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.

One:

. . . 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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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.

PETITION LINK

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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