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Beyond Just Enough: The Promise of USA’s First Sikh Feminist Conference

safarGuest post by Sarina Kaur

“A Sikh’s entire life is life of benevolent exertion”. Sikh Rehat Maryada (Code of Conduct)

Benevolent exertion. These powerful words along with countless examples from history, gurbani, and rehat remind us that to question, challenge, and think for the purpose of informing our actions according to the Guru’s teachings is a Sikh’s birthright, privilege, and responsibility. This benevolent exertion toward an egalitarian world and empowered society devoid of oppression is a standard rooted in our collective psyche. But to know this, is not enough. The first Sikh Feminist Conference in North America, by SAFAR: the Sikh Feminist Research Institute, seeks to unpack what this means for Sikhs of the 21st century.

Personally, at every turn in my own journey toward creating a life imbibed with thoughtful action toward a more just and humane world, I have craved to understand and experience the unspoken viewpoints of the Kaur experience. Today, few can deny that no matter where you look- within the Sikh social context or in the global context-the dominant narrative is not inclusive of the female voice; that our calibrated center-where we collide as a society-is not in line with the standards our Guru’s introduced. A space for expansive revival, attention, voice and praxis to the feminist values and egalitarian politics inherent within Sikhi is a step toward a more calibrated center.[1] SAFAR’s Conference Program promises such progressive steps.

Distinguished keynote panelists, Dr. Nikky-Gurinder Kaur Singh, Dr. Inderpal Grewal, and Palbinder K. Shergill will launch the discussions and introspections for the day while exploring the topic “What Do We Know?” By exploring what knowledge exists from various sources, this panel promises to dive into an exploration of the intersectionality of Sikhi, feminism and discourse on Sikh Feminism. Each of the panelists is a pioneer in her own right; while Dr. Singh is often fondly thought of as the mother of ‘Sikh feminism’, Dr. Grewal from Yale is lauded for her seminal work on ‘transnational feminism,’ while Ms. Shergill is a trailblazer in the courtrooms in Canada, and just recently distinguished herself as the only female lawyer in the Supreme Court, that too while articulating the fundamentals of religious freedom in a case about the religious freedoms for a non-Sikh-Sikhi in action! I look forward to their discourse and interaction with each other as moderated by writer and activist, Inni Kaur.

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Kaur Life: Inspiring Lioness Queens to Rule the World

Guest blogged by Harleen Kaur

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Logo Kaur LifeSangat: a concept that has been emphasized to me, and thus I have reiterated to others, for as long as I can remember. My mom telling me to be aware of the friends I was keeping at school, my camp counselors telling me that I should strive for sadh sangat, or people who will push me to be better in every moment.

As a young Sikh girl growing up in Wisconsin, sangat was something that was redefined for me every day. Although I found it in my peers on my softball team to my friends in the school musical, the sangat I truly desired was the one I found at gurdwara and at the local Sikh youth camp. With such a small Sikh community in Wisconsin, however, it was not something that was easily found. Sangat came in moments few and far between, and it was often something that I desired more than what I received.

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Hair double standards?

An unexpected video posted on the Jezebel.com has gone viral in the last 24 hours. The moving clip highlights the  story of 23-year-old Harnaam Kaur from Slough, UK who has a full beard. Harnaam’s polycystic ovary syndrome led to her facial and body hair growth as a pre-teen, resulting in intense bullying and harassment from her peers. Harmaan took amrit as a 16-year-old, proudly embracing her Sikh identity and her unshorn hair — facial hair included.  It seems the teenage Harnaam found the strength to overcome years of isolation and self-loathing in part through Sikhi.

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UPDATED Call to Action: Sikh Art and Film Foundation excludes female panelists for the second year in a row

BREAKING NEWS: The Sikh Art and Film Foundation has responded by including a female speaker in next week’s Leadership Summit!!! Great progress.  Yet, the lack of representation of women and girls from 2004 – 2012 in the film festivals and galas still needs to be addressed, and this is a community wide issue.  See below for actionable solutions.

Via Email:

November 15, 2013 7:43PM Nina Chanpreet Kaur,

Dear Sikh Art and Film Foundation,

I am very glad to see that Rashmy Chatterjee will be speaking at next Friday’s Leadership Summit.  This is a tremendous gain for our community as most of the speakers at the summit have been men since 2011.  This represents a trend in many Sikh organizations I hope we can change together. As a Sikh woman and resident of NYC for the last 11 years, I have followed your organization since it’s inception.  Over the years, I have attended many of your events and have been so inspired by the films, speakers and attendees.  I have also noticed the lack of representation of women and girls in your programs.  Though you took a step forward this week, I believe you could be doing more to address, highlight and celebrate the challenges and triumphs of Sikh women and girls whether in your Film Festival, Heritage Gala or Leadership Summit.

I understand that your goal is to transcend the dichotomies and binaries of gender and other categories to sustain the universality and equality that our Gurus envisioned in order to promote and preserve Sikh and Punjabi heritage.  I share your vision and do not condone a gender binary or bias towards either men or women.  I am also aware that you face limitations as all organizations do, in particular that you must base the selections of films on the submissions you receive.  However, Sikh men and boys have been a central part of your programs in a way Sikh women and girls have not and this indicates a bias – whether intentional or not.

From 2007 to 2012, none of your Gala awards for Leadership and Vision have been presented to Sikh women.  In fact, the only women who received awards were for Creativity/Art with the exception of Shonali Bose who received an award for Courage and Shelley Rubin who received an award for Leadership jointly with her husband.  For 5 years in a row you have only presented Sikh women with awards for Creativity/Art and no other category.  As a Sikh woman, this sends a message to me and the next generation of Kaurs that women can be honored for creativity and art but not for leadership and vision.  It raises questions about your beliefs and assumptions related to gender roles and women’s capacities in relation to men.  This is most certainly not the message young Kaurs should be receiving, nor do I think this is your intention based on the email I received from Ravi last week.         (more…)

Focusing the Lens on Sikh Women

girl-email-featureThere are only a few days left in the annual SikhNet Youth Online Film Festival.  This year’s theme, “onKaur: Focusing the Lens on Women”, brings together a collection of 18 films by and about Sikh women.  The films look at the idea of “Kaur”, what that means and how it can be represented in film.

The films have been categorized as documentary (“think”) and drama (“cry”) with issues including: Anand Karaj, bullying, hair, health issues of Panjab, gender justice, family, and gatka among others.

The film festival is important for several reasons and this year’s theme brings to light the need to include Sikh women’s voices in conversations around identity and community.  It’s a valuable way of showcasing issues affecting Sikh women.

Here’s how to view and vote:

The film festival also provides a platform for young filmmakers to showcase their films to a wider audience.

1. View the documentary films here and vote via Facebook.

2. View the drama films here and vote via Facebook.

Voting ends on October 9th.

 

BBC Documentary Discusses Sexual Abuse in the UK

A recent BBC article titled, “Is there a Sikh code of silence on sexual grooming?” discusses how six men were jailed in the UK for offences including child prostitution – the case receiving significant attention since it was the first high-profile case involving a Sikh victim of sexual abuse leading to convictions.  As a follow up to the article, BBC’s Inside Out London showcased a 30 minute report uncovering the “hidden scandal of sexual grooming of young Sikh girls by Muslim men.”  The show is receiving much attention – particularly within the Sikh community – with much discussion around the tense issue, race relations and what’s being done (or not) to address the problem.

The documentary (which you can view below) showcases real cases where girls courageously discuss their experiences being “groomed” and forced into prostitution.  Sexual abuse is a serious issue within many communities, the Punjabi community is no exception.  Unfortunately, a lack of openness to talk about the issue often leaves victims and their families living in isolation.   The report identifies the work of an organization within the UK called the Sikh Awareness Society that provides some assistance to these young girls and often bringing to light the criminal activity which local law enforcement agencies often neglect.  The organization has committed to traveling to all the Gurdwaras in the UK to provide information about the issue and to help parents understand what their children may be experiencing.  While it is unclear how large the issue really is or how long it has been occurring – it is nevertheless significant that this discussion is even taking place (especially in Gurdwaras!).

I found the report to be troubling for several more reasons.

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Why We Are Sikh Feminists

Guest blogged by Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Editorial note: the author talked to her colleagues on the Sikh Feminist Research Institute’s editorial board about why they are feminists. This blog post collects their views to mark the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi, which took place this weekend.

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Image via Kaur Illustration

When you hear the words ‘Sikh feminist’ what images does it bring to mind? Perhaps it evokes a general image of Asian women holding placards and angrily protesting? Or maybe it reminds one of a grand warrior saint like Mai Bhago riding her horse into battle? Or possibly a more contemporary incident comes to mind, like the one of Balpreet Kaur who last year deflected taunts from an Internet troll by eloquently explaining why she decides to keep her facial hair in a society where women are largely pressured to be perfectly formed and hairless. Or maybe it evokes none of these images.

As editorial board members of a Sikh feminist body we feel compelled to express our philosophy as a proactive and empowered one. All of us look to the Sikh (and non-Sikh) values of equality, honesty and strength (among many others), to anchor our lives in an everyday spirituality. But that doesn’t mean our motivation has always rooted from a positive place.

One of us was sexually assaulted which absolutely shattered a personal notion that being strong, assertive and smart can keep you insulated from an attack. If anything, it laid bare the vulnerability that exists if you happen to be born a woman in a world that can devalue one so extremely and how that devaluation is integrated into the culture and system we live with. A culture and system which many men and women internalise – sometimes, to a massive extent.

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Sikh Women: A Look Back in Time

Co-blogged by Sundari and The Sikh Love Stories Project

Each year, International Women’s Day is celebrated to honor women’s economic, political and social achievements. As individuals around the world celebrate this day – in both big ways and small – I am left to consider how we can work to honor the achievements of Sikh women not only today but on an ongoing basis.  Sikh women have contributed in such meaningful ways, and yet much of that dialogue is often missing from our history.

In this post, we will be sharing some images with you and discuss various ways Sikh women have been witness to and engaged in our history both locally and globally.  We know this post will not be comprehensive – there is much to unearth about Sikh women’s contributions – but we hope it’s a starting point that will encourage us to keep this valuable history in our minds. Many of the following images each depict a different element of Sikh women in history.

Stories often begin with immigration and this first image shows Sikh women pioneers in Canada who were part of an immigrant labor force recruited in the early years of the twentieth century.

1_Three WomenMill Town Pioneers. Most of Canada’s early Sikh immigrants found work in lumber mills throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Canada’s largest mill community, Fraser Mills in New Westminster, BC, had between 200 and 300 Sikhs living and working there in 1925.

In this photograph from that period, three Sikh women stand in front of company houses at the mill. [link]

One of them wears a traditional embroidered shawl called ‘phulkari’. The phulkari played an important role in the lifecycle rituals of women in Punjabi villages at times of birth, marriage and death.

 

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On Rape

A goat
A sacrificial lamb
Halal meat
Her blood runs dry at the bottom of a river
Cleansing the land

Peshawar
Punjab
Pakistan
India
Afghanistan
Sri Lanka
The tip of my soul

New Delhi
Amritsar
Anandpur Sahib
Chandigarh
Jalandhar
Ludhiana
My constellation of stars

Drip drip dripping
Blood seeps into earth
One quick slice from the neck
Less painful that way
More fertile that way
Mothers, sisters, daughters
We bury red splashes
Virgin ground

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Gender Equality in the Sikh Faith

In a recent piece on BBC Radio 4, titled Beyond Belief – Women in Sikhism, host Ernie Rea starts off with this statement,

“The Sikh religion is the world’s fifth largest… the men are often easily recognized – they wear turbans and leave their hair uncut.  The fundamental message appears to be simple – God is one and all people are equal.  But are some more equal than others?  If the Sikh scriptures are consistent with a feminist agenda, why do some Sikh women feel like they are second class citizens?”

The host is joined by a panel of three women to discuss the issue of equality within the Sikh faith – Navtej Purewal, Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Manchester University; Eleanor Nesbitt, Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Education in the University of Warwick; and Nicky Guninder Kaur Singh, Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Colby College.  The panelists did a great job of explaining what in fact Sikh scriptures say about equality and the role of women.  In addition, they helped identify the gaps that still exist between what is written and how it is practiced.  While these women speak predominately from an academic standpoint and not necessarily the community Sikh women’s voice, i think they brought forth a much important discussion for our community as a whole.   It was also quite eye-opening to hear the non-Sikh perception of our faith, represented by the host.

While parts of the conversation – often guided by host Ernie Rea – landed on discussions around topics that are common to this blog, (i.e. if Sikhi believes in equality, why does Panjab have the highest rates of female foeticide and if Sikhi is an egalitarian faith, why do men and women sit separately within the Gurdwara), the overall discussion was helpful as it raised questions that need to be addressed if changes are going to be made.  The host began by asking whether or not the Sikh scripture does include a feminist agenda.

Purewal noted that the the Guru Granth Sahib was very revolutionary and, as far as doctrine, it does have the potential to be feminist.  However, due to social convention the message has not been actualized among Sikh communities, whether in India or within the diaspora.  Nesbitt suggested that since the scripture is predominately written in poetry, it is thus open to interpretation and that this is potentially the cause for much of the tensions felt by contemporary women.  Singh goes on to say that even the word “God” brings forth the notion of a male entity which is a starting point for many misconceptions and in fact, in the Guru Granth Sahib Ik Onkaar does speak to being gender-free.

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Kaur Revolution: Why I changed my last name from Singh to Kaur

Guest blogged by Nina Chanpreet Kaur

In September, I attended a Sikh awareness training at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Sitting in the audience, I watched and listened as the presenter referred to Sikh women in passing and brought the Sikh male experience and turban to the center of the stage. During the Q&A, a woman behind me stood up. It was evident that she had heard Kaur for the first time during the presentation. She pronounced it hora then whore until she was finally corrected to Kaur as in core. It reminded me of how obsolete Kaur has become. I was also reminded of a dear friend of mine who recently told me about a reunion visit she had with some of our long time, mutual friends. As the usual gossip and updates ensued, someone mentioned my change of last name to Kaur and whispers and glances shot around the room. One woman surmised that I had gotten married. I had at that point received many Facebook messages congratulating me on my marriage. When my friend assured them, despite their insistence, that I had not gotten married another woman speculated that I had just become suddenly religious and so of course I changed my last name.

Across the globe today, our last names generally link us to patriarchy through kinship reference and in many cases ethnic, national, religious and class ties as well. In India and the South Asian diaspora, someones last name alone indicates what village or city she is from, her religious affiliation, familial ties, and even her familys occupation and class status. In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the 10th Guru of Sikhism and my spiritual father, asked Sikh men to take on the last name Singh meaning lion and Sikh women to take on the last name Kaur meaning prince. This request was intended to bring equality to a society then entrenched in inequality through caste, classism and sexism. Our world today remains entrenched in inequality.

Guru Gobind Singh Jis call for Singh and Kaur was more than a request to fight classism and kinship preference, it was a demand to subvert the structure of patriarchy and class structure as we know it. It was a call for revolution, the type of revolution that happens every day when we make choices that force us to stand out and stand up for our values. The type of revolution that happens each time large numbers of people choose to do something different and effect change through subversion. You can imagine, then, my surprise and amusement at the irony of being congratulated on my marriage when I changed my last name from Singh to Kaur.

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Sikh Women – from Vancouver to Yuba City

This past weekend, I attended the second annual Sikh Feminist Conference at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. A friend posted a concise review of the conference herewhich I would encourage you to read. I’ll just reiterate two points made – the first being the discussion around whether the western concept of Feminism fits within Sikhi. What does it mean to call oneself a Sikh Feminist or even a Male Sikh Feminist? Many participants at the conference felt the words “Sikh” and “Feminist” were redundant and that it was not necessary for us to try to mold to western definitions of feminism when our own faith clearly defines the concept of [gender] equality. On the other hand, others argued that the word is powerful enough to raise and question the issue of patriarchy that continues to exist within the community.The discussion reminded me of a similar conversation that was had at the Faith and Feminismpanel, featuring Sikh women, which took place last year in NYC. About the panel discussion, the author writes,

The core values in Sikhism, particularly the human rights element, were what informed [the panelist’s] views on issues, including womens rights. She has taken the word feminism out of the equation, and transplanted the values of it back into Sikhi, and reminded us that anyone who adheres to the principles of Sikhism and to the words of the Guru Granth Sahib has many labels, feminist, humanist, and activist are just some of them.

The second point is the important link between theory and practice within the Sikh community. I want to highlight this in two ways. The first being that while it has been established that the Gurus emphasized living in an eco-friendly way, it’s clear that as a community we are still working to close the gap – from melas to gurdwaras to within our own homes – our practice of living in an eco-friendly way could use some improvement. EcoSikh sponsored the Sikh Feminist conference and it’s presence was felt very thoughtfully throughout the day (biodegradableutensils, compost, recycling etc!) and it wasinspiringto see our community not just talk about it in theory, but actually put it into practice.

Another discussion was around the concept of izzat or honor, whether it impacts both men and women, how it manifests differently for men and women and why it continues to be a topic of discussion when theoretically, our Gurus gave us the guidance and tools to live in an egalitarian society. The concept itself has been one of discussion on our blog too – particularly around what it means to a family and to a community. We are once again reminded of this issue with the recent news of Baljinder Kaur, a pregnant woman from Yuba City who was arrested over the weekend, just before the Sikh Women’s conference, for apparently killing her mother-in-law.

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Sikh Feminists Research Institute Conference 2012

“While Sikh American women do a lions-share of organizing and executing the business of the Sikh community, their experiences of faith, family, and community are under-represented in art, literature, and scholarship. In fact, the experience and image of a Sikh woman is obsolete and in most cases invisible in the North American milieu. The modern landscapes and political andsocial influences that shape Sikh womens lives as well as the subsequent paths they take have yet to be understood, documented, shared and absorbed by our cultural psyche.”

SAFAR.jpgThe above description is an excerpt fromthe “Sikh American Women and Their Love Stories Collection” presentation that will be taking place at this year’s Our Journeys conference, hosted by the Sikh Feminists Research Institute on October 27th. This conference series, the first of its kind, provides a platform to explore the intersections of Sikhi and gender. The goal is to promote research around Sikh feminist issues, heighten participation in critical discourse, promote alliance building and develop partnerships between academic and community organizations.

Often times, conversations about Sikhs, Sikh issues and the Sikh identity start and end with the Sikh male identity. While this conversation is acutely relevant in the climate ofignoranceand discrimination that we live in, it’s also critical that we have conversations that include, are about, and are led by Sikh women.

Having attended last year’sinauguralconference, I look forward to engaging once again in a conversation around women’s issues within the Punjabi/Sikh framework. It’s exciting that we have a platform to celebrate the growth and development of the Sikh feminist voice.

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Sikh Women’s Love Anthology: Submission Call

We believe at the heart of each Sikh American woman, there are multiple love stories thatinhabit the mind, body, and soul.

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Artist: Rupy Cheema Tut

This one is for you dear Kaurs!

The first ever Sikh Women’s Love Anthology is being created and your voices are needed. This groundbreaking anthology will be a compilation of love stories written by and about Sikh women living in North America and will be publishedin the form of memoirs, creative non-fiction stories, and creative essays.

Sikh women have an incredible history of powerful and inspiring narratives – often heard through our oral tradition. This project is a way of documenting these narratives and providing a space for women in the Sikh community, connecting with one another to dialogue and document the complexities and nuanced experiences of love as we see it. Love can take many forms – “through lovers holding hands, singing a shabad, eating a good meal to nourish ones body, hiking an unknown terrain, traveling a new country, holding a sick child close, fighting for civil and human rights or even embarking on the journey to falling in love with ourselves as women and human beings, spiritual beings” [from guidelines]. Love is at the core of our very existence as Sikhs.

This is a wonderful opportunity to pave the path for Kaur voices that we do not often hear. Sikh women who are dedicated to their families, their faith and their activism and manifest their love in dynamic ways. Yet their stories go unheard.Documenting one’s story provides for self-reflection and is “an act of resistance against social, cultural, media, and political forces that want to define women as less than humane“. This is an important way to chronicle narratives for future generations of Sikh American women and men.

Click below the break for submission details. For further information and full submission guidelines, please email sikh.lovestories[at]gmail.com.

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What Do You Want To Do With Your Life?

Author Richard Florida identifies three questions that each of us struggle with over the course of our lives.

1) What do I do with my life?
2) Who do I spend my life with?
3) Where do I want to live?

Obviously, all three are interrelated in many ways but for most of us growing up in North America the first question is the one the one that actually sets up the other two. How I want to spend my life is also a very different question than what kind of job do I want to have. A job or career must be examined in the greater context of one’s purpose in this world. This is even more relevant for practicing Sikhs as our destiny is one of greater purpose. We have been blessed with the awareness that the Creator of this universe resides within each of us and we are here to reconnect with this divinity. To do that, we must live a life of effort, remembrance and service. Yes as Sikhs we are to live in the world as householders, but there something more to life than just going to school, getting a job and raising a family. We are saints and activists, connecting with the Divine and fighting to the death for the rights of all.

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Poetry Speaks to the Punjabi in [me]

I came across this poem today, and definitely wanted to share with all you Langarites. Preeti Kaur, the author from California, is able to speak to numerous aspects of self-identifying as a Punjabi. We’ve had some discussions around Punjabi and Sikh identity here before, thought it would be refreshing to have an artistic take to the topic. Here are a few of my favorite lines:

You Bring Out The Punjabi In Me
By: Preeti Kaur
with respect to Sandra Cisneros You Bring Out the Mexican In Me


sonu
you burn the inquilabi in me
ghadar is a language
i speak only to you
pacific mist we breathe
the subcontinent to freedom
from our san francisco dreams
hidden under guise of fog
tag taxis with saffron orange bumper stickers
ZINDABAAD!!! ZINDABAAD!!!
perhaps the morning pooni the start of our rebellion
radioactive jalebis the danger
we eat

Click here for the audio podcast and full poempublished at the online literary magazineQarrtsiluni.

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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Breaking the Silence: Reflections on Surat-Lalkaar

I spent this weekend in Fort Lee, New Jersey across the river from Manhattan at the Surat-Lalkaar Conference, “Kaur Voices: Exalt, Express, Empower.” As discussed previously, this event was a new collaboration between organizers of the popular Surat Conference in NY/NJ and California’s Jakara Movement. Never having attended a conference put on by either group, I was curious what the weekend would bring and eager (and a bit nervous) to help facilitate dialogue in our community about gender, sexism, and intimate violence.

Perhaps others will also have report backs and reflections on the conference in the coming days and weeks (feel free to share your thoughts in the comments), but for now I wanted to share a few highlights, a few aspects of my experience as both participant and a facilitation at Surat-Lalkaar while it’s fresh.

What struck me the most this weekend was simply the theme of the conference: issues of gender and gendered violence in the Punjabi Sikh community. As I was co-facilitating an intense discussion about a case study (based on a real situation) about child sexual abuse in a Sikh family, I looked around at the dozen or so Singhs or Kaurs in my group and realized I had never talked about this issue with a group of Sikhs. Nor had the rest of the participants in my discussion group.

A shared experience of nearly everyone in the group (and likely everyone at the conference) was the resounding silence about domestic violence, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse in our families, our gurdwaras, and our communities. There was a sense from many that these issues are indeed problems in our community, but problems that are hard to know the scope or seriousness of because no one talks about them openly. Many participants saw a tendency in our Sikh families to brush any “problems” under the rug to preserve the reputation or “honor” of the family.

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Sikhi Is Part of the Solution: Ending Gendercide

Gendercide is a well-known problem in India. The BBC and ABC 20/20 have highlighted this issue. The low sex-ratio in Punjab, India shows how the soil, which gave birth to Sikhi is not devoid of this problem. The land on which our Gurus proclaimed the equality of women when others considered her impure has now become the dumping ground for unwanted baby girls. Their pure bodies are thrown onto piles of garbage for dogs to nibble away. Dead fetuses are stuffed into water wells.

A seminal research study conducted by Monica Das Gupta on selective discrimination against female children in Punjab states that Punjabi Sikh women are highly educated and well-treated in Punjab compared to other states. The harsh reality is that a rise in status has not changed the value of women. Women can be loved and cared for, but still under valued. They can be highly educated and treated well, but families want one of these daughters not two. But two sons would be okay. The value of daughters and sons is displayed when couples develop family-building strategies. How many children to have? If we have one daughter or two, will we be content with another daughter? Should we have only one son? Studies show that common answers to these questions are strongly rooted in a distorted value system, which reinforces the secondary status of women and allows for structures to be created to perpetuate this inequity. Thus, value systems and structures produce a circular cycle of mutually reinforcing each other.

The Sikh Gurus gifted us a value system that does not permit this secondary status of women. However, many have chosen not to implement it in their lives. It has even seeped its way into how Sikhi is practiced. Women are not allowed to do all kinds of seva at the Harmandar Sahib and our granthis/ragis kathaa most often highlight how a Sikh woman went to the Guru to request only a son.

If Sikhi is a key element to any solution for gendercide within the Punjabi Sikh community, wouldnt kathaa/sikhyaa in the Gurdwara be the most logical place to start? We do enter the house of our Guru to understand and reinforce our Sikh value system.

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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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