In 1984, as the Indian government was terrorizing Sikhs in northern India, mass campaigns of state-sponsored extermination were occurring in the Americas as well. The small Central American nation of Guatemala, under the rule of US-backed Efrain Rios Montt, was one such place. While Indira Gandhi’s army was attacking Darbar Sahib with an insatiable thirst for Sikh blood, Guatemala was in the midst of what is sometimes called a civil war. Another name for it might be the deliberate and targeted mass killing of indigenous and poor people. In both cases, though thousands of miles apart geographically and politically, campaigns of state-sponsored genocide were underway.
Yesterday, a Guatemalan court found Rios Montt, now 86 years old, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He came to power in 1982 in a US-backed coup and oversaw “a scorched-earth policy in which troops massacred thousands of indigenous villagers. He entered the court on Friday to boos and cries of ‘Justicia!’ or justice. Prosecutors say Rios Montt turned a blind eye as soldiers used rape, torture and arson to try to rid Guatemala of leftist rebels during his 1982-1983 rule, the most violent period of a 1960-1996 civil war in which as many as 250,000 people.” (link)
The former dictator has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for genocide and 30 more from crimes against humanity. This is the first time in history that a head of state has been found guilty of committing genocide in his or her own country. The significance of this conviction cannot be overstated for the people of Guatemala as well as other parts of Latin America and the world where genocidal tyrants have never been held accountable for their atrocities.
What we’re not hearing much about in the US news coverage of this unprecedented trial is the US government’s role in Guatemala at the time (and earlier, beginning with the CIA coup against Arbenz in 1954, essentially for the benefit of the United Fruit Company). While there is much to celebrate in this conviction, key architects and underwriters of these policies of terror in Guatemala (and other parts of Latin America) have faced no consequences for their instrumental role in the genocide. Efrain Rios Montt was trained by the US Army at the school formerly known as the School of the Americas, infamous for training Latin American soldiers and leaders in the art of torture and repression. Rios Montt was close ally of the Reagan Administration, which considered his leadership style necessary in the so-called fight against communism. Revolutionary struggles were building in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and the Reagan Administration saw to it that they would be crushed as would anything or anyone that posed a real or perceived threat against multinationals corporations exploiting the continent’s rich natural resources. In practice, what this meant in Guatemala (and elsewhere) was if you are indigenous and/or poor, you must be a leftist and thus, you must be silenced, intimidated, and/or killed.
Many of us Sikhs and other South Asians in the diaspora have grown up with subtle and not so subtle messages of anti-black racism from our families and communities at large. While on the one hand we learn through Sikhi that all people are equal regardless of their race, caste, or gender, we simultaneously learn that we should not socialize with black people and certainly not date them. We learn they are not to be trusted, that we should keep our distance. We learn that they are unattractive and that we most certainly want to keep our (brown) skin as wheatish and fair and lovely as possible or else we might be called kala (which my Nana Ji used to jokingly call me, as I was the darkest in my family). I recall a family member bluntly telling me when I was a kid, “You can marry whoever you want when you grow up as long as she is not black.”
In his groundbreaking 2001 book Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting, Vijay Prashad explains the anti-black racism so pervasive in our communities:
But all people of color do not feel that their struggle is a shared one. Some of my South Asian bretheren…feel that we should take care of our own and now worry about the woes of others, that we should earn as much money as possible, slide under the radar of racism, and care only about the prospects of our own children…
Since blackness is reviled in the United States, why would an immigrant, of whatever skin color, want to associate with those who are racially oppressed, particularly when the transit into the United States promises the dream of gold and glory? The immigrant seeks a form of vertical assimilation, to climb from the lowest, darkest echelon on the stepladder of tyranny into the brightness of whiteness.
Guest blogged by Mewa Singh
Earlier this year the Center for South Asia at Stanford University along with the Jakara Movement hosted its 4th annual Sikholars Conference (see the recap here). This successful endeavor bringing the latest academic research with an engaged community audience allows for fruitful discussion and exchange. Not limiting this event only to California, Sikholars conferences and workshops have been previously held in British Columbia, Canada and now in London, UK. Teaming up with Queen Mary College, University of London and Singh Sabha Southall, the Jakara Movement is proud to present Sikholars London.
For those in the UK (looking at you @Blighty), hope you get to check it out and experience Sikholars – London. For more information visit their website here.
Guest blogged by Herpreet Kaur Grewal
Editorial note: the author talked to her colleagues on the Sikh Feminist Research Institute’s editorial board about why they are feminists. This blog post collects their views to mark the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi, which took place this weekend.
When you hear the words ‘Sikh feminist’ what images does it bring to mind? Perhaps it evokes a general image of Asian women holding placards and angrily protesting? Or maybe it reminds one of a grand warrior saint like Mai Bhago riding her horse into battle? Or possibly a more contemporary incident comes to mind, like the one of Balpreet Kaur who last year deflected taunts from an Internet troll by eloquently explaining why she decides to keep her facial hair in a society where women are largely pressured to be perfectly formed and hairless. Or maybe it evokes none of these images.
As editorial board members of a Sikh feminist body we feel compelled to express our philosophy as a proactive and empowered one. All of us look to the Sikh (and non-Sikh) values of equality, honesty and strength (among many others), to anchor our lives in an everyday spirituality. But that doesn’t mean our motivation has always rooted from a positive place.
One of us was sexually assaulted which absolutely shattered a personal notion that being strong, assertive and smart can keep you insulated from an attack. If anything, it laid bare the vulnerability that exists if you happen to be born a woman in a world that can devalue one so extremely and how that devaluation is integrated into the culture and system we live with. A culture and system which many men and women internalise – sometimes, to a massive extent.
As you have probably heard by now, Boston is reeling in the aftermath of a few explosions near the Boston marathon this afternoon. Two people have been killed and dozens injured and being treated at local hospitals. I’ve been texting, calling, and checking up on friends in the area all afternoon. We are all shook up and confused by what is happening, searching for answers or explanations for something so hard to comprehend (though something commonplace in other parts of the world like Pakistan, where 4 were killed by a US drone yesterday, and Iraq, where over 50 were killed in a bombing today). Very little is yet known about who did this and why, but of course, the mass media are already making lots of unsubstantiated claims, while accusations and assumptions are spreading quickly on Twitter and Facebook.
As something as horrifying as this afternoon in Boston is literally unfolding, as we are worrying about loved ones who may be affected, we already have to worry about the consequences of backlash violence. We have to worry about the sensationalism in the media. We have to worry about being attacked because of the color of skins, the turbans or hijabs on our heads, the beards on our faces. I pray that people in the United States and beyond have learned something in the last 11 and a half years. I pray that the collective response to today will be drastically different from the knee-jerk racism that pervaded the days, weeks, months, and years after 9/11/01.
But honestly, I’m not so sure how hopeful I am.
One of the legacies of the earliest Sikh and Indian immigrants to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century was the creation of the Ghadar Party, a political movement based in northern California that sought to promote India’s liberation from British rule.
Led by Indian expatriates in the United States, the Ghadar Party was formed in 1913. One of its main activities was the publishing of literature to promote resistance to British rule and for a free India. Obviously a threat to the ruling class, the literature was banned in India, and upon their capture, the Ghadarites were often imprisoned or executed as terrorists by the British.
This year, the San Francisco headquarters of the Ghadar Party has been opened to the public by the Indian Consulate as a museum. The printing press that the Ghadar Party used to print their literature is also now on display at the Gurdwara in Stockton, California. However, while it was previously believed that the Ghadar Party was founded in California, historians now place the genesis of the movement further north in the state of Oregon, where Johanna Ogden recently mapped a forgotten (and primarily) Sikh settlement of laborers in 1910 known as “Hindu Alley”.
Guest Blogged by: JSD
Today, the government of India has once again proved why it’s claim to being the world’s largest democracy is laughable. Not to mention the media in India, which claims to be fair and democratic in nature, however, this is simply not the case. India’s media is clearly state run and its news outlets make stories that create divides within communities. Why am I saying all this?
Sadda Haq is a fictional movie based on real events surrounding the militancy era in Punjab during the 1980s and 1990s. Showing accounts of “false encounters” and police brutality, the movie aims to show why average citizens were forced to take up arms against the oppressive regime. The movie was set to release worldwide today on April 5, 2013. Although the Indian Government can’t ban the movie worldwide, the Punjab government did manage to ban the movie in Punjab and other parts of India in just a few hours prior to its opening after the movie was privately screened to Punjab Police members and state government officials.
These officials who watched the private screening included the likes of DGP Sumedh Saini. Interestingly enough, the ban comes from the Punjab government run by Parkash Badal of the Akali Party, a party that is supposed to represent Sikh interests, but at the same time has promoted Saini to the ranks of DGP(Deputy General of Police) even after countless human rights claims exist against him for his participation in the post 1984 Punjab genocide of Sikh youth.
Over the past few days the Indian news outlets have been talking about Sadda Haq being a controversial film promoting Khalistan. It is no doubt that Sadda Haq discusses the militancy era, but its aim is to show the truth that has been pushed under the rug by the government and media.
A North American based Internationalist movement for the liberation of India
Guest blogged by York Ghadaris
On the centenary of the Ghadar Movement, a conference is being held at York University, Toronto, Canada on April 12 to April 13, 2013, to honour and remember its history, and its contemporary relevance to the revolutionary struggle of people of the Indian subcontinent.
It has been 100 years since the Ghadar Movement was formed by emigrant Punjabis and other Indian nationals in San Francisco in 1913. The Ghadar Movement ranks alongside other revolutionary movements of the early 20th century. In common with revolutionary movements in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Black Liberation movements of North America, the Ghadar Movement opposed imperialist powers, colonialism, and strived to develop working class internationalism.
This conference is called, with the participation of approximately 18 scholars and activist from North America and the UK, to remember the Ghadar Movement, its historical development, and to analyze its contemporary relevance to the revolutionary struggle of the people of the Indian subcontinent. The conference will examine the Ghadar struggle as a journey from the 20th century, “a century of revolutions”, to its role in laying the foundation stones for the revolutions of the 21st century. These revolutions are crystallizing in response to the imperialist occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Haiti, the air attacks on Pakistan and the possibility of NATO attacks on Iran and Syria. The economic meltdown of the European Union (EU) and North America resulting in mass unrest are adding to the cause of revolution. They are taking shape in the form of the Arab Spring, the ongoing revolutions in Venezuela, Nepal, and the emerging people’s struggles in India.
This March marked ten years since the United States invaded Iraq in the name of Iraqi freedom. Ten years later, potentially over one million Iraqi civilian deaths later, where are we now? What are the people of Iraq left with? Aside from extreme instability and near genocide, Iraqis are now dealing with a legacy of cancer and birth defects as a result of our country’s military aggression. A few weeks back on Democracy Now, journalist Dahr Jamail discussed this harrowing reality. He stated:
“[The birth defects] are extremely hard to bear witness to, but it’s something that we all need to pay attention to … What this has generated is from 2004 up to this day, we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II.”
What follows is the clip from the news program. Note that the images in the clip are horrific. This is reality. This is our tax dollars at work.
You will be walking in memory of twenty-eight-year-old Darshan Singh who was a young farmer from Amritsar district. On 9 September 1990, Darshan and two other young men went for a motorcycle ride when a group of police officers suspected them of being militants and shot at them. Darshan, the pillion rider, was hit by a bullet and fell down dead. The police took Darshan’s two companions into custody and reported them dead in alleged encounters.
Ensaaf has documented thousands of cases of disappearance and unlawful killings in Punjab and in an effort to allow its supporters to connect with victims, Ensaaf is holding a 5k walk, called Appear for the Disappeared, on April 6, 2013 in Fremont, CA. The walk is an opportunity for all participants and virtual donors to commemorate a specific individual who was disappeared in Punjab by Indian security forces from the mid-1980s to late 1990s. Ensaaf’s goal is to commemorate 500 individuals and raise $25,000 to complete documentation efforts.
Between 1984 and 1995, Punjab witnessed thousands of disappearances and unlawful killings, with many victims facing unimaginable torture at the hands of Indian security officials. Rarely were victim families informed of the fate of their loved ones, let alone given a chance to carry out final rites and funeral services. As thousands of men and women disappeared and their families left in the darkness, responsible security officials were awarded promotions and their human rights violations faded into darkness.
While many people often confuse Vaisakhi as the beginning of the new year, today is the actual Sikh New Year. It is the first day of the Nanakshahi Calender and Chet is the first month. Today is also Sikh Environment Day, a campaign initiated by Eco Sikh and its volunteers throughout the globe and celebrated on the Gurgadi of Guru Har Rai Ji.
What will your new year’s resolutions be? What Sikh ideals will you plant today and seek growth of throughout the year?
Barah Maha Calender via Sikh Foundation
A Lion’s Mane by Navjot Kaur via Saffron Press
Co-blogged by Sundari and The Sikh Love Stories Project
Each year, International Women’s Day is celebrated to honor women’s economic, political and social achievements. As individuals around the world celebrate this day – in both big ways and small – I am left to consider how we can work to honor the achievements of Sikh women not only today but on an ongoing basis. Sikh women have contributed in such meaningful ways, and yet much of that dialogue is often missing from our history.
In this post, we will be sharing some images with you and discuss various ways Sikh women have been witness to and engaged in our history both locally and globally. We know this post will not be comprehensive – there is much to unearth about Sikh women’s contributions – but we hope it’s a starting point that will encourage us to keep this valuable history in our minds. Many of the following images each depict a different element of Sikh women in history.
Stories often begin with immigration and this first image shows Sikh women pioneers in Canada who were part of an immigrant labor force recruited in the early years of the twentieth century.
Mill Town Pioneers. Most of Canada’s early Sikh immigrants found work in lumber mills throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Canada’s largest mill community, Fraser Mills in New Westminster, BC, had between 200 and 300 Sikhs living and working there in 1925.
In this photograph from that period, three Sikh women stand in front of company houses at the mill. [link]
One of them wears a traditional embroidered shawl called ‘phulkari’. The phulkari played an important role in the lifecycle rituals of women in Punjabi villages at times of birth, marriage and death.
Guest blogged: Mewa Singh
From February 16-17, 2013, researchers from throughout the world, focusing on Sikh-related topics, came together at Stanford University for the 4th annual Sikholars Conference, hosted by the Jakara Movement. From Europe to Pakistan, from India to Canada, and throughout the United States, young scholars came together for a weekend of discussion and engagement in a unique forum that connects the academy to the community. Here, I provide here a bit of a recap and encouragement for those that missed this year to make sure you don’t miss Sikholars 2014.
The conference commenced with an opening address by Professor Thomas Blom Hansen. The director of Stanford University’s Center for South Asia welcomed the audience and shared his excitement for a new partnership between the Jakara Movement and the Center for South Asia in years to come in hosting the Sikholars Conference. Next followed a lecture by Professor Linda Hess, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Bhagat Kabir Ji.
We love Sardar Fauja Singh. We really, really do.
On Sunday, Fauja Singh will run his final race in Hong Kong at the tender age of 101. Jezebel recently covered Fauja Singh in a piece about women’s rights, and just today Jordan Conn wrote a compendious and inspiring article for Outside The Lines on ESPN about Fauja Singh’s life and the “missing” Guinness Book of World Records title. This article, along with stunning photographs, spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter today – reminding us just how much the world loves Fauja Singh and what he represents.
On the first day of training, Fauja arrived limber and energetic and dressed, as he believed was perfectly appropriate, in a dazzling three-piece suit. Harmander told him he needed a wardrobe change. After adamant protests, Fauja relented, ditched the suit and bought running gear. He showed up every day after that, building his routine around his training schedule. His mileage increased as the weeks passed. Race day arrived. After 6 hours and 54 minutes, 4:48 behind winner Antonio Pinto, Fauja crossed the finish line. At age 89, he was a marathoner. Soon, he would be a star.
We will be wishing you well on Sunday, Fauja Ji! Thank you for continuing to be such an activist and a positive soul and for reminding us of the importance of health and happiness.
- The Langar Hall
Tragic news broke today that a Sikh family in Atlanta, Georgia, was found dead in their home. The bodies of father Shindiver Grover (52), mother Damanjit Grover (47) and their two sons, Sartaj (12), and Gurtej (5), were discovered in their apartment when Damanjit did not report for work on Monday.
Police are still investigating what is called a “complicated” crime scene, but believe it was a murder-suicide:
The nature of the murder – the city’s first since it was incorporated in 2006 – was troubling to even the most senior investigators, [Johns Creek police Chief Ed Densmore] said.
“We are all human. We’re all parents. We have families,” Densmore said, according to local CBS News.
“You deal with something like this, it will take a little bit out of you, of course.”
Few details have been released at this point. Prayers for the departed souls and condolences are offered to those who knew the family.
While we are still learning about the tragedy, Sikhs in the United States who are seeking resources to deal with domestic issues can contact the Sikh Family Center, who provides a confidential “culturally specific peer-counseling and non-emergency support for community members in Punjabi and English.” The Sikh Family Center message line can be reached at (408) 800-SEVA or (408) 800-7382.
For more immediate needs, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available in 170 languages at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233). In case of emergency, always first call 911.
[Cross-posted on American Turban]
Most of us are probably familiar with the history of the first wave of Punjabi migration to California in the late 1800s and early 1900s. These pioneers, many Sikhs, set up the country’s first gurdwara in Stockton, formed the Ghadhar Party to overthrow the British Raj, and many ended up marrying Mexican women. I learned about this fascinating history way later than I should have, but have noticed more and more consciousness of these early migrants and their descendants over the last several years.
A book that just came out unearths a lessor known history of early South Asian migration to the United States. A few decades after this Punjabi migration to California came a smaller, but no less interesting wave of South Asian immigration (Bengalis) to the east coast. This little-known history is documented in a new book by Vivek Bald called Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. Like their Punjabi predecessors in California, these mostly Muslim migrants were working class, dealt with a great deal of racism, and married women from other communities of color and immigrant communities.
Bald, also a filmmaker (who made an amazing film about the British Asian underground music movement of the 1990s called Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music), is also working on a documentary version of the book entitled In Search of Bengali Harlem, which you can preview here.
I haven’t yet read the book but am really looking forward to checking it out. As you’ll see from the blurb below, these stories have much in common with those of the early Punjabi migrants, even if they were working in different industries and came from different parts of South Asia.
Guest blogged by Santbir Singh
I try to imagine the government coming to my house one morning and taking my five year old daughter and eight year old son away to a boarding school hundreds of kilometres away. I try to imagine that at this school, my children’s hair will be cut, their dastars and kakkars will be removed and they will be forcibly baptized as Christians. I try to imagine that they will be beaten for speaking Panjabi, reading Bani or trying to maintain their religious and cultural traditions. I try to imagine that even their basic health needs will not be looked after and they may well die from treatable infections and diseases. And then, I must admit, I am not able to imagine the rest; I can not bear to imagine them being abused, assaulted, beaten and raped.
That is what occurred in this country for one hundred years as the Canadian government, along with government sanctioned church groups, kidnapped First Nations children from their homes and took them to residential schools where unspeakable horrors were committed on them. Of course the history of colonization in the Americas does not begin with the Residential School system but is in fact a legacy going back centuries. It is estimated that 90 to 95% of all indigenous people living in the Americas were killed by smallpox within the first century after European first contact in the late 1400’s. It is difficult to fathom death at that scale. Those that remained had their land stolen and were forced onto reservations to live as non-citizens in their own lands.
As a nation, Sikhs are extremely proud of our own anti-colonial struggle against the British. Yet we have completely failed to acknowledge that in Canada we have succeeded due to the colonial oppression of other nations. This land where we build our homes and businesses was the land of nations that lived here for tens of thousands of years. Yes, one hundred and seventy years ago the British annexed Panjab and ended Khalsa Raj. But the British did not exile us from our own villages and towns. The British did not take our land and build new cities. The British did not migrate to Panjab and force us to live on inadequate reserves.
Guest blogged by Simran Jeet Singh
Last week, people around the world watched a Sikh with a turban and beard – Gurpreet Singh Sarin – charm the judges on the iconic television show, American Idol. The show’s judges and producers played up his nickname, the Turbanator, and almost immediately, #Turbanator began trending nationwide on Twitter. As is often the case, however, the ugly face of bigotry reared its ugly head and reminded us all of the problems faced by Sikhs around the country. Countless Americans equated the contestant’s turban and beard with terrorism, and #Osama also began trending across the country.
Gurpreet has little control over how the producers of American Idol choose to project his image. Yet he has done an incredible job of working within the system to create positive change, and his breakthrough performance is something from which we will all benefit for years to come. More importantly, we as a community cannot learn how to build our image in greater America if we do not see Sikhs experiment within mainstream media and learn from those experiences. Certainly there were moments on the show that could have been improved, and while it is important to recognize and build upon these for the future, it is also important for us to take this moment to enjoy this unprecedented moment in our community’s history.
Guest blogged by Gunita Kaur Singh
Being a nonconformist builds character, but only when it is exercised within a certain framework of values. A prime example of this lifestyle is embodied within the Sikh religion.
Sikhism is very progressive for it allows the practitioner freedom from dogmatism, hence distinguishing it from other religions. However, it is encouraged to use said freedom for the purpose of enhancing a Sikh’s devotion to God and truthful living.
Guru Nanak was a definite nonconformist during his time because he spoke out against the subjugation of women to men, the anthropocentric concept of God, and the prominence of ritualism. The release from these binding ideals gives a Sikh the freedom to live her life as she wishes; even in simply viewing God as the universe itself, a Sikh must still appreciate and value God, but she has the ability to do so in the manner which is most personal and ideal for her mindset. This is the best example to depict nonconformity within a values framework.
Alan Keightley had said, “Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.”
Nanak realized this because a central idea which he would teach seekers of his knowledge was that we belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us. This notion helps to emancipate individuals from the confinement of bodies, and transcend into spirit form. It also tells us that we never have to be marginalized to institutions or authoritarians.
(Disclaimer: I’ve never watched American Idol before. It’s true.)
Most of you are probably already well aware that a young Sikh named Gurpreet Singh Sarin appeared on American Idol last night and made it through the first hurdle. In case you missed it, here is the clip from his audition in front of the judges.
Like most of you, I’ve been barraged with posts on Facebook and Twitter about Gurpreet’s success on the show last night, mostly expressing excitement and support for the self-proclaimed “Turbanator.” The vibe I’m getting from all the posts I’m seeing from Sikhs is that this big moment for Gurpreet is a big moment for the Sikh community in the US, perhaps an opportunity for some positive representation in popular culture. The Sikh Coalition and SALDEF have tweeted congratulations to Gurpreet as well, and the overall sentiment appears celebratory.
I share some of this excitement, or at least fascination, but the whole thing is also making me cringe a bit. I don’t want to unnecessarily rain on this parade because I do think it is an interesting moment and opportunity. I also think Gurpreet is a solid singer and did a great job at handling what must have been an uncomfortable situation on many levels.