Towards a Sikh Civil Rights Agenda

Although my earlier discussion on multiculturalism put forth some of my thoughts, an interesting news item caught my interest yesterday. I guess this can be seen in a way as a part II of that original post.

While many of us spent our weekends remembering the spirit of the Khalsa, attending Nagar Kirtans, making rounds at the Vaisakhi Melas, or buying tickets for the upcoming Gurdas Mann tour, some New York Sikhs did something very different.

Sponsored by the Sikh Coalition, Sikhs in New York gathered at the steps of City Hall in protest. They released a report, Making Our Voices Heard: A Civil Rights Agenda for New York Citys Sikhs.

The report provides its own background:

In December 2006, the Sikh Coalition, with the help of several dedicated volunteers, began conducting the first ever civil rights survey of New York Citys Sikhs. The survey intended to gather information on Sikhs experiences with incidents of bias, employment discrimination, language access and other issues that hinder full integration into New Yorks civic and political life.

This report represents the results obtained from the data we collected from 1,021 Sikhs who live in New York Citys five boroughs. The data presented in this report identifies significant gaps between the promise of the law and the Sikh communitys reality on the ground.

The report seemed most concerned with issues related to Sikh identity (read: outward appearance). The survey should not be considered a snapshot of the general experience by Sikhs in New York as the survey itself mentions that 90% interviewed carry some outward manifestation of their faith (this may be a bit disingenuous because the implication seems to be keshadhari Sikhs, but such a worded quote should also include all that wear a kara as well.) and only 1/3 interviewed were female (odd target group as the acknowledgments shows that the report was largely conducted by Sikh women), but despite these limitations, the report is suggestive in the following fields:

  • Hate Crimes or Harassment
    • 41% of New York Citys Sikhs reported being called derogatory names such as terrorists
  • School Bullying and Discrimination
    • Amongst those who wear turbans or patkas, 3 out of 5 Sikh children have been harassed and verbally or physically abused.
  • Employment Discrimination and Workplace Harassment
    • Amongst Sikhs who wear turbans, 9% state that they have been refused employment or denied a job promotion because of their Sikh identity.
  • Language Access
    • While over 25% of non-citizen Sikhs reported needing English translators, yet Punjabi-language resources are provided by only a handful of New York City agencies.
  • Public Accommodation
    • 11% of New York Citys Sikh adults reported being refused entry somewhere because they carry a kirpan. Government buildings were the most common place that respondents identified being refused entry because of their kirpans.
  • Health Insurance
    • Nearly half of the non-citizen Sikhs who live in New York City do not have any form of health insurance for themselves or their families.
  • Relationship with Law Enforcement
    • A quarter of Sikh New Yorkers who wear turbans report that they believe they have been unfairly stopped or questioned by law enforcement officers.

For me, most striking of this approach towards a civil rights agenda was that community activists are working towards expanding a previously smaller definition by including topics such as health insurance and language access. These moves should be commended.

Other interesting suggestions from the report may be related to possible future blog topics:

  • The discouragement of using young children as translators in families that do not speak English as this causes an undue burden on the young child. Anecdotally, I have noticed young girls often are placed in this role, even if an older brother is in the house.
  • Another suggestion of note for me was that the NYPD should visit Sikh gurdwaras to ensure New York City Sikhs know they can be protected from hate violence. Is it just me or should the police not come to our Gurdwara? I feel we should keep the state out of this space. I am not against this information being disseminated, but must it be at our Gurdwaras? This seems to be one of the key achievements of all Sikh advocacy groups (Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, SCORE, etc) that the police came to the Gurdwara and gave a presentation.

Ok, so of course, as a contrarian, while I do commend such action, I wonder if as a Sikh community we need to begin the process of moving away from a rights-based logic. In a previous post on multiculturalism, I wrote:

Similar to Lal, I believe we do see legal pluralism in the courts of Canada and the United States. However legal pluralism are merely court verdicts and parliamentary/congressional laws and bills that offer some legal support to minorities, but are constantly and continuously contested. Legal pluralism is temporary. The real meaning of legal pluralism only enforces the supremacy that is given to the state to make all decisions.

What we need is actual cultural pluralism. Cultural pluralism will occur when Canadians or Americans see the Muslim hijab or the Sikh kirpan as not something foreign or belonging to only a specific community, but rather a cultural and religious marker of members of its own society.

However a rights-based logic only promotes the supremacy of the state to determine rights. It must be constantly contested. Maybe the words of accomodation and assimilation can be of assistance, although I will invert the more frequent connotations.

The legal pluralism in Canada and the United States has the ability to accommodate to diversity. This is the reason why the various advocacy groups are usually legal organizations that mainly deal with legal issues and court cases. However, legal pluralism CANNOT assimilate diversity into the mindsets of the majority of Americans. Look no further than the civil rights movement of African-Americans. Despite legal pluralism and decisions in numerous courts, African-Americans are still outsiders for the majority of Americans.

For Sikhs this is even more strongly the case. While in the short-term a rights-based logic may yield tactical advantages, our overall strategy, I believe, must move away from such an approach. While Sikh turbans and kirpans may be accommodated (accommodation however continues to imply other-ness and foreign-ness) through a legal framework, they cannot be assimilated into the American mindset. To assimilate implies the ending of distinctions based on centers and margins. Assimilating the Sikh turban and kirpan means moving it out of a perceived strange other-ness until it is also considered inherently Canadian, American, etc.

How do we do this? By critical engagement in our communities. When all of us on a local level engage in those issues that press our local communities and they see our faces, turbans, karas, etc. In some small way, I even here these words echo from Sylvia Deed. Interviewed by the Stockton Record (as a sidenote, while viewing the Stockton Record’s sports page, here is an interesting look at their local sports podcaster, Jagdip Dhillon) about this weekend’s Nagar Kirtan:

Sylvia Deed, 49, is not Sikh, but her San Joaquin Street home opens right onto the parade route. She gathered three generations of her family, called her friends and held her own barbecue to watch the parade. “It is awesome every year,” she said. “It’s so beautiful to watch.”

So while I think that a civil rights agenda is a step in the right direction and will bring us as a community to a better place than that which currently exists, I wonder if such an approach also sets up its own limitations and ceiling?


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14 Responses to “Towards a Sikh Civil Rights Agenda”

  1. Reema says:

    Jodha,

    You're right that legal advocacy cannot by itself change the mindset of Americans. I think more often, successful legal change only occurs after sufficient social mindsets have changed, like with the African American Civil Rights movement. Law doesn't lead, but follows. After the 14th Amendment, it took the Civil Rights movement a century later before legislation enforcing rights for African Americans was actually implemented.

    Social advocacy- changing mindsets- has to come first for any rights to have any substance; though I do think 'rights' have a long term role- they can buttress and institutionalize social advances that are made.

  2. Reema says:

    Jodha,

    You’re right that legal advocacy cannot by itself change the mindset of Americans. I think more often, successful legal change only occurs after sufficient social mindsets have changed, like with the African American Civil Rights movement. Law doesn’t lead, but follows. After the 14th Amendment, it took the Civil Rights movement a century later before legislation enforcing rights for African Americans was actually implemented.

    Social advocacy- changing mindsets- has to come first for any rights to have any substance; though I do think ‘rights’ have a long term role- they can buttress and institutionalize social advances that are made.

  3. Jodha says:

    Reema,

    I agree with your analysis on the law following, but Republicans have seized on this idea of 'activist judges' pushing agendas that they believe are being adjudicated by ideological judges (the mirror never reflects back though, does it?). However, in so doing it through a non-democratic path, this creates its own backlash. Something about the 'rights-based' logic that are given and taken away by states, sits uneasy with me.

  4. Jodha says:

    Reema,

    I agree with your analysis on the law following, but Republicans have seized on this idea of ‘activist judges’ pushing agendas that they believe are being adjudicated by ideological judges (the mirror never reflects back though, does it?). However, in so doing it through a non-democratic path, this creates its own backlash. Something about the ‘rights-based’ logic that are given and taken away by states, sits uneasy with me.

  5. Hari Singh Khalsa says:

    I was completely turned off by this article as soon as I read the following line:

    "The report seemed most concerned with issues related to Sikh identity (read: outward appearance)"

    It seems to me that the author of this criticism has no outward manifestation of their identity. If this is the case I must offer my own criticism of the author, the author has no basis for writing this piece if they are not keshdari or amrit dhari. If the author maintained the 5 k's they would not only understand that the Sikh identity is not merely an "outward appearance", but they would also understand the grave need for the kind of activism and lobbying cited in the article. I have the suspicion that this author has never been discriminated against. Not that I wish this upon any one, but this is a very very common experience in the American Sikh community.

    If you have no experience with having your rights diminished or removed then you have no basis for understanding the desire for greater civil rights. I am an amrit dhari Sikh who takes my commitment to seva very seriously, my identity (along with it's outward manifestations) helps me to fulfill my destiny (seva) everyday. I grew up wearing a turban and being discriminated against for my religion and equally for my race, this is despite the fact that I'm not the stereotypical demographic to be racially discriminated against (I have blond hair and blue eyes). This hurt greatly as a child and my parents and most of my Sikh community could not offer any help as I was not mature enough to fully elucidate the extent of the abuse and they were largely unfamiliar with the experience. Now I am grateful that I triumphed over adversity young, as it forged me into a strong Khalsa, but I am confident I could've reached this state without the discrimination and without the pain. That's what these efforts are about.

    I am keenly aware of how the institutions (gov, schools, authorities) can abuse their power. They abused their power and size in succumbing to their apathy when I protested against the abuse I received. "Oh just tell them to stop". This was the response I would get when I would report abuse as a child. It meant "I don't really want to interrupt my 15 minute cigarette break to deal with the fact that half of the children at recess just encircled you and tried to beat you up." If there was a rule that abuse could not be ignored or you risk losing your job, then I would've received quite a different response from the authorities. We are by no means giving power to the state/authorities, we're simply enforcing that they reflect our collective values.

    I no longer need protection or help from the authorities, I've been forged in the heat of battle, but there are still plenty of vulnerable people in our community (the human community) that I would like to use my strength to protect. Try to understand this, and you'll be less likely to criticize and more likely to take action.

  6. Hari Singh Khalsa says:

    I was completely turned off by this article as soon as I read the following line:

    “The report seemed most concerned with issues related to Sikh identity (read: outward appearance)”

    It seems to me that the author of this criticism has no outward manifestation of their identity. If this is the case I must offer my own criticism of the author, the author has no basis for writing this piece if they are not keshdari or amrit dhari. If the author maintained the 5 k’s they would not only understand that the Sikh identity is not merely an “outward appearance”, but they would also understand the grave need for the kind of activism and lobbying cited in the article. I have the suspicion that this author has never been discriminated against. Not that I wish this upon any one, but this is a very very common experience in the American Sikh community.

    If you have no experience with having your rights diminished or removed then you have no basis for understanding the desire for greater civil rights. I am an amrit dhari Sikh who takes my commitment to seva very seriously, my identity (along with it’s outward manifestations) helps me to fulfill my destiny (seva) everyday. I grew up wearing a turban and being discriminated against for my religion and equally for my race, this is despite the fact that I’m not the stereotypical demographic to be racially discriminated against (I have blond hair and blue eyes). This hurt greatly as a child and my parents and most of my Sikh community could not offer any help as I was not mature enough to fully elucidate the extent of the abuse and they were largely unfamiliar with the experience. Now I am grateful that I triumphed over adversity young, as it forged me into a strong Khalsa, but I am confident I could’ve reached this state without the discrimination and without the pain. That’s what these efforts are about.

    I am keenly aware of how the institutions (gov, schools, authorities) can abuse their power. They abused their power and size in succumbing to their apathy when I protested against the abuse I received. “Oh just tell them to stop”. This was the response I would get when I would report abuse as a child. It meant “I don’t really want to interrupt my 15 minute cigarette break to deal with the fact that half of the children at recess just encircled you and tried to beat you up.” If there was a rule that abuse could not be ignored or you risk losing your job, then I would’ve received quite a different response from the authorities. We are by no means giving power to the state/authorities, we’re simply enforcing that they reflect our collective values.

    I no longer need protection or help from the authorities, I’ve been forged in the heat of battle, but there are still plenty of vulnerable people in our community (the human community) that I would like to use my strength to protect. Try to understand this, and you’ll be less likely to criticize and more likely to take action.

  7. Jodha says:

    Dear Hari Singh Khalsa,

    Sir, as you stated it may "[seem] to [you] that the author of this criticism has no outward manifestation of their identity," but then again you may be vastly mistaken.

    Regarding your suspicion of whether I have been 'discriminated against,' again, you may be mistaken. However, I would not expect you to know me or my own experiences, but at the same time, be careful with such assumptions.

    To engage with your argument, I understand the hurt and frustration that you felt by the dereliction of responsibility by a number of adults. It is great that despite that, you have became master of your identity and are trying to extend your help to other 'vulnerable people in our community.' It is all commendable, just as this initiative by the Sikh Coalition.

    However, my initial comments about the (read: outward appearance) had to do with the report's methodology. The report said that it interviewed 90% of Sikhs that "carry some outward manifestation of their faith." I felt this language is a bit disingenuous because through reading the report, it is obvious that those interviewed were keshadhari/amritdhari Sikhs, but the wording employed means it should have also included those Sikhs that do not keep their hair, but wear a kara. Interviewing keshadhari/amritdhari Sikhs is fine, but I do think that the wording should be clarified. However, issues such as Health Insurance and Language Accommodation [those very fields I most commended the report for] affect a larger section of the community than just keshadhari/amritdhari Sikhs. As organizations like the Sikh Coalition in their 'Media Resources' explains that "Sikhism is one of the largest world religions with over twenty-two million adherents around the globe," then I would hope that in trying to advocate for ALL of these twenty-two million people, not only a visible subsection.

    Finally, with regards to law and rules. I have a feeling that there are rules and protocols in place that teachers are to intervene against bullying. Whether it is actually enforced or not, comes about due to individual choices. This is the case with all laws, their effectiveness has a direct relationship with their actual implementation.

    However, I am posing the question is the 'rights-based' logic THE ONLY route for us as a community to take? 'Rights'-based logic will make sure that you are allowed to wear your patka/dastar to school, but it does not ensure that you will not be teased, harassed, or bullied. It is for this reason that I put forth that in addition to 'rights-based' strategies that have short-term tactical advantages, our long-term strategic planning should be based upon working towards 'cultural pluralism.' I cited an example of a particular Sylvia Deed from Stockton, where I saw this displayed. I believe that Waris Ahluwalia's performance in Spike Lee's Inside Man was also a move towards the promotion of 'cultural pluralism.' Regarding your comment that we are 'not giving power to the state/authorities,' I disagree. By appealing to the state for your rights and their enforcement of them, I do believe that we are relying on their power. I do not deny that the state is a powerful entity, but I do believe that our own agency is also very powerful. Extending our hands to our neighbors and practicing pluralism in our own community and beyond, I believe, should be where we concentrate our efforts. Do the laws 'reflect our collective values,' I see your line of thinking with this, but am not sure if I subscribe to that view.

    Regardless Hari, I appreciate your comments and for the opportunity that I may better clarify mine as well. I hope I didn't 'completely turn you off' this time around.

  8. Jodha says:

    Dear Hari Singh Khalsa,

    Sir, as you stated it may “[seem] to [you] that the author of this criticism has no outward manifestation of their identity,” but then again you may be vastly mistaken.

    Regarding your suspicion of whether I have been ‘discriminated against,’ again, you may be mistaken. However, I would not expect you to know me or my own experiences, but at the same time, be careful with such assumptions.

    To engage with your argument, I understand the hurt and frustration that you felt by the dereliction of responsibility by a number of adults. It is great that despite that, you have became master of your identity and are trying to extend your help to other ‘vulnerable people in our community.’ It is all commendable, just as this initiative by the Sikh Coalition.

    However, my initial comments about the (read: outward appearance) had to do with the report’s methodology. The report said that it interviewed 90% of Sikhs that “carry some outward manifestation of their faith.” I felt this language is a bit disingenuous because through reading the report, it is obvious that those interviewed were keshadhari/amritdhari Sikhs, but the wording employed means it should have also included those Sikhs that do not keep their hair, but wear a kara. Interviewing keshadhari/amritdhari Sikhs is fine, but I do think that the wording should be clarified. However, issues such as Health Insurance and Language Accommodation [those very fields I most commended the report for] affect a larger section of the community than just keshadhari/amritdhari Sikhs. As organizations like the Sikh Coalition in their ‘Media Resources’ explains that “Sikhism is one of the largest world religions with over twenty-two million adherents around the globe,” then I would hope that in trying to advocate for ALL of these twenty-two million people, not only a visible subsection.

    Finally, with regards to law and rules. I have a feeling that there are rules and protocols in place that teachers are to intervene against bullying. Whether it is actually enforced or not, comes about due to individual choices. This is the case with all laws, their effectiveness has a direct relationship with their actual implementation.

    However, I am posing the question is the ‘rights-based’ logic THE ONLY route for us as a community to take? ‘Rights’-based logic will make sure that you are allowed to wear your patka/dastar to school, but it does not ensure that you will not be teased, harassed, or bullied. It is for this reason that I put forth that in addition to ‘rights-based’ strategies that have short-term tactical advantages, our long-term strategic planning should be based upon working towards ‘cultural pluralism.’ I cited an example of a particular Sylvia Deed from Stockton, where I saw this displayed. I believe that Waris Ahluwalia’s performance in Spike Lee’s Inside Man was also a move towards the promotion of ‘cultural pluralism.’ Regarding your comment that we are ‘not giving power to the state/authorities,’ I disagree. By appealing to the state for your rights and their enforcement of them, I do believe that we are relying on their power. I do not deny that the state is a powerful entity, but I do believe that our own agency is also very powerful. Extending our hands to our neighbors and practicing pluralism in our own community and beyond, I believe, should be where we concentrate our efforts. Do the laws ‘reflect our collective values,’ I see your line of thinking with this, but am not sure if I subscribe to that view.

    Regardless Hari, I appreciate your comments and for the opportunity that I may better clarify mine as well. I hope I didn’t ‘completely turn you off’ this time around.

  9. Hari Singh Khalsa says:

    Dear Jodha,

    I appreciate your response and clarifications of your views. I believe that there is definitely a valid line of inquiry in questioning the 'rights-based' approach to solving some of the problems facing the Sikh community. You noted that you "may" maintain an outwardly visible manifestation of your identity and you "may" have experienced discrimination, if my assumptions were wrong, then I withdraw my criticism of you. I must still remain critical, however, of anyone who questions the actions of those who have experienced discrimination if they have not experienced discrimination themselves. One may think they truly understand discrimination when they witness it occurring especially if they witness a family member or community member at the end of it, however, a true understanding of discrimination is definitely gained when you experience it, all else is debatable.

    The reason I labeled your article as "criticism" is because although you do commend the work of the NY Sikhs, the tone feels as though you are chastising this American Sikh community of ours for not doing enough to engage locally, while only focusing on issues such as civil rights. I've traveled to many Gurdwaras in the US and I constantly see Sikhs being involved in local activities but I only see a few people and organizations campaigning on the Sikhs behalf through this kind of advocacy.

    I think you see the same thing as I do amongst the mixed Sikh/Punjabi immigrant communities. Immigrants of all kinds have a long history of sticking to "their kind" and forming their social, religious, political and economic interests mostly around their own community. This insular attitude usually leads to great benefits as well as difficulties and divisions. Most people are not stupid and will do what is, at least minimally, necessary to ensure a semi-content existence. Some might argue that this is the root of all efforts extended to other communities, I would not. The Sikh ethos teaches us to extend ourselves to others (seva). Those Sikhs that maintain an outward manifestation of their faith have been targeted since 9/11 and have, if for no other reason than survival, been very engaged in their local communities. On the other hand, those who call themselves "Sikhs" but do not maintain any obviously visible and distinct manifestations of their identity/beliefs have rarely been targets of harassment, or discrimination. In other words, if you wear a turban you pretty much need to engage and explain yourself, if you don't you're afforded the "luxury" of apathy. Seeing as how many Sikh communities in America are dominated by Punjabi immigrants, and these immigrants may consist more of a population of "Sikhs" that are not in roop, than in roop and following the logic that these would be the ones that tend toward apathetic or insular ways, it's reasonable to see how you reached your conclusions. A funded and active non-profit such as the Sikh Coalition may gain more prominence in the media due to media relations necessarily being a part of it's activities, but I guarantee the vast majority of efforts of the Sikh community are on a local level and never reported.

  10. Hari Singh Khalsa says:

    Dear Jodha,

    I appreciate your response and clarifications of your views. I believe that there is definitely a valid line of inquiry in questioning the ‘rights-based’ approach to solving some of the problems facing the Sikh community. You noted that you “may” maintain an outwardly visible manifestation of your identity and you “may” have experienced discrimination, if my assumptions were wrong, then I withdraw my criticism of you. I must still remain critical, however, of anyone who questions the actions of those who have experienced discrimination if they have not experienced discrimination themselves. One may think they truly understand discrimination when they witness it occurring especially if they witness a family member or community member at the end of it, however, a true understanding of discrimination is definitely gained when you experience it, all else is debatable.

    The reason I labeled your article as “criticism” is because although you do commend the work of the NY Sikhs, the tone feels as though you are chastising this American Sikh community of ours for not doing enough to engage locally, while only focusing on issues such as civil rights. I’ve traveled to many Gurdwaras in the US and I constantly see Sikhs being involved in local activities but I only see a few people and organizations campaigning on the Sikhs behalf through this kind of advocacy.

    I think you see the same thing as I do amongst the mixed Sikh/Punjabi immigrant communities. Immigrants of all kinds have a long history of sticking to “their kind” and forming their social, religious, political and economic interests mostly around their own community. This insular attitude usually leads to great benefits as well as difficulties and divisions. Most people are not stupid and will do what is, at least minimally, necessary to ensure a semi-content existence. Some might argue that this is the root of all efforts extended to other communities, I would not. The Sikh ethos teaches us to extend ourselves to others (seva). Those Sikhs that maintain an outward manifestation of their faith have been targeted since 9/11 and have, if for no other reason than survival, been very engaged in their local communities. On the other hand, those who call themselves “Sikhs” but do not maintain any obviously visible and distinct manifestations of their identity/beliefs have rarely been targets of harassment, or discrimination. In other words, if you wear a turban you pretty much need to engage and explain yourself, if you don’t you’re afforded the “luxury” of apathy. Seeing as how many Sikh communities in America are dominated by Punjabi immigrants, and these immigrants may consist more of a population of “Sikhs” that are not in roop, than in roop and following the logic that these would be the ones that tend toward apathetic or insular ways, it’s reasonable to see how you reached your conclusions. A funded and active non-profit such as the Sikh Coalition may gain more prominence in the media due to media relations necessarily being a part of it’s activities, but I guarantee the vast majority of efforts of the Sikh community are on a local level and never reported.

  11. Jodha says:

    Dear Hari Singh, (may I call you Harry?, sorry poor joke, but I couldn't resist)

    With regards to your first point that another person cannot 'truly understand discrimination' without experiencing it, I do, unfortunately, agree. People with power, often cannot understand the experience of those without. In fact, some have even theorized that this inability is actually a manifestation of that power.

    I can understand why you would label my post as 'criticism,' but my intent is not 'criticism,' but rather 'critical' thought and engagement. The fact that we are having a wonderful critical conversation at least means that I was partially successful. I am definitely not chastising the Sikh Coalition and the NY Sikh Sangat's endeavors. In fact I do/did commend them.

    However, as you initially pointed out, I am calling to question what should our community-strategy be? Granted nothing has to be mutually exclusive. It should not be seen as you MUST choose either A or B. With A = national level and B = local level. I am definitely not trying to suggest such a thing.

    I guess, however, that my experience is different from yours. I actually see a number of organizations that clamor to create a 'national' status, without doing real work on the grassroots level. In fact that is my criticism of many of our 'national' level organizations. The Sikh Coalition, although being national, should be commended on working at the 'local' level in New York. I am, however, asking a question as to their tactics. While I believe that pressure on state entities can generate good for the community, I do believe that we should be moving towards creating an environment of 'cultural pluralism' and engaging in community coalition-building efforts with other groups in our local communities, rather than only seeking to appeal to the authority of the state apparatus.

    A post 9/11 example: Following the attacks on 9/11, there were many approaches by various Sikh individuals and entities.

    There were those that immediately sought police and government protection. This would be the statist Sikhs seeking legal and state protection.

    There were those that engaged in an initial reaction, launching a campaign stating that "we are not the enemies." These would be the don't-get-us Sikhs.

    Finally there were those that believed the "we are not the enemies" campaign although well-intentioned was wrongly executed and in fact not in accordance to the spirit of Sikhi. These were the people that started the "we are all Americans." It is this group of Sikhs that appealed to cultural pluralism. I believe that it is this group that was most effective and it is trying to encourage this approach in the future that I appeal to the readers. I believe that THIS should be our primary strategy.

  12. Jodha says:

    Dear Hari Singh, (may I call you Harry?, sorry poor joke, but I couldn’t resist)

    With regards to your first point that another person cannot ‘truly understand discrimination’ without experiencing it, I do, unfortunately, agree. People with power, often cannot understand the experience of those without. In fact, some have even theorized that this inability is actually a manifestation of that power.

    I can understand why you would label my post as ‘criticism,’ but my intent is not ‘criticism,’ but rather ‘critical’ thought and engagement. The fact that we are having a wonderful critical conversation at least means that I was partially successful. I am definitely not chastising the Sikh Coalition and the NY Sikh Sangat’s endeavors. In fact I do/did commend them.

    However, as you initially pointed out, I am calling to question what should our community-strategy be? Granted nothing has to be mutually exclusive. It should not be seen as you MUST choose either A or B. With A = national level and B = local level. I am definitely not trying to suggest such a thing.

    I guess, however, that my experience is different from yours. I actually see a number of organizations that clamor to create a ‘national’ status, without doing real work on the grassroots level. In fact that is my criticism of many of our ‘national’ level organizations. The Sikh Coalition, although being national, should be commended on working at the ‘local’ level in New York. I am, however, asking a question as to their tactics. While I believe that pressure on state entities can generate good for the community, I do believe that we should be moving towards creating an environment of ‘cultural pluralism’ and engaging in community coalition-building efforts with other groups in our local communities, rather than only seeking to appeal to the authority of the state apparatus.

    A post 9/11 example: Following the attacks on 9/11, there were many approaches by various Sikh individuals and entities.

    There were those that immediately sought police and government protection. This would be the statist Sikhs seeking legal and state protection.

    There were those that engaged in an initial reaction, launching a campaign stating that “we are not the enemies.” These would be the don’t-get-us Sikhs.

    Finally there were those that believed the “we are not the enemies” campaign although well-intentioned was wrongly executed and in fact not in accordance to the spirit of Sikhi. These were the people that started the “we are all Americans.” It is this group of Sikhs that appealed to cultural pluralism. I believe that it is this group that was most effective and it is trying to encourage this approach in the future that I appeal to the readers. I believe that THIS should be our primary strategy.

  13. […] various posts on this blog, we have discussed the idea of activism (and even lacktivism) within the Sikh […]

  14. essay writer says:

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