Rocket Singh

I normally only watch Bollywood, if ever, to laugh. At the acting, the ridiculous stereotypes, the loony drama.

Though when the bad acting, ridiculous stereotypes, and loony drama are played out by Sikh characters, it’s a little depressing.

A lot of people would probably say that the quality of films coming out of Bollywood is improving. And that might be true if you’re talking about cinematography, but when it comes to depth in a plot, I haven’t seen any signs of improvement. But maybe Bollywood will pleasantly surprise its critics with Rocket Singh?

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Find an Urge to Help on World AIDS Day

world_aids_day.jpgDecember 1st is World AIDS Day. Each year on this day we take the time to consider the impact HIV and AIDS has had on people around the globe. This year’s focus is on Universal Access and Human Rights. For as long as I can remember, the conversation has focused on the growing number of infections and deaths associated with AIDS. This year, however, the United Nations reports a notable decrease in HIV infections in some of the hardest hit areas of the world. It is clear, then, that the enormous amount of effort by HIV treatment and prevention programs have helped to provide education to raise awareness.

For three decades the world has been living with and responding to AIDS. Our response has often been too late or too little – and often both. But it has also often been unprecedented, groundbreaking and unpredictable. Activists and researchers have found common ground to work side by side to beat this disease. Together, they’ve developed new ways of conducting research and new ways of delivering healthcare in response to the AIDS pandemic. They’ve learned unexpected lessons and developed strategies that work against HIV and against other diseases. They’ve revolutionized public health. [link]

A recent NYTimes article discusses how humans may be born with an urge to help, and it makes me consider how very important this attribute is. Our communities rely so heavily on the help of each other – something we often take for granted. If humans are born with an urge to help, then Sikhi provides us with a strong foundation to make this happen. It is up to each and every one of us to seek out those opportunities. While World AIDS Day is a way to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, it is also a reminder of the potential we each have to make a change. In Guru Nanak Dev Jis words,

In the midst of this world, do seva.

Why Haven’t You Voted for Sikh Organizations Yet?

25 seconds of your time could lead to $25,000 for your community. Don’t get Billa angry!

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Vote for ALL Sikh organizations. You get 20 votes! For links to the groups and directions on how to vote click here.

Please help spread this video to all your friends and family! Most importantly, make sure they follow Billa’s advice. GET OUT AND VOTE! Brothers and sisters, Singhs and Kaurs throughout the world – WE NEED YOUR VOTES and SUPPORT!

The exciting part 2 will be released later this week – exclusively on The Langar Hall.

Bollywood and Hollywood Unite To Whitewash a Dictator

byotch.jpgIt was only a matter of time. Indira Gandhi created many myths during her tyranny. She created the myth of herself as Kali, the goddess of destruction following the war in Bangladesh in 1971. She created the myth of herself as Mother India, with a strong matriarchal love and care for her subjects. However, the most important myth that she helped create that has long captivated western audiences was the foundational myth of Indias independence the nonviolence of Gandhi.

Richard Attenboroughs Gandhi is one the most well-known films about the subcontinent. In 1982, the movie was awarded the Best Picture by the Academy Awards. Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi, and the director, Attenborough, also received individual credits. However, few have ever delved into the politics in the movies creation. In many ways, we find ourselves far removed from the world of art and into the territory of propaganda.

The funding of the Gandhi was highly unusual. Fully one-third came directly from the national treasury could we ever contemplate money coming directly from the Treasury Department to fund a commercial, errr I mean movie? Propaganda at its best requires whitewashing and in the film we see a guiltless Nehru, the evil villain Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and a de-Hinduized Gandhi, without patriarchy, caste prejudices, or hypocrisy.

It was to be expected as the screenplay was checked and rechecked throughout the whole process, often directly by the then-Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi herself. Many noted that the opening credits of the film should have had the message: The following film is a paid political advertisement by the government of India.

I leave out a discussion for M. Gandhi for now, but will hope to take it up later. For now, we focus on the film. The success of the movie in terms of cultural capital cannot be emphasized enough. It was this movie that helped solidify the myth of India as related to Gandhi overthrowing colonial rule, nonviolent, and wedded to the belief of equality for all. Indira Gandhis purchase still continues to reap rewards for India almost three decades later.

We now get the sequel.

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Stephen Harper Visits Harmandir Sahib

Many politicians in America and Canada appeal to their Sikh constituents by visiting local Gurdwaras. Sometimes these visits include a brief speech and other times just a saroopa. Regardless, it’s usually an ask for votes.

What I particularly find powerful about Canadian politicians is that they will walk along side their Sikh constituency during Nagar Kirtans and visit the Harmandir Sahib. To me that is representative of the political power the Sikh community has in Canada. Politicians are not only appearing to give a “vote for me” speech or state a “thank you” for the saropoa. They need to do more to get the Sikh vote.

Sam Grewal of the Toronto Star writes:

“The Liberal party took us for granted and is now paying the price,” Gill says. “It would be a mistake for the Conservatives to think that simply appearing at functions is enough to win votes.”

An appearance by the Prime Minister, at the place most revered by Sikhs, may be the exception.

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Holiday Brides in Punjab

Almost two years ago I blogged about an NPR story that highlighted the issue of Runaway Grooms. Today, I once again write about the same issue – this time the media terms it “Holiday Brides” – a different name telling the same story. We should be outraged that years after we first heard about this issue, we are still having the same conversation. We are told that about 20,000 women have been deserted by men in the UK, US and Canada who promise to return to India and never do. The most recent questions is then, why are Punjabi women still falling for this obvious scam?

_46764969_280720094871.jpgIn a dusty village in the Jagraon district of Punjab, northern India, 35-year-old Suman (which is not her real name), lives with her widowed mother in a small room in a crumbling building. Four years ago, the secondary school teacher married a British man in a wedding arranged by relatives. Shortly after the ceremony, her husband, who is in his 50s, left for London with the promise he would send for her. At first all appeared to go well. “He would visit two to three times a year. “Whenever he came to India, we had a good time,” she said. However, on one visit he claimed her application for a spousal visa to the UK had been refused. It was like being a prostitute you take along and have a good time with and then leave behind ‘Suman’, 35”He told me he had applied for an appeal. “But he has never shown me a copy of that appeal. He’s never shown me any documents.” The visits and calls ended, and for the past six months Suman has had no contact with her husband. “In hindsight, it was like being a prostitute you take along and have a good time with and then leave behind. [link]

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25 Seconds Could Raise $25,000 for the Sikh Youth

jakara.jpg3 clicks are all it takes. JPMorgan Chase Bank partnered up with Facebook to have sort of an American Idol of charity giving. The 100 charities with the most votes by December 10th will receive $25,000.

CLICK HERE to vote for the Jakara Movement.

There are a great number of Sikh charities that are participating. The Jakara Movement has the most votes for the Sikh groups and needs your support to bring $25,000 to our community to support projects by the Sikh youth. This weekend alone, the Jakara Movement had 6 events. There were 5 camps, titled, A Nation Never Forgets that were hosted in Los Angeles, Turlock, Stockton, Yuba City, and Orange County. Here are some pictures from just one.

In the Bay Area, the Jakara Movement helped host the forum Women and 1984, bringing scholars and activists such as Cynthia Keppley Mahmood (author of Fighting for Faith and Nation and a champion for human rights), Navkiran Kaur Khalra (daughter of the late Shaheed for human rights, Jaswant Singh Khalra), and Jasmine Kaur (a human rights lawyer and member of ENSAAF).

To keep programs, like this going WE NEED YOUR HELP. We are asking for ALL Sikhs whether in the US, UK, Canada, India, Punjab, Malaysia, Australia, Africa, and beyond to rally around the Sikh organizations and provide your support. Get your non-Sikh friends to vote too!

Log into Facebook and click HERE to vote for the JAKARA MOVEMENT. And with your 20 votes, do not forget to vote for other great Sikh organizations (ENSAAF, SALDEF, and many others) too. Inspire and be inspired; together, we are the movement.

Please forward and circulate this widely. We Need the Entire Community to Rally Behind the Sikh Youth!

Supporting Sikh Arts

Last weekend I attended the Sikh Lens Sikh Art and Film Festival in Hollywood. I have attended film festivals all over North America and strongly believe in their need and presence in our community. Many times, however, the events get overshadowed by the glitz and glamour the red carpet, the photographers, the eccentric outfits I was therefore grateful that my experience at the Sikh Arts and Film Festival was a fulfilling one I left knowing that Sikh Arts and Films bring value to our community and need to be supported. In addition, I felt the organizers made a special effort to keep the event focused on the directors, artists, musicians, actors, authors and organizations who were present. They recognized the fact that we are all in this together. Sikh Arts and Films are only beginning to be acknowledged, there is so much potential and growth that will still occur. However, this isnt going to magically happen overnight, and it most definitely wont happen without the communitys support.

golden_temple.jpgI was recently told that Sikhs in the UK spend 7 times more on license plates than they do on books (yes, 7 times!). While Im not sure of the statistic in the US, the point is clear perhaps were not investing in the right places? I think as a community we have begun to establish the need to support non-profit organizations that are working to address human rights, legal, education and activism issues (although we still have a long way to go to enhance our support). However, what goes hand in hand with this is the support and advancement of Sikh Art and Media. Without a doubt, events such as Sikh Lens are helping to pave the path however, we as a community need to ask ourselves why we are so hesitant to spend money on independent films, childrens books, on historical references and on paintings. When I think about other immigrant communities, I notice that their advancement as a community comes from their support of one another. Whether we like to admit it or not, our community is extremely frugal and competitive with each other, and unless we start to move away from those stereotypes we will not be creating a better world for our children.

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A Little Outrage…

fist.pngI was really moved by this audio essay from Cecilia Muoz titled “A Little Outrage Can Take You a Long Way” on NPR’s This I Believe segment.

In her reflection on activism, I connected with the statement about defeats outweighing victories, and how it motivates her to continue her work. Like many of the TLH readers, I too take time out my schedule for service activities. And after serving 100 or so meals at a homeless shelter, I go home feeling good about myself and the good deed I had done. Unlike Muoz, I dont stay awake thinking of the 100 or so people who were turned away that day at the shelter, or those who wouldnt have a place to sleep that night. Maybe this is what separates me from real activists. To me, service has become an event or an activity – for an activist, service is a part of their life…part of who they are. They are constantly looking for ways to serve.

And I agree with Muoz, a little outrage can take you a long way.

Although I dont believe Guru Nanak was motivated by anger, I do believe he was outraged. Outraged by a society complacent with the rigid caste hierarchy, outraged at the imbalance of justice, and outraged by the barbaric methods of the State to suppress a minority. You can almost hear the outrage, when Guru Sahib describes the horrific events of Babar’s invasion:

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Nov. 21: Women in 1984 (SF) & Lahir(NY)

Two great events are happening this Saturday: in San Francisco- “Women in 1984″; in New York- Lahir.

If you’re anywhere near either of these 2 cities, you better be there, or you’ll regret missing out!

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Dr. Cynthia Mahmood (Fighting for Faith and Nation), Navkiran Kaur Khalra (daughter of Jaswant Singh Khalra), and Jasmine Kaur Marwaha (Ensaaf) will share their narratives and links to the struggle of the post 1984-period.
Dr. Cynthia Mahmoods work deals directly with the issue of militancy and she will discuss the violence in Punjab from the macro lens of India as a democracy.
Navkiran Kaur Khalra will speak of her own experiences as the daughter of S. Jaswant Singh Khalra and the heritage of his vision. The Khalra familys narratives is inherently linked to the states backlash against movements desiring human rights and autonomy.
Jasmine Kaur Marwaha, human rights lawyer for Ensaaf, will be discussing the the right to reparations for victims of the November 1984 pogroms, as well as victims of the Punjab counterinsurgency, from a gendered perspective.
Saturday, November 21st, 2009 | 124pm | 166 Barrows Hall (UC Berkley)

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Reading Shakespeare in Punjabi

3857.bilingualism.jpgTo be or not to be? Well, apparently for Surjit Singh Hans – it is to be. Hans, an academia based in Mohali, is undergoing the feat of translating Shakespeare’s work into Punjabi. Hans retired from Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, where he had once been head of the department of history having done extensive work on Sikh literary sources and in particular the Janamsakhis. Hehas been working on this task for the past sixteen years.

The translation follows the original line by lineyou want to locate line 20, Act II, scene (i), in the Arden edition of Hamlet, all you have to do is look at the corresponding line in the translation. The iambic pentameter of Shakespeare has given way to the chaupai in Punjabi, but what matters is that these lines are almost as resonant in Punjabi as they are in the original English. They work well when read aloud, as Shakespeare is meant to be, and there is little here that a Punjabi cant take to heart. Indeed, the heavy-headed revelry takes from our achievements, though performed at height. [link]

As for how well Shakespeare’s work translates into Punjabi, Hans suggests that King John could parallel the story of Aurangzeb and Two Noble Kinsmen could be a scene out of a Punjabi village (two men, one girl – hardly promising).

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Youth Slate Victory in Surrey: Beyond Media Interference

we_are_all_sikhs.jpgAlthough Gurdwara elections are usually not celebratory topics, the news surrounding the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey is especially noteworthy. We have covered the topic in the past a few times and the results seem to be in (again). The Youth Slate wins (again).

An overwhelming reason the story is worthy of discussion is due to the Canadian national media own interference and frequently call for Sikhs to vote against the fundamentalist/conservative slate. Statements such as these were far too common:

If elected, a slate of Sikh youth fundamentalist candidates could overturn a long moderate tradition of using tables and chairs for temple mealtimes.[link]

Well the community decided again and returned the fundamentalist candidates. I wonder if the Canadian media has ever delved and chose sides and support in church elections in the past? For some reason, I have a feeling this is rather a unique scenario. Although the media may not like the results the community speaks for itself.

The new committee under Bikramjit Singhwill have a lot of work to do. They hardly built confidence after the last election, when it was discovered there were irregularities in their nomination processes. Still their agenda is broad and may have long-term ramifications in Surrey.

Regardless a victory of the community over the Canadian media’s portrayals and desire for specific results. Now we wait and see. The real work is about to begin.

TAKE ACTION NOW: Pass The Healthy Families Act

Flu season along with H1N1 are in full swing right now. We worry about catching it at schools, in airports, and work. Often we hear of recommendations for people to stay home if they are sick so they don’t infect their co-workers and give themselves time to get well. However, for some staying home when you are sick comes at a large cost-a day(s) worth of wages. According to the Union Voice, “Thirty-nine percent of us have a difficult choice to make when we’re sick: go to work and risk infecting our co-workers (and risk making our illness worse), or stay home and put our finances and our jobs in jeopardy”. (hat tip: Sonny)

Thus, Senator Chris Dodd and Rep. Rosa DeLauro are pressing forward the passage of the Healthy Families Act, which was first introducted by Senator Edward Kennedy.

The Healthy Families Act would provide 7 paid sick days to all workers at companies with at least 15 employees, and would prevent employers from retaliating against workers who get sick. The bill has 113 sponsors in the House and 21 sponsors in the Senate, and has been endorsed by the Obama administration.

This bill would ensure that 3/4 of workers in the food and service industry who do not get paid sick days will be able to stay home rather than come into contact with their co-workers and the public. Taking action to pass this bill will be a positive step forward in fighting the spread of H1N1.

TAKE ACTION NOW by clicking here and sending your congressional representative an e-mail asking him/her to support this bill.

Being a Vessel: in Sikhi, and the West

By neglecting art, we’ve been neglecting our spirituality. And perhaps vice versa. Perhaps we could practice receiving a little more, instead of doing, as we normally do.

Most of us, especially in Asian communities that so highly value scientific endeavor, and want the next generation to all be doctors, grossly undervalue art. Sadly, this might be stunting our spirituality.

How often have your teachers, parents, and other adults in your life impressed upon you the importance of active effort, purposeful thought, and discipline? The scientific methods we rely upon to explain our environments and the universe all rely on these traits and oh-so-important- rationality. Through decades of education, we’re pounded into submission, learning to accept that rationality is good, and irrationality, bad.

But that’s not entirely true. And in the last week, I noticed that both Japji Sahib and a popular American site (especially amongst techies) bypassed rationality to focus on the importance of a different kind of knowledge – intuition. And it rang true. Intuitively. Irrationally.

From the 13th Pauri of Japji Sahib:

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Yuba City’s First Punjabi-American Mayor

Kash Gill, who grew up as a farm worker, will be sworn in today as Yuba City’s first Punjabi-American mayor. As many of you know, Yuba City (often referred to as the pindh of California), has a large Punjabi Sikh population. Just last weekend, 75,000 people gathered in Yuba City for the annual Nagar Kirtan. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that finally a Punjabi-American will be taking the seat of mayor. The event does, however, signify a signficiant step for a community that makes up about 12 percent of the population in Yuba City. The story also embodies the dream,which many immigrant communitiescarry with them – that by working hard and perservering, anything is possible.

“You’d never think you’d be picking peaches one day and the next day you’re the mayor of Yuba City,” he said. “That’s why we call it the land of opportunity.” After moving to the United States when he was 3 years old, Gill’s parents stressed that education was the path to leaving the life of farm laboring. [link]

Gill said his priority will be to improve flood protection for the community, reduce gang activity and offer opportunities for young residents. It should be added, that in Yuba City the mayor is chosen on a rotation system and while many of the comments (in the linked article) do discuss his Punjabi-American background, many more are focused on discussing his priorities and how they will benefit the people of Yuba City – as they should be.

Note: The Appeal-Democrat is hosting a live streaming video tonight of City Councilman Kash Gill being sworn in as mayor of Yuba City at

Sikh Art and Film Festival – Los Angeles

saff_logo.pngThis weekend Sikhlens will be presenting its annual Sikh Art and Film Festival 2009. The film festival showcases the best in Sikh movie-making talents from around the globe. It also presents a forum for aspiring Sikh artists to also come and display their burgeoning talents. A few book launches are planned with a particular emphasis on children’s books. Authors of A Lion’s Mane and The Royal Falcon are planned to be in attendance to do a live reading.

The inaugural Sikh Art and Film Festival will be held at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA on November 13-15th.

In previous articles on The Langar Hall, I have written about how certain Sikh-film haters groan in jealousy and spew hatred, about the Sikhs taking advantage of new forms of media. Such efforts in the community should be encouraged and more platforms created.

The weekend features a number of different clusters, highlighting issues on the youth, creative Sikhs, short films, feature films, and even Remembering 1984. The Remembering 1984 cluster on Sunday afternoon will be co-hosted with the Jakara Movement in conjunction with its Visions of Truth film series.

So whether you come for the entire weekend, make it out to just one cluster (at $15 pre-sale, you wont find a better price), or at least to Sunday’s mela, check the schedule, check out the films, and make sure you come out and support Sikh arts! We’ll be in attendance and will post on our experience after the event.

Maharaja of Firangi

mah020_crop.jpgGuest Blogged by: Harinder Singh

Last week I walked into the first exhibition to comprehensively explore the extraordinarily rich culture of the maharajas. Maharaja the splendor of Indias Royal Courts is the feature exhibit at the Victoria & Alberta Museum in London and will be available through mid-January 2010. It was Susan Stronge, senior curator at V&A and friend of the Sikhs, who literally showed me the way to the V&A after a candid conversation over cafe latte about Sikhs, art, Orientalism, Barak Hussein Obama and Patwant Singh (late transnational Sikh ambassador). Her interest in my take on the Indian Maharajas depiction became the unusual catalyst to see the exhibition through two lenses: that of a Sikh and a South Asian.

Given that the number five in the Hindu numerology spans around business, marriage and romance, the five zones of exhibitions made sense. How the British have harbored such romantic notions of arbitrary boundaries of marriage and power in what it termed India! My journey through the exhibition started with the Royal Spectacle followed by the Kingship in India. It solidified with the Shifting Power that legitimized The Raj which divided its subjects into Princely India. The only thing missing were the people, todays South Asians.

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Sikh Womens Reflections of 1984

The role of Sikh women often remembered in 1984 is that of victim. Yes women were raped, killed, and left to care for their families when their male relatives were kidnapped and killed. However, the strength and perseverance to move forward without justice is often glossed over. I find it powerful to hear Sikh women’s stories of “moving on” while continuing to speak out against the horrific injustices of 1984. Often there is talk about how Sikhs have been in a state of “victimhood” for the past 25 years. I believe the stories of the women below show how some Sikhs have empowered themselves to move forward with their daily lives in the past 25 years while living with the pain and not giving up on the demand for justice. This is agency and not victimhood.

Yes institutions, memorials, and marches show how Sikhs are attempting to move forward as a community; however, these women have done something that is far more difficult-picking up the pieces of their lives in the midst of devastation and mending them together as best as they could for themselves, their families, and their community. These women are inspirational and their lives for the past 25 years show why.

Watch the videos below in Hindi to hear their stories (hat tip: Mallika). One of the most powerful reflections of 1984 I have seen.

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Punjab Bandh – A Nation Never Forgets – 1984

sikhbandh.pngOn Tuesday (November 3rd, 2009), various Panthic groups (‘radical’ Sikh organizations, if you follow Indian newspapers) called for a peaceful shutdown of stores, businesses, and state services to protest the continued impunity in which the perpetrators of the Indian Government-orchestrated pogroms in 1984 still roam free today.

The ‘bandh’ was an overwhelming success in terms of its immediate call to action, although the larger purpose of its calling will probably continue to yield little results.

The strike call was given by the Dal Khalsa and was supported by the Khalsa Action Committee (KAC), Damdami Taksal, Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (DSGPC), All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF) and Shiromani Panthic Council.

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An interview with Bhindranwale’s son

bhindranwale__s_son.jpgHistory often remembers transformative figures through the public images they become. Glimpses and insights into their private lives are rare. So an interview with Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s son is a rare treat.

Ishar was just five years old when Jarnail Singh Brar was anointed the 12th jathedar of the Damdami Taksal. He left home and adopted the Bhindranwale after the village of Bhindran Kalan where the sect was originally located. After that we only saw our father at his satsangs, Ishar said. But we were well looked after. Did he miss his father? From the family point of view I was sad, but from a Sikh point of view I was very happy. The Jalandhar editor waved a laminated family photograph at mea very young Ishar Singh with his eyes shut, an oddly self-conscious Sant Bhindranwale, his younger son Inderjit, his wife Pritam Kaur. [Outook India]

Ishar is the oldest of Bhindranwale’s two sons, and now a land realtor near Amritsar. He was 12 yrs. old during Operation Bluestar, studying Gurbani under Mahant Jagir Singh at Akhara village near Jagraon. [OI]

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