Sikholars 2013 ReCap

Guest blogged: Mewa Singh

sikholarsFrom February 16-17, 2013, researchers from throughout the world, focusing on Sikh-related topics, came together at Stanford University for the 4th annual Sikholars Conference, hosted by the Jakara Movement. From Europe to Pakistan, from India to Canada, and throughout the United States, young scholars came together for a weekend of discussion and engagement in a unique forum that connects the academy to the community. Here, I provide here a bit of a recap and encouragement for those that missed this year to make sure you don’t miss Sikholars 2014.

The conference commenced with an opening address by Professor Thomas Blom Hansen.  The director of Stanford University’s Center for South Asia welcomed the audience and shared his excitement for a new partnership between the Jakara Movement and the Center for South Asia in years to come in hosting the Sikholars Conference.   Next followed a lecture by Professor Linda Hess, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Bhagat Kabir Ji.

The morning panel on Saturday was hosted by 2012 recipient of the Ajeet Matharu Memorial Prize, Jasmine Singh.  Jasmine facilitated a discussion between Gina Singh (UCLA), Balbir Singh (UW), and Prabhneet Singh (UCLA).  Gina’s paper explored new voices in Sikh femininity through the mode of blog sites.  Challenging single notions of the ‘feminine,’ often situated in a European experience and predicated on individuality expressed through the disregard of any ‘gender roles’, Gina Singh shared her research on exciting Sikh voices of the feminine that seeks not to emulate a supposed single European experience, but rather one that seeks to find its own voice within a tradition, yet challenging it at the same time.  Prabhneet Singh shared her work on a Chandigarh-based group called Sarab Rog Ka Aukhad Naam.  She sought to immerse herself within their experience and understand how they understand healings.  Although Professor Hess encouraged her to maintain a critical approach and ask difficult questions, still Prabhneet’s work is significant as an initial vista into forms and conceptions of healing within medical anthropology. Balbir Singh’s paper forms part of a growing literature asking critical questions about Sikh-American politics.  She raised key questions with regards to understanding violence against Sikhs as a form of racist violence, tied to notions of Islamophobia, and how Sikhs understand their connections and possible coalitions with other ‘communities of color’ through the logic of ‘racial’ constructions.

The second panel of the morning brought together Simran Jeet Singh of Columbia University, Peder Gedda of UBC, and Navyug Gill of Emory.  Simran Jeet Singh posed key questions about the usage of the word ‘hagiography’ in describing the janamsakhi literatures of Guru Nanak.  By taking the audience through a history of the words usage, he asked whether a word that used to describe Christian saints may not be apt to describe the life of a founder of the Sikhs.  Peder Gedda’s work revolves around the rahit literatures of the eighteenth century.  Discovering a little-used 1979 publication by Shamsher Singh Ashok, the work provides insights into many of the rahitnamas that were lost after the army burning of the Sikh Reference Library in 1984, during Operation Bluestar.  His work seeks to connect these works to the broader milieu in which they were composed.  Navyug Singh Gill’s paper explored the creation and question of the ‘peasant’ in the colonial archive.  He examined the silences of the colonial record of other groupings, especially those of oppressed non-landed communities, and asked difficult questions about the ramifications of silencing the most dispossessed sections from history and how, if it is possible, can their voices and place be rediscovered.

Jasdeep Singh from UCLA hosted the final panel of Day 1.  The panel was specially formed around the question of caste within the Sikh community.  Opening the panel was Harmeet Kaur of Columbia University.  Sharing her interviews with the Ravidasia community of Richmond Hill in New York, she explored questions of employment and health discrimination, as well as questions on social injustice practiced by members of the Sikh community in the United States.  Harpreet Gill of JNU in Delhi shared her work, exploring voices of Dalit women in Punjab that have been recently published.  Finally, Harpeet Kaur of SGGS College of Commerce detailed the hypocrisy  of Sikhs in having a tradition that rejects caste, yet its continued practice.  The session ended with an appeal by the facilitator to call on Sikhs to visit and participate and an audience member calling for the usage of American-based terminology of “oppression”, “apartheid,” and “caste supremacy” to understand the implications of this injustice and to seek the ‘courage to face the mirror.’

Day 1 ended with festivities at a banquet.  Professor Cynthia Mahmood shared her thoughts on human rights in South Asia, with a focus on Sikhs.  Combining critique and compassion, she provided a compelling framework, as she gave the first annual Amitesh Kaur Memorial Lecture.  Evening entertainment was provided by Raginder “Violinder Momi, Neelamjit Singh Dhillon, Gunjiv “Baghi” Singh, Jagmeet “Hoodini” Singh, Mandeep Sethi, and Nisha Sehmbi.

Sunday of Sikholars opened with a panel on the politics of violence.  Loveleen Kaur of Wilfrid Laurier University shared reflections on the meanings of traumas and healing in the context of activism by the 2nd generation Sikh youth of Canada, especially those youth connected to the Sikh Activist Network.  Ruma Sinha of Syracuse University shared her analysis of Shauna Singh Baldwin’s What the Body Remembers.  While highlighting questions of femininity, subalternity, and alternative narratives raised in the book, Ruma also posed questions about silences in the work as well.  Sami Brar of the University of Alberta concluded the panel with a discussion of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and its inhumanity, flouting of international law, and implications both on the imprisoned, but also on the Indian body politic today.  Far from a memory, the colonial legacy continues to haunt South Asia today in its new incarnations.

The second panel was a new addition this year.  Titled the “Entrepreneurs Panel”, it was facilitated by Sandeep Singh Nijjar and composed of three young Sikh tech entrepreneurs: Harjeet Taggar of Y-Combinator, Savraj Singh of Wattvision, and Navroop Mitter of Gryphn.  The panel was extremely popular with each sharing their personal stories.  Harjeet told with humility how he went from a college music pirate to becoming a partner at Y-Combinator, the most prestigious startup tech incubator.  Savraj Singh discussed how his “green technology” seeks nothing less but to improve the world.  Navroop Singh provided insight on to the need to invest in high growth industries by Sikhs for the opportunities for substantial outputs in order to invest into the Sikh community. The panel was extremely popular and we will seek to add new voices in the future.

The final panel was chaired by Professor Puroshottama Bilimoria of UC Berkeley.  The panel centered around questions of medium and memory.  Arvinder Kang from University of Mississippi shared his projects on bringing the Punjabi to the web and its future implications.  Tavleen Kaur of the University of Michigan shared her thoughts and raised provocative questions on the museological impulse seen within Sikhs, both in the diaspora and in the homeland, today, and its ramifications from lived material culture to that which is only displayed. Professor Professor Nadhra Khan of Lahore University of Management Sciences shared her work on the Lahore Fort.  Looking at continuities and innovations, she explored the architectural legacy of Ranjit Singh.  She ended her talk with an interesting question with regards to some Krishna imagery employed by Ranjit Singh.  The final paper of the conference was presented by Cristin McKnight-Sethi of UC Berkeley, who explored the phulkari tradition and how it became appropriated as a “Sikh art.”

The conference also included the “penning ceremony,” where Sikholars past induct the new class of Sikholars into their community.  This year’s Ajeet Singh Matharu Memorial Prize for best papers were presented by the Matharu Family to Navyug Singh Gill and Nadhra Khan.

Overall Sikholars was an amazing weekend. Organizers have shared that they have recorded the presentations and will be uploading them to youtube, after editing.  A one-day Sikholars event in London will be announced in coming weeks.  For the rest, hope you book your flights and mark your calendars now for Sikholars 2014, coming February 14-16, 2014.  Keep up with the latest Jakara information by signing up for our newsletter


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7 Responses to “Sikholars 2013 ReCap”

  1. Blighty Singh says:

    Scholar Camp 2013. Scolar Camp 2012. Scholar Camp 2011. Scholar Camp 2010. Scholar Camp 2009. Scholar Camp 2008. Scholar Camp 2007. Scholar Camp 2006.
    So……apart from the fact that pseudo scholars get to meet each other and pat each other on the back…and make themselves feel important….what on earth has any of these annual 'scholars meets' achieved for the rest of us Sikhs ?
    Who the hell are you 'Sikh Scholars' anyway ? I'm a cockney Sikh and I'm doing a Phd and I've never heard of this scholars conferance. I've got family in Punjab with degrees, masters and now doing their doctorate and they've never heard of this 'scholars' conference.
    So just who are these so-called 'scholars' ? Well, reading the literature, many of them are from Canadian Universities. And so what the hell is a 'Canadian University' and what is it's worth ? According to the latest league tables they hardly make it into the top 100. Added to that is the fact that most people around the world don't even know of Canada's existence as anything worth mentioning let alone think about. So what are we left with ? We're left with local Americans going to local American uni's belonging to local American uni debating societies….thinking they speak for the global sikh community. Thats why none of us have ever heard of anything of any value come out of this annual jamboree. Its time it was scrapped. If not scrapped its time the conferance stopped advertising itself as a 'global' event.

    • APS says:

      Hello Blighty,

      Thank you for your message, I appreciate the time you took to write. I'm one of the people who helped organize Sikholars this year. Its a trite thing to point out right off the bat, but the name of the event is "Sikholars" a portmanteau of Sikhs and scholars.

      I don't know what you mean by "meet each other and pat each other on the back." The goal of the conference is of course to encourage interdisciplinary networking, but more importantly to present the research to the community. In that vein, over 160 community members came out in person, and more than that number streamed the event online. As you probably know, that level of community participation is huge for an academic conference.

      I am unsure why you are calling the participants "pseudo scholars." Most of them are in doctoral programs like yourself, and those who aren't nontheless have highly developed research, like Prabhneet Kaur of UCLA whose paper undertook a medical anthropology of Sikh spiritual healing based on field research in Chandigarh.

      I am not sure if someone is sockpuppeting your account, but you said that you've never heard of this conference even though you lobbed similar criticisms last year: http://thelangarhall.com/activism/another-sikhola

      I don't know why you're making such harsh and irresponsible criticisms of the speakers based on the countries that they come from. Our two graduate students from Canada are from the University of Waterloo and the University of British Columbia, the latter especially having a worldwide reputation in Asian Studies, the department from which our participant hails. I hope you reread your comments about Canada and rethink your approach to how you live in the world. Most people in the world don't know about Sikhs or Punjab, so should we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

      I wish you would have taken the time to listen to the livestream to hear what these scholars actually said rather than projecting your assumption that they try to speak for the global Sikh community. Indeed we had scholars from India and one from Pakistan delivering quite groundbreaking work making this a global conversation.

      Out of curiosity, which university do you go to and which department are you in? I will ensure that next year your department will receive the call for papers. I encourage you to join the Sikhs in Europe research network (http://www.sikhs-in-europe.org/) which annually forwards our announcement. They will also make sure you don't miss other important programming in Sikh and Punjab Studies. Finally, you should be aware of the H-Net listservs (http://www.h-net.org/~asia/) which are perhaps the most important listservs that you can subscribe to as a doctoral student. They also carry our announcements. If you have any other questions or need help networking in your academic career feel free to email me at singha @ stanford . edu

      • Blighty Singh says:

        Thanks for the reply APS. Unfortunately, what with me being a very busy scholar an' all, I don't have the time to read everything you wrote. I'm sure, however, it was all good.
        If I can make one suggestion though, it would be this : If such events are to be termed 'global' events, they should perhaps be held in locations where global participants can attend. For example, the USA is, in many ways, a sort of despotic 3rd world country when it comes to welcoming people from around the world for a visit. I know I can never be allowed an American visa….I also know of many other British Sikh 'scholars' that have never been allowed an American visitors visa, and the European news media has, over the years, been full of articles about how so many famous and celebrated European individuals are denied entry into the USA, including many of our top politicians. You can imagine then, what chance a member of the 150,000 strong Italian Sikh community have with their temporary papers…….Or what chance 'scholars' from Punjab have. The event is then, in all intents and purposes, a local event. If I organise a tea and somasa party with 13 local London guests and 1 each from Swaziland and Mongolia, it doesn't turn it into an international event. It is still, in essence, a local tea and samosa get-together.

        • APS says:

          Blightly, I'm disappointed that you're not writing in good faith. I don't know why you insist on lying to try to prove a point. We had a scholar get a visa to come here from *Pakistan* (not the easiest place to get a visa to the US) and Delhi. We've had scholars in the past come from Punjab, and the UK without any issues at all. This year was about 40% international participation — hardly a "local event." If you want to have a an actual conversation, please, feel free to email me at singha @ stanford . edu Good luck finding that lucrative law job you dream of.

    • APS says:

      In case you get email updates from your comments, there is a Sikholars London Conference. Sikholars.org

  2. SSX says:

    I think someones application to Sikholars got rejected…!

  3. pnrk says:

    There's something very wrong in dissecting Gurbani and compositions of sants/bhagats as though it were just regular mankardt literature; a Gursikh told me anyone who is disrespectful of Gurbani ends up with leprosy, whether here or some other hellish realm.
    -it's like trying to reduce feelings of love/prem to chemicals in the body but worse.

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