Unifying Sikhs: A Riot Story

Guest blogged by Naujawani Sardar

When the riots began in London last Saturday, we all thought they were a one-off incident and the world would be back to normal by Monday. Instead we awoke to find that more shops had been looted, buildings were still being set ablaze and that the rioters were now widening their search for new canvases to destruct. The thought was certainlythere in the back of my mind, throughout my working day on Monday, but I think I purposely ignored it, hoping that it just would not happen: could a gurdwara be targeted?

IMG00057_20110809_1846.jpgA small number of Sikhs however did not let the thought fall out of sight and continued to monitor the situation. Having realised that a problem may arise, albeit very late at night, they spent the best part of the night driving across London from one Gurdwara to the next to ensure that there was adequate security in place. Where there was not, one man stayed behind or where possible, awoke a local friend to come in. Thus was sewn the seed for a collaborative effort from a number of individuals to coordinate Sikhs that wanted to defend their Gurdware. Throughout Tuesday, Facebook, Twitter and SMS text messages were used to inform and mobilise people into preparing for the night(s) ahead. We at Naujawani also played a small role in coordinating these efforts and garnering support from individuals which personally gave mea greater insight into how things developed over the last 48 hours. It was clear to a few of us that if we were to have any success, people had to be appropriately distributed to different Gurdware. In west London, Southall is naturally the hub and meeting point, but throughout the rioting other Gurdware to the north and east of London were at a higher risk.

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UK Sikhs Gather to Protect Gurdwaras from Riots

Guest blogged by Naujawani Sardar

article_2024358_0D5EFEA800000578_724_634x312.jpgRiots have hit London and a few other cities in the UK over the last three nights causing mayhem, destroying property and leading to looting. Tonight, hundreds of Sikhs are gathering to defend the Gurdware in these cities should they fall under the eye of the looters. It is bringing together Sikhs of all backgrounds and affiliations;promising a glimmer of hopefrom an otherwise horrible situation.

To find out more about this mobilisation of Sikhs, go to theSikh Riot Awareness UK page.

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The trigger has been widely recognised as the shooting of a 29 year old black man Mark Duggan in the Tottenham area of North London. 48 hours after his shooting, members of his family, friends and the wider community congregated outside Tottenham Police Station to protest at what they saw as the heavy-handed action of the London Metropolitan Police and the unhelpful communication from them about the matter in the following days. At this gathering of about some 300 protestors, a relatively minor confrontation between a teenager and the Police is said to have ignited running battles that ensued well into the night. A double decker bus was set alight and 49 fires were being dealt with by morning. But more importantly, as a sign of things to come, shops selling household goods, sportswear, toiletries and glasses were looted with CCTV images capturing hooded individuals taking away trollies laden with items.

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Burqa Ban Spreads in Europe

Along with the start of the holy month of Ramadan, the last few weeks have seen an increase in momentum for laws that ban the wearing of the burqa and niqab in European countries. We’ve talked about France before, where the implementation of its law banning Muslim face covering began this past spring. Now Belgium, which passed a similar measure last year, has begun implementing its ban on burqas as of July 23rd, and in Italy, new anti-burqa legislation was just passed by a parliamentary commission this week.

In both countries, like France, a miniscule number of women actually wear the burqa or niqab, begging the question of why an increasing number of European nations feel so threatened by it.

In Belgium, the lawmaker who proposed the bill, Daniel Bacquelaine, “said it was necessary to forbid the wearing of clothes that ‘totally mask and enclose’ the wearer. He described wearing the burqa as ‘not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society.’ Peter DeDecker of the Flemish separatist NVA saw the ban as a way of defending ‘our fundamental principles of the enlightenment.’”

Just as in France, what I would argue (and have previously argued) is an attack on religious freedom is being justified with the rhetoric of freedom and liberty (and public safety).

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Book Review: On the Outside Looking Indian

I love books – but I have a special, and perhaps curious, interest in books by and about Sikhs. Perhaps it’s the fascination to discover how similar or differentour experiencesare. I’m convinced i’m not alone in this. There has beenan establishedinterest in South Asian literature for quite some time, but now – with the growing number of authorscovering the British Sikh or North American Sikh experience – there is piquedenthusiasm in diasporic “Sikh Literature”.I think it’s important to support this type of work – not simply because the author is Sikh or writes about Sikhs – but because until we have enough of this representation in literature, we need to encourage it’s growth.This also means thatauthorswill befaced with higherexpectations from their readers who want authentic stories, sophisticated writing and dymanic story telling – just as we’d expect from any other piece of literature.

rupinder_bookb.jpgI recently read Rupinder Gill’s memoir, On the Outside Looking Indian. The premise and cover of the book attracted me, perhaps because it reminded me of Sathnam Sanghera’s, If You Don’t Know Me By Now – a bookIhighly recommend. Gill’s memoir, similarto Sanghera’s, deals with her personal experience growing up as the child of immigrants.Gill’s story is set in Canada and focuses onher year-long quest, at the age of about 30,to fulfill a list of her childhood dreams learning to swim, going to Disney World, and living in New York etc – activities she didn’t participate in as a child. I found Gill’sdescriptions of her childhood to be well-written, funny and often relatable.

Without a doubt, many of us can relate to childhoods of inactivity – unless activity consisted ofhousework – then no, we really didn’t participate in many activities, especially compared to how busy and structured the lives of children are today. There are obvious exceptions to this, however, this ismost likely a common experience for many. While Gill’s story is framed around a Panjabi Sikh household, it’s clear that her experiences could be those ofmany first-generation children whose parents have emigrated to new lands.

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Khuli Dhari: My Journey to Beard Liberation

My childhood was full of insecurity and self-doubt, the result of years of harassment, taunts, and jokes about the ball/rag/tomato/towel/etc. on my head as a turban-wearing child. My insecurities, however, began to shift (or expand) as puberty hit.  Let’s call it facial hair anxiety.

At first, having a moustache grow in at a young age wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, I passed as much older than I was, which was nice for a scrawny brown kid like me.

But soon enough, the complex around my dhari (beard) settled in, and no amount of time with a thatha tied tightly around my head was ever enough to totally alleviate my beard insecurities.

Surrounded by peers for whom shaving was a rite of passage into manhood, it’s not surprising that I felt a little left out (though to be clear, the idea of a razor on my face never sounded so pleasant). Further, I was inundated with the voices of young women in my school casually referring to facial hair as gross or unattractive (with no intention to hurt my feelings I’m sure) and their preference for guys who were “clean-shaven.”

CLEAN-shaven. The implication being that facial hair is…dirty?

These are the messages we get from our peers and from the media every day. So naturally I assumed it was highly unlikely that any of my female classmates would ever be interested in dating someone like me. The combination of a dirty face plus a patka was enough to cause a whole lot of anxiety and insecurity for this angsty teenage Singh.

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Expansion of Sikh Orgs – Job Opening at ENSAAF

ensaaf_logo.gifThe second generation (in N. America) of Sikh organizations are beginning to pool their resources and expand their capabilities. Here I feature 2.

Seva Food Bank – earlier this summer, Seva Food Bank of Canada welcomed Michael Brito as their part-time Operations Manager. We look forward to hearing about the meaning of the expansion and the exciting growth this service Sikh-based organization is undergoing.

ENSAAF – One of the premier human rights organizations working on issues related to the Sikhs is hiring a Case Summary Writerto draft case summaries based on interviews of families whose loved ones were unlawfully killed or disappeared by India’s security forces. The job description reads:

As the case summaries will ultimately be used in a variety of advocacy initiatives and reports, this is an important position that will offer someone a chance to help mobilize international stakeholders on the issue of impunity for mass state crimes in Punjab, India.

We hope a number of Sikhs decide to apply and promote the goals of this extremely important cause. You can get more information on the ENSAAF website, here. Please read the job description and apply! If not, at least circulate, forward, post on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, and get out the word!


Strategies for Raising Multilingual and Bilingual Babies

There have been a few posts on TLH (link) that talk about the merits of having children exposed to other languages, but none that discuss actual strategies. So, I thought Id add my thoughts on the subject.

Over the past month or so, our 18-month-old daughter, Kavya, has started connecting words to concepts and its interesting to see what English and Punjabi words shes picked up. Here are some of the things shes picked up, along with translations:

Paa = Paani (water)
Baba= Banana
Baa = Baar (when she wants to go outside)
Ayyy= Ice
Tootoo= broken (used in conjunction with a look of feigned surprise right after she flings my mobile with all her might and its guts spill onto our hardwood floor).
Choos: Shoes

I would like to say that we are very organized and systematic about how we are teaching Kavya to integrate English with Punjabi and Hindi, but the truth is we are totally winging it.

Initially, we did attempt to use two strategies I read about in an East Coast magazine called Little India. Neither of them worked very well for us, but we did use a hybrid form of them. Here are the original strategies:

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Sikhs Rally for Bhullar at UN Headquarters on Monday

This Monday, Sikhs for Justice is organizing a rally at the United Nations Headquarters to call for UN intervention stop Indias planned execution of Professor Devenderpal Singh Bhullar. Professor Bhullars brother, Tejinder Singh Bhullar will be addressing the rally.In their appeal to Secretary General Ban Ki moon, Sikhs for Justice is calling upon the U.N. to intervene and free Professor Bhullar based on a UN General Assembly resolution adopted in 2008 known asResolution 62/149which called on all major states to abolish the death penalty. 62/149 is a nonbinding instrument to mark progress on the United Nation’s position that they death penalty undermines human dignity and acknowledges the serious claim that any failure of justice in the implementation of the death penalty is irreversible and irreplaceable.

The death penalty too, runs contrary to Sikh historical positions on capital punishment. The Sarkar-e-Khalsa of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji, followed a no death penalty policy, as M. Gregor in his 1846 History of the Sikhs writes. He notes that, [Ranjit Singh] was the exception ofOriental monarchs, and never wantonly inflicted capital punishment and mutilation. Other authors describe, that Humanity indeed, or rather a tenderness for life, was a trait in the character of Ranjit Singh. There is no instances of him having wantonly imbued his hands in blood. These sentiments that can be seen as consistent Sikh political philosophy captured by the Zafarnama and other documents. Specifically in the Zafarnama, Guru Gobind Singh Ji quotes the Persian poet Firdausi, writing, How nicely the sweet tongued poet Firdausi has said, to act in haste is the work of the devil, referring to Aurungzebs executions of the youngest Sahibzadas Zorawar and Fateh Singh and Mata Gujri in Sirhind as the act of ‘Sheitan.’

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Brooklyn Singh vs. Walmart

I just got an email from the Working Families Party (a progressive political party in NYC) about the latest developments in mega-corporation Walmart’s latest attempts to set up shop in NYC. One of the biggest real estate development companies in the city called Related is reportedly in discussions with Walmart about building its first NYC store in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York. The below video put together by ALIGN, the Alliance for a Greater New York, features a Sikh business owner, Iqbal Chhabra.

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This video warmed my heart for several reasons. It goes without saying that I live in Brooklyn and am concerned with all things Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not exactly known for its large Sikh population. I see the occasional Sikh construction worker or shop owner, but I don’t know of too many other Brooklynwale Singhs or Kaurs. So I was pleasantly surprised to see Mr. Chhabra speaking out about an important Brooklyn-based issue in this video.

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Cycling Sikhs and Safety

Amritsar, 1946

I’m going to continue on what appears to be our theme of the week here at TLH — Sikhs and sports. I’m not much of an athlete, though I had a good run of Little League baseball when I was a kid in North Carolina. I remember how goofy I felt wearing my team’s baseball cap over my patka and of course a helmet when I was up to bat. Looking back at the photographs, I looked pretty goofy too.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I find myself in a related dilemma, though hardly an aesthetic one. This time of year in New York City, my favorite (and most efficient) way to get around is on my bike (the kind that requires pedaling). It’s good exercise, it gets me around Brooklyn and other parts of the city often as quick or quicker than public transit, and it leaves no carbon footprint.

As a dastaar-wearing Sikh, I grapple every day with my decision to ride my bike without a helmet — especially in a place like New York City. I’ve had many friends try to convince me to do otherwise, and I’ve tried many experiments of trying to make a helmet work. After talking to many a bike shop employees, my understanding at the moment is that bike helmets and turbans can’t really co-exist effectively. Even if I were to get an extra large helmet and put it over a small dastaar, it would not protect my skull sufficiently because it would sit too high up.

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Sikh Women and Sports
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Ashpal Kaur Bhogal

TLH has covered several promising athletes in the Sikh community. Basketball player Darsh Singh, Football player Nuvraj Bassi, and Boxer Andrew Singh Kooner. The list of Sikh athletes is fortunately growing, includingFauja Singh, Pardeep Nagra, andSubaig Singh- some of whom we have covered and others we haven’t had a chance to. Jodha recently updated us on the Bhullar Brothers, potential NBA-ers, Sim Bhullar and younger brother Tanveer Bhullar, both 7-foot-somethings.

The thing about this list, however, is that all of these athletes are men.

It begs the question, then, where is the representation of Kaurs in sports today? After watching news coverage of the growing number of women playing kabaddi in Punjab, and with the popularity of the Women’s World Cup finals this past weekend, it made me think about the importance of sports in the lives of young Sikh girls. Much has been written about why sports are critical for young girls.

A large body of research shows that sports are associated with all sorts of benefits, like lower teenage pregnancy rates, better grades and higher self-esteem… separate studies from two economists offer some answers, providing the strongest evidence yet that team sports can result in lifelong improvements to educational, work and health prospects… Using a complex analysis, Dr. Stevenson showed that increasing girls sports participation had a direct effect on womens education and employment. [link]

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Revisiting Sim Bhullar

bhullar_1.jpgIt wasnt quite the Bhullar I was looking for when I was googling information last week, but it did warrant a revisit.

Some time ago I wrote an article about how I wish I was a lil bit taller, highlighting the Brother Bhullar Sim and Tanveer.

Sim is in the press again. The 74 Brampton native is all set to join Xavier University in the fall. Until then, he had been helping Team Canada in the FIBA under-19 world championships in Latvia. Sim had a crushing performance against the South Koreans, dumping 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Messed around and got a double-double.

In a New York Times article this week, featuring Sim, Heidi Ueberroth, the president of NBA International stated:

Having a player from India in the N.B.A. is a question of when, not if. We have no doubt that the elite players from India will emerge.

I would make a major correction and substitute Punjab for India.

Check out his highlight reel, before clicking below the fold.

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Unlocking Sikh Creativity (in a Rainforest!)

Kudarat 2011 atOlympic National Parkon July 21- 24
“Inspiration from Within: Unlocking Sikh Creativity”

In my experience at conferences/retreats, or at youth camps there is a huge emphasis on sangat. What is it? Who are they? Or, how as an individual, we can make impact. In these discussions, I have intellectually understood sangat and, in some instances, would even go as far to say that I have experienced it.

It is in this moment of EXPERIENCE that relationships develop. Whether with each other through the shared experience, with the Guru, with a feeling, or with an idea.

Tolsoy has explained art within a similar paradigm. The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man’s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it.”

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On Being a Sikh Woman

Guest blogged by Neesha Meminger

Admin note:In an effort tofurther cultivate the conversation on Faith and Feminism within the Sikh community, panelistsfrom the Open Heart/Closed Fist event in NYC will share their thoughts with us. Tolearn more about the panel, please read Sikh Women Speak Out on Faith and Feminism.

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2303941_md.jpgI walked away from our panel with mixed feelings. On the one hand how exhilarating to sit in a room full of South Asian men and women and put a spotlight on the thoughts and experiences of Sikh women! I tried to remember when I ever sat in a room like that and spent two hours or more talking about what it means to be a Sikh woman and the importance of that in my life never mind the validation by others I barely knew or had just met. The fact that this space was created at all was enough to leave me feeling full, and bursting with the need to create more such spaces and conversations.

On the other hand, I realized, from some of the questions asked, that we are just at the beginnings of this dialogue. I have a lot of faith in our community, because I believe that out of all the other spaces in my life, this is where an honest conversation can take place; one that not only encompasses politics and radical discourse, but spirituality, as well. For if not here, where?

Sikhi was built, in part, on challenging the status quo. The founders of the faith were outraged at the injustices of their time and spoke up for the voiceless. They took to arms for the defenseless. The other, perhaps bigger, part was the right to own ones own relationship with god to not entrust a middle person to interpret the word of god and to seek enlightenment from within. Sat Nam: Truth be thy name is one of the first teachings that resonated deeply for me. It encourages us to seek out the truth because that is where we find god. The relationship to the Divine is a deeply personal for everyone, and Sikhi acknowledges that the Almighty is neither male nor female, without image, without form. This, along with the fact that caste was rejected, and social equality upheld as a goal, allowed a gateway for all to worship as one, while owning their own spirituality.

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Save Bhullar – A Beginner’s Guide to the Case

bhullar.jpgThis post has been long overdue. Pagh salute to @SimNona for pushing me to finalize and publish it.

Larger and larger sections of the Sikh community are becoming familiar with the case. Despite the snide comments of the Indian media, even they have caught wind to the increasing T-shirts being seen far and wide, throughout Punjab. The Canadian youth, with the Sikh Activist Network at the forefront, have expressed their concern. The Sikh Federation has pushed for resolutions in the European Parliament and statements of concern by UK Parliamentarians. Amnesty International has weighed in with its opinion. This past weekend the mother of the discussed pleaded the case at the historic Stockton Gurdwara.

What am I talking about? The case of Professor Devender Pal Singh (Davinderpal Singh Bhullar).

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Musings on Sikh Education

A Pakistani friend of mine from Lahore passed on a video about a 70 year old man named Mushtaq Ahmed from a Punjabi village near Gujranwala, who just complete his MPhil and will be starting his PhD soon in Education.

With five daughters and three sons, Mushtaq Ahmed completes all his necessary farm work, including working in the field and managing and livestock, while carrying his books with him. His plans are ambitious: to go to the university and teach, because for him, Being a Muslim, we should get education from cradle to grave.

Heres the clip:

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I couldnt help think about how this applies to our community. My intention here is not to distinguish from people who are parrd or unparrd or the class implications this has in the Sikh community in Punjab and the Diaspora. (Ive met many unparrd/’uneducated’ people who were far wiser than those who were parrd/educated in some of the most expensive universities in the Diaspora and in the watan. I don’t like those terms myself but just laying out what’s what.) From a Sikh point of view this type of distinction is quite counter productive and has nothing to do with living a life that is Guru-centered.

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Oh How I Hate the Bookstore

Really I don’t. Although independent bookstores are often preferable (I swear I am not a hipster), sometimes even Barnes and Noble (see a hipster would never go there!) or Borders (are they even in business?) will do.

Since I was a kid though, I would always look for books that might have anything remotely to do with Sikhi. The closest we get in our American bookstores are some comprehensive book on religion, usually in the bargain section, and written by some crackpot. This one is presented to you by a professor at Cambridge (@blighty, where you at?)

Oh the bane of my childhood. Then as in now – this is what we get.

Here is the cover….

book_cover1.jpgOk, fair enough, nothing really wrong about that. So now let us flip the the chapter on Sikhi. Let’s see what we find….

book___sikh.jpg

 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand there we go….first sentence! When can we move beyond this? The community has. When will academics and other popular writers move beyond this disinformation that later does get parroted by young Sikhs. Suggestions?

For those interested. The professor’s email address can be found here and his facebook page here. Maybe we can message him? DO IT RESPECTFULLY!!!!!! WE ARE JUST INFORMING, NOT ACCUSING!


Update on Nuvraj Singh Bassi

nuvraj.jpgSo for this post, I again turn towards Canada, but this time focusing on football (sorry Blighty – let me translate for you – “badibididongbong” or “makubadabuda”, lol).

Back in the day I wrote a post on this budding football player and since that time many thought he dropped off the map. Despite the lapse in time, this now 28 year old, Singh is still trying to fulfill his football dreams.

At 28, most players who have yet to make an impact would have gone on to the next phase of their life. Bassi says he cannot yet because his football career, in a sense, has yet to start.[link]

Now on the practice team of the B.C. Lions, Bassi is still striving for his opportunity. Despite a career that has been so-far plagued by injury, this Singh remains in chardikala (eternal optimism!)

“That’s why I never gave up,” he said after his first formal workout with the Lions after six seasons Monday. “This is a new time in my life and I have an amazing opportunity.”[link]

Whatever the outcome the Sikh community will still continue to root for him.

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Disentangling Sikh Issues

Lets see how this one goes.

Now first off, I love the Sikh Activist Network. On the cutting edge of engagement, culture, and arts, they are one of the most fascinating, experimental, and exciting Sikh organizations. Driven by the youth, they have created venues, places for conversation, and new levels of engagement that have energized the Sikh youth, throughout Canada (especially in the GTA), and have inspired many of us in the US, UK, and beyond. They were part of the leaders in the protests against Kamal Nath, increasing the awareness of the case of Prof. Bhullar, in the push towards the genocide recognition in the Canadian Parliament, and even in exposing politicians that do not serve the community.

So my criticism here is not about the organization or even one of the most exciting events in the diaspora When Lions Roar. These have been featured in The Langar Hall over the years and have generated plenty of praise and enthusiasm. This years third annual WLR was an absolute success, with nearly 4000 attendees. You can read about it at our sister blog Kaurista.

My focus for this post is much more limited. It is on the promo. It is for this reason that I waited well until the program was over to write this post. In some ways the promo provides a springboard for a conversation and a framework for tackling it that is often used in the community, so in that way it is much bigger than the promo. Before reading the rest, watch it here and then continue below the fold.

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SAFAR Call for Proposals

Guest blogged by Pataka

SafarLogo_institute.pngThe intersections between Sikhism, gender issues, and academia have always been tenuous and fragile ones. As other posts on this blog have mentioned, there have been some recent pushes to democratize academic research as well as examine and undo the longstanding patriarchy which has surrounded academia in general by including discussions of gender politics as well as Sikh women scholars. For more information on SAFAR take a look at previous posts on this issue or visit their website: www.sikhfeministresearch.org .

The latest initiative on democratizing research for the people is SAFAR: The Sikh Feminist Research Institute’s inaugural conference “Our Journeys” which takes place in Toronto on October 1st, 2011. The new deadline for submitting abstracts is July 15th, 2011. Please forward the information below, submit, and attend!

Our Journeys Conference 2011

On October 1st, 2011, SAFAR The Sikh Feminist Research Institute will host a one-day conference entitled Our Journeys Conference 2011 at The Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE), Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE), University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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