Dhillon ’08

Public intellectual Patwant Singh observed that Sikh immigrants have “not only prospered in business, industry, and the professions; they are also beginning to participate in the political life of their adopted homelands.Dhillon.jpg Case in point — Harmeet Kaur Dhillon is currently seeking a seat in the California State Assembly (from the 13th district no less, which covers several prominent San Francisco neighborhoods).

Harmeet’s web site indicates that she has exceptional academic credentials, extensive experience as an attorney, and has been at the forefront of important social issues, especially and including domestic violence in the South Asian community.

Of course, I mention Harmeet’s candidacy here not because of her C.V. or platform, but, let’s face it, because she’s a Sikh. That said, while having more Sikhs in elected public office is important, it does not follow that a Sikh should be supported simply because he or she is Sikh.

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Sikh march in Queens leads to change in school regulations

[updates in italics]

The New York City school system has established a new process for reporting bias and bullying, prompted partially by Sikhs marching in Queens, led by the Sikh Coalition, two months ago. 1.1 million students will be affected by the new regulations. 6.30.08_march_rally_034__compressed.jpg

The new regulation which is intended to prevent bullying based on a students ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability comes two months after leaders of the Sikh population marched in Queens to protest attacks against Sikh students and what the leaders described as a lackluster response by the public school system. [link]

What is this new regulation? It includes several important provisions:

  • Every principal must designate a staff member to whom students can report bullying and harassment episodes.
  • A new e-mail address [email protected] has been set up so that students who have been harassed, but do not feel comfortable reporting it to their school, can seek help.
  • Each school must create an annual plan to ensure that it has a safe and supportive learning environment, and train students in the new rules so that they understand what behavior is prohibited and where to go for help if they have been bullied.
  • Schools will have to report all complaints of harassment, intimidation or bullying within 24 hours, and conduct full investigations, including interviews and written statements.
  • A full investigation of an incident within 5 days
  • A written report for the alleged victim of the results of any incident within 10 days
  • School staff members who witness or are told about bullying episodes must report them, and schools must contact the families of accused students. [link]

It seems that “Respect for All” will be a idea promoted by NY schools this coming year, and trends in bias-related bullying will also be tracked.

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Demystifying the Sikh Parliament – SGPC

Newspapers in Panjab have been buzzing about the recent proposal by the Sikhs in Haryana to form their own Gurdwara political body. However, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, and head of the Akali Dal has been on a warpath trying to prevent such a move. Badal even went so far as to give a sort of veiled threat of the outcome by such a move:

“We are a peace-loving community and hope that attempts to open a fresh festering wound in the country in Punjab would be dropped. The whole of country is already up in flames and it can easily do without another trouble spot in Punjab along the lines of Jammu and Kashmir.” [link]

The problem with forming an opinion or even coming to terms with the situation is the layers of political intentions and motives. In a move to somewhat demystify and explain the situation, I write this post.

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Enlightened by Vogue India

Hereat TLH we’ve have lengthy discussions about the potentialcommodification of religious symbols and also about problematicmedia representation of groups of people. So, I thought that therecent hoopla over the questionable photo shoot in the August issue of Vogue India would be a colorful addition to those discussions. The New York Times reported that,

Vogue India’s August issue presented a 16-page vision of supple handbags, bejeweled clutches and status-symbol umbrellas, modeled not by runway stars or the wealthiest fraction of Indian society who can actually afford these accessories, but by average Indian people.[link]

In one picture, a older poor woman holds a small child wearing a Fendi bib (cost = $100), in another pose a family preparing for their daily commute, sits on a motorbike with the mother riding the traditional sidesaddle way… oh and with her Herms Birkin bag (cost = $10,000) on her wrist. Then of course, there is the turbaned man who models a Burberry umbrella (cost = $200). The photo spread itself is definitely striking. However, knowing that many Indians live on less than a dollar a day is even more striking when put in context with these exorbitant goods. The debate has raised questions from both sides of the table. Those that believe the photo shoot was distateful and that it exploits the poor by using them as props. Then there are others who believe this juxtaposition of wealthagainst poverty is a reality in India andexactly what people need to see.

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Australian School Apologizes for Denying Sikh Admission

An Australian private school has agreed to apologize to a Sikh boy who was denied admission for his refusal to cut his hair and shave (as required by the school dress code). Surprisingly, this is the first time Australia has faced an anti-discrimination case of this nature:

The Anti-Discrimination Tribunal case was the first of its kind involving a Sikh student in Australia, although a British court found in a favour of a Sikh student in a similar trial more than 25 years ago.

An out-of-court settlement was reached in recent weeks after the school agreed to issue a public apology and pay the family undisclosed compensation. Ormiston College yesterday confirmed the settlement, which thwarts a public trial in the tribunal next month.

Australia has a system of minority rights protection that falls broadly under the “multiculturalist” umbrella (albeit in a very different way from the U.K. model). What I find amazing is the broad steps private schools are taking at this juncture to avoid accommodating religious minorities. Like the Sarika Singh case (also involving a private school), both of these schools are, at this point, familiar with its own Sikh community. Cultural competency and latent racism aren’t really compelling or effective screens for bigoted policies. In both cases, families had to turn to a legal remedy (and legal fees) to ensure access to a high quality education for their children.

There’s been a backlash around religious diversity in Western Europe for a while now, with the idea of “secularism” taking on a distinctly anti-religious (or, in most cases, anti-non-Christian-religions) flavor that isn’t really echoed in American conceptualizations of secularism. Do these two school cases mark the beginning of a reaffirmation of the principles underlying anti-discrimination laws? Is this a distinct position from what we see in France, Germany, Turkey and Italy?

Mediation services needed in gurdwaras

Many of you may have already heard about the shooting that occurred on Sunday afternoon at the Sacramento Sikh Society Sports Complex, next to the gurdwara. A cricket match, part of a sports festival, was being held when an ongoing argument took a fatal turn. So far, I’ve seen no news of the substance of the dispute. But the result left Paramjit Pamma Singh (name misreported?) dead, and an unnamed 38 year old man with a leg wound. [link]

Gurpreet Singh Gosal, 24, of Indianapolis, was arrested and booked into Sacramento Main Jail Monday morning for the murder of Parmjit Pamma Singh, said sheriff spokesman Sgt. Tim Curran… The shooting followed an ongoing argument between the victims, Singh Gosal and a second man, according to investigators. The suspect and the second man opened fire on Pamma Singh and a 38-year-old man as they watched a tournament at the Sacramento Sikh Society Sports Complex in the 7600 block of Bradshaw Road about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Curran said. Pamma Singh died at the scene. [link]

We must find better ways to resolve our disputes. sacramento_sheriffs_interview_spectators_after_shooting.JPG

Often, I’m proud of how our community quickly takes action when action is necessary, though this weekend’s events illustrate a darker side of this willingness to take initiative. If anyone has more information about the substance of the dispute between the shooters and the victim, please share.

Gurpreet Singh was apprehended by other spectators and athletes who beat him into submission with cricket bats and hockey sticks until the police arrive.

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Sikhnet Gracefully Pushing the Limits of Punjabi Sikh Perspectives on Courtship

This past week, I saw this advertisement about the GurSikh Speed Meeting. For those of you who have no idea the Sikhnets Gursikh Speed Meeting is obviously (and admittedly) the Sikh version of speed dating. According to the organizersof the program:0.92B0_OpenElement_FieldElemFormat_jpg.jpeg

The concept is quite simple. An equal number of Sardars and Sardarnis register. On the event date, each Sardar will meet each Sardarni one-on-one and chat for a specified number of minutes rotating till they have met all the Singhnis. This face to face style of meeting has spurred much interest, in addition to, respecting the participant’s privacy. Only if there is an agreed CLICK will an exchange of contact information occur.

I remember when I first saw Sikhnet advertising this a couple of years ago and thinking to myself, this is bold. I dont necessarily think dating for Sikhs is anti-gurmat, but dating is definitely still taboo in A LOT of Punjabi Sikh families.

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On Honor Killings

Honor killings — generally understood to constitute an intentional ending of the life of someone who has brought shame on a family or to one’s self due to perceived or actual infidelity, unfaithfulness, or betrayal — regrettably occur in the Sikh community.

Indeed, Sikhs have been charged with engaging in both forms of honor killings. With respect to an honor killing where the family has been allegedly shamed, just days ago Reema discussed the case of Gurparkash Khalsa — a man who heard rumors that his daughter had been impregnated by Ajmer Singh Hothi and, “driven by humiliation over his daughters soiled reputation,” now stands accused of killing Hothi. With respect to an honor killing where the self has been allegedly shamed, Jaspal Sohal was “battered to death by her husband with a hammer. He saw killing her as preferable to having her leaving him and ‘damaging his izzat‘ (personal honour).”

The Khalsa matter took place in the United States while the Sohal incident in the United Kingdom. There may be a temptation to think that honor killings are a uniquely “foreign” or immigrant problem that happens to be taking place in Western societies. See for example this article entitled “‘Honor’ killing comes to the US.” But honor killings may be more universal than Western societies may want to admit. In fact, America has a long history of tolerating, at least to some extent, such killings.

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Sikh Prisoner’s Hair Cut Against His Will – PETITION

In July of this year Jagmohan Singh, who is being held in a Florida prison on misdemeanor charges, had his hair forcibly cut by prison authorities. Floridas prison regulations require that hair and beard be cut while a prisoner is in prison and the regulations have been repeatedly upheld on grounds that they serve safety interests. Such regulations disproportionately impact Sikhs and United Sikhs is working to protect Jagmohan Singh (and others) from such discrimination. A few days ago they issued a press release stating that:

UNITED SIKHS’ legal team and religious liberties experts are diligently working on this case, but we need your assistance. Your signatures can make the biggest difference to persuade Florida government officials to take action. UNITED SIKHS calls on all concerned individuals and organizations to sign the petition to save Jagmohan Singh from further trauma and humiliation, and to change the discriminatory Florida prison regulations.

The link to the petition is here.

The sad irony about Jagmohan Singh’s situation is that he narrowly escaped religious persecution under the Taliban in Afghanistan, where Sikhs were not allowed to practice their religion freely under the tyrannical regime. Jagmohan fled to America in 2001 on the basis of religious persecution, only to have his dearest of religious rights violated while serving a sentence for a misdemeanor offense.

Our signatures can make a difference so your activism would be greatly appreciated.


Thanks to Dave for sending the link around.

Dholfest: celebrating the 300th Anniversary of Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

The 300th anniversary of Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is being celebrated in an interesting way by dholis in the UK. In 1999, 314 dhol players came together to set a record in the Guinness Book of World Records. This year, in honor of the 300th anniversary, dholfest is trying to set a new record. They’ve registered the event in accordance with Guinness Book of World Records guidelines.

artsfest__dholfest.jpgdholfest will be a large outdoor staged event set to break the existing world record of 314 simultaneous dhol players, set in 1999 in Sandwell, West Midlands, UK.

This year we need 500+ players to join us in making this dream come true! [link]

The event is also being dedicated to Ishmeet Singh.

Media XY would like to dedicate this event as a tribute to Ishmeet Singh who was the winner of Star Voice of India. Ishmeet sadly passed away due to drowning in a pool of a resort in Maldives on Tuesday 29 July 2008 aged only 19.

May God give peace and solace to your eternal soul and strength to your loved ones. [link]

Additional info:

The event will take place on Saturday 13th September 2008 in Victoria Square, Birmingham, as part of ArtsFest.

The occasion will mark the celebrations of the 300th Anniversary of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji as the word Guru. [link]

4 Sentenced to Life in Prison for 1984 Murders of Sikhs

On Wednesday, August 27, the Delhi High Court sentenced 4 men (Lal Bahadur, Ram Lal, Virender and Surinder Pal Singh) to life in prison, eighteen years after a trial court acquitted them for lack of evidence. The men were charged with rioting, murder, and conspiracy, related to the deaths of Rajinder and Sardool Singh who were burnt alive on November 1, 1984 and their property looted in Sagarpur. The 4 men were also fined Rs. 21,000 each (about $481.43 per person). The High Court stated:

“it is a case where the members of one community were singled out and were murdered and their properties were burnt and looted. Such lawlessness deserved to be sternly dealt with”. [link]

Interestingly, the court found that conspiring to commit a crime was equal to committing the actual crime (I’m assuming that “members of unlawful assembly…in prosecution of the object…” is conspiracy; it’s unclear from the press release whether this is for conspiracy to riot/murder/combination):

“We may observe here that the liability of the members of unlawful assembly who knew that an offence was likely to be committed in prosecution of the object for which they had assembled is equal to those who commit it,” the Bench observed in a judgement on an appeal filed by the state challenging the trial court’s acquittal order. [link] (emphasis added)

delhi_high_court.jpgAccording to a couple of sources, the state appealed the case after the trial court found there wasn’t enough evidence in 1990. If this is true, and not just bad journalism (fabricated facts inserted into the press release), I wish I could congratulate the prosecutors who pursued and won this case.

A sessions court had earlier on October 31, 1990, acquitted the accused due to lack of evidence. But the state had challenged the judgment in the Delhi high court stating that it have enough evidence to nail the accused persons. [link]

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Sikh Woman In Malaysia: The Face Of HIV/AIDS Victims

Langa(w)riters have posted on AIDS/HIV infection amongst Sikh women here and here. We have discussed issues around support groups and causes of infection. One of the number one risk factors for contracting HIV/AIDS for Punjabi Sikh women is marriage. Many women are infected by their husbands who are intravenous drug addicts and/or clients of prostitutes. Not only are these womens lives reaped with more havoc at no fault of their own, but there is also an insurmountable amount of stigma these women endure.

This past week, a Sikh woman, Kiranjit Kaur, stood up with tremendous strength and bravery to help combat this stigma. She become the poster-woman for people living with HIV/AIDS in Malaysia. At the age of 35, Kaur has decided to put her face to this disease because I am here to help the ‘positive’ community and empower them and tell them they are not alone.

Kiranjit Kaur contracted HIV in 1996 through her husband who was a former drug addict and has since passed away.

After contracting the disease she began working full-time with the Asian Pacific Council on AIDS Services as an advocate for other HIV/AIDS patients.

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Here we go again….

JoeBiden.jpgOnce again, Indian-Americans have been unwillingly thrust into the heart of a contentious American political battle. For those of you who don’t remember, in 2006, incumbent Senator George Allen singled out and subsequently called an Indian-American, S.R. Sidarth, “macaca” while on the campaign trail. See video here. As The Washington Post’s national political reporter noted, Allen’s use of that slur was a “turning point” in his failed reelection bid, and became “an everlasting part of the political landscape.”

Just a few days ago, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama selected fellow Senator Joe Biden to serve as his running mate. In 2006, Senator Biden said, “In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian-Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.” See video here.

Senator Obama’s decision has generated renewed interest in the 7-Eleven gaffe. See, e.g., here and here. The question is, should we care? In this post, I argue “yes.”

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Gurmat Sangeet: The revival of traditional Sikh music

Unfortunately, and perhaps onlyfor myself,I don’t remember the last timeI visitedone of my localgurdwaras and can say I was moved by the kirtan. Perhaps I feel thatmost (though notall)kirtan has become modernized to such an extent that it doesn’t really encompass the spiritual enlightenment that shabads were intended to.Actually, itwas only after a recent visit to a Namdhari gurdwarathat I truly felt that I had heard kirtan in its true element. For those of you who, like myself were unaware, Namdhari Sikhs believe thatthe only way to reach God is to sing in Raag, the mode of classical Indian music. For Namdhari Sikhs, the instruments they play and the style they sing in is very particular. They place a firm emphasis on rare instruments dating back to the 16th century, the time of Guru Nanak whocontinued the Vedic tradition of writing the holy scriptures in Raag.

Gurmat Sangeethas always played a significant role in Sikh history and began in the 16th century as the musical expression of divine poetry and yetmany of us have never been exposed to this form of kirtan. During our Gurus’ time, Gurmat Sangeet was devotional meditation and music and instruments were used as an accompianment.

Sikh music in the 16th and 17th centuries was comprised of the then-prevalent classical and folk music styles, accompanied by stringed and percussion instruments. The classical style was the devotional dhrupad style, a somber, deeply meditational style in which the text was of prime significance and the music played a supporting, albeit important role in the quest for Divine Essence. Folk music encompassed songs that marked various aspects of life – ghoriaan were sung at marriage, alaahniaan at death, and vaars to glorify brave warriors. [link]

It is said that Raags have a direct relationship to human moods; Soohi representing joy and seperation, Basant representing happiness, and Sarang, sadness. Information from the Sikh Music Heritage Institute states that Guru Nanak began Sikh music with the accompaniment of the rabab, a stringed melodic instrument; Guru Amar Das introduced the stringed instrument, saranda; and Guru Arjan Dev, developed the jori, a two-headed drum. During the 1920s a sharp decline in their use made them almost extinct. The harmonium took the place of stringed instruments and the tabla replaced the pakhaavaj and jori. There are various global efforts taking form to revive classical Sikh music. The Gurmat Sangeet department at Punjabi University, Patiala, the Raj Academy in the UK, and the Sikh Music Heritage Institute in California have dedicated resources to educating and training individuals to play traditional Sikh instruments with the hope that Gurmat Sangeet will be revived.

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‘Thinking the Unthinkable’ in Kashmir – Freedom?

While those in the diaspora are less likely to follow, many in South Asia have had one eye on the Beijing Olympics and the other looking at the current situation in Kashmir.

This past Friday hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri protestors took to the street calling for azadi (freedom) from the tyranny of the Indian state. Viewers in India have looked on in surprise and many different reactions can be found in the Indian press. I will highlight one.

For some more context, Al-Jazeera English has some excellent news analysis. It is a bit lengthy, but well-worth the watch:

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Dastarbandi/Turban Tying

A few days ago Sikhnet News posted a story about the Dastarbandi/Pagri di Rasam/Turban Tying Ceremony of Harmanas Singh, a 16 year old young man in California. n704400098_2623007_1259_1.jpgWhile the story gave only a brief explanation for the ceremony it got me thinking about the significance of the ceremony in the Sikh community in general:why we perform the ceremony, how wide spread it is, and how it pertains today to Sikh women.

A couple of websites describe the ceremony like this:

People who have lived in India would know the turban tying ceremony known as Rasam Pagri (Turban Tying Ceremony). This ceremony takes place once a man passes away and his oldest son takes over the family responsibilities by tying turban in front of a large gathering. It signifies that now he has shouldered the responsibility of his father and he is the head of the family. [Source]

The explanation is a bit off because the ceremony seems more for the passing of personal rather than family responsibility. While there may have been a time when the ceremony signified the passage of family leadership I think in the Sikh faith the ceremony has come to signify the shouldering of personal responsibility for young Sikhs. The dastarbandi ceremony represents something different for Sikhs it is as Guru Gobind Singh intended it a stamp of identity for Sikhs and the responsibilities that being a Sikh entail.

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Sikh Man Recently Killed In Arizona: Occupational Struggles Faced By Panjabi Sikh Immigrants

From 7-Elevens to liquor and 99 cents stores, many Panjabi Sikh immigrants build a life for themselves as store workers. Working at these locations gives them a start in America, while engaging with its harsh realities. Regardless of educational background or the pind/shari divide, Panjabi Sikh immigrants work long hours into the night seven days of week trying to build a stable economic future for them and their families. On August 04, 2008, Inderjit Singh Jassal at the age of 62, was one of these Panjabi Sikh immigrants, who was murdered at a 7-11 store during his usual 13-hour shift in Phoenix, Arizona. Jassal had moved to the US nearly 20 years ago, while his wife and two adult children remained in India.

SALDEF reports that:

Mr. Jassal was working at a 7-11 store in West Phoenix when a black male, later identified as 27 year-old Jermaine Canada, walked in with his two children, aged 2 and 6. According to the surveillance video, the two individuals had a short conversation, at the end of which Mr. Canada pulled a concealed firearm from his shirt and fatally shot Mr. Jassal.

The most ironic aspect of this case is that no motive as been found. According to surveillance video there was no angry exchange between Jassal and Canada and nothing was stolen by the murderer.

SALDEF believes that this killing was nothing other than a heinous crime motivated by hate.

According to one of Canadas relatives, he had a history of drug abuse and mental illness. At the time of the killing, he was under supervised release following 2 years in prison for violating his probation, for a prior dug conviction, with a weapons charge.

Currently, Tajinder Singh Jassal, a nephew of Inderjit Singh Jassal and co-worker, is working to get immigration visas for Inderjits wife and children. He is considering sending an appeal letter to Arizona Senator John McCains Office for assistance with the visas because “The family is suffering right now. They want to see their father’s face.”

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A Sikh cowboy?

I don’t really know what to make of this, so I won’t even comment. I’ll just let you form your own opinions.

Paramvir Singh Chattwal, of central Hounslow, who claims to be the world’s only Sikh rodeo star after taking up the sport while living in Texas has hung up his spurs for now to track down information about his decorated forefather, who he believes died in or around [Hounslow]. …Paramvir has already spent years researching the life of Risaldar Major Sher Singh Sirdar Bahadoor, who was an original member of the Punjab Frontier Force, formed in 1849. [link]

I’m more interested in Paramvir’s cowboy-ness, than his hunt for his great great grandfather’s legacy, though Paramvir’s view of his ancestor is a bit twisted. Paramvir seems to be equally proud of his cowboy activities, as his grandfather’s fighting for the British in 1857, against hiscowboy.jpg fellow Indians, and also escorting the Kohinoor to become part of the British treasury.

But Paramvir believes [his ancestor] earned his peers’ respect by escorting theKoh-i-noor diamond, then the largest in the world, on a perilous mission across India to Calcutta before it became part of the British Crown Jewels in 1877. “I couldn’t believe he’d been breaking social barriers in 1887 by mixing with the British aristocracy and five generations later I’m doing the same by taking up rodeo,” said Paramvir. (emphasis added) [link]

I’m not trying to promote a tribal mentality (not that that’s a bad thing). But, since when is “mixing with aristocracy” breaking a social barrier?? Slaves “mixed” with their slave owners. Prisoners “mix” with the guards that keep them locked up. Paramvir, you’re confirming my suspicion that all cowboys are stupid, and I really don’t like to generalize. (Ok, one comment.) I hope this article has misquoted you.

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Sikhs could learn from Icelandic on stigmas, taboos

Over a year ago, Ajmer Singh Hothi was found shot dead inside a semi-truck that he had just bought and was still making payments on. Only a day before, he had changed his phone number and gotten a restraining order against his ex-girlfriend and her father. [link]

hothi_ajmer.jpgMore information surrounding the case has recently became available since 553 pages of court records from a grand jury hearing have become public.

A prosecutor accuses Gurparkash Khalsa of being driven by humiliation over his daughter’s soiled reputation to the point of ambushing Hothi in a big rig parked east of Stockton. The 56-year-old now sits in a jail cell charged with capital murder… Details of the case recently became public when San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Charlotte Orcutt unsealed the 553-page transcripts of a four-day grand jury hearing that ended with Khalsa’s April 25 indictment. He was arrested hours later. [link]

The events that led to Ajmer’s death began with a relationship between Hothi and Khalsa’s daughter.

It began in November 2004, when a secret romance sparked between Hothi and Khalsa’s daughter, Kiranjot Pannu, then age 17. The lovers kept it quiet because Hothi was a lowly trucker, while her father owned Pacific Coast Intermodal in French Camp. Hothi’s father, also a trucker, once worked for Khalsa and feared him, according to Hothi’s sister, Kiranjit Hothi, who testified before the grand jury. [link]

Khalsa forbade the romance and Hothi’s parents sent Ajmer to India for an arranged marriage. But then Khalsa heard rumors that Hothi had gotten his daughter pregnant, and that she’d had an abortion. The angry father then demanded that Hothi marry his daughter. He followed Ajmer to India and tried to have him divorced. It seems that he was unsuccessful, and word of his attempt traveled back to Stockton where Khalsa felt humiliated in the eyes of the community. [link]

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A Sikh Stands for Democracy in Pakistan

Guest blogged by Mewa Singh

I did not think I was going to write this post, but after seeing a post on the most popular South Asian American blog – Sepia Mutiny – by Amardeep Singh, I had to make a comment about Musharraf’s resignation to avoid impeachment.

For a quick primer on the career of the Pakistani dictator – Pervez Musharraf, watch the Al-Jazeera video:

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