A new kind of Joan of Arc/(Punjab?)

Blogged by: Amritpan

harshinderkaur.jpgFor many years UNICEF India has attempted to survey and document the declining sex ratio and female feticide in India. And for many years the government of India has maintained that Punjab (and thus Sikhs) consistently registered the highest number of kuri maar cases, as compared to states such as Haryana, Himachal, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. So when a Punjabi doctor took the stage at United Nations Geneva Conference and dared to question the validity of the governments survey methods, she was met with a ruthless legislative backlash so typical of Bharat’s political response to its human rights advocates that it almost doesn’t even prompt a second glance.

A renowned, outspoken crusader of womens rights and a pediatrician at Rajindra Hospital, Patiala, Dr. Harshinder Kaur presented a paper to the Geneva Convention that explicated upon the abject conditions of women in India, disputed female feticide as being a Punjabi cultural phenomenon by asserting that Rajasthan has the highest number of feticides, and challenged Indias injudicious spending of the UNs funds, urging that the UN redirect this monetary support to specialized NGOs.

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Taxi Cab Drivers: Who Is Protecting Their Rights?

Last week a Punjabi Sikh cab driver suffered a gruesome act of hate in the middle of the night in the Bay Area. He was called Bin Laden, a terrorist, and someone who had come to this country to kill Americans. His attackers where white males working professional jobs in real-estate. Not your stereotypical attackers, but committing a very typical act of hate. Although, the attackers posted bail with their money; the injured cab driver can not work to provide for his family.

We have laws to protect the attackers, but who is protecting the taxi-cab driver? How is it possible that assaulting a taxi cab driver is not a felony in every American city? Taxi cab drivers have one of the most dangerous jobs because of the environments in which they transport clients and how money for service is exchanged. They never know the character of the person they are picking up or if he/she will have enough money to pay. They function off the assumption that they wont be attacked and their client will pay them. Otherwise, they could not make a profit in this business. They cant let their fear overtake them.

At a recent conference, Driving For The Future, a taxi cab workers alliance in the Bay Area called United Taxi Cab Workers, announced that they are working towards a bill of rights. The Asian Law Caucus is working closely with this group. The bill of rights would demand, for example, that attackers suffer more severe penalties and there be a safety-net of benefits to help cab drivers who have been assaulted. In an industry employing large number of immigrant men who are not fluent in English; the need to legally protect taxi-cab drivers rights is very important. We need to encourage Punjabi Sikh taxi cab drivers to participate in this alliance to make sure their needs are protected.


Gurbani – A Sikh Solution to Female Feticide

It might partly be the scarcity of female voices and public female faces in the Sikh community that makes Nikky-imagining_the_fetus.jpgGuninder Kaur Singh’s so distinctive and refreshing. But in addition to her position as one of the few public female voices in the Sikh community, her original and creative work is really what makes Ms. Kaur-Singh so refreshing. As we have discussed in the past, in the context of “Relocating Gender in Sikh History,” the vast majority of Sikh history has been written by men. And thus, despite their best intentions, for the most part, women’s voice in Sikh history has been non-existent. It is silent.

In this realm of mostly male voices, Ms. Kaur-Singh has taken an original position on a much-needed project: to explore a feminist perspective in interpreting Gurbani. Many translations of Gurbani have been written, some of which are quite good, and others that are quite lacking (in terms of staying close to the feeling of the original shabad and being easily understandable for today’s audiences). One of the most popular translations today, if not the most popular, is Sikhi to the Max. It’s heavily used in gurdwaras, at weddings, and by individuals at home. And in this translation, the divine is interpreted as He/Him/Lord. Not only is this archaic, it creates a framework of masculinity that limits our understanding of Waheguru. The Sikh conception of gender embraces as well as goes beyond gender.

In a piece we discovered recently, Ms. Kaur-Singh contrasts current practices of sex-selective abortion with the place of the feminine within Gurbani. In a chapter of “Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture,” Ms. Kaur Singh orients readers with the history of sex-selection in Punjab. She then goes on to show how Gurbani holds the power to turn today’s practices on their head. In a few short pages, we are treated to a celebration of the feminine, reminded that our spirituality can focus on our source (the physical allegory of which is the mother) rather than its current infatuation with the end, and given a gender-neutral interpretation of excerpts of Gurbani which resonate as closer to a truer meaning than some other more widely used interpretations today.

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My Guru & I: In His Presence

news41_2.jpgIn honor of yesterday’s Gurpurab (Bhadon 17, Nanakshahi) marking the anniversary of the first installation of Guru Granth Sahib Ji Maharaj in the Darbar Sahib, I’d like to share a piece I had written for sikhchic.com at the culmination of last year’s “300 Saal” celebrations, titled “My Guru & I: In His Presence.”

As 2008 comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on all the “300 Saal” celebrations of the year. It was an inspiring year – and the discussion, speeches and sheer emotion of this milestone really gave me a chance to reflect on the role of the Guru in my life.

While volunteering at Gurmat camps, I always made a point to pose a question to the children, prior to leading them in to their first divan: “If you walked into this Gurdwara and instead of the Guru Granth Sahib being there, say it was Guru Nanak, or Guru Amar Das or Gur Tegh Bahadur, sitting there – how would you act?” How would you carry yourself when walking in? Would your mind-set be any different? Would your muthha tek take on a different meaning? Would you be more attentive and alert during the divan? Would you be more eager to listen to his words and try harder to understand him?

Guru Ram Das says:
Baani Guru Guru Hai Baani Vich Baani Amrit Saarey
Bani is the Guru and Guru is the Bani. And it’s within this Bani, that Amrit is found.

Thus, the Shabad (“The Word”) is, was and always will be the Guru. History tells us that even during Guru Arjan’s time, the Granth (then referred to as the Pothi Sahib because it was yet to be completed and anointed Guru), was the center of the congregation, the center of the Darbar, even in the presence of Guru Arjan himself.

The saakhis tell us that Guru Arjan had so much reverence for the Pothi Sahib that he kept it on an pedestal elevated even from himself, and joined the Sikhs in paying obeisance to it. This tells me that it is not the person, the attire or the physical attributes that make the Guru; instead, it is the Shabad. But we call the ten physical forms (from Nanak to Gobind Singh) Guru because they were the living manifestation of that Shabad.

They lived the Shabad. We sing it, they lived it.

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Pollution and Disease in Punjab

In the Faridkot centre… Harmanbir Kaur, 15, was rocking gently backwards and forwards. When her test results came back, they showed she had 10 times the safe limit of uranium in her body. Her brother, Naunihal Singh, six, has double the safe level. [link]

baba_farid_center.JPGAn article in The Observer discusses the link between the dramatic rise in birth defects in Punjab and pollution from coal-fired power stations. Many of the children are being treated in Faridkot and at the Baba Farid centers for special children in Bathinda, where there are two coal-fired thermal plants. Staff at these clinics had noticed an increase in the incidence of severely handicapped children who were born with hydroencephaly, microencephaly, cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome and other complications. They suspected environmental poisoning.

The healthcare workers rightfully voiced their concerns about this and wondered, if some children werebeing treated, how many more were being affected? As with governments other dirty little secrets, staff at the clinics were visited and threatened if they spoke out. In addition, a visiting South African toxicologist arranged for tests to be carried out and found that the children had massive levels of uranium in their bodies, in one case more than 60 times the maximum safe limit. The scientist was later warned by the authorities that she may not be allowed back into the country.

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Sikhs in the Tube

london_underground_logo.jpgAs all UK Sikhs or travelers to UK know at busy entries to the London Underground, youll find various vendors handing out free tabloids. Although everyone groans at the content, still enter the tube and youll find most busy Londoners flipping past the latest gossip on Paris Hilton or the recent election coverage in Afghanistan.

On Friday morning, many Londoners got a bright, colorful picture [click below the fold]. Although the content was nothing groundbreaking, still many of our Sikh readers (pagh salute: Joo Kay Singh) were pleased with the picture.

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Miss World Punjaban 2008

I found this video of the Miss World Punjaban 2008 contest interesting because the contestant chose to highlight her Sikh identity that is intimately linked to Punjabi culture. I find that it is easy for us to “intellectually” talk about the separation of the two identities. However, for many, being Sikh and Punjabi are intimately connected. They mutually exist-one does not envision oneself without the other.

Ms. Gurpreet Kaur Khaira from Canada chose to highlight this co-existence of the two identities in the talent portion of the contest. She performs dhadi vaar, while wearing a simple white suit and kessari chunni.

Who is Miss Punjaban and what does she look like varies … there is not only one notion of Punjabi “beauty” or identity … at least in this beauty contest! You can sing dhadhi vaar in simplicity or a Punjabi song in a bright red chunni and kokaa.

(FAST-FORWARD TO 1:44 to see Ms. Gurpreet Kaur Khaira from Canada)

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True Saint, Fearless Soldier: Bhai Taru Singh

bhaitarusingh.jpgFor those of you who enjoyed Vismaad Productions’ work with Sahibzadey, Rise of the Khalsa andSundri, there is now a newanimatedmovie to look forward to this fall. Bhai Taru Singh: True Saint. Fearless Soldier, is the latest production and will bepremiering around the world over the next few months. The film’s website provides a description of the film,

The story of Bhai Taru Singh is one of a true saint soldier who lived during an extremely difficult period for the Sikhs. The mughal rulers of the time were brutal towards all citizens, and especially the Sikhs. Bhai Taru Singh Ji bravely stood up to the regime which earned him the respect of all Hindus and Muslims from the surrounding villages. [link]

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Half The Sky

AI_04260901_Aug._26_11.47.gifThe issue of forced marriages and domestic violence clearly struck a chord with many of the TLH readers. But somewhere deep in the comments over titles, or whether these are Sikh or Punjabi issues, or whether or not we should air our “dirty laundry” in the first place I feel some of the issues themselves got lost. In formulating my own thoughts on the topic and trying to build a broader perspective on womens issues in general, I came across a fascinating article in last weeks New York Times Magazine called Saving the World’s Women. The premise of the article is that many of the countries that are disproportionately poverty-stricken and absorbed in fundamentalism and chaos, are also those same countries where women are the least educated and most marginalized. And by focusing (and investing) on women and girls, a dramatic impact can be made to fight global poverty and extremism.

Take the example of Saima Muhammad (pictured above) from Pakistan. Saima didnt have a rupee to her name, was routinely beaten by her unemployed husband and other family members, and had to send her kids away due to lack of food and other basics. Even her mother-in-law contributed to her troubles by encouraging her son to marry again because Saima was only giving birth to girls. However, after Saima signed up with the Kashf Foundation, a Pakistani microfinance organization, things turned around.

Saima took out a $65 loan and used the money to buy beads and cloth, which she transformed into beautiful embroidery that she then sold to merchants in the markets of Lahore. She used the profit to buy more beads and cloth, and soon she had an embroidery business and was earning a solid income the only one in her household to do so. Saima took her elder daughter back from the aunt and began paying off her husbands debt.

…Saima became the tycoon of the neighborhood, and she was able to pay off her husbands entire debt, keep her daughters in school, renovate the house, connect running water and buy a television.

As the economics of Saima’s situation changed, so did the relationship with her family. She now has a better relationship with her family and has earned their respect. It is unfortunate that this is what it took for Saima, and many will never have the golden opportunity Saima had, but it does send a clear message – that although it may seem impossible to break down cultural barriers, economics can change the game quickly.

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A Bit of Sikh Wisdom

While randomly browsing on the web, I came across this interesting anecdote by a Christian of Amritsar.

Scribd


Sikh Heritage Film Festival in NY

East coasters and others with expendable income: the Sikh Art & Film Foundation is bringing you the 2009 International Film Festival to be held at the Asia Society and Museum.sikh_art_and_film_foundation.jpg

The Festival will kick off on Friday September 18th with 3 films (My Mother India, Flying Sikhs – A History of Sikh Fighter Pilots, and Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Via Dolorosa Project). The night ends with a party at Asia Society’s Garden Court. The Festival continues on Saturday with 4 documentaries (A Warrior’s Religion
Not Every Time, Turbanology, Who Do You Think You Are – Meera Syal) and 6 short films (Battle of Chillianwala – The Waterloo of India, Bhangra Generation, Prisoner’s Song, Street Smarts, turBAN, and
Unravelling). Saturday concludes with the Heritage Gala After Party at Leela Lounge. Mira Nair will be honored and $15,000 in cash will be awarded to filmmakers.

A pass to all above events is only $45. Buy your tickets before they sell out!


Sikh Digital Heritage Library – Nanakshahi Trust, SikhRI and PDL

PDL.jpgThe issue of the loss of Sikh heritage sites and documents has long been lamented by many Sikhs. In fact, one of my fellow langa(w)riters blogged about the need to preserve what history we have left. One group has been silently seeking to remedy this problem the Nanakshahi Trust.

Quietly working on a massive project for over the past 6 years, the Nanakshahi Trust, along with the Sikh Research Institute, have inaugurated the Panjabi Digital Library:

For the first time ever a searchable collection of millions of rare pages on the Sikhs and the region of Panjab has been made available. Panjab Digital Library (PDL) will include texts of manuscripts, books, magazines, newspapers and photographs and will be available to anyone with Internet access at www.PanjabDigiLib.org. This launch was made possible in part by The Nanakshahi Trust and the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI).

In todays society, digitization is the key to immortality. While Sikhs have to be equally wary of those that claim Sikhs have no history as well as those that come up with their own ludicrous interpretations, a project such as the Panjab Digital Library allows Sikhs to access their own primary and secondary sources. Nanakshahi Trust has done a tremendous boon to Sikhs, researchers, and all that are interested in the preservation of history and man (and womans) historical past.

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Elderly Not A Burden But A Source Of Cohesion

1384721922_d15c6b73f2-150x150.jpgOften times the elderly are considered “high-cost” because they take money out of American system. They are seen as a “liability” because they withdraw medicare and social security benefits. Foriegn elders are similarly viewed as a group that “takes” through government benefits, but is not expected to serve the American system for very long.

However, in a recent study at the Center for Intergenerational Learning at Temple University, scholars found that “older immigrants are not inert drains in the U.S. system but an invisible force of community contributors in the United States”.

The study found that immigrant elders contribute to community cohesion by playing leadership roles in families. Also, their sense of interconnectness, rooted in religious and cultural values, forces them to look out for the collective good. They are also a good source for motivating the younger generation to support community members.

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New immigration option for battered Sikh women

It used to be the case that women who came to the US as dependents on their husbands’ immigration status were punjabi_woman.jpgsometimes caught between a rock and a hard place. In cases where one spouse was abusive, the other spouse wouldn’t leave the relationship for fear of losing their immigration status and being sent back to their original country. If they returned to their original country empty handed and without their spouses, they would be perceived as failures. And so, many women have just endured extremely abusive relationships.

One option that has been available if the abuser is a permanent resident or a US citizen is a self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act. But this wasn’t available if the abuser was in the US on a temporary visa, as many immigrants initially are, or to women outside the US.

Thus, a recent development in asylum law has the potential to open a door to safety for at least some women who are most seriously abused in domestic violence. To qualify for asylum (or refugee status), one must have been a victim of persecution, or have a well founded fear of persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or “membership in a particular social group.” Before this summer, women who were victims of horrendous domestic violence were not recognized as a particular social group, though the issue has been argued for 14 years in a battle to allow battered women to seek asylum in the US. [link]

The government’s prior position under the Bush administration was illustrated in the case of R-A-, a woman who suffered horrific violence at the hands of her husband, a former soldier of the Guatemalan army. She was kicked, whipped, and beaten unconscious, nearly had an eye pushed out, was repeatedly raped, sodomized, threatened with machetes and guns, dragged by her hair, and had windows and mirrors broken on her head. [source 1, 2]. The Guatemalan police refused to help each time she went to them, deciding that hers was a domestic matter. RA fled Guatemala and her husband, seeking asylum in the US.

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The Wheat Of Compassion

300px_bhaikhaniya.jpgIve always enjoyed a good story…and amongst all the depressing news lately of our declining economy, raucous town hall meetings, and corrupt politicians…I often turn to StoryCorps podcasts for a quick pick-me-up. A few months back, I came across a beautiful piece titled Finding El Dorado. Its the story of Gus Hernandez and the unique friendship he developed with Siddiqi Hansoti as a result of the current economic crisis. I was moved by this simple story of compassion and the power of the human spirit. Take a listenits only 3 minutes [link].

This story got me thinking about compassion and what it means to a Sikh. After some brief research, I found dozens of references to Daya (and its variations Dayal, Dayala etc.) in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Depending on the context, it is loosely translated as compassion, mercy or pity. Several times it is used as an attribute of Waheguru:

miharavaan kirapaal dhaeiaalaa sagalae thripath aghaaeae jeeo |3|
He is Merciful, Kind and Compassionate. All are satisfied and fulfilled through Him. ||3||

Other times it is used in the context of an Ardaas:

jath sath chaaval dhaeiaa kanak kar praapath paathee dhaan |
Please bless me with the rice of truth and self-restraint, the wheat of compassion, and the leaf of meditation.

But what I connected with the most was how compassion was described as a necessary attribute of the GurSikh:

dhaeiaa kapaah santhokh sooth jath gantee sath vatt |
Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist.

eaehu janaeoo jeea kaa hee th paaddae ghath |
This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me.

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What’s Your Inspiration?

10_15_08_Lucas_Ossendrijver17650.jpgWe live in a global world and there are images around us that constantly stimulate us. Once in a while we’ll see images that alsoinspire us – whether it be musically or artistically. ForLucas Ossendrijver, Dutch-borh Lanvin’s men’s weardesigner, a familiar image appears on his inspiration board. [See bottom of picture].

Nihangs have often been an inspiration for many photographers, and it’s clear why they are also an inspiration for designers. A recent article from Punjab Heritage News titled,”Mesmerised with the world of Nihangs” speaks to this,

Today, some people see Nihangs as a relic, but others recognise them as a colourful and important part of the Punjabi heritage. Gurbir Singh Brar, a photo artist also feels that there is no colourful subject as compared to Nihangs.

Nick Fleming, a UK-based photographer also spent time with Nihangs and has a photo exhibit titled, “Nihang Singhs of Punjab.” I have included a few of his stricking images after the jump.

While there is much to worry about in the world (and plenty of blog space devoted to that), from time to time it’s valuable to enjoy those things that inspire us and of course, it’s always important to appreciate art!

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So You Think You Can Serve Your Gurdwara?

Blogged by: sikhpulse

seva.JPGThe Christian community is confronting the development of the Sixth American: those individuals who do not exist in or identify with any particular space and ultimately congregate together. These integrated congregations are hopeful signs that the elements of discrimination and racism which infiltrated most churches over the last two centuries are slowly being eradicated.

Strangely enough, Sikh-Americans arent evolving in the same direction. In less than fifty years, Sikh-Americans have (get this) provided an anti-model for our adopted culture by dividing into self-identifying congregations, sects and denominations!

This may in part be explained by our natural connection to our social networks. Like members of other faiths, we choose to go to a place of worship that is attended by our families. We go where our friends attend. We go where our language is spoken. We are segregated by whether we are brand-spankin-new-citizens or third-generation Sikh Americans. We are separated by our interests and our jobs.

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Forced Marriages – A Shame on Some Sikhs

jasvindersanghera.jpgThe issue of marriage is complex and has as many circumstances as there are combinations of people in the world. Recently, a langa(r)eader wrote:

Hi I as just wonderingif you are familiar at all with a sikh girl marrying a non sikh guy who is caucasian. Her parents banished her forever about 7 years ago and then finally contacted about 2 years ago but are still hung up on the fact. Just wondering what we can do to help them get over this faster. [received email]

Well I cant make the parents get over this faster, but I can raise some observations and thoughts on marriage.

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The Punjab Project

Blogged by: Amol Singh

A new generation of Sikh youth is coming up to age in a diaspora still unable to decently reflect or respond to the tragedies that have befallen the Panth. Although, cognizant of the injustices done to Sikhs, we have categorically failed at identifying a half-way legitimate vision for our institutions.The following is a humble attempt at one such institution, hinted at by an older post.

NPR_Punjab_Cancer_Train.jpg

Much of Punjabs money flow is due to remittances from family members scattered across the globe. However, remittances are easily subjected to ebb and flows in the worlds markets and these flows of money to Punjab can be easily disrupted by economic downturns. In addition, Punjab receives little attention from international development agencies. For instance, there are currently a total of two World Bank projects targeting the state. Unfortunately, Punjab is receiving more attention from MNCs and the introduction of SEZs inside the state is unnerving to many who believe that they foreshadow an increase in neoliberal market practices favoring large corporations.

In my opinion, Punjab needs an insertion of human and financial capital that can ignite a grassroots based economic revival that quantifies development on the creation of ecologically friendly infrastructure. To being the process for these goals, I propose the creation of a development bank.

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Yudh Gatka Tournament

9769adb74cb7a8ebad8ea88b0312-150x150.jpgGatka is becoming popular amongst Sikhs and non-Sikhs in the West. Raveena Aulakh writes that this resurgence in the Toronto area is primarily because of The Annual International Yudh Gatka Tournament that originated in Toronto in 2003. This year the tournament is being held in New Jersey. The Toronto leg of the tournament will on August 23rd the Rexdale Gurdwara Sahib. You can find out more information at Yudh.net.

Why is Gatka becoming so popular? Yudh.net writes that, “Not only does Gatka emphasize the physical training of martial arts, but it puts a special focus on ‘mental’ training which is needed to be successful in any sport”. Thus, this traditional Sikh martial arts from the early 17th century is a place to relieve stress, heighten awareness, but also learn sportsmanship and respect-for both people and weapons.

For those of you who attend the Tournament, please let us know how it goes.


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