New Futures and ‘Insight into Sikhism’

For many of us Sikhs of Panjabi-background, those Sikhs that chose to embrace Sikhi (often termed as ‘goray Sikhs’, but by no means are all of them of such ‘gora’ background) are sometimes seen as an enigma. Too often stereotypes and easy labels such as ‘hippie’ or ‘weird’, knee-jerk opinions on ‘yoga’, or even a certain ‘guilt’ in terms of our own relationship with our Guru tend to be expressed in hushed tones. narayan.jpgHowever, such labels only dehumanize those that we should be most embracing as brothers and sisters of a shared Guru.

A recent article in a local Surrey newspaper recently has me re-thinking how as a Sikh community we can continue to strengthen our Qaum. Reading about Hari Nam Singh Khalsa’s own evolution was not only inspiring, but also a point for reflection.

The Oakville, Ontario resident is the host of the only English-language program on Canadian television that provides knowledge about Sikhi. His “Insight into Sikhism” airs on Saturday mornings throughout Canada (you can click here for Canadian times and channels). On the show’s website, the program’s purpose is described as:

Each week, host HariNam Singh Khalsa explains aspects of the Sikh religion and its relevance to modern day issues. Insight into Sikhism introduces the core principles of Sikhism in a simple and basic format in English for everyone to understand. HariNam Singhs mission is to spread the universal teachings of Sikhism to people of all faiths.[link]

Although I have never seen the show (if you have, please do comment and let us know your thoughts about it), it seems like a remarkable and much-needed project.

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From Paneer to Parmigiano

I got this cute video link via ASATA and wanted to share it with TLH. It talks about Italy’s desi-Sikh minority, relations between Italians and Sikhs, and the role of Sikhs in Italy’s cheesemaking industry

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Pakistani Sikh delegation takes a tour

A delegation of representatives for the PSGPC traveled to the U.S. and UK to discuss congregational needs, socioeconomics, and Muslim-Sikh relations in Pakistan [ed note: forgive the confusing grammar from the news source; the translation is imperfect].

The delegation did quite a bit of fundraising, and they stopped to check in with several Sikh “community leaders” throughout California, and elsewhere. Largely these were founders or heads of private non-profits, not congregations. It’s hard to discern what actually happened from the news coverage, which focused on explaining “those wacky” Sikhs. However, the group attempted to bring special attention to the disparities in achievement, etc., between Pakistani Muslims and Sikhs.

I finished the article with many more questions than when I started reading it; Why did the committee chose to travel to those two regions? Why were so many of their questions fixated on the ritualistic veins of Sikhi that have begun to penetrate our communities? How did they pick who to visit on their trip? What is the status of Pakistani Muslim-Sikh relations and disparities, today?

Did you hear about this tour from anyone? If so, what did you think?

Stuff Panjabi Sikh Moms Like…

So recently I came across a blog about all the Stuff Korean Moms Like. A Korean girl, Chiyo, who loves her KM (Korean Mom) decided to create this blog to share the joy and dread of KM.corningware1-150x150.jpg As I went through the list I kept thinking about our own PSMs (Panjabi Sikh Moms) now now dont think its funny to call our mummies PMS that actually stands for Panjabi Male Syndrome!

From corningware to marrying people off and stank eye I found many similarities between KMs and PSMs (although the differences were stark I dont even think many PSMs know what redbean is let alone love it. And when it comes to Jesus lets just stick with the Gurus and Waheguruji)!

Inspired by Chiyos blog on Korean Moms, let start our own list of “Stuff Panjabi Sikh Moms Like”! I will begin

  1. Tupperware (i.e. I am not just talkin about Rubbermaid I mean sour cream and whipped butter dabhaa). Over time this Tupperware becomes yellow from all the haldhee in sabjis but soak it in the sun and most of the stains go away. Slowly over time old ones are replaced as new ones are collected.
  2. Corningware (do I really need say anything more I think Chiyos explanation resonates perfectly with PSMs).
  3. Zee TV, Sony TV, and Alpha Etc. Punjabi nateekhs (whats your moms favorite soap opera ).
  4. Noon Dhani (i.e. the steel container with small steel bowls and spoons for all their spices).
  5. Dhahee (i.e. homemade yogurt sorry I personally cant stand the boxed stuff after growing up on my moms delicious freshly made dhahee).
  6. Outrage at the rising cost of Ataa (i.e. flour that is commonly bought at the Indian store to make roti).
  7. House-walls that are painted hospital white look how clean and simple they look. The rooms feel much more lighted with this color.
  8. Overstuffing Family And Friends With Food lai if they leave your house without a food-coma, they did not have a good-time.
  9. Cooking your favorite Panjabi dish when you come home from college. Its a sign of how much she missed you.
  10. The ten Gurus pictures, particularly those of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji, are the number one home-decorating items.

Please add to the list ( it’s in no particular order)! What do you think Panjabi Sikh Moms really like? I know many of you must have your own favorites! :)

Disclaimer: Please keep it clean, respectful, and hate-free I really should not have to say this, but unfortunately in the virtual world people often display a holds-no-bar attitude when commenting on issues like this one.

Sikhs and Civics

This day marks the 221th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

No matter how much we argue about the details of its meaning today, in the opinion of many, the Constitution signed in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787 represents the greatest expression of statesmanship and compromise ever written. In just four hand-written pages, the Constitution gives us no less than the owners’ manual to the greatest form of government the world has ever known. [Link]

To commemorate this historic day, the U.S. Congress designated September 17 as “Constitution Day” and required all schools that receive federal financial assistance to “provide some educational programming about the U.S. Constitution on or around Sept. 17[.]” Despite the brilliance of the American constitutional system and the congressional mandate for schools to study the Constitution on at least one day, ignorance of the American government remains high. For example:

  • When asked to name two of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs and two of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices, 77% of Americans polled were able to identify two dwarfs, while only 24% could name two Supreme Court Justices.
  • 73% of those polled [were] able to name all three of The Three Stooges, while only 42% could name the three branches of government. [Link]

Further, more American teenagers

  • know the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air than know the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (94.7% to 2.2%)
  • know which city has the zip code “90210” than the city in which the U.S. Constitution was written (75% to 25%) [Link]

These and similar statistics should alarm Americans and they reflect the need for greater civics education in American schools. But we should not think that this is a concern from which Sikhs are exempt.

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Police Patrol by Delhi Sultanate and Sukhmani Malik

In light of the Indian government’s response to this past weekend’s bombings in Delhi, this video seems especially poignant (not to mention sweeet!).

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[hat tip: chapati mystery]

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Bollywood’s “Heroes” – More Sikh Characters on the Big Screen

We have had a lot of discussion about the Sikh identity here on TLH, so it is no surprise that when I saw this movie poster I immediately wanted to bring it to your attention.

heroes_turban.jpgBollywood is doing it again another movie with Sikhs. But instead of what we have seen in the past with Sikhs often portrayed as unflattering villains and goofballs, it seems that the trend now is to cast people in Sikhs roles where the Sikhs are the heroes. I suppose it is partly in that spirit that the movie is called Heroes.

Heroes is about two friends who journey through India meeting everyday heroes, at least one of whom is a Sikh. But that is not the part that interested me of course. The interesting part is not the story line, but all of the press that Salman Khan (the actor who plays a Sikh hero) has gotten for his attempt to play a real Sikh.

Salman Khan [is] seen in a Sikh makeover for the first time ever and he makes a good looking jatt Sikh with a beautifully tied turban. He grew his beard for three weeks before the filming for an authentic bearded Sikh look. Source.

I think this is probably the first time that I have heard this happening. Although, I think actor Sunny Deol may have grown his own beard for a couple of his roles as a Sikh it has never been so explicitly commended or publicized. Im not sure how I come down on this, but all the press does point to a deliberate effort by Bollywood to NOT-offend Sikhs, which I think is a positive move on the film industries part.

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A review of the Sikh Research Institute’s First Webinar

Update: wow, I did an AWFUL job of summarizing SRI’s first webinar. (Apologies to the good folks at SRI) Here’s a better summary:

Sikh Theology – A Gurmat Framework: The first session comprised of introducing an approach to Sikhi and recognizing how Guru Nanak Sahib revolutionarily delivered a message of Oneness through illustrating a direct connection between ideas and practice. We engaged in understanding what ‘Guru’ means in the Sikh context and how we can begin to comprehend the Guru’s wisdom, Gurmat. To develop this understanding, three facets of bani (scripture), tavarikh (history) and rahit (lifestyle) were introduced. The greatness of a religion is when harmonious balance between Ultimate reality and visible form is exemplified thru the aforesaid facets. We concluded with Puran Singh’s rendering on the Guru’s vision, “It sweetens you and your sweetness sweetens all life around. At your sight, the lamb and the tiger must drink at the same pool.”

And some info on session 2:

Bani – The Message: In session two, we continued to build on our understanding of the Guru’s message; We engaged in actively learning about the scriptural canon, the Guru Granth Sahib. In covering topics as the compilation, contributors, structure, language and content of Guru Granth Sahib, we tackled questions such as, “How do we know Guru Granth Sahib is the Guru?” and “What is the Sabad Guru?”; thus, facilitating and inspiring us to continue to build our personal relationship with Guru Granth Sahib.

And 3:

Tavarikh The Revolution: Having concentrated on the written form of our Gurus message (Bani) last week, this week in session three, Tavarikh The Revolution, we will turn our focus on to how our Gurus exemplified The Message. We will walk through the lives of Guru Nanak Sahib through Guru Gobind Singh Sahib and try to understand them through a social, political, economic and spiritual framework. We will cover a range of issues, from touching on the ramifications of negating the need of a Divine intermediary, to the economic center created by the Guru Sahibs, to the activism of both social and political kind. In surveying the inspiring history of our Gurus, we hope to remind ourselves of how relevant, active and exemplary the revolution of Sikh? is.

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Endowed Sikh Chairs

Dr. Pashaura Singh, Professor at University of California, Riverside, was recently appointed to its Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Language Studies. However, not without controversy. There have been several incidents since his inception to the Chair where members of the Sikh community have challenged his appointment because of Dr. Singh’s interpretation of the Sikh scriptures.

Sikhs believe the scriptures were revealed to a series of gurus…those revelations in the form of 6,000 hymns were compiled in 1604 by the fifth guru, Guru Arjan, and became the holy scriptures. Pashaura Singh’s thesis and subsequent research are based on a manuscript that surfaced in 1987 that he believes is a draft of the 1,430-page document compiled by Guru Arjan. Singh says the so-called 1245 manuscript, part of the rare book collection at Guru Nanak Dev University, includes sections that are blank and others that have been crossed out, showing evidence of having been edited. [link]

life_and_work_of_guru_arjan.jpgThe story goes back many years. Singh, coming from the University of Michigan, was hired in 2005 to teach Sikh and South Asian religious studies. While at that time the chair position was not official, Dr. Singh was recruited with the promise of a potential endowed chair that would provide him with financial support for research. At that time, members of the Sikh community expressed concern about Dr. Singh’s appointment stating his research was problematic and challenged traditional Sikh views. Another issue stemmed from the fact that Ellen Wartella, executive vice chancellor and provost, assured the community in writing that while Singh would teach religious studies “it has been determined that he will not hold this chair.” The community is upset that the university went back on its word.

Today, members of the Sikh community are still upset about Dr. Singh’s appointment and are arranging a peaceful protest on the university grounds on September 26th, 2008.

The idea that the scriptures were edited or changed is blasphemous to traditional Sikhs. “If this is true, then the revealed word of God is not the revealed word,” said Dr. Baljeet Sahi, an Altadena veterinarian and president of Sikhs for Preservation of Sikhism and Sikh Heritage. Sahi called the 1245 manuscript fraudulent and said it was obtained from a scrap dealer. He said it may have been written by one of the guru’s rivals, who started a parallel tradition after he was denied a guruship. [link]

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New Zealand welcomes its first turbaned Sikh officer

Jagmohan Malhi has become New Zealand’s first officer to wear the custom police turban. Following in the footsteps of the British constabalry (who also have specially tailored turbans), and the MTA, New Zealand New Zealand's First Turbaned Sikh Police Officeradopted the new attire after Malhi’s campaign to include the turban in the uniform.

Interestingly, Malhi discusses the many challenges and accommodations he’s made since coming to the New Zealand, including cutting his kes and dari when he first arrived. I found this move towards practice really interesting; Malhi mentioned that he wanted to make this possible out of respect for his dying father’s wishes.

Is this the “right” rationale for this move? On one hand, I think it’s admirable and important for there to be the option and existence of visible Sikh officers in New Zealand’s police force. On the other hand, how do we make this possible, and how do people come to this place?

End the Presumption of Innocence: Indian Police

Over the weekend, a wave of bombs targeting civilians was unleashed in the Indian capital of Delhi. With the death toll rising (so far approximately 30), a group called the “Indian Mujahadeen” has been widely reported by the media as having claimed responsibility. This was not the first time the Indian people has seen such attacks.Delhi_Bomb_thumb.jpg In fact, this was the third such wave this year alone.

While families are mourning the loss of their loved ones, I can only express grief for their loss. I have read about individual acts of heroics:

Last night was spent running from one department to the other looking for my son who had gone to Gaffar Market with his friends when the blast took place. He was injured and was helped by a young Sikh who brought him to the hospital on his scooter and later called us to inform that my son was injured. I did not even get a chance to thank the good Samaritan properly, said Mohammed Ahmed. He said he was happy that his son was alive. [link]

However, soon afterwards, I have read some of the scariest reports of all. With people still in grief, fascists within the Indian state have not hesitated to hope for a sort of declaration of martial law over the entire country.

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Sikh Coalition Opens New Office On West Coast

In the past, several posts have focused on the work of the Sikh Coalition around community mobilization to fight school bullying and the launch of an educational tool. coalition.jpgAs part of the Sikh Coalition’s on-going work, it has opened a new office in Northern California to provide coastto-coast civil/human rights advocacy for Sikhs. On September 10th, over 100 attendees, including local community members and politicians, celebrated the Sikh Coalition’s office opening in Fremont, California.

The Coalition’s, Western Regional Director, Neha Singh, said:

“Fremont is nationally the heart of the Sikh community since we started, we’ve always taken cases from around the country, and a large amount of them were from the Bay Area. We thought it was now time to open an office in an area where a lot of the people requesting our services were.”

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Punjab & Haryana High Court to deliberate on who qualifies as Sikh under Gurdwara Act of 1925

On September 19, a full bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court will begin hearing arguments to decide the constitutional contours that define a Sikh under the Gurdwara Act of 1925. The decision will have important consequences, such as whether sahajdhari Sikhs ought to have voting rights in SGPC elections.

punjab_and_haryana_HighCourt.jpgI’m not completely sure how the courts in India work, but the full bench seem to be joining two unrelated cases, that both turn on the definition of a Sikh, under the Gurdwara Act of 1925.


. . . a plea filed by Gurleen Kaur whose candidature for an MBBS seat in the SGPC-run Guru Ram Dass Institute of Medical Education & Research, Amritsar had been rejected. . . Significantly, the college had a 50 per cent quota for Sikhs but Gurleen was denied the seat on the ground she did not fit the “definition of a Sikh in the purest sense of the term”. In fact, she was dubbed a ‘patit’ Sikh, a term referring those Sikhs one trim their hair or pluck their eyebrows. [link]

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Religious Programming on the BBC

Is theBBC biased towards creating religious programs focused predominantly on Islam versus other faiths? Apparently so, according to Hindu and Sikh leaders in the UK who claim that a disproportionate number of programs have been made about Islam, at the expense of programs on their own faiths. The Network of Sikh Organizations (NSO)media monitoring group analyzed programs from the BBC’s Religion and Ethics department and claim that since 2001, the BBC has made 41 programs on Islam, five on Hinduism and one on Sikhism.

Indarjit Singh, editor of the Sikh Messenger and a regular contributor to Thought for the Day on Radio 4’s Today programme, said Sikhs felt “brushed aside”. He said: “I think it’s probably unthinking, or inadvertent, but the bias is there. “I do know that within the Sikh community especially there is a feeling of concern over the lack of portrayal of their religion on television.” He added: “Of course it is important to educate non-Muslims about Islam, but it is also important to provide informative, open and respectful programming on all religions.” [link]

The people responsible for commissioning religious programming – whether on radio or television – acknowledge that world events have made a significant impact on their output – be it the death of John Paul II or the terrorist attacks of September 11 and July 7.

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Punjab’s First Sikh University- high ambitions, and many obstacles

The Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University, a project that has the potential to be groundbreaking, was announced in September 2004. As its currently being presented, its quite an ambitious project. From announcements, it seems that at least in its planning phases, a truly comprehensive education will beggswu__model.jpg offered.

Contrary to popular perception, the university will be in keeping with modern times and trends, and besides a school of religious and civilisation studies, the institution will also have a school of emerging technologies, school of basic sciences, school of management, school of social sciences, school of arts, school of languages, school of engineering, school of architecture and planning and school of law and social justice.

Talking to TNS, university vice-chancellor Jasbir Singh Ahluwalia said the varsity would neither be religion-based or religion-dominated. The university would take up the teaching of emerging technologies like information technology (IT), biotechnology (BT) and nano-technology, besides other emerging disciplines like ecology, human rights, feminism and empowerment of downtrodden, he said. [link]

The proposed university’s forward-looking goals make me hope that it actually materializes. It strives to address the role that Sikhi should and does play in the 21st century.

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What’s in a Name?

Towelhead” is the title of a forthcoming Warner Brothers movie. The Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) is not pleased. Today, SALDEF issued a press release in which it states:

The word towelhead is a crude and racist slur that is commonly hurled at Sikhs and has frequently been documented in connection with hate crimes, said Kavneet Singh, SALDEFs Managing Director. Calling a movie Towelhead is like calling a movie Nigger or Gook, and we are shocked that a company like Warner Brothers would even consider using a racial slur as a movie title.

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On Cricket, Monty, Sikhi, and Potato Chips

Once upon a time, a fellow langa(w)riter commented that you know youve made it as a ‘notable’ community, when you are featured on the game-show Jeopardy.

While she may or may not have been right, in todays consumerist I think when a member of your own has a potato chip named after them that social recognition Monty_Panesar_walkers_web_1.jpggrows near.

Cricket has never featured very prominently at The Langar Hall, possibly as many commenters have noted, the current American-bias of this young blog. Despite the blogs current limitations (which we do hope to change in the future), sometimes cricket does make it to our attention, albeit in ways still tied to the diaspora.

A recent article in a Californian newspaper discusses cricket’s popularity. Cricket aficionados have been gathering for years on weekends to come together to play cricket. From software engineers to truck drivers from small store owners to behavioral technicians, sports is one of those rare fields that maintains the potential to bring scores of people together. Although still hardly a blip in the American sporting world, crickets popularity continues to blossom:

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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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