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UPS: What If Your Name Really Was Terro R Ist?

Two steps forward and one step back. Just when you think we’ve made some progress in terms of creating awareness about who we are as Sikhs, you hear of incidents like this.Here’s the story on NBC’s KGET.

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What Does “Khalsa” Mean To You?

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Today many Sikhs in Southern California will celebrate Guru Gobind Singh Jis Gurpurb. When I think of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the first thing that comes to mind is the creation of the Khalsa as an army of the pure.

This past summer I was sitting in a group-discussion, with fellow 2nd generation Sikhs (amritdhari and non-amritdhari) in the West, where we were asked to share the first thoughts that came to mind when we thought of the term Khalsa. Here are some:

masculine, extremists, ego, amrit, air india bombings, khalistan, rules, khandha/militaristic, collective brotherhood, fiercely independent, love, panj pyare, historical of the past & raj karega khalsa

For myself, I thought it was interesting to see how the media (i.e. newspaper articles, calendars, and television) along with the politicalization of religion and translation of Sikhi between generations is influencing our perceptions of the Khalsa.

What are your thoughts? What do you think they reflect about the state of the Khalsa?

A GREAT Sikh Tradition

I know not whether it is an ‘old tradition‘ or a ‘family tradition';I only know it seems to be a great tradition. Last sikh.jpgweek, Camille bulletin board-ed a winter clothing distribution in Central California being sponsored by Mike Sandhu of Sandhu Brothers Farms.

The Tracy Press published some pictures of the distribution that saw some 1200 jackets (over $50,000 in value) go out to anyone that needed. Mike stated that this was a family tradition in honor of the 2 youngest Sahibzadas.

So we do this to keep other children, other families, warm in their honor, he said. Its just something my family has done here for about six years now.[link]

I hope that other local Sikh sangats take Mike Sandhu and the Tracy Sikh Community’s lead in making such events more regular. More than any donation of rumaals to the Gurdwara, this is one of the best ways to honor the Qaum’s shaheeds.

Beyond “moderate” and “conservative” representations of Sikhi

I like to spend winter catching up on all the reading I’ve left by the wayside, but imagine my surprise when I came across these op-eds. The first argues that the Sikh youth slate (an all amritdhari slate) that won in Surrey is “fundamentalist,” while the other article argues that Sehajdari Sikhs are, by definition, not Sikhs at all.

Both of these op-eds are a little insane to me. The first argues that the Surrey gurdwara’s prior practice of allowing uncovered heads, shoes, and tables/chairs in the langar hall somehow constituted a “moderated” practice of Sikhi, and it effectively calls for a stand against the amritdhari youth slate, which it maligns as fundamentalist, orthodox, rigid, etc. The second article argues that there is no room in Sikhi for Sehajdari individuals, and then proceeds to trace the history of in/exclusion of non-kesdari Sikhs in SGPC elections.

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Achieving the American Dream: Blinded By Our Own Prejudices

So the other day on an NPR report (I dont have a link, you will just have to take my word for it), a Latino immigrant man shared his own prejudices that have developed as he has achieved his American Dream. He spoke about how easily he began to forget the difficulties he encountered while making it in America as he nestled into his comfortable middle-class life.

From newspaper and pizza deliver-man to gardening and fast-food service, *he said his now comfortable middle-class lifestyle as a Network Engineer had made him blind to his own prejudices. He realized this when he went on a trip to DC and encountered an elderly blind African-American woman who sat under a monument with her hand out. He immediately thought she was begging for money and reached down into his pockets and emptied out all the change he had into her hands. Something many of us would consider an act of kindness rather than prejudice. However, the woman turned to him and said that she didnt need his money she only needed him to guide her to the nearest post-office. After guiding her to the post-office, he was grateful to this woman for helping him see his own prejudices that had long blinded him.

He went on to say that a major part of the American Dream he had forgotten about was to never become immune to the emotional pain of the prejudice one encounters as an immigrant striving to achieve the Dream. For example, the pain of having parents tell their children, “you never want to be a pizza-delivery man like him” in front of his face without knowing the circumstances that put him in that position (i.e. he was earning money to help pay for college and the family bills).

* Sorry, I forget his name and feel awkward using a pseudonym so please bear with the repetition.

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Feeling “American”

As many Punjabi Sikh homes across America celebrated Thanksgiving with the traditional Turkey dinner with all the fixins, chollaa puraa with a side of dhaee, or chicken/turkey cooked in good old Masalaa, I wonder about our internal struggle to feel American.

Although much of Jhumpa Lahiris work [previous TLH coverage] focuses on the issues encountered by middle to upper-middle class immigrant Indians and their children (i.e. Bengali) in America, her recent NPR interview on the struggle to feel American can resonate across the immigrant experience. Thus, complicating the notion of what it means to be American in the first place.

As a child of Indian immigrants born in the West, Lahiri says “there is sort of a half-way feeling [of being American] for her.

However, her parents never thought of themselves as American:

they’ve lived here now for more than half of their lives, and they raised a family here and now have grandchildren here. … It has become their home but at the same time, for my parents, I don’t think either of them will ever consciously think, ‘I am an American” [both are American citizens].

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Different Ways To TAKE ACTION NOW Against The Police Brutality Faced By A Sikh Family In Texas

Last week on TLH we addressed the police brutality faced by the Tagore family in Texas.

260xstory-218x300.jpgYou will find here a consolidated list of how to TAKE ACTION NOW on this injustice. Different organizing tools are available for the Sikh community to act, we just need to use them. Taking action in at least one way is better than none!

Please remember, we have to empower ourselves as individuals and a community to take action and not just rely on a few community lawyers or media-based activists. Our actions as a whole are much stronger than a few!

Sign A Sikh Coalition Petition here: Harris County Sheriff-Elect Adrian Garcia is visiting the Sikh Center of Houston on Sunday, December 14, 2008. He will be the new Sheriff for Harris County next year. This petition will be directly handed over to him, so please help us gain as many signatures as possible.

Submit A Question here: Harris County Sheriff-Elect Adrian Garcia is visiting the Sikh Center of Houston on Sunday, December 14, 2008. During his visit the Tagore family and sangat members will be able to ask him questions on the actions he will take in response to the treatment of the Tagore family by police officers. Submit a question for the Tagore family to ask Sheriff-Elect Garcia directly when he visits the Gurdwara.

Call numbers available here, here, and here (numbers are also in the comments section): A few pointers when calling are-

  • Be Polite and Respectful
  • Express your concern about police brutality and specifically the needless handcuffing of Kawaljeet Kaur Tagore and her family members, including her 60 year old mother
  • Express your concern about the needless use of foul curse words against the family by officers
  • Express your concern about the lack of knowledge by officers on Sikhs and Sikh practices

Please tell your family and friends about these different ways to act NOW … at the end of the day your voice is stronger in spreading the word than a TLH post, any blog, or an organizational e-mail! :)

Sikh Family In Texas Victims Of Police Brutality

UPDATE: If you are outraged by this incident, please CALL THE HARRIS COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE (TEXAS) @ (713-755-6044) and let Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas know how you feel. These Officers need to be reprimanded and we as a community need to push the Sheriff’s Office to act. You can also contact Houston Mayor Bill White at (832-393-1000) or [email protected]

The night before Thanksgiving you are robbed of your sense of security and $15,000 of your home belongings AND THEN you are robbed of your humanity by Sheriff’s Officers who promise to protect you. All this happens in your own home

The Tagore family in Texas were criminalized and terrorized because of their Sikh articles of faith after calling in to report a burglary in their home.

Ramandeep Singh Tagore says,

“That night we were actually robbed twice Once by the actual burglars, who we don’t know who they were, and secondly by the Sheriff’s Department, who we knew who they were.”

Once the Sheriff’s Officers had arrived in their home they started focusing on Kawaljeet Kaurs kirpan and told her: You cant wear that, she felt like she was being treated like a criminal in my own home . Kawaljeet Kaur [Ramandeep Singh Tagores sister] told the Houston News that “I didn’t appreciate the way that I was treated that day I’m a human and I would have expected to be treated like a human.” Kawaljeet verbalized her feelings and constitutional right to practice her faith to the Officers. Their response was pushing her out of her house, having her sit in the middle of the street, and handcuffing her.

Ramandeep said to Harpreet Kaur of Sach Productions (watch the video below for more in-depth reporting)

first we are calm and then the aggression brutality type of thing pushing and shoving is starting when the cops get here I mean their acting like thugs if we are civilizingly dealing with them then why do you have to come push me and shove me when were trying to talk to you is it because I look different or something.”

Manjit Kaur, Ramandeeps mother, felt: “Dekhoo ik taan saade ghar robbery hoyi hai ..tusi lok saadi help karan aaye aan k saanu arrest karan aaye aan” (Look there has been a robbery in our house have you people [Sheriff's Officers] come to help us or arrest us?)

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Bank of America Sikh

bankofamericasikh.jpgLookout New Yorkers! There’s a new Sikh in town! Where is he? Who is he? He’s on your subway wall… representing Bank of America, sporting a NICE pagh with the cleanest layers I’ve seen in a long time. It looks like the folks at Kenneth Cole’s might have some competition…

The designers obviously weren’t Sikh because they messed with his pagh and flipped it- maybe to make it look more original. The inset of the picture on the left shows the model with his pagh properly tied – with the larhs (layers) on the right.

Previous discussions of Sikhs in the media, entertainment and modeling:

1. Raising Awareness or A Turban Commodified?

2. Will the Revolution be Televised? Sikhs and the Media

Obama Supporters

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect and celebrate what we are thankful for, rather than commemorate the manipulative actions of the Pilgrims (yes, in many ways this statement makes me feel better when I have my Thanksgiving meal)!

One of the things I am thankful for this year is Barack Obamas victory as the 44th President-elect of the United States of America. It has been wonderful to be alive to witness this moment in history. As the saying goes, you can only truly value and appreciate yourself if you can also laugh at yourself. So, I will extend this belief to Barack Obamas presidential win. So, lets laugh at this satire on Obama supporters (especially if you were one of them :) I know I did)!

Have a good Thanks-Giving!

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Please Donate! (No Turbans Allowed)

I just received a Community Advisory alert from SALDEF discussing the case of Gurnam Singh Khera who recently visited a community center in North Carolinato makea donation for their Thanksgiving Food Drive. Sounds great right? Except for the fact that Gurnam Singh is a Sardar and I guess it goes against somebody’s tenets to have a person wearing a turban make a donation. I don’t seem to follow.

Upon entering the facility, Mr. Khera was told by a receptionist that “this is the United States” and that he needed to remove his Dastaar. When Mr. Khera attempted to explain the religious significance of the Dastaar, the receptionist refused to speak with him. When the Reverend in charge of the facility was summoned, Mr. Khera offered a handshake, but the Reverend reportedly refused to reciprocate and asked Mr. Khera and his wife to leave the facility, saying: “Go donate to some other place; we do not need your donations unless you remove your turban.”

SALDEF has contacted Reverend Ron Weeks of the Union Mission of Roanoke Rapids, NC asking for the community center to apologize to Mr. Khera and work with SALDEF on efforts to celebrate religious diversity in the cause of helping the less fortunate. Reverend Ron Weeks did take the time to respond.I thinkI’ll justlet you read it yourself,

We are a Christ centered ministry that has been serving our communities “in Jesus name” from our own private facilities since 1951. We have a long standing policy that is clearly displayed on our lobby door that all males are required to remove their head gear. We feed meals everyday and welcome the idea of others doing the same as our communities are certainly in need of more than we are able to do. Being supported totally by donations we don’t turn them away. Couldn’t his donation be used by the local Langar you speak of? I can think of several options; send it by another person, mail or internet…donate to another charity.

Wow. i wonder if this also means that this charity would not serve someone in need who happened to wear a turban? SALDEF is encouraging the community to contact Union Mission of Roanoke Rapids to express your dissapointment in their bizzare donation policy. You can contact Rev Ronald C Weeks at edirector at umrr dot org.

Yay to SALDEF for addressing this issue. Boo to uninformed community center leaders. We’ll do our best to keep you updated on this issue.

Voting On California Prop. 8: Protecting Love NOT Marriage

In a recent THL discussion on Prop. 8 we have been addressing the use of Sikh principles in taking a position on homosexual marriage.prop-300x222.jpg At a recent Nagar Keertan in Yuba City, California there were Yes on Prop. 8 fliers along with the really interesting T-shirts. Thus, I think religion is an important part of the discussion on Prop. 8 because there is a reason why this state-related material is at religious events. Religion is a moral compass that guides many people’s decisions in all kinds issues. Thus, I dont condemn those who have used religion as their moral source for voting Yes or No on Prop. 8. However, I do disagree with how Sikh scripture has been misused as rules rather than concepts that guide our decisions. I attribute these actions to a general lack of understanding and education around the Guru Granth Sahib Ji in our community. This education is a fundamental issue we as a Quam need to find practical solutions for rather than blame people for not knowing.

That said, I believe a fundamental part of Sikhi is love the morality of love. Its not the happy happy love or perfect one that excuses all actions, but the one that makes us human enough to see the light of Waheguru in all . even those we detest. What is this love I think Khalil Gibran poignantly explains it in his book The Prophet:

“For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun, so shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

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Slumdog Millionaire

A movie you might be interested in, Slumdog Millionaire, is being released in major cities today and most other North American cities throughout the next few weeks. The plot might sound corny to the skeptical (it involves some romance), but if it’s as well done as it seems to be from the trailer, it could be one of those poignant, moving films that only come along once every few years (in the genre of Born into Brothels). The trailer gives away a lot, so if you like to be surprised, don’t watch all (or any) of it. (The skeptic in me is hoping it’s not a touristy, voyeuristic ride into areas that most movie-goers will only go to through the movie…)

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An interesting theme that came up in the making of the movie is product displacement. Apparently Mercedes and “a well known soft drinks company” objected to their products being shown in a slum and demanded that their logos be removed, which was done digitally, costing tens of thousands of pounds. Yet, the Benz folks were perfectly happy having their logo appear on a gangster’s car when it was parked outside his mansion. So it’s ok to engage in mass (probably violent) crime as long as you’re wealthy. Mercedes will hang with you. But if you want to try to earn an honest living, and just can’t make it out of poverty- sorry, no such luck. [Timesonline]

The car manufacturer and a well-known soft drinks company believed that their brands would be sullied if their products were shown in one of Bombays shantytowns. [Timesonline]

Hey, Mercedes and fizzy drink company- you may have missed one of the points of the movie-you know, here’s the human struggle and spirit, from the eyes of someone you didn’t realize you had so much in common with??… Never mind. (I’m trying to not let their stupidity ruin the movie for me.)

More absurdity, synopsis and release dates below the fold.

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Obamas Chance To Make The Change

Barack Hussein Obamas historic victory as the 44th President of the United States Of America is being celebrated not only in America, but across the world.

He said in his victory speech that:

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.
It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.
So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

Thus, I leave you with a BBC news clip on how the World is reacting to Obamas win. As people celebrate across the world, they also offer what they believe this chance for change means for American foreign relations!

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2008 Presidential Elections Voter Guide For Sikh Americans Available For Our Local Sangats

As an UPDATE to my post a couple weeks ago, the Sikh Coalition has released the 2008 Presidential Elections Voter Guide For Sikh Americans. P.S. McCain never responded the guide contains some of his answers collected from outside resources (the Coalition became our #1 research assistant)!

According to the Sikh Coalition:

sikhvote.jpgOur candidate questionnaire was provided to both the major party candidates in November 2007. Since then, the Sikh Coalition has provided all candidates multiple and repeated opportunities to answer its questionnaire. Our Voter Guide reflects the answers of the candidates who responded to our questionnaire.

The Sikh Coalition’s Sikh American Voter Guide includes information about how and where to vote on Election Day, summaries of proposed laws that affect Sikh interests, and the presidential candidates’ answers to our questionnaire. Of the 13 candidates running for president of the United States, a total of five responded to the Coalition’s questionnaire – including one of the two major party candidates.

The 25-page guide-book has a brief biographical section on all 13 candidates running for President, along with pictures (Prabhu Singh Khasla Ralph Nader is represented)! In addition, responses from the candidates on questions addressing:
1) Relationship With Sikhs
2) Hate Crimes
3) Religious Profiling
4) Employment Discrimination
5) Discrimination
6) Asylum
7) Immigration

Check it out! Lets us know what you think! Make copies and get them out to your sangats at local Gurdwaras before next Tuesday!

Vote On Tuesday (11/04/2008)! You can find your local polling place through Google here!

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As the end of election season nears, the months of intense election coverage can get overwhelming. Hearing basically the same messages from both sides gets old. But one thing that’s been remarkable for me to see this election season is the level of civic engagement from a broad spectrum of civil society. For example, the kids in the above video sing a non-partisan song. Check it out. Half of them sing and dance for McCain and the other half for Obama (except for one stanza where they all sing for the Left, not sure why). These 7th grade students from the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta just made election season enjoyable.

Lyrics:

Obama on the left
McCain on the right
We can talk politics all night
And you can vote however you like
You can vote however you like, yeah

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Bandi Chor Diwas, Sarbat da Balla, and Health Care

Many Sikhs participate in the celebrations of Diwali, the festival of light, without actually knowing what the significance of the date is in Sikh history. I can admit that for a long time, Diwali didn’t hold much importance for me because I didn’t fully understand why we celebrated it. In fact, today is not only Diwali but also marks Bandi Chor Diwas a day where Sikhs join together to celebrate the release of the sixth Nanak, Guru Hargobind Ji from imprisonment. The historic event itself should be acknowledged with significance – particularly the fact that upon order of his release from Gwalior Fort, Guru Hargobind Ji refused to leave unless the 52 princes who had also been imprisoned would also be allowed to leave. Thinking of others’ rights were more important than simply thinking of his own.

To me, the day is a reminder of the concept of Sarbat da Balla, or the welfare of all. Sarbat da Balla is a guiding principle that hopefully makes our words and actions bring about positive change to the greater good. As we approach the upcoming election (7 days to go!), it is these principles that should help advise us on those issues that affect not just ourselves but the collective good. While the economy is the principal concern on the minds of most voters, healthcare is an important issue that will also sway votes in a meaningful way.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that voters agree that in the face of a struggling economy “it is more important than ever to take on health care reform.”

Among Democrats, expanding coverage for the uninsured ranks second, named by 35 percent of those voters. Coverage also ranks second for political independents, named by a somewhat smaller proportion (23 percent). Relatively few Republicans (9 percent) name coverage as a health care priority. Most Democrats (69 percent) and half of independents (51 percent) think that universal coverage would help the overall economic situation in the United States, while only 34 percent of Republicans agree. [link]

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Obama Sends Letter to Sikhs

As Sundari recently noted, “[o]ver the next few weeks Sikhs will join together to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib.” I didn’t anticipate that Sikhs would be joined by a major politician in those celebrations. To my surprise, Presidential hopeful Barack Obama (pictured here with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama) sent greetings to Sikhs on the 300th anniversary of the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. In the message — transmitted in a letter to the American Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (an organization previously discussed here) — Senator Obama said:

Throughout the world, Sikh communities are celebrating the tercentenary of the Guruship of Sri Guru Granth Sahib…. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is considered the universal spiritual leader and guiding light for the Sikh community. In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh officially ordained Guru Granth Sahib as the final and perpetual Guru of Sikhs. This worldwide celebration will commemorate the 300 years of consecration of Guru Granth Sahib and the anniversary of the accession of Guru Gobind Singh.On this momentous occasion, both Sikh and non-Sikh community members will gather together to promote [and] honour the contributions that Gurus have made to the Sikh community. [Link]

I am very pleased that a major political candidate has reached out to Sikhs and has demonstrated some familiarity with Sikh history and the importance of these celebrations in particular.

[Disclosure: In fairness, I attempted to locate any messages that Senator John McCain sent specifically to the Sikh community, but a Google search did not yield any satisfactory results. If anyone knows of any recent messages from Senator McCain to Sikhs, please provide a link in the comments section.]

US Employers: the Turban is un-American and not Sexy [Updated]

nwl-150x100.gifThe Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (better known as SALDEF, and SMART before that) has been vigorously defending a turbaned Sikh man, Sukhbir Channa, who was told by Disney that he would not be hired for a position because he did not have the “Disney look.” Angela Bliss, a spokesperson for Disneyland, explained that, The Disney look is a fresh, clean and approachable look, ensuring that every guest feels comfortable with our entire cast.” Apparently a turbaned Sikh is neither fresh, clean, nor approachable, and makes others uncomfortable. Apparently in a “magical” environment that contains oversized pigs, mice, and other characters, it is a human with a simple religious headdress that is unwelcome. Apparently a major company whose creations are an integral part of practically every American child’s upbringing cannot teach those very children the fundamental values of tolerance, respect, and acceptance in this increasingly diverse and pluralistic nation. Rather than work to alleviate any possible (though not demonstrated) discomfort with a turbaned Sikh, Disney has pandered to and thereby legitimized the notion that turbaned Sikhs are to be marginalized and excluded from aspects of American society. I could go on and on.

This week, I learned that another major company informed a Sikh that a turban should not be worn in the presence of customers.

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Sikh outreach through theatre

Some ideas are just better communicated through modes other than writing. Theatre, through the unfolding of a story and through the body language of its actors, can sometimes convey meaning and ideas more effectively than just written words alone.

Some Sikh youth from Rockland, MD have decided to use theatre to engage non-Sikhs in learning about Sikhs- a wonderful idea.

bullah__theatre.JPGTwo plays are being planned for the fall expressing themes of diversity, mutual respect, interfaith and justice. They will both be staged on Saturday December 13, 2008 at the Wooten High School in Rockville, Maryland.

Where did this idea come from?

Last fall, Guru Gobind Singh Foundation had some of its kids take part in a play The Lorax, a musical adaptation from the famous Dr Seuss story book which was staged by kids from many different faiths. This play, adopted to create awareness about environment, was coordinated by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and was staged by the Childrens Theater Company of New York.

After going through this experience, GGSF decided to form the Rockville Chapter of Childrens Theater Company last May to explore the possibility of staging a play depicting the concepts of Guru Granth Sahib. Dedicated to Building Character Onstage, the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) of New York develops in children and youth a keen sense of citizenship while introducing them to the incomparable magic of theatre through their full participation in the creation and performance of musicals and plays. [link]

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