Sikhs in the Olympics, Beijing 2008

So today will mark the opening of the Olympic Games. Some will cheer for their states; some will cheer for their heroes; some wont care.sikhs_olympics.jpg

Well, here are FOURTEEN reasons to care: reasons that transcends national barriers and in many ways is more reflective of our Sikh-centered, globalized outlook. It is related to the fact that Sikhs from throughout the world congregate here at The Langar Hall and that issues ranging from Kenya, New Zealand, Canada, Panjab, England etc. all interest us

So in this spirit of continuing to foster a globalized Sikh diasporic community, I present to you the untold story of Punjabi Sikhs in the Olympics. The reason I am using the term Punjabi Sikh is because I dont really know how they identify themselves, but their names indicate that they come from a common ethnic stock a Punjabi Sikh background.

I am trying to make this list comprehensive, so if I left anyone out, please feel free to post a comment and I will go back to add them. Lets make this a project we do together, by posting their finishings and results. [also thank you to Mandeep Singh for correcting some of my mistakes]

Sikhs in the Olympics:

Sikhs are one of those great unknown Olympic stories. It is a diasporic story where Sikhs have representeed many countries and many continents. In the Beijing Olympics, there will be Sikhs (on as far as I could figure out using the wikipedia lists) coming from India and Canada. In years past, Sikhs have been included on teams from Kenya, Great Britain, and even Malaysia. From the regions of the five Olympic Rings (Blue Europe, Yellow Asia, Black Africa, Green Oceania, Red Americas), Sikhs, including those in the diaspora have been at the center of many Gold medal winning teams especially in field hockey. As far as individual glory, Milkha Singh the Flying Sikh disappointing fourth place finish in the Mens 400M in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

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Jathedar Vedanti “Resigns”

Jathedar of the Akal Takht, Giani Joginder Singh Vedanti, resigned yesterday without providing any real reason for the step down. From reports it seems that the Jathedar was asked to resigned late Monday night IMG_1186_2005.09.07_20.47.46.jpgafter some SGPC execs visited him at home the apparent reason: differences of opinion with the Shromini Akali Dal (lead by Badal) and the SGPC (lead by Makkar). In an attempt to cover up the transparently obvious removal, the SGPC president, Avtar Singh Makkar attributed the resignation to Vedantis ill health. However, most sources reported something more along these lines:

It is understood that Vedanti’s increasing proximity with hard liner Sikh organizations on the issue of Dera Sacha Sauda and his public opinion to vote for Sikh Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during UPA government’s trust vote on July 22 last were key factors that compelled SGPC to pack up Vedanti. The reports said that Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had told Vedanti to quit else he will be expelled.

After reading about Jathedar Vedanti removal and the circumstances, (like many others) I am a bit confused and disturbed with the recent trend Jathedar Vedantis removal is not a first:

The removal of Bhai Jasbir Singh Rode as the Akal Takht Jathedar started the trend of sacking Jathedars. Previously, a Jathedar either resigned or died in office.

Bhai Ranjit Singh, the daring Jathedar of Akal Takht was sacked on April 28,1998 and SGPC installed Giani Puran Singh as the new Jathedar on February 15,1999. Vedanti was appointed as acting Jathedar of Akal Takht on March 28, 2000 after the SGPC then led by Bibi Jagir Kaur blamed Giani Puran Singh of violating the maryada (Sikh code of conduct) and sacked him.

I think what makes this most unsettling is the fact that the Jathedar of the Akal Takht is supposed to be given a certain degree of credibility and authority. The Jathedar is a Sikh leader; someone who represents our interests, is our ambassador, and serves as a guide to Sikhs worldwide. Im not giving him/her Papal status by any means, but the Jathedars position is an executive role within the Panth and removal at the whim and fancy of often corrupt officials in the SGPC or the SAD illegitimates any credibility the position once held. The fact that the last four Jathedars have been removed by the SGPC/SAD & Co. says a great deal about the way our Panth is runlittle of which can be construed in a positive light.

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Sikh Women At The Bristol Gurdwara: We’re Not Going Anywhere

In a recent post, Camille asked important questions around growing Sikh female leadership/representation, rather than just managing it. At the heart of leadership in any organization is decision-making. A critical component of growing Sikh female-leadership/representation is giving access to decision-making spaces that are commonly occupied by Sikh men and incorporating female perspectives into decision-making. Thus, you will see the strongest battles for gender equity in Sikh organizations tend to be fought around decision-making power. A recent example of such a battle was at a Gurdwara in Bristol, U.K. where two factions were fighting over allowing women to take part in Gurdwara elections. Women were demanding the right to vote while also running for committee-member seats. This past Sunday during Gurdwara management-committee elections, both factions broke out into a riot over allowing 79 women to vote past the registration deadline.

According to the Daily Mail:

Six riot vans were dispatched to close the road in Fishponds, Bristol, and one man was arrested and cautioned for a public order offence during the seven-hour stand-off.

Voting finally finished at 4pm and resulted in three women being voted onto the management committee for the first time in the temple’s history.

The trigger for the riot was when one man frustrated by the situation started trouble inside the Gurdwara that spilled out onto the street where “women were blocking his car and trying to push it over while he was still inside clinging to the steering wheel.

An elderly women at the site reported a crowd of mainly women and children stood on one side of the road and men on the other. They were fronting each other up and shouting abuse across the road. The women were screaming ‘we’re not going anywhere’.

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Kar sewa in times of tragedy

In case you’ve missed the front page of every major newspaper in the past few days, nearly 150 people died in a stampede in the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh. (As great of a tragedy as this is, I’m not sure why it’s front page on American newspapers, considering that incidents of this nature occur all too often in India.)

Religious pilgrims were trampled to death on a hillside on Sunday morning, after rumors of arelatives_of_Naina_Devi_stampede.jpg landslide sparked a stampede, local officials said. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims traveled to Naina Devi, a hilltop temple in the state of Himachal Pradesh, on Sunday during a festival celebrating the Hindu mother goddess. Heavy rains in the morning led many to take cover in a shelter, local officials said. Some eyewitnesses said visitors on their way down the hill claimed large stones began sliding down the hillside, leading to panic in the crowd below, while others heard rumors of a bomb. [link]

In addition to the stampede, deaths were caused by lack of required medical care.

Local clinics were overwhelmed by the injuries and ran short of medicines and supplies. [link]

During this time of tragedy, the Sikh community came together through kar sewa to assist with the bodies when the government failed to arrange transportation for the bodies. Kar sewaks also organized and served langar and cha to the grieving relatives of the deceased who were camping at the evacuation site.

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Southall Station I was in London last week and stopped off in Hounslow, Ealing and Southall to just walk about and visit family. In the past 50 years, Southall has become a huge pass-through and historic cultural and political center for Punjabis, especially Indian and Sikh Punjabis, in London and the greater UK. I visited the neighborhood a few years ago, and I looked forward to returning.

I was a little surprised to see that the neighborhood had changed. In addition to taking on an ever-growing refugee population from Somalia, there seemed to be a growing Sikh Punjabi underclass. Southall, historically, has been populated by working- and middle-class desis, and with that comes a variety of concerns around resource availability, support, language and social services, etc. Multi-family or multi-worker flats and apartments are not uncommon, but I was surprised by the increased concentration of subpar worker housing. Instead of the more prevalent norm of helping out new immigrants by sheltering them and helping them acclimate to London, there seemed to be a small (but growing) formation of Punjabi-run slum housing, similar to the exploitative workers’ ghettoes and communities of New York in the early- to mid-1900s.

I was really distressed by this development; Southall has amazing local institutions that are nationally and internationally reknowned for their civic engagement and dedication. In many ways, it is the face of the UK Sikh community, for better or worse. I’m not naive; I know that our community has deep and complicated internal issues and challenges. How do we begin to address these basic issues of justice, their connection to Sikhi, and what this means for the reputation and behavior of the community as a body? I don’t think we should dictate or micro-manage people’s behavior, but I do think it’s important to have begin to create ways to mediate conversations and norms/attitudes around how Sikh ethics translate into practice.

Relocating Gender in Sikh History

I recently ran across Relocating Gender in Sikh History by Doris R. Jakobsh who is now an Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Waterloo. Im not a scholar of either Sikh history (and Jakobsh shouldnt be considered one until she can read and understand Gurbani), and the ideas presented below are just fodder for discussion not being put forth as any authoritative data.

relocating gender_1.jpgThe framework she uses notes the difference between the prescribed Sikh belief of equality amongst Sikh women and men, and what is actually practiced within the Sikh community, claiming that gender has generally been dealt with in 1 of 4 ways: silence, negation, accommodation, idealization.

One of the biggest problems that I noted when reading the book is her use of English translations of Gurbani for her basis of analysis. Weve discussed before the problems that we, as Sikh practitioners, experience in understanding Gurbani, due to language barriers. Yet, she bases her research on translations that are subject to the same barriers and misunderstandings. Because of this language barrier, her reading of Gurbani is way off. Despite this, I do believe her feminist analysis of historical writing warrants discussion.

1- Silence: Jakobsh claims that silence is the guiding principle regarding women in Sikh history. Traditional recording of history focuses on politics and economics, realms that women have not been well represented. Women have also not been the authors of their own history, and so the specific questions asked have been those of interest to male historians.

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Celebrating Satwant Dhindsa

dhindsa.jpgAlthough a semi-frequent traveler to Canada, I must admit I have never been to the city ofVernon. I have been to the city Mt. Vernon in Ohio. Not a pretty place.

Well in a week that saw the tragic death of Ishmeet Singh and the triumphant victory of Sarika Singh in the UK, I found a personal obituary of note through Google News.

It seems this past week, the Sikh communitysaw the passing of a “Good Citizen That Made A Difference,” Satwant Singh Dhindsa. His popularity and his commitment to service are expressed in the article.

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Tribute to Ishmeet Singh

Ishmeet Singh’s shocking and tragic death this week will be felt for some time. During his tragically short life and time in the public eye, he was as a role model and inspiration for many. He will truly be missed.

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Sikhs are a race?

Sarika Watkins-Singh won her case in South Wales this week. The news was in many newspapers, including The Guardian, which is normally well researched. Considering the high standard of journalism that its reporters are normally held to, it’s surprising that the following statement was made so off-handedly, in a story about Sarika’s case.

Mr Justice Stephen Silber concluded the school was guilty of indirect discrimination under race relations – Sikhs are a race – and equality laws. [link]sarika_watkins_singh.jpg

Um, we are?! Last I heard, Sikhi was a religion. How does a religion become a race? Where did this author get this idea from?

The only remotely related idea that this statement could come from stems from the antiquated idea that Sikhs are a martial race. But even wikipedia makes clear that this idea is no longer acceptable.

Martial Race or Martial Races Theory is an ideology based on the assumption that certain ethnic groups are inherently more martially inclined than others. It was a term originally used by the British, who observed that the Scottish Highlanders were more fierce in battle than others in the British Isles, and extended this concept to India, where they classified each ethnic group into one of two categories: ‘Martial’ and ‘Non-Martial’. A ‘martial race’ was typically considered brave and well-built for fighting but was also described as ‘unintelligent’. The ‘non-martial races’ were those whom the British believed to be unfit for battle because of their sedentary lifestyles. Of late, this concept has been dismissed as Imperialistic and based on racial stereotypes. [link]

Jessica Alba and Batnaa

02120801-178x300.jpgSo its wedding season for many Panjabis in the Diaspora and one key product commonly used across South Asian groups is batnaa (the yellow mixture used on a groom/bride a day before the wedding to clear up the complexion). Guess what? Jessica Alba is now on boxes of Batnaa! When I saw this I laughed and got confused what is going on here? I find it interesting that Alba is on the box maybe its because she looks more South Asian than say Hillary Duff? Any other ideas?

Also, American stars are being used to market traditional South Asian products rather than relying on Bollywood stars. Anyone else out there seen something similar in marketing other traditional South Asian products?

Very Sad News: Ishmeet Singh Passes Away

Ishmeet Singh, the winner of the “Voice of India” contest, passed away today after drowning in a hotel swimming pool in the Maldives. He was the only son of his parents, and was set to perform at an event in Maldives capital. Such a tragic story and such a great loss for the Punjabi community.ishmeet.jpg Ishmeet had been vocal about his intent to encourage Sikh youth to step out of the shadows and achieve their dreams.

This talented Sikh turned out to be very humble, polite, and caring. His idea on winning rested in the ultimate sense to have faith in Waheguru wholeheartedly. He is an idol to many young Sikhs all around the world and he can inspire and motivate young Sikh men and women to succeed in life without compromising their values and traditions under any pressure whatsoever. While interviewing him, he very clearly said to me that in future he would do everything in his power to help Sikh youth with talent to step out of the shadow.

His Shabad Kirtan CD had just been released and many were hoping to see the beginning of a wonderful journey for Ishmeet. He will be greatly missed.

Previous Coverage of Ishmeet on the Langar Hall:

Breaking News: Sarika Singh Wins Kara Case in UK High Court

Some of you may have followed the case of Sarika Singh, a Welsh-Sikh student who was barred from school when the organization adopted a dress code that prohibited wearing jewelry, including religious items. Instead of conforming to the dress code or transferring schools, Singh appealed to the school. When officials refused to reverse their decision or provide exception for the kara (not an item of jewelry, but rather an article of faith), Singh sued under the UK’s anti-discrimination laws. She has been excluded from classes and from attending school for the past nine months.

Moments ago, the BBC reported that the UK’s High Court affirmed her case, stating that the dress code unfairly burdened Singh’s freedom of religious expression. Both advocates and the court expressed frustration with the school, stating that the issue had been clearly defined in U.K. statutes and case law for over 20 years. This judgment opens the door for students of all religious backgrounds; in addition to the banning of the kara, other UK (private) schools have moved to ban the crucifix, the hijab, and the yarmulke. Against this “confining” interpretation of secularism (an interpretation more common on the European continent), the UK courts have clarified the intent of the country’s inclusionary and anti-discriminatory legal framework.

We’ll continue to update with details and analysis as information becomes available.

Snoop Dogg promoting Punjabis (and Sikhs) in Bollywood

We’re continuing our coverage on Snoop Dogg in Bollywood. And now, we’re joined by the New York Times. Some may grimace at the thought of Snoop promoting Sikhs, but he’s definitely bringing us a LOT of exposure these days. snoop_and_akshay.jpg

Snoop Dogg wears a Sikh turban and an ornate long coat called a sherwani in a video of the title song, which was shot this year in Chicago… I really dig how much music is infused with the movies in Bollywood, Snoop Dogg said in an e-mailed response to questions. Lots of hip-hop tracks sample Indian music, and a lot of their music sounds like it was influenced by hip-hop, he said. Were putting together something real big in India, that will include collaborations, live shows and more movies with some of my Bollywood homies. [link]

Mewa Singh predicted that Snoop’s collaborative song with Bollywood would become the hottest new track with bhangra teams and Punjabis in the diaspora. It’s already taking over the airwaves in India, which is sort of a break through since hip hop has only been popular amongst the young, urban crowd there until now.

Im coming to take over Bollywood, Snoop Dogg promised during the video shoot. Ive never been able to come over there and do shows for you all, but now Im going to come and do shows, he said in a clip that the videos promoters put on YouTube. This is just the beginning. [link]

Ever wondered what Snoop thinks of you?

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B.C. Human Rights Tribunal gives Ravidassia gurdwara special protection

A recent decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal highlights some complex clashes within the Sikh community. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismissed a complaint by two members of the Canadian community who were denied membership in a Burnaby gurdwara because of their caste.

But it’s not what you think. The men who were refused membership did not belong to a caste that was historically disadvantaged, but instead, were jats. And the group who did the refusing were the historically discriminated-against Ravidassia.

Gurshinder Sahota and Sohan Shergill said they were discriminated against by the Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple because they belong to a higher caste in the traditional system of social ranking than do temple members… The 900 members of the Shri Guru Ravidass Sabha Temple belong to the lowest group, Dalits, formerly referred to as “untouchables” and often considered outside the caste system altogether. Sahota and Shergill are from the jat caste, which is traditionally a land-owning class in the Punjab and now makes up much of Metro Vancouver’s Sikh community. [link]

Vancouver’s Ravidassia community celebrated the decision, affirming their right to protection from the greater Sikh community.

The decision, released this week, was hailed as an affirmation of temple members’ right to gather as a “minority within a minority,” said spokesman Jai Birdi. “Since the decision has come out, the members are feeling quite empowered by it,” he said. “They’re feeling that this really reinforces their ability to come together as a marginalized community from India to talk about their heritage and historical unresolved issues and come up with some strategies for moving forward.” He added that the complainants are welcome to attend the temple’s religious ceremonies and social programs. [link]

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Recasting Gender for Sikh Women

When I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to attend the World Sikh Council – North America Region‘s conference on Women in Sikhi. The conference hosted panelists and speakers to discuss three broad categories: the depiction of women in Scripture (SGGS Ji), the treatment of women in the Rehit Maryada, and future possibilities/actions for promoting gender equity. The WSC, like many Sikh institutions, was heavily male-dominated at the time, although the conference liaisons did an admirable job trying to recruit a diverse panel of women to organize, speak, and develop the program. Nonetheless, the majority of conference attendees (until the very last panel) identified as men, and there was no conversation around the agency of men as allies in the struggle for gender equity. It’s always easier to criticize than construct, and I do think the conference was an important initial step; the organizers’ hearts were in the right place, and they were certainly attempting to place women at the center of the conversation.

What I found most distressing, however, was the deep level at which the “proper role” of women in Sikhi was gendered. In emphasizing the valuation of women, most speakers and commenters focused on the following passage from SGGS Ji (p. 473):

Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come.

When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound.

So why call her bad? From her, kings are born.

From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all.

Instead of focusing on the deeper meaning of this passage — that woman is a unique and necessary partner in the faith and in humanity –, most speakers placed the significance of women solely in the context of motherhood. As a result, the impact of women’s leadership is often reduced to a single meme: woman as cultural vessel — the bearer of children (Mata) and imparter of religious knowledge and instruction. This highly gendered role and image severely limits how we conceive of the role of women, both as public figures and speakers, but also in terms of their “value-added” to society.

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Is Snoop Dogg Singh Kinng?

This post is just for fun.Aweek ago, a fellow langa-(w)riter askedwhichSingh was really King? As the buzz for the upcoming “Singh is Kinng” movie continues, many had heard the news that Snoop Dogg had donned a pagh for a promotion with Akshay Kumar.

snoop_turban.jpgWhile many that were looking for Snoop Singh ended up finding this convert, my guess guess was thatthe peoplehad something else in mind. Many people have emailed us asking if we had seen the picture of Snoop Dogg (for me he will always be Snoop Doggy Dogg) with the pagh. To make it easier for all of you internet hunters, here is the picture of Snoop with the turban,sitting like a king with Akshay.

For a link explaining how Snoop came to don the turban in Chicago, you can read a link here.

Sources revealed that the rapper dressed exactly like a Sikh with a turban on his head while recording the track. They even said that the rapper was to have his own crew and clothes, but Akshay convinced him to wear a turban. [link]

Granthis and compensation: de facto clergy?

This recent article about a granthi in Leeds suing for unfair dismissal brought me back to the topic of granthis in general. Given Sikhi’s very clear edict AGAINST the institution of a clergy, I always found it distressing to see whole gurdwaras managed and oragnized by hired granthis. If a sangat (or gurdwara) was too big to function on seva, hadn’t it possibly grown beyond its equilibrium? I always felt uneasy about high-profile (and high cost!) guest granthis, specialized sermons, and other performance-based methods in the gurdwara. Not to mention really distressed that lecturing and sermonizing often extended services and, in my opinion, often drew away from time spent in reflection around kirtan.

It also seems, to me, that the formal establishment (and acceptance) of granthis as “ordained” disciples of Sikhi encourages the creation of a laity. In theory, shouldn’t all Sikhs be capable of organizing and leading their own services? Shouldn’t we encourage everyone to achieve the literacy and familiarity necessary to comfortably participate in shabad kirtan, ardaas, and the basic requirements of langar? In the U.S., we absolutely do not provide sufficient resources to ensure this across sangats (some sangats are notable exceptions, e.g., the Beavercreek, OH, sangat, which is completely volunteer-run with no granthis, despite a population of <50 Sikhs). If we wanted to help mobilize Sikhs to be able to run their own gurdwaras, what kind of resources would we need to provide?

I understand that once we employ granthis there’s an implicit contract and deferral to their “wisdom,” but to what extent are we eroding our own personal understanding and potential for discussion, debate, and growth within Sikhi and within our own sangats? I have heard some liken granthis to spiritual guides; I would argue, however, that SGGS Ji is our guide, the Rehit Maryada our manual, and the sangat our laboratory for refining our understanding.

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The ICC, the Sikhs, and the Indian State

All the headlines are centered on the news of the capture of Bosnian Serb wartime president, Radovan Karadzic. Karadzic has been indicted for genocide in the Bosnia war. Apprehended by government officials, a change in political winds in Serbia now-seeking EU membership has allowed for the present Serbian government to capture the thirteen-year fugitive. The world is now waiting for Karadzic to be transferred to The Hague to kpsgill.jpgface trial.

Karadzics soon-expected extradition and last weeks International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor request that genocide charges should be brought against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for state-sponsored pogroms in the Darfur region of Sudan is being watched the world over.


Karadzics arrest led to one Munira Subasic, head of a Srebrenica widows association (for more information on the Srebrenica Genocide/Massacre, click here), stated


[Karadzics arrest] is confirmation that every criminal will eventually face justice. [link]

I hope Subasics comments ring true. While I celebrate the capture of one tyrant, as a Sikh, my attention wanders (as it tends to) to the situation in Punjab and the Indian State.

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American religious tradition’s effect on Sikhi

What is American religious tradition and how does it influence the practice of Sikhi in the US?

Recently, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life surveyed nearly 36,000 people of various religions (including no affiliation/atheists) with questions about their religious beliefs. Questions addressed whether individuals believed in a literal interpretation of scripture, the strength of adherents’ belief in God or universal spirit, views of one’s religion as the one true faith, as well as social and political beliefs. More information and results of the survey can be found here.

Some think the findings expose a superficiality in the practice of faiths in the US.

“Religion in America is 3,000 miles wide, but it’s only 3 inches deep,” said Professor D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist and religion demographer at Rice University. “The issue is not that Americans don’t believe in anything. It’s that they believe in practically everything. It’s possible for Americans to hold together contradictory beliefs at the same time.” The survey found that there are Catholics who meditate, while Lindsay said other surveys have found Protestants who pray to the Virgin Mary. [link]

beliefs.pngOne might question this conclusion that because a person holds contradictory beliefs, it means they only superficially understand/practice their religion. It may just mean that people are trying to reconcile science, their experiences, or contradictory moral beliefs with specific tenets of their own religion. The fact that they continue to hold the belief that religion proposes despite contradictory experience or scientific finding shows faith, and in my opinion, commitment.

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More obstacles for French Sikhs?

A recent French decision brings debates about multiculturalism and accommodation back into focus. France’s highest administrative court prevented the wife of a French national and mother of 3 French- born children from obtaining French citizenship based purely on her wearing of a niqab- for “insufficient assimilation” into France:

…last month, Frances highest administrative court upheld a decision to deny citizenship to Ms. Silmi, 32, on the ground that her radical practice of Islam was incompatible with French values like equality of the sexes. [link]

The decision received support from some French-Muslim officials who do not support women’s wearing ofpew__banning_muslim_head_scarves.gif niqabs.

The ruling on Ms. Silmi has received almost unequivocal support across the political spectrum, including among many Muslims. Fadela Amara, the French minister for urban affairs, called Ms. Silmis niqab a prison and a straitjacket. It is not a religious insignia but the insignia of a totalitarian political project that promotes inequality between the sexes and is totally lacking in democracy, Ms. Amara, herself a practicing Muslim of Algerian descent, told the newspaper Le Parisien in an interview published Wednesday. [link]

There are major differences between the niqab and Sikh religious dress. The objection to the niqab that it’s incompatible with the French value of equality of the sexes doesn’t carry over to Sikh dress. The dastaar or pag doesn’t pose the same dilemma as both men and women may wear it, and it is not seen as an inhibition on gender equality generally.

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