A Sikh Minstrel Show? YouTube Preview Image

This video from the popular South Indian television show Adhurs Ultimate Talent Show has gone viral in the last couple of days. In it, the so-called Warriors of Goja, a group of Sikh men “performing” with a giant Khanda as their backdrop and upbeat bhangra music as their soundtrack, win a cash prize of 300,000 rupees for their efforts.

There is much to say about this video, how it reflects upon our community, and how it fits nicely into the Indian media’s representation of Sikhs. Others have written about Sikhs and Bollywood, and I am not going to do a thorough analysis or history here. But what is painfully clear to me is that this “performance” of chest-beating (literally), hypermasculine Sardars acting like a bunch of baffoons as they pound themselves into bloodiness is simply a more blatant, egregious version of how Indian popular culture has represented Sikhs for as long as most of us can remember.

What does the viewer take away from this video? What does the average Indian (and non-Indian now that the video is going viral) learn about Sikhs as they see this group of men, proudly wearing their turbans and very deliberately representing their Sikh identity through their performance, smash each other with sledge hammers and run over each other with cars and motorcycles? Is this the kind of Sikh bravery and courage we want to show the world? Is this Guru Gobind Singh’s legacy? Or is this a bunch of clowns trying to make a quick buck and get their five minutes of fame by perpetuating stereotypes about Sikhs being violent and blood-thirsty on the one hand, and idiotic buffoons on the other.

Stereotypes sell, don’t they?

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Help UNITED SIKHS Win!

Seems to be a rather slow week for me and the fellow langa(w)riters. Maybe we’re at #occupywallstreet, or preparing for Fauja Singh’s appearance at SikhLens this weekend in Los Angeles, or who knows what else we’re doing. Still one thing we all made sure to do is vote for United Sikhs in the Chase Community Giving. As of my posting, they are currently #2. Can’t help but think that the competition has gotten considerably less over the last few years as the money has increased. Other Sikh orgs (read: ENSAAF), where you at!!

Regardless, vote NOW. You have to “like” Chase Community Giving. Many of you probably already have done it from the Jakara Movement’s win back in 2009. So now just go back and keep on voting. Let’s help push United Sikhs to the win. VOTE NOW! The competition ends on November 22, 2011. Let’s push United Sikhs to first place!

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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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Dhan Dhan Guru Nanak Sahib!

From all of us here at The Langar Hall, wishing you a very happy and inspired Gurpurab.

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Attention Sikh Art and Film Enthusiasts!!

Its that time of year again!

For those Southern California natives, you (hopefully) know it rolls around once every year. This year, SikhLens is proud to announce its annual Sikh Arts and Film Festival to be held November 18th 20th, 2011 at the prestigious Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange, California. As avid supporters of Sikh Arts, and creativity in general, I am hoping our readers would be especially interested in this event coming up in the next couple of weeks.

The Sikh Arts and Film Festival serves as a central venue for artists to showcase and share Sikh heritage and culturethrough the mediums of film, literature, art, music, social media and fashion. As an often-misidentified minority, this type of forum has proven to be essential for Sikhs to transcend cultural boundaries, generate awareness, and connect with the broader community.

This year at the festival, SikhLens has a variety of programmingranging from literary works, films, live artist performances and much more. Special guests include the inspirational Sardar Fauja Singh ji, comedian Jus Reign, the versatile actors Guru Singh and Agam Darshi, rap artist Mandeep Sethi and many more. The festival will be offering a great opportunity for attendees to interact, engage, and dialogue with the featured artists. It is a very special treat to see the guest of honor being Sardar Fauja Singh Ji, an amazing inspiration to all generations of Sikhs, and many non-Sikhs alike.You do not want to miss the opportunity to meet and interact with them! SikhLens is also proud to announce that the highly anticipated and critically acclaimed film Breakaway (also known as Speedy Singhs) will premiere for the first time ever in the United States! The film takes place in Toronto, Canada and is a combination of Hollywood-meets-Bollywood actors.

For tickets, scheduling and more information, visit www.sikhlens.com.


Sikhs Occupying Wall Street

In October I wrote a piece about Sikhs and the Occupy Wall Street movement, stating, “I havent seen one other person who was easily identifiable as a Sikh. Im sure other Sikhs have come through at different times, but to be sure, this is no significant Sikh presence.” I am glad to report that this has most definitely changed. I see Singhs and Kaurs at Zuccotti Park aka Liberty Square almost every time I am down there (which is quite often!). In fact, one day last week, there were six turbans in Liberty Square at one time. Needless to say, I was pretty excited, and proud.

"Occupy Yoga" at Liberty Square

In my last post, I made an argument for why Sikhs should be supportive of the Occupy Together movements from a Sikh philosophical perspective, discussing the Khalsa revolution’s “plebian mission,” as Jagjit Singh calls it, and our Gurus’ calls to stand with the poor, the “lowest of the low.”

This time I want to focus less on the ideology and more on the process of Occupy Wall Street, on what is actually happening there.

The primary decision-making body at Occupy Wall Street (and most of the other Occupy movements) is the General Assembly, which is a large gathering run by consensus process (technically modified consensus where a 9/10 vote is needed to pass a proposal if consensus cannot be reached). In NYC’s Occupy Wall Street movement, we have just adopted an additional consensus-based model for decision-making called a spokes council, where each working group or caucus will have a “spoke” in the large wheel of the movement, and each group will have to rotate its spoke for each meeting to ensure collectivity and prevent hierarchies.

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Article of Faith: A Portrait of a Sikh-American Activist

When I met Sonny, I felt that his story demanded to be told. I was moved by his willingness to share difficult stories about how racism, xenophobia, and islamophobia impact him in a very daily and intimate ways. But more importantly, I was inspired by how he had turned this hardship into a motivation to fight for social justice for all people. I was welcomed with incredible warmth, and inspired by the Sikh traditions seeing the divine in all people, and fighting for equality.-Christina Antonakos-Wallace, Producer and Director of Article of Faith

To continue a discussion about bullying and bias-based harassment that seems to be appearing both here on The Langar Hall and also within langar halls across the nation, we wanted to take the time to highlight an inspiring documentary which discusses this very issue. Article of Faith is a short film, directed and produced by Christina Antonakos-Wallace, portraying one Sikh activist, Sonny Singh, who organizes New York City Sikh youth to combat harassment in their schools. Sonny shares his own, very personal experience with bullying recognizing how incredibly important it is for us to openly dialogue about these issues, so that other children who are experience similar challenges do not feel like they are alone.

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Art and Education: An Interview with Keerat Kaur

Do you know how to tie a patka? The following video, an original creation by Keerat Kaur, was produced by Saffron Press in an effort to educate about the Sikh identity – allowing educators (and curious children) to learn how to tie a patka/dastaar and see what actually lies beneath the piece of cloth that covers a lion’s mane. As one blogger writes,

The video [reminds] me of a vague recollection I had of sitting in a room while two teachers were trying to figure out how to re-tie my patka on my head. I remember trying to explain how the patka was supposed to be tied, but the teachers couldnt figure it out. I also recall how vulnerable I felt when, to attempt to re-tie it, they removed my patka and my hair was exposed.

Another blogger has similar memories of his childhood,

For most of my childhood, I was the only Sikh kid in school that had long hair. Never mind that the other kids didn’t know nor appreciate my Sikh identity, even my teachers were clueless about my faith.

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Slavery in Punjab

While most focus on Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Middle East for its importance in today’s media landscape, slowly their incisive programs and documentaries have gained an audience amongst those serious about global issues throughout the world. I am a huge fan of their English service and can spend hours on end viewing some of their programming.

One of their recent series Slavery: A 21st Century Evillooks at this horrific practice. While our history books supposedly celebrate the end of the Atlantic Slave trade in the 19th century as the culmination in this most inhumane of all practices, this series belies such a facile narrative. They have documented sex slaves in Moldova, food chain slaves in the US, child slaves in Haiti, and charcoal slaves in Brazil. This week they turn towards bonded slavery in West Punjab.

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The ubiquitous kilns of the Punjabi countryside are not only found on the west side of the border, but very much on the east side as well. I have extended family members that own such businesses, but have not considered what may be the labour situation governing there. The topics in the film even overlap with my own experiences in the diaspora. One too many uncles that I have known personally have traveled to Lahore, replete with their made-in-Amrika dollars, in order to purchase a replacement kidney for their years of alcohol abuse. I hope our Langa(r)eaders find time over the weekend to watch this touching episode and am interested to hear their own stories and thoughts on the issue.

To view the entire program – click here!


Speed Meeting Sikhs

Co-blogged by Sundari and Ajaib Kaur

How many young Sikh women do you know who are looking to meet their Sardar? And how many young Sikh men do you know who are looking to meet their Sardarni?

Lots? We hear you. But how can we make these two groups meet?

We decided to write a post on this topic for many different reasons. Its clear that there is little space elsewhere to talk about how young Sikhs can meet each other, with the potential of pursuing something beyond a friendship.

Gasp! Are we actually admitting this? After a few dialogues with friends and families, we decided that we may as well start breaking the ice here on the West Coast. Over the last few years, SikhNet has been hosting Gursikh Speed Meetings, in cities such as New York, Boston, and Toronto. It is nice to see that the organizers has decided to bring this successful event to the West Coast, in our beloved City of Angels. These events give young, single Sikhs between the ages of 25-40 a chance to meet fellow single-and-ready-to-mingle like minded Sikhs in a communal safe space. This concept may feel familiar, because it is. The speed meeting is a popular spin-off of an American cultured speed-dating event; having an even number of men and women participants, and rotating through getting a brief chance to connect with everyone in the room. It seems like a lot of work, but based on our feedback from some past participants, it is fairly enjoyable. The best part: if you do not click with someone mutually, you do not need to face them again. Contact information is only shared if both parties have expressed interest in each other. Fool proof for both ladies and gents!

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Artmosphere, A New Generation of Fine Art in Panjab

Beginning on October 15th, a three-day exhibition was held in Ludhiana to profile a generation of rising young artists in Punjab. The mission according to gallery is to further enrich and diversify cultural life in the Punjab region by facilitating the development of emerging artists. The newly constructed gallery in Ludhiana offers exhibition and installation space, leads and collaborates in the development of programs for the visual and performing arts, and will soon be providing an art residency.

A recent exhibit called Three/One: A Collaborative Art Exhibition in Ludhiana was held to showcase the work of Rachna Sidhu, Ankur Singh Patar, and Vivek Pandher, children of some of the most famous literary figures in Punjab. Rachna Sidhu, daughter of the famous thinker and literary critic Amarjit Grewal is a portrait maker at Guru Nanak International public school. Vivek Pandher is the son of the poetic genius Jaswant Zafar, a photographer by profession and a student of film production at UBC. Finally Ankur Singh Patar is son of poetic legend Surjit Patar and focuses on digital art, drawing much of his inspiration from his fathers literary treasures.

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Amrit Bains Tells It Like It Is

Sit down with my cousins in Punjab for more than a few minutes and in-between their reckless driving and ear-pumping tracks of Jazzy B and Gippy Grewal, they will often give their commentary about how Punjabi music is now trash and doesn’t represent the “true” culture. Ask if they enjoy the folk music of Sharif Idu and they’ll ask, “Who?” Push them further and they’ll blame artists like Jasbir Jassi and other hucksters of cheap lyrics and videos. Here comes Amrit Bains of Canada (this video is also EPIC, check out the background dancers!) with a very different thesis, but one that may resonate with a previous conversation we’ve had here in The Langar Hall. It is the music industry’s fault.

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Well, enjoy the video, especially the AMAZING background dancers. Sorry for the language, hope it brings a smile, and have a happy Friday!

UPDATE: Amrit Bains, a long-time bus driver, seems to be following his dreams. Here is a great interview that gives some background of this singer.


Challenge the Darkness for the [Unheard] Voices of Punjab

03.jpgThis week, Ensaaf launched their Challenge the Darkness campaign. The aim of the campaign is to remember human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalraand bring awareness to the mass state crimes committed in Punjab, India from 1984 to 1995. At the end of the month, Ensaaf and the Khalra Mission Organisation will participate in a series of events to remember Khalra’s abduction, torture, illegal detention, and murder. We’ll update you on these events as information comes our way.

Post-1984 memory is often forgotten and yet hundreds of thousands of human rights abuses have been documented in Punjab during the 1984 to 1995 period when the Indian government ordered counterinsurgency operations that led to the detention, torture and enforced disappearance of thousands of Sikhs. Police abducted young Sikh men on suspicion that they were involved in militancy, often in the presence of witnesses, yet later denied having them in custody. See the Human Rights Watch Photo Essay here.

Director General of Police KPS Gill expanded upon a system of rewards and incentives for police to capture and kill militants, leading to a dramatic increase in disappearances and extrajudicial executions. By the end of the “Decade of Disappearances” in 1995, security forces had disappeared or killed tens of thousands of Sikhs. In order to cover up their crimes, Punjab security forces illegally detained, tortured, and killed human rights defenders such as Jaswant Singh Khalra and Sukhwinder Singh Bhatti, as well as secretly cremated thousands of victims of extrajudicial executions. [via Ensaaf]

In September 1995, Punjab police abducted human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra from his home for his discovery of thousands of illegal killings and secret cremations by the Punjab police. At the end of this post, you can view two videos depicting the events leading up to and of his disappearance.

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Fauja Singh – 100 years and runnin’

With Bhangras and Jakaras – our very own beloved Fauja Singh crossed the finish line to be the first 100 year old to complete a marathon – thus also setting a world record. Running in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, he may have been last in the pack – but he finished first in the hearts of all. Many of us were following our Torontonian brothers and sisters live tweet as #faujasingh as it began trending in Toronto and through all of Canada.

Here he is crossing the finishing line!

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Will the centenarian hang up his Adidas shoes now that he has set this record? HARDLY! Next up – for us Californians, we get the chance to meet him at the upcoming SikhLens Film Festival in Southern California from November 18-20, 2011. Then back to the world stage for Fauja Singh as he will be part of the torchbearer relay for the 2012 London Olympics. Keep on running Fauja! #faujafever


Sikh Identity: Separate but Equal?

Guest blogged by Birpal Kaur

Over this past weekend there was an article published in the Los Angeles Times of the experiences of Sikh women and maintaining kesh. This article addresses the journey and relationship with kesh, looking at societal pressures as well as a personal journey, and in this case, it happened to be my journey. The article idea was born out of a series of conversations I had with a reporter with the LA Times. I would also like to reiterate that this article is not about me as a representative of any Sikh organization I am part of.

Most of the feedback I have received has been complimentary, though some has been accusatory and judgmental. For all the commentary: Thank you for time, the words, and the emotionswhether I agree with it or not. My major concern, however, does not come from the extremely personal nature of the story you read, it comes from the fact that I felt misrepresented, and the issue highlighted was misrepresented. The last 48 hours or so I have been thinking about why, and that is what I would like to share.

My major concern is that the entire concept of hair removal is framed around men and marriage. This is problematic. Whereas the overall idea of double-standards concerning men and women is not a new oneI do not believe that there is only one person, or gender to blame. Perhaps it is what manifests as the topical problem, but the issues around hair removal and Sikh women are not, and should not be limited to this scope. My journey and struggles with my kesh seem to be conveniently minimized to be about men. The androcentric way that the issue of hair removal solely exists in a space with men and marriage is demeaning and incorrect as a reflection of my personal journey.

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This is what profiling looks like

It’s been quite a day here in New York City. I woke up at 3am this morning and arrived at Liberty Square at 4:00 to protect the Occupy Wall Street encampment from eviction. Sleep deprived but fired up, I joined with thousands of others who showed up to stand in solidarity with this growing movement for economic justice. Before I left my house, I wrote the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild on my arm with a Sharpie, preparing for a possible arrest.

I was planning on participating in civil disobedience this morning. I expected to sit down and lock arms with hundreds of others, forming a barrier around Liberty Square to keep park owner Brookfield’s sanitation crew, and the police, from entering the park and in effect, ending the occupation (occupation in this case being a good thing, for a change).

As many of you have probably heard by now, Brookfield Properties postponed its cleaning of the park at the last minute, and the Mayor instructed the NYPD to hold off in its plans to remove the protesters. We were thrilled, elated, victorious this morning. We held the park, and the occupation of Wall Street continues.

Several hours later after a long nap at home in Brooklyn, I rode my bike back into downtown Manhattan to meet up near the World Trade Center site with some family visiting from India (a few short blocks from where my day began at 4am). My family was running late, so I sat on the corner we decided to meet on, leaning against a fence. After about five minutes, two men wearing hoodies and jeans approached me. One of them unzipped his hoodie, revealing an NYPD badge.

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Sikh runner featured in NYC marathon: Cast your vote!

Following in the footsteps of great Sikh marathon runners like Fauja Singh, a young Sikh Ph.D. student named Simran Singh is currently training to run the largest marathon in the world — the New York City Marathon. And he’s running for a good cause. Simran is working with Team in Training and raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This is probably blogworthy in and of itself, but here’s what is extra exciting: Simran was selected by the NYC Marathon as one of just six featured runners this year!

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Simran is already representing our community well in the public spotlight as one of the featured runners, but we can all help him get selected as the grand prize winner, meaning more positive representation and mainstream media attention for a turban-wearing Sikh. Hopefully Simran’s presence will help break down stereotypes and barriers (not to mention support cancer research).

Here’s what we can do to support Simran: Go to the ING Featured Runner’s Page, click “View Featured Runners,” and then you can vote for Simran once a day until the contest ends on November 4th. The runner with the most votes wins.

Good luck Simran!


DAY OF ACTION – In Sacramento THIS Sunday

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The tragic murder of two of our grandfathers – S. Gurmej Singh Atwal and S. Surinder Singh – in Elk Grove earlier this year, shocked both the Sikh and local communities. The murderers still roam free.

This Sunday, if you are in the Sacramento area, or if you can reach there, please come and stand with your community on this ‘Day of Action.’ We are calling for justice, not vengeance. We are here to remind the world that we have not forgotten these two men and that we want the perpetrators apprehended.

The schedule reads as follows:

 

Day of Action

Help Find The Criminals That Murdered Surinder Singh and Gurmej Singh Atwal

Join us in Elk Grove as we blanket the city, contacting local businesses and posting reward bulletins.

Tentative Schedule:

9:45am — Gather at the EG Park & Ride near the site of the murders

10:30am — Volunteers go to assigned areas to request that local businesses put up a flyer re EG Shooting Deaths

12:30pm — Return to Park&Ride for debriefing and Ardaas

12:45pm — Langar

Intersection of East Stockton Boulevard at Geneva Point DriveElk Grove, CA 95624

You can find more information on the Facebook event page. Stand with your community. Stand together. Stand on this ‘day of action.’


Reflecting on a SAFAR

SAFAR.jpgThis post is a bit late, but every bit still important. Last week, the first Sikh Feminist conference SAFAR was held at the University of Toronto. The conference brought together academics, activists, and community members to reflect on the meanings and experiences of gender in a Sikh context. Opening with a keynote address by Nikky Guninder Kaur Singh, esteemed Professor at Colby College, the conference featured over 30 presentations. From the Param Marg Granth to questions of translation; from the Rahit Maryada to questions of film; from a historic opening for queer identities to questions on sex-selective abortion; from a discussion of womens perceptions of body hair to even the questioning of questions, the conference can only be described as timely, pressing, and historic.

Some left in awe; some left troubled; some left challenged; some left with catharsis. All left inspired. To continue the momentum from the conference, the hosts of the conference, the Sikh Feminist Research Institute, is planning to convene a peer-reviewed online journal to publish quality articles related to gender.

Pictures from the conference can do far more justice than any thing I will write here. If you attended, share your thoughts and reflections. If you didn’t attend, you missed out!

We, here, at The Langar Hall will keep you informed about future developments.


Confusion to Solution: Educating Children about the Sikh Identity

Guest blogged by Navjot Kaur

Usually, I can take quite a lot before something unsettles me. Today, my pressure cooker was whistling.

When you think things cant get much worse, they have a way of doing just that. When it rains, it pours, right? As I went to pick up my son at the end of his second day in Kindergarten, he appeared at the exit door with his patka almost off his head. I thought to myself, they probably had Gym class. But that wasnt the case. I was quickly informed that another Kindergartener had pulled my sons patka off his head while he sat on the carpet. I almost cried but didnt. I felt angry but held it together for my sons sake. I questioned whether it had been an action of curiosity? I hoped that the response would be positive but it was not. Bullying, in Kindergarten.

sp_banner.jpgYes, my son looks different in many ways. He has his visible faith-identity and he also has his deaf identity. Hes smaller than his peers and he has some special challenges but his personality is like the sunshine. Its rays can trickle into even the darkest cracks and brighten up your day. I would not allow this incident to darken his future school days.

We came home and once we had cuddled, I reassured him when he asked, You’re going to tell [boys name] to say sorry to me? I went into another room and cried. Im not sure why I felt so defeated for that tiny moment but I did. Nevertheless, after talking to my sister, who works for a non-profit organization lobbying for change on such issues, I gained my strength and prepared next steps.

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