instead the birth of our tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. When I first heard about their tradition I was impressed that someone had thought to substitute every part of the day in order to teach their children our traditions, and at the same time do the things that go along with the commercialistic nature of the holiday.

Often I find myself teaching many of my non-Sikh friends about the special days we have in our religion throughout the year. They really enjoy learning about my religion and I feel it’s important especially since they would not normally have the opportunity to be educated about Sikhs and what we stand for. One friend once commented how lucky I was to have so many days to celebrate. He was absolutely right – we really are blessed to have the opportunity to celebrate our strong history throughout the year. If as a community we can begin to incorporate the importance of our history and these days into the next generation, we can truly preserve an essence of what Sikhi has to offer.

Punjabi Sikhs: Divided, United, and Brown?

As I have been thinking about the Sikh community’s mobilization against post-9/11 U.S. racial profiling policies, such as the TSA security guidelines, I have once again been reminded of the identity politics within our Sikh community. To be honest, I really have been thinking about the divisions in our community and how they are reflected in our social activism.

I feel as though the discourse on Sikhs being the targets of racial profiling has really been about keshdari Sikhs. I must preface this argument with the statement that I understand the issues that khesdari Sikh men face every day are quite different than those of clean-shaven Sikhs. The experience of physically looking quite different than the majority of the clean-shaven population, regardless if it’s brown, white, yellow, or pink, that surrounds you does not make it “easy” to blend in. I sympathize and, more importantly, respect and admire your actions to keep your khes (i.e. hair) as a symbol of your Sikh identity. Furthermore, I undoubtedly agree that keshdari Sikhs have been the targets of racial profiling and victims of hate crimes following the events of 9/11 because “they look like Osama Bin Landen” and “all the other bad guys in Afghanistan”. However, I think about our clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh brothers who could easily pass for looking like the ACTUAL suicide bombers who hit the Twin Towers … I don’t really remember any of them wearing turbans nor having lengthy beards.

I have heard of a few cases of clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh men being racially profiled and harassed as our Arab and Muslim brothers … I would not doubt it happening to Latino men too. I remember one clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh gentlemen sharing his experience with racial profiling immediately following the 9/11 attacks in the film, “Divided We Fall: Americans In The Aftermath”. These stories made me wonder if Sikh organizations, such as the Sikh Coalition and SALDEF, have made a concerted effort to reach out to clean-shaven Punjabi Sikh men to document and represent their experiences in petitions and memos sent to policy makers and politicians about Sikh racial profiling. Or are these men not Sikh “enough” to be part of the discussion? Some could argue that it is the external representation of Sikh identity that is being targeted for racial profiling, such as the turban and beard; clean-shaven Sikh men don’t display either of those markers. However, I would argue, aren’t the majority of khesdari Sikh men being targeted because they are also “brown”? They are the ones I have commonly seen being represented in films, commercials, and literature on the fight against Sikh racial profiling. Hence, isn’t there a shared history of discrimination and profiling based on “dark” features” along with a common religious belief system, regardless of the varied decisions made by Punjabi Sikh men on keeping their hair?


Are Amritdhari Sikhs a Punjabi minority?

Earlier this week the Haryana and Punjab high courts struck down a provision in SGPC-run schools that reserves 50% of its seats for Sikhs under the same concept as the federal provision for reserved seats for historic minorities. The SGPC is contesting the ruling, arguing that while Sikhs may constitute a majority of the Punjabi population, Amritdhari Sikhs, for whom seats are reserved, are a very small comparative minority.

This issue made me think of previous conversations I’ve had with friends over whether or not Amritdhari Sikhs, or even just Keshdari Sikhs, are a shrinking minority. Within the diaspora this is certainly the case — the number of Sikhs, particularly second- and third-genners, who choose to take amrit seems to decrease every year. I’ve met many folks who discuss their hesitancy; perhaps we don’t know Punjabi as well in the diaspora, or the lack of training within sangats makes it hard to pass on knowledge. But for many, being an Amritdhari Sikh also vastly limits their relationship choices and options.

As a community, do we see this as a problem? I always find this news disheartening, but I would be lying if I said I would line up to take amrit anytime soon. How does the growing expansion and changes of the demographics of the Sikh community make things easier, or more challenging, when it comes to advocating for issues together? Do different subsections of the population feel more or less lonely/alone in their experiences?

What does Ishmeet’s Victory Mean?

Since May of this year a competition has raged throughout the Indian subcontinent. On Saturday November 24th, 2007, the results were in…the 1st Amul Star Voice of India: Ishmeet Singh from Ludhiana.

ishmeet.jpgFor those in the diaspora, who flip past the ZeeTV, Sony and all those other station as they channel surf, Amul Star Voice of India (SVOI) is the desi version of American Idol. After auditions throughout India, competitors are selected by the judges only to be later subjected to audience voting. Television viewers submitted text messages and finally after six months a winner was chosen.

The famed Lata Mangeshkar declared Ishmeet Singh from Ludhiana, Punjab the winner. However, the win was far from guaranteed. The runner-up from Uttar Pradesh, Harshit Saxena, had been much more popular by the voters from the West Zone (60% of the votes), East Zone (52% of the votes), and the South Zone (55% of the votes). However, the winner of the competition was not to be decided on the number of winning zones, but rather the gross total. It was here that the Punjab factor kicked in and propelled Ishmeet Singh to victory.

While the blogosphere and message boards are aflame about the results, my purpose here isn’t to engage on the merits of the Ishmeet’s voice or the fairness of the competition methodology. However, the results do bring to the forefront a number of different issues.

An important result of the competition is to highlight Punjab’s ‘tele-density’. Prior to the announcement of the SVOI winner, many members of the interviewed Indian public lamented that Ishmeet would be catapulted to victory based on the fact that while the national telephone per capita is 1:5, in Punjab it is almost double at 1:2. Their gloomy predictions proved correct. The sheer numbers of SMS text messages aided Ishmeet in his victory. While Punjab’s population will never give it a seat at the Lok Sabha and the national stage, its economic and telecommunication power gave it leverage in this competition. Are there other uses for such technology? The Dera Sacha Sauda incident earlier in the year also shows telecommunications powerful ability as a political tool to rally youth support and attendance. Grassroots movements will have to be able to employ this tool to mobilize the Sikh youth and will have to figure out new ways to utilize its tremendous capabilities.


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