Nishaan – The Sikh Society Network

Guest blogged byNaujawani Sardar

321314_116006055172592_115613338545197_82003_1811328298_n.jpgThere has been a lot of talk about the SGPC elections recently, even over on our blog. And it got me thinking about a whole range of things from ‘selection vs. election’ to Sikh bodies outside of Punjab. My life in Sikh circles has been positively fascinating for over two decades now, but one of the things I have found most difficult to deal with has been the tension that arises around Sikh representative bodies. Before you stop reading, I’m not going to write about the SGPC – although what I’m writing about could quite easily fit the world of any organisation that represents Sikhs, and specifically those who have had to face false accusations.

“Nishaan is a new organisation consisting of university Sikh Societies across London and the South East of England. It is created on the principle of for the students by the students.”

That is taken directly from the biography of ‘Nishaan‘ – a body of university students at institutions in London who have been collaborating and working closely together for the last year. In actual fact some amongst this group of students and this movement itself began in earnest four years ago when one particular University Sikh society at Imperial College London established an annual meal and gathering of Sikh socs from around the capital; they called the event ‘Collaborations’. Following that, students looked to ‘collaborate’ more often, but in reality it didn’t work efficiently because communication was poor, organisation was overly dependent on single individuals and the age-old division of jatha-affiliation reared its head.

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UPDATED: Darbar Sahib Exhibit in London

For Update – see bottom of postarmor.jpg

Although far from my home (hopefully @blighty and @joo kay singh can share), is an intriguing exhibit celebrating our beloved Darbar Sahib (erroneously called the Golden Temple) at Amritsar.

Nearly 80 artefacts from the past 200 years have been collected for this exhibit on display in central London. Most of the items are said to be from private collections and this will be the first time they have been publicly displayed. The entire exhibit is being organized by the UK Punjab Heritage Association and there is indication that it may travel.

Until then, enjoy the art through this BBC Video on the exhibit (unfortunately the BBC does not allow you to embed, so you’ll have to follow the link).

In conjunction, it seems Sathnam Sanghera of A Boy With a Top Knotfame will be chairing a panel at the upcoming DSC South Asian Literature Festival (Oct 7-24) titled: The Golden Temple of Amritsar: Reflections of the Paston October 14. The panel will highlight the Muslim rababi tradition of kirtan from one of the descendants of Bhai Mardana – Bhai Ghulam Muhammad Chand. Unfortunately, it will also feature that most media-astute of the neo-Nihangs and pedlar of neo-Sanatan nonsense – Nidar Singh – who now claims himself to be the “Last Sikh Warrior” (I wonder if he could take on Tom Cruise, who we all know is the Last Samurai). Regardless, the event is free and definitely worth a visit.

Our UK readers, let us know your thoughts!


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Why September 11 Didnt Matter – part 1

sikh_holding_flags.jpgI waited a few days. The title may be sacrilegious, but bear with me and let me explain.

Undoubtedly, for the lives lost in the World Trade Center, for victims such as Balbir Singh Sodhi, for the innocents and collateral damage dehumanized and murdered in the hundreds of thousands (and rising) in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the regime that invokes the War on Terror that has led to unethical detention, the promotion of anti-humanist values such as torture (whether conducted in the US or contracted out to other governments), the erosion of that most American of constitutional values (i.e. civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights) September 11, 2011 mattered and will continue to matter. Although, some analysts are even now wondering if it will matter to the future of America.

What I am writing about are the experiences of a Sikh-American.

The narrative in our community goes as following. The world changed on September 11, 2011 (again, that most American quality – to believe that the world changed for an event that only occurred in the US). Then, we as Sikhs were attacked twice double victims, because as one Sikh civil rights group, SALDEF, writes [first we were attacked] as Americans and again by those who wished to divide our country based on religion and ethnicity.

I understand the storyline and it makes sense. But there is something that rankles me here. It is the arrogance of the younger generation.

I write this to try to bring out the actual continuities of the Sikh-American experience and why with a proper scope beyond now-ism, we can see that while an exacerbation may have occurred, much still remained the same.

I focus on the two most important continuities, despite claims of revolution hate-influenced violence and our institutions.

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Democracy Now Features Sikh Voices

The daily news program Democracy Now has long been a trusted source of information and analysis for progressives in the US and around the world. Their coverage of the attacks of 9/11/01 and the aftermath has been crucial for so many of us. You can check out an impressive and thorough timeline of their post-9/11 coverage here.

On today’s broadcast, Democracy Now correspondent Jaisal Noor highlighted the plight of the Sikh American community after 9/11, which you can see below.

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Amplifying the Unheard Voices of 9/11

Today, I want to highlight an important initiative that amplifies the unheard, and often undocumented, stories of post-9/11 bigotry, harassment, and discrimination. Launched last week by the Sikh Coalition and co-sponsored by a host of organizations including the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Muslim Advocates, CAIR-California, and more, Unheard Voices of 9/11 is an interactive website that allows users to upload homemade videos of themselves sharing their experience(s) of post-9/11 injustice.

The site, which has been generating a lot of media attention in the last few days, states:

Members of the Muslim, Sikh, South Asian, and Arab American communities were twice victims of 9/11. Like all Americans we endured a horrific attack on our country by terrorists. We also continue to endure troubling attacks from fellow Americans in the form of hate crimes, employment discrimination, school bullying, profiling and other forms of discrimination.

These stories of discrimination have largely been unheard. This website is meant to give these unheard voices a voice. These are the stories of our community members unfiltered, in their own words. These are the unheard voices of 9/11.

As we are inundated with news about the tenth anniversary of 9/11 this week, it’s refreshing to see a powerful initiative like this one focusing on sharing our stories. It is a courageous, and often painful, act to tell one’s story. But it is necessary, both for the healing process of someone who has experienced injustice, and also for everyone who hears that story, reflects upon it, learns from it, and is moved by it.

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A Sikh Voice on Post-9/11 Torture

As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon approaches, I am filled with a whole mess of thoughts and emotions. 9/11 was a turning point in the United States–and the world–in so many ways. I need not explain what it has meant for us Sikhs in the United States and beyond, but in the coming days and weeks we will try to highlight some of the important initiatives taking place in commemoration of the 10th anniversary that go beyond jingoistic patriotism and provide opportunities for reflection, dialogue, and moving toward healing and justice.

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to read a compelling, heartfelt column in the Huffington Post about post-9/11 torture practices by the US government — written by a Sikh. In the piece, Satpal Singh, of the World Sikh Council, states:

I must shed the tears that I have been holding back for seven years. It was 1 a.m. on April 29, 2004, and I could not sleep. The beacon that I had always looked up to had gone dark.

I had just heard about Abu Ghraib. It shook my faith in my country’s ability to uphold its values. Admittedly, it takes the strongest of the strong to face the evil that we were facing, and the highest of morality to face it without losing one’s own morality. But now, even America, the mightiest of the mighty, the champion of human rights, the unquestioned upholder of morality, had blinked in the face of evil. The terror had seized us. Faced with evil, we had abandoned our own values.

One of the many tragedies of the American post-9/11 era is that torture has become a routine tactic in the treatment of terrorism suspects. While these policies began during the Bush Administration (see a new report by Human Rights Watch on the subject here), there seems to be much less protest of their continuation under Obama’s presidency. While Obama promised to closed down the infamous Guantanamo detention center during his presidential campaign, it still remains as do Bush/Cheney era interrogation tactics.

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Fair & Lovely for Sikh Youth?

Embracing my new role as a proud Chacha, I recently bought some Sikhi-related children’s books for my niece for her first birthday. I was especially excited about this new book and CD of Sikh nursery rhymes called Ik Chota Bacha. The book/CD is a great way to teach basic Sikh values to kids and help develop their Punjabi skills (all the nursery rhymes are in Punjabi) in a fun way. I played the CD for my niece on the daily when I was visiting for her birthday, and by the end of the week, the whole family was singing along to some of the catchy (and rather cheesy) tunes. (See a full review of the book here.)

My excitement about the release Ik Chota Bacha quickly became muddied with disappointment and frustration once I saw the book’s illustrations. Every single Sikh child and adult depicted in the book looks WHITE. I don’t just mean they’re all fair-skinned on the spectrum of brownness. I mean peachy, rosey-cheeked, white.


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If England were like a langar hall thered be no riots

Guest blogged byEren Londonwala

Each day I walk down Ferry Lanein Tottenham to my workplace. On Friday 5 August a police cordon blocked my usual route. I learned later that police had shot dead 29 year-old alleged gang-member Mark Duggan the night before. The precise facts remain unclear but early reports suggesting an exchange of fire between police and the dead man have been undermined Duggans gun wasnt discharged. This was a tragedy I thought and perhaps another instance of excessive force by police in a poor London borough with a large black population. Few anticipated what was to come.

On the next day members of Duggans family who by then had still not been contacted by police and other locals went to Tottenham Police Station for answers and to stage a peaceful vigil. Senior police ignored the group and around this time a young female, remonstrating, was apparently set upon by police with their batons. Unlike a previous contributor to this blog, who described this incident as relatively minor, given the understandably heightened passions live then in Tottenham, I feel the police action was heavy-handed and incendiary. I invite readers to view the evidence and make up their own minds. It was after these events that Tottenham, and in subsequent days other areas in London and England, erupted into the worst civil unrest for a generation.

Then, the causes were unmistakeable racist policing of ethnic minority communities and social deprivation. So, like some others, I viewed the outbreak of recent violence as a reaction to the continuation of unresolved problems, sparked by the suspicious killing of Duggan an understandable, and even legitimate, rebellion in other words. The fact that police cars were among the first targets of the Molotov bombs seemed to confirm this. Yet, as the days unfolded, and disorder spread throughout the capital and country, a distinction between the two eras became apparent: 2011 was marked, to a far greater degree than 1981, by opportunist looting which came to devastate as many small independent businesses as insured corporate chains and, amid the chaos, most tragically, led to further loss of life with Duggans death being all but forgotten.

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Trying to Create a New Path Between Chitta-Neela

I have shared my views on Manpreet Badal and the PPP in the past. I still stand by my analysis, but as the election draws nearer, the youth of Punjab are making their voices heard.

Recently Manpreet Badal has been visiting the US this month and gaining more and more popularity among the non-voting NRPs (Non-Resident Punjabis), but if this show of support can be capitalized in Punjab is yet to be seen. His campaign has had a few major hiccups recently, with supporters suchas Rajya Sabha member, Varinder Singh Bajwa, being re-wooed by Punjab’s greatest snake-oil seller, Parkash Badal. This loss comes soon after Manpreet had lost the support of his former “right-hand man”, Charanjeet Brar. It has been a long few weeks.

Still amongst a large number of Punjabi youth, they are still showing their support and hope, through creating videos on youtube to help galvanize the youth.

Here is one such example, a parody of rapper Wiz Khalif’a's celebration of his native Pittsburgh – Black and Yellow. Here the artists – Sugar Cane Records and Jogi – ask who to vote for – Chitta (the color associated with the Congress Party) or Neela (the color associated with the Akali Dal). Both are thieves, the difference only the color.

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The Three Deadliest Words

The issue of sex-selective abortion is not new here in The Langar Hall. A number of our bloggers have commented on this complex issue in the past; and even early community initiatives have been supported as well.

Recently I saw the official trailer of a documentary – It’s A Girl – that promises to look at the issue in China and India.

In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls(1) are missing in the world today because of this so-called gendercide.

Shot on location in India and China, Its a Girl! explores the issue. It asks why this is happening, and why so little is being done to save girls and women.

The film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.

Currently in post-production, Its a Girl! is scheduled for an early 2012 release.

I invite our readers to take a look at the trailer and share their comments, as will I.

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Faith groups file lawsuit over Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law

I was listening to NPR a few nights ago while cooking dinner and was excited to hear about a group of Christian and Catholic clergy in Alabama taking action against a new anti-immigrant law in their state.

A few months ago, Alabama followed in Arizona’s footsteps in passing a bill that many are calling the most sweeping anti-immigrant law in the country, going even farther than Arizona’s highly controversial SB 1070.

Alabama’s new bill, H.B. 56, includes similar provisions to Arizona’s SB 1070, including one that authorizes local police to ask anyone they stop about their immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion,” amounting to the legalization of racial profiling.

[H.B. 56] bars illegal immigrants from enrolling in any public college after high school. It obliges public schools to determine the immigration status of all students, requiring parents of foreign-born students to report the immigration status of their children.

The bill…also makes it a crime to knowingly rent housing to an illegal immigrant. It bars businesses from taking tax deductions on wages paid to unauthorized immigrants. (link)

The law also makes it illegal to enter into a contract with, harbor, or transport undocumented immigrants.

Alabama’s Methodist, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic Churches have sued the state of Alabama over this law, saying it violates their religious freedom. Melissa Patrick of the United Methodist Church of Alabama states, “This new legislation goes against the tenets of our Christian faith to welcome the stranger, to offer hospitality to anyone.”

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Remembering Hari Singh Everest

everest.jpgGuestblogged by Mewa Singh.

A young and vibrant community in the diaspora, it is incumbent upon us to remember our trailblazers. Hari Singh Everest was one such person. I remember reading his name during my undergraduate days. Stumbling across the ‘Sikh Review’, when I should have been completing other studies, it was the first time I had read a literate Sikh journal in English. Skimming the names of editors and contributors on the back, I noticed one from my very own California – Yuba City to be exact. Hari Singh Everest. I didn’t know him, but the unusual last name stuck in my head.

It would be years later when I finally met him. Some years ago the Jakara Movement decided to sponsor the efforts of all the collegitate Californian Sikh Students Associations (SSAs) in building a unity float. Since then, the float at the Yuba City Nagar Kirtan has become an annual affair.. The Everest Family graciously opened their home and it was on one such opportunity that I got to sit down with Hari Singh and speak to him. I mentioned that I had read his name on that Sikh Review issue years ago and he smiled. He talked about his experiences in the Sikh community and as being a sort of ambassador during those early years. It is a conversation I cherish.

His life in the United States stretches back to the 1950s (before the ‘Great Society’ immigration policy of LBJ) and his life in Yuba City goes back to 1961.

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Breaking News from Punjab – 5 Saroops of the Guru Granth Sahib Thrown in a Well

UPDATES 8/20/11 as of 12:30pm

The pardhan of the pind Gurdwara tries to state that the whole village apologizes, without giving any specificity as to the culprits or accountability for the action. One Singh in attendance will not stand for it:

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Yesterday, Punjabi Radio USA spent an entire show on the issue, interviewing a member of the SGPC as well as some people that have traveled to the village and give their eye-witness testimonials

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Still no news on the Tribune India (English) page. There is news on their Punjabi page as well as that of the Ajit and other Punjabi news outlets.


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Saanjh 2011: Bay Area Sikh Retreat

logo.pngIf you were looking to attend a Sikh retreat a decade ago, you may have had a difficult time finding one. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. We are now fortunate enough to have a plethora of retreats and conferences to participate in. These retreats offer Sikhs an opportunity to cultivate our spirituality in hopes of moving us forward on our journey, whatever stage we may be at.

For the past several Septembers, I’ve packed up my things and traveled to Santa Cruz to attend Saanjh. Each year, i come back feeling fulfilled and rejuvinated. This year’s Saanjh will be particularly special – the organizers will be offering Amrit Sanchaarfor those individuals who are ready to make this commitment. A note from the organizers states:


Photo Credit: Gurumustuk Singh

We are proud to announce that there will be a Khandey Baatey di Paul/ Amrit Sanchaar at Saanjh this year. Khande di Pahul or Amrit is the most spiritually significant event in a Sikhs life. When one decides to partake in Amrit, she or he makes a commitment to walk the Sikh spiritual path. Amrit is the beginning of a journey, not the end–its akin to admission into a school to study a subject matter seriously, not graduation. For those of you who are looking to make the commitment, may we offer Saanjh as the venue for your commitment ceremony.

The retreat will bring together young Sikhs from across North America (and sometimes beyond!) to participate and engage in Sikhi. Whether or not we are ready to take Amrit – Saanjh offers us a unique opportunity to observe and learn about this very special ceremony. The retreat is a venue where we can learn about these significant and important aspects of Sikhi and feel supported as we embrace our individual journeys. The sessions are dynamic and promise to inspire participants. This year’s breakout sessions will include, “Guru and I, Poetry is Not a Luxury, Vaisakhi of 1699, 2084: Looking Back, Looking Forward, and Gendered Violence and Spirited Sikh Resistance.

Saanjh is open to all above 18 years of age and will be held this year from September 8th to 11th 2011. Please see the website for more information and register before prices increase! See you there Langarites!

NYC Passes Law to Ban Workplace Religious Discrimination

NYC Sikhs speak out against the Transit Authority's religious discrimination in 2009

This morning, the New York City Council voted unanimously to pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (Int. 632-A), a bill that will strengthen the city’s human rights law that protects employees from religious discrimination at their jobs.

According to the City Council,

This law will provide greater protection to workers by strengthening the law that requires employers to provide employees with reasonable accommodations for religious observance.

Employers that are found to have engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices against its workers may be liable for a civil penalty of as much as $125,000 and/or be required to pay compensatory damages, award back pay, reinstate employees and extend full and equal accommodations to employees.

The law is of particular significance to turban-wearing Sikhs and hijab-wearing Muslims who have faced a great deal of discrimination in their workplaces in NYC, particularly since 9/11. Advocates including the Sikh Coalition (who played a lead role in pushing for the legislation) hope that the law will make it much harder for employers in both the public and private sectors to discriminate against potential or current Sikh employees. Notably, the New York Police Department still does not allow turban-wearing Sikhs to serve as officers. (There was a case years back involving a Sikh traffic cop, however, who ended up winning and serves with his turban).

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The Sacred Thread: Its All In the Head

Guest blogged by Gurchit Singh. Gurchit is a 16-year-old aspiring activist (in his own words) who submitted this piece (his first) to The Langar Hall. Raksha Bandan was last Saturday, August 13th.

Oh the joys of Raksha Bandan! The air is filled with love, family members are conversing and munching on a plethora of sweets, hugs and kisses are being ecstatically extended to any and all family members the overemotional-mother can seem to get her loving arms around, and the overall mood in the home is one which many families can only dream of experiencing on a daily basis. Unfortunately, these loving moments only further promote a holiday which demotes women and opposes aspects of Sikhism itself.

While occupying myself with Facebook and sipping warm milk on the morning of Raksha Bandan, I was going through my daily routine of checking any notifications I may have received from the prior night. After reading many generic Raksha Bandan-related salutations, I finally came across one that actually defined what it was actually aimed at achieving: Raksha Bandhan is a festival which celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters. The ceremony involves the tying of a rakhi (sacred thread) by a sister on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her. While reading this definition, the two phrases that IMMEDIATELY jumped out at me were sacred thread, which conjured an instant connection to one of Guru Nanak Dev Jis earliest forms of rebellion against what he believed aimless and biased: the Janeu ( the full Sakhi can be referenced here), and brothers lifelong vow to protect her, which called forth an image of a frail young woman constantly relying on her brother for protection from external occurrences.

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Shaheedi & Justice

We have many songs that remind us of Shaheeds; we acknowledge them in our Ardas; and they are an integral part of our Sikh history. It is a powerful experience to hear how an integral concept in Sikhi manifests in other communities. Specifically the Muslim community, which also adheres to a concept of Shaheedi.

Often times in the media, the concept of Shaheedi has been presented as a form of brainwashing done by religious and political leaders to condone terrorism and violence for their own self-interests. However, a recent NPR report highlights how two devote Muslim men from America became Shaheeds out of their own strong will to bring justice back to their home country of Libya.


Mabruk Eshnuk (left) and his son Malik (right) left their home in Pittsburgh to volunteer and fight with rebels in western Libya's Nafusa Mountains.

A father and son left their home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA) to participate in the Libyan revolution. Mabruk Eshnuk and his 21-year old middle son, Malik Eshnuk, died fighting the forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in western Libya.

Mabruk, a devoute Muslim had immigrated from Libya as a teenager. He taught Islam to convicts in the Pennsylvania state penitentiary system. In 2006, he housed the family of a young Iraqi boy who was getting lifesaving treatment in the United States. He said, “Everything that we do and work and help, it’s based on the Quran. Outraged over what was happening in Libya, he took his middle son to fight in the Western mountains of Libya.

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Some Notes and Random Musings

295225_10150292952132958_501602957_7814496_8072444_n.jpgGuestblogged byMewa Singh.

Here are some general musings and broader notes/reflections that were sparked by my participation in the camp:

On Parenting One thing I found quite interesting was changes in parenting styles. I dont remember having had many choices as a child, when my parents were going to put their foot down, and it seems my own parents confirm this. With the camp, I noticed we had so many parents expressed their desire for their sons to attend, only to begin avoiding our calls as the date approached and telling us our son doesnt want to go. Many of the same parents often complained our son doesnt listen to us and just watches TV all day. I was left wondering, how do these children have the choice? A parent has the ability to parent and limit the childs television viewing, if they so desire. A parent is not helpless to say our child doesnt listen so we must accept the status quo. Many parents desire to be the friend of their child, or be the good guy/gal and never say no. With so many of my friends young parents, I wonder how they will be setting boundaries.

On Consumerism Now members of our community are part of the broader society and one would hardly expect larger sociological issues such as consumerism to not affect us. Still the degrees seem far more now than in my youth. I remember kids having and even getting beat up and their shoes stolen if they had the latest Jordans. With 13-year olds having iPhones, 16-year olds getting BMWs for their birthdays (Jodha had a reflection on this some time ago), and wardrobe prices that went far beyond our $15 jeans from Marshalls, I wonder what are we teaching our children? Ask parents to send their children to a Sikh workshop or even Punjabi/Khalsa school at their Gurdwara and parents will begin about fees being far too high. What do we actually value and what do we wish to teach our children to value?

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Reflections on Bhujangi 2011

Bhujangi_Jakara___Tshirt.JPGGuest-blogged by Mewa Singh. Mewa Singh is a sevadar with the Jakara Movement.

The term bhujang has a Sanskritic base and is used to refer to a small snake. The Mughals and Afghans of the 18th century employed the term as a pejorative to refer to the Sikhs as bhujangs. Try as they might, they could never completely eradicate from the garden these bhujangs. In the eternal optimism that defines the spirit of chardikala, the Singhs and Kaurs of the period appropriated the term and endorsed it to give it a new connotation. Their young were in fact bhujangs that would bite the feet of Mughals, Afghans, and other imperial powers. Today the term is still widely used by Nihang Sikhs in reference to their offspring. A young Sikh boy is called a bhujangi and a young Sikh girl a bhujangan.

Reviving and reinterpreting our historic terminology were part of the naming process of this unique camp.

With the Gurus Grace, from August 1-10, I had the opportunity to be a sevadar for the Jakara Movements first annual Bhujangi Youth Academy. Unlike anything else in our community before, the academy specifically served the needs of at-risk young Punjabi Sikh males.

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Young and Invincible: Introducing Raveena Aurora

I recently learned about an up and coming young Sikh American musician and songwriter named Raveena Aurora, who just released a four-song demo entitled “Fools” this week. Listening to her original music and her vocal stylings, it’s hard to believe she just graduated high school this past spring.

Here at The Langar Hall we’re always excited to learn about Sikh musicians and performers in the diaspora expressing themselves creatively and breaking new ground for out community. A musician myself, I was particularly excited to talk with Raveena to learn more about her story and share it with you all.

Brooklynwala: How do you describe your sound to people?

Raveena: For now, feel good folky pop music with a dark underbelly.

BW: When did you start playing music and singing? How did you get your start?

RA: I’ve been writing poetry since a very young age, but I started singing around the age of eleven when I entered a talent show in the 6th grade and gave a heart wrenching performance of “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas. Much to my parent’s dismay, I became obsessed. I was very involved with musical theatre throughout middle school and early high school and in the middle of high school, I started writing original music.

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