Gatka by Rashpal Kaur

Many of you will fondly remember Rohanpreet’s performance on Zee TV last year. In similar news, here is Rashpal Kaur – a young girl from Chandigarh – who recently performed Gatka on Zee TVs Dance India Dance. The judges were not only taken aback by her performance, but also by the adversity she had experienced. Rashpal discovered that she had a life threatening brain tumor when she was pregnant. The treatment she receivedtook away her vision but shewas ableto deliver a healthy baby boy.

“I only wished that I could see my son once. I just ask God to lend me my eye sight back for just for three hours so that I can see my child just once,” Rashpal said. But this is one wish that has never got fulfilled for Rashpal. [link]

As an ancient martial art, Gatka is considered a spiritual as well as physical exercise. I was impressed with what Gatka meant to Rashpal,

I’m thankful to Dance India Dance for helping me to reach out to so many people. The citizens have shown so much concern and care for me. Before I die I want to do something for my guru Kuljeet-ji and his martial arts school where he teaches young girls about self defense. In today’s times when women are being molested and victimized every other day, I want all the women to learn this martial art form to defend themselves and their dignity.” [link]

It’s an inspiring example of how one can turn pain into something much more powerful. You can view Rashpal’s performance after the jump.

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Protesters to Martyrs – Whither the Sikh Revolutionaries?

ramrahim.jpgNext month marks the two year anniversary since the Shahadat of Bhai Kamaljit Singh. It has been quite some time since I last blogged about Dehra Sacha Sauda and unfortunately maybe I am also guilty of only following the story as the Indian media does or does not.

It was at the end of 2007, when this blog was first starting out, when I wrote about the Sikh Successes of 2007 with the incident of the confrontation of Dehra Sacha Sauda as #1 on my list. This week, I read an interesting synthesis by two French graduate students Lionel Baixas et Charlne Simon. Lionel is completing his PhD in political science and is interested in democracy in South Asia, while Charlne is finishing her PhD in anthropology and has worked on issues related to the Ravidassia religious movement.

While I have commented on some of these issues, their recent article, titled From Protesters to Martyrs: How to Become a True Sikh re-evaluates the Dehra Sacha Sauda issue through interviews and fieldwork conducted last April in Punjab and Haryana. Their abstract is as follows:

This article studies the protest which started in Punjab in May 2007 following a ceremony performed by Baba Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh (GRRS), head of Dera Sacha Sauda, which was considered as blasphemous by a section of the Sikh community. The aim of this article is to understand the motivation of the actors of the protest itself: How did the Sikh protesters legitimate their reaction one year later? What kinds of reasons have led hundreds of Sikhs from very different social background to take the streets? What kind of emotions played a role in the Sikhs mobilization?

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Let The Truth Be Heard

AI_04260901_Apr._26_22.31.gifEarlier this month, worldwide Human Rights organization Amnesty International released a news article on the plight of Sikh Massacre victims of 1984, still awaiting justice after 25 years. This came shortly after the Delhi Court delayed ruling on Jagdish Tytler, due to the CBI’s inability to produce enough evidence against him. Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International’s South Asia Researcher stated:

“The fact that almost 3,000 people can be murdered without anyone being brought to justice is offensive to any notion of justice and should be an embarrassment to the Indian government.”

”For the Indian government to dismiss these cases due to lack of evidence is farcical. The various agencies responsible for carrying out the investigations failed to carry out the most cursory of tasks including recording eyewitness and survivor statements.”

As troubling as it is to read this, I was pleased to find that Amnesty International had covered it at all. As many of know, AI, as well as other independent human rights groups and initiatives were either banned or prevented from conducting research in India in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. It seems as though there is hope for an independent investigation on the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and perhaps the subsequent disappearances during the counter-insurgency.

Not so fast…in an un-related story, the Tribune reported that Amnesty International has decided to shut down its India operations. The decision is said to have been triggered by continued denial to the Amnesty International Foundation of the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) registration by the Government of India.

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Genocidees Anonymous: Armenians and Sikhs

Blogged: Amol Singh

Armenian Genocide RibbonOn the night of April 24, 1915, over 200 of Constantinoples Armenian intellectual and civic leaders were taken from their homes and boarded upon trains headed eastward toward the city of Ankara. What followed over the next few months would be a concerted, systematic Ottoman project meant to eradicate the Armenian identity. Millions of Armenians, depicted by the state as dangerous Russian conspirators and hazardous to the security of the Ottoman Empire, were uprooted from their homes and marched across the Turkish desert. What transpired over the course of that summer was the raping, pillaging, and butchering of over a million people. Though the Ottoman forces might have failed in the complete liquidation of a people, genocide served as a near consolation prize.

As April 24th approaches, Armenians around the world will gather as they have for the past 90+ years and demand that the Turkish state take responsibility for its actions. This summer, as Sikhs also embark on projects to mark the events of 1984, it seems hard to escape the fact that we too, are becoming part of a global collective searching for some sort of acceptance of the atrocities that have been done to us. This sharing of spaces by the worlds downtrodden is allowing for more nuanced perspectives of each atrocity. In this understanding, the 1915 Armenian genocide becomes not a yearlong campaign to annihilate Armenia, but rather a set of events concurrent with a larger Ottoman decades- long campaign meant to undermine Armenian existence. In this sphere, Operation Blue Star becomes not a plan to rid Harimander Sahib of radicals hijacking the Sikh identity, but rather another incident in a set of systematic attacks on Sikh sovereignty by the Indian Center.

In this mold, we are becoming participants in a unique Genocidees Anonymous of sorts, where the recognition of our tragedies becomes cast into a set of layered political demands.

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British Sikh Police Association launches

According to the Sikh Times, Sikh police officers are coming together to help address discrimination within the workforce in addition to addressing community relations between Sikhs and the British police.

The Association, which is to launch next Wednesday, lists its goals as follows:

The aims and objectives of the BPSA are;

  • To establish a national forum for Sikh members of the British police services
  • To assist the British police services in developing strategies to recruit, retain, and progress Sikh members of the service hence increasing Sikh representation in the police service at all levels
  • To provide a religious, cultural and social forum for members of the BSPA through celebration of dates and festivals on the Sikh calendar.
  • To promote an understanding of the Sikh Faith and the Sikh values of democracy, equality and justice within the police services
  • To provide support and advice to Sikh members of the police service.
  • To promote social cohesion and integration.

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Sikh Knowledge

It seems like Canada is showcasing one socially conscious Sikh rapper after another. TLH has covered Humble The Poet and now here is Sikh Knowledge from Montreal. Sikh Knowledge raps with Lotus on issues effecting the 2nd generation and marginalized peoples.

Kanwar Anit Singh Saini, a.k.a. Sikh Knowledge, is the son of Punjabi Sikh immigrants. He works in the field of speech pathology where he contributes his musical knowledge to the health sciences field.

Check out his songs below and let us know what you think!
Disclaimer: There are graphic descriptions and swear words in the videos below.

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Jew-Hindu Bhai Bhai: The Popularity of Mein Kampf in India

hitler_1.jpgSometimes some articles are too disturbing to not make a comment.

The word Mein Kampf immediately brings to mind Adolf Hitlers deluded dream and genocidal paranoia of the Jewish peril. Long the Bible of idiotic Aryan supremacist groups, the book seems to have found a rather new (or maybe) old niche market in India.

The Telegraph of UK reports:

Sales of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s autobiography and apologia for his anti-semitism, are soaring in India where business students regard the dictator as a management guru.

Booksellers told The Daily Telegraph that while it is regarded in most countries as a ‘Nazi Bible’, in India it is considered a management guide in the mould of Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese”.

Sales of the book over the last six months topped 10,000 in New Delhi alone, according to leading stores, who said it appeared to be becoming more popular with every year.

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Punjabi/Khalsa Schools: Where Do They Go?

On TLH we have posted on the importance of Punjabi/Khalsa Schools. I have found that despite many students’ resistance to attend these schools, they plant the seeds for future exploration into Sikhi. At the age of 12 you may think you are too cool for school on Sundays, but at 19-20 or even 30 that experience creates a base for you to delve more deeply into your spiritual identity. Thus, I think it is extremely important that each Sikh community have at least one good Punjabi/Khalsa school. Ideally, I would want each Gurdwara to have one.

However, Punjabi/Khalsa Schools run into problems because in some way or another they become linked with communal politics. Most often this politics infiltrates schools within Gurdwaras. I think a fundamental component of a Gurdwara is a Punjabi/Khalsa School as is a Langar Hall. However, for many Gurdwaras, Punjabi/Khalsa Schools are a last priority. Gurdwara committees will fund new kitchen appliances before making a commitment to continually fund a Punjabi/Khalsa School. Thus, some community members have decided to create Punjabi/Khalsa Schools outside of the Gurdwara in local community-centers. When I hear this, I am both excited and disappointed. Excited that a school has been established; but disappointed that we are showing Sikh youth that we have to step outside of our main institution, the Gurdwara. How are we supposed to socialize our children into a Gurdwara-going culture when our leadership doesnt support it in action? Its a Catch 22. I dont blame community members for creating schools outside of the Gurdwara. Their circumstances are real and, many times, this is their only feasible option. Or is it?


A Sikh Woman Warrior Tells Her Tale

Today, I want to share with you, Nirpreet Kaurs story. I highlight her story for 2 reasons. nirpreet_kaur.jpg

First, as weve discussed on this blog before, the majority of Sikh history as its been documented thus far really is his-tory. So this piece of her-story is a rare gem. And second, too often, we think of women in the Sikh community only in our roles as mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. These are all important roles but our identity isn’t entirely defined relative to others or based on our relationships with others. Yet we recognize the additional roles we play outside of these expected roles too rarely. And so Nirpreet Kaur.

Nirpreet was 16 years old on November 2, 1984 when the mob came for her father, Nirmal Singh…”[Khokhar- a Youth Congress leader] sweet-talked my father into coming with him for a compromise, says Nirpreet. But Khokhar went straight to the mob and handed Nirmal Singh over. The oldest of three siblings, Nirpreet, ran to the mob but could only watch helplessly as her father was tied up and set ablaze. [link]

To avenge the killing of her father, Nirpreet joined the Khalistani movement.

As a functionary of the then dreaded All India Sikh Students Federation, Nirpreet came in contact with those involved with the Khalistan movement, an armed insurgency fighting for an independent Sikh homeland in Punjab, and became part of the militancy that ravaged the state for over a decade in the 1980s.[link]

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Heretics

I am a loyal listenerof Chicago Public Radio’s weekly series, “This American Life.” No matter how many different types of media are out there, I still find the radio documentary to be a powerful medium. Since I cant always catch it when its on, I made a point to subscribe to their weekly podcast.

A few months ago, I heard this fascinating story about Reverend Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This story talks about his rise in the evangelical arena, and his eventual fall because of his doubts in the belief of hell. He wondered if a loving God would really condemn most of the human race to burn and writhe in the fire of Hell for eternity. He then started preaching the theology of “inclusion-ism” which believed God was all-loving, regardless of what path he or she chose. He was ultimately declared a heretic by the church.

When I originally heard this, it made me think of how the concept of Ik Onkar would fly in the evangelical community. Take a listen…I’d be curious to hear what others think.


Seva, Redefined

One of the underlying issues to many ofthe discussions we have here on TLH seems to focus upon whether or not elements of Sikhi are being redefined as we evolve in the communities within which we reside. We often take concepts such as Seva, Sangat and Simran for granted withoutwondering ifthey are being fulfilled in their true element.I post on this topicnot to argue whether or not what we do is right or wrong – but rather in what forms we see these concepts exist today.

In the midst of this world, do seva, and you shall be given a place of honor in the Court of the Lord. SGGS p26

One example that comes to mind is how gurdwaras and the sangat (I include myself in this sangat) have essentially ‘outsourced’ the kitchen seva. Each time I have visited one of the gurdwaras in my area, I notice that the sangatdeparts after eating langar, leaving behind a kitchen full of dirty pots and pans. This does not seem to be an issue because many gurdwaras have now hired help to come in and essentially do the seva. I understand the gurdwara’s reason for hiring help (the dishes have to get done) butI wonder how we got to this point.I’m not sure if this is an issue unique to North America or whether it occurs in India and alsoin the UK, for example. During my last few visits to gurdwaras in India, I was so impressed by the amount of seva that was occuring in the kitchen and was alsoinspiredbythe energy that was produced from the sangat working selflessly towards a similar goal.

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From Kabul through Kashmir: Thoughts on Af-Pak-India and the Sikhs

taliban.jpgWith Obama’s move for a new strategy, recently, we have seen an avalanche of different articles from Af-Pak, the newly vogue name for the region. I will begin with some more macro-debates, before turning to the Sikh-specific.

An interesting analysis was recently featured in the London Review of Books, in an article titled Taliban versus Taliban. In the article, the Economist correspondent, Graham Usher, notes that Americans have a problem in understanding the complexities of the Taliban phenomenon because it means different things to different people at different times.

All politics is local and that is how the Taliban should be treated as well. Made up of diverse factions and groups with widely separate ideologies, we lump them under a specific tag – “Taliban.” While for the US, anyone that attacks them in Afghanistan is Taliban, for the Pakistani Army, their perspective is a bit different. The only issue that really matters is if the group works in Indias strategic interest. Thus there are ‘good’ elements and ‘bad’ elements:

The short answer is pro-India, in practice if not intent. Insurgents in the tribal areas are deemed anti-Pakistani if their actions advance the perceived goals of India in Afghanistan. They are pro-Pakistani as long as they dont attack the Pakistani state or army, even if they launch attacks against Nato forces in Afghanistan, Islamabads supposed allies in the war on terror. Indeed, the Afghan Taliban is considered an asset, a hedge against the day when the US and Nato leave, but also a counter to Indias expanding influence in Afghanistan.

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A Witness in a Culture of Complicity – Part 1

Blogged by:Mewa Singh

I haven’t written in quite a bit of time. Once in a while I share personal pieces, but as I like to protect my privacy I don’t do it too often.

However, this one is fresh (occurring just this weekend) and in some way I am soliciting the readers’ opinions as I set about my next course of action. A friend suggested that I share the story as maybe it will resonate with other males or females that ever find themselves in this position and spark a wider conversation about complicity and duties in our community.

Here goes….

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Sikhs Sing National Anthems at Raptors Vaisakhi Game

Its been a good year so far for Sikhs and Canadian sports. First, we’ve had NHL regular season and playoff games broadcast in Punjabi. We’ve also the first NBA game broadcast in Punjabi. And this year, at the annual Vaisakhi game for the Toronto Raptors, four good looking Sardars sang the Canadian and American national anthems. Performing on drums is Jiwanjot Singh Gill, on dilruba Harman Singh, on dhol is “Tabla Guy“, Gurpreet Singh Chana, and on vocals and harmonium, Dr. Onkar Singh.


Sikh teen acquitted in Montreal kirpan case

Updated: Friday, at 11:30PM

Last year we covered the story of a Sikh youth accused of brandishing his kirpan on the schoolyard. Accounts of the incident were hugely divergent; it was unclear whether an assault had ever actually occurred, or whether the report was a feature of animosity toward religious minorities in Quebec.

Yesterday that youth was fully acquitted of the kirpan-based charge, and his other possible charges were dispensed. The outcome of this case is a success for the youth involved, but also in that its outcome has no bearing on the interpretation or application of its effect to the kirpan in general. The judge in this case intimated that the case had gone too far and would never have been brought, were it not for the youth’s nationality and religious identity:

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The U.S. Army and the Turban
Kalsi and Rattan

Sikhs Now: Kamaldeep Kalsi (L) and Tejdeep Rattan (R)

Two Sikh recruits in the U.S. Army, Kamaljeet Singh and Tejdeep Singh, were told they would be allowed to continue to wear their turbans as active members of the military. They describe this as being able to wear both their uniforms: that of a Sikh, and of a member of our Armed Forces. Now Army personnel have back-pedaled, claiming a 1981 ban prohibits soldiers from wearing “overt” articles of faith — including the dastar.

Despite a long history of Sikh participation in armed forces worldwide, Steve Levine, a former Army lawyer from 1992-1999, speculates that there are at least two policy reasons for requiring shorn hair: unit cohesion, and the ability to wear military equipment [link]. This seems incongruous given that Sikhs had served on active duty in the Army with full daris and dastars, and were perfectly well-protected, in the past. In light of previous exemptions, lawyers for these Sikhs argue the policy is an undue burden on the free excercise of faith under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

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The Great Sikh Hope

TLH_MMS1.jpgI remember that night…election night, watching on TV students rejoicing in the streets outside of Howard University (a local Historically Black University). I’m not sure how much of it was about Obama’s policy, or just the “historic” nature of the event, but it was all summed up to me as an African-American student holding back his tears said to a reporter, “I’m just so happy to have one of our guys in power.” It was a common sentiment, but this statement stuck in my head for several days. What did he mean by this? What was his expectation of President Obama over the next 4 years? Did he think just because a black man is in office, all of a sudden the American experience will now change for black people? That the wrongs of their history will now become right? That discriminatory laws and policies toward black people will all of a sudden be overturned? If that is what he meant, then I understand the celebration…but I would celebrate with caution.

Five years ago, many Sikhs were celebrating in the streets as well. Finally, one of “our guys” had become Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh was elected selected as the 17th Prime Minister of India, by Sonia Gandhi herself. Sikhs all over the world rejoiced. Even many of the Sikh political prisoners in jail were celebrating with this victory, believing their release was now imminent.

Even some of my more progressive and panthic-minded friends got caught up in Manmohan Singh Fever and encouraged me to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, how could we judge him? Who knows what he may do for us?

I, however, remained skeptical.

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Sikh youth stabbed at Toronto’s Dixie gurdwara

UPDATE: The 13-year old youth who was arrested that night has been charged with assault and is scheduled to appear in court on May 19. [source] Thanks to everyone who’s given more information in the comments!

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Some tragic news is coming out of Toronto tonight from the Dixie gurdwara’s Vaisakhi celebrations. Peel_regional_police.jpg

A Mississauga teen was stabbed in the stomach and seriously injured Tuesday night during a [Vaisakhi] celebration at the Ontario Khalsa Darbar temple in Mississauga.

The 15-year-old male was taken to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto after the stabbing at around 10 p.m. in a kitchen in the temple’s basement. The victim was conscious and breathing, a Peel police officer said at the scene, and was believed to be in serious but not life-threatening condition.

Peel police arrested a teenager at the scene who is about the same age as the victim.

The stabbing happened during Vaisaki, an annual religious festival marking the start of the new solar years that, throughout the day, draws about 30,000 people to the temple, also known as Dixie Gurdwara. [link]

An equally young suspect is in custody, though no information about motive has been released yet. If any readers in Toronto can update us, your southern neighbors would really appreciate it.

A suspect, about the same age as the victim, is in police custody. Police saythe knife used in the stabbing may have been set out with some food. [link]

I’ll refrain from speculating about possible motives since there is so little information to go on right now. What I can say at this point, regardless of the back story, is that there is no acceptable justification for this senseless act of violence.

I’ll update this entry as more information is released though. Our thoughts are with the young victim, his family, and Toronto’s sangat.


A View From Across the Ravi

rahulgandhi.jpgOR HOW NOT TO PULL A SIKH-RELATED PUBLICITY STUNT

I will leave the PR-stunt by Congress heir-apparent, Rahul Gandhi, son of Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi, and great-grandson of Nehru and his ill-advised (or rather ill-positioned pagri) to speak for itself. A pictures is worth 1000 words and ‘ridiculous’ is one of those that come near the top for this election stop near Takht Damdama Sahib.

On a bit of a serious note, although I hate writing short posts without analysis, I came across a finely-written article about the ‘Shoe-hurling Sardar and Deep-rooted Sikh Grievances‘ published in a Pakistani newspaper that I wanted to bring to our readers’ attention.

I initially cringed when I read stereotypical sentences, such as:

However, Sikhs are known for their forthrightness and carrying a level head in emotionally charged situations is not one of their strengths.

Eventually I got over it and just focused on the substance of the matter. Definitely worth a read.

For my previous coverage, see here and here.


Thinking of the City of Bliss

vaisakhi_detail4.jpg

With Vaisakhi upon is, what is it you think of? Perhaps Anandpur Sahib, the city of bliss? Maybe the Panj Piaray, the five beloved ones? Or perhaps it is Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s message of fraternity and equality that resonates with you. Whatever it is that you think of, I wonder if it stirsyou or moves you tosee the worldin a different light – in the light that our Guruhoped for us. On this day, in 1699, our Guru gave us the potential to be born again. Without caste, without discrimination, and without fear.

It is clear that issues of caste and discrimination still playa role in our communities today. However, I came across a promisingarticle in the Guardian which discusses how a small caf in India is challenging long-held caste taboos by hiring Dalit women to work within thecaf as waitresses. Although the Indian constitution banned untouchability sixty years ago, Dalits are still often forbidden, in villages and small towns, from doing anything other than low menial jobs. We all know it is not easy to challenge century-old beliefs, however thiscaf is doing just that. As Sikhs, these issues should matter to us and we should stand up against injustice within any community.

An interesting paper, which I found on the Punjab Research Group site, titled “Dalits and the Emancipatory Sikh Religion” discusses the role Sikhi played in liberating Dalits.

It is beyond doubt that Sikhism emerged as an emancipator for the lowest of the low. Nanak, the first Guru, was clear when he says:

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