Blind organizations make many invisible

SCORE has already come under scrutiny here in The Langar Hall, and I don’t wish to scrutinize the entire organization further. But their list of honorees from the 2008 Heritage Dinner does deserve some attention. This year, the following individuals were honored:

women_making_langar.JPG1. Sandeep Singh Caberwal, a Sikh entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and a model, wears a turban, has a beard and was chosen by designer Kenneth Cole in its recent fashion campaign

2. Ms. Tami Yeager and Preetmohan Singh for their film documentary A Dream in Doubt, which explores the real life story of Rana Singh Sodhis family, whose brother was murdered as the first hate crime victim in AZ in the 9/11 aftermath

3. Darshpreet Singh, a recent graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. was co-captain of the Mens Basketball team and fan favorite, and believed to be the only turbaned Sikh to play in a National college basketball game

4. Dr. Jagjit Singh Khalsa is the Chief of Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse at the US National Institutes of Health

5. Gurvendra Singh Suri, founder & CEO Optimal Solutions Integration, Inc., a successful technology consulting Company in Dallas, TX

6. Raghbir Singh Subhanpur, business owner from New York and President of New York Shiromani Akali Dal was honored with Community Service award

7. Surinder Singh Chawla, Nassau County Human Rights Commissioner, was honored for Social Activism and Service

8. Ro Khanna, an Indian American political activist from California was also honored for his role in supporting Sikh issues. [link]

Readers, what strikes you as odd about this list? . . . The only woman recognized is American. How is it possible that no Sikh women made any noteworthy contributions to the Sikh or American community in the past year? (There seems to be an attempt to recognize contributions to both Sikh and American, non-Sikh communities.) Let me tell you- its not.

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An interview with Fauja Singh

I found this interview with the revered Fauji Singh ji, after completing the Edinburgh daur- a mere chabi (26) miles to be so endearing.

He has a message for the nau-jawan and at the end (it kind of got cut off, but he seems happy that the nau-jawan, both boys and girls, are running these days)…

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Is there a limit to the cost of accommodation?

The UK has been hit with a recent controversy over expenditures, allegedly upwards of 100,000, spent on finding appropriate anti-terror gear that could accommodate the Sikh turban. A good deal of this was spent taking the officer away from duty and asking him to approach equipment manufacturers himself to request accommodated gear. Shortly after this search period expired, he took a leave in order to cope with the emotional stress of this experience.

Two very salient arguments are made: One side argues that such cost was a “waste” and took the officer in training away from assignment (he was in limbo — he was not able to serve with the regular police, but without a uniform could not get full clearance to serve with anti-terror specialists). The other argues that the officer is sorely needed, that the county he hails from is actively trying to diversify its anti-terror police force, and that the cost is worth it if it paves the way for other ethnic and religious minorities to feel comfortable trying out to join the anti-terror squadron.

I think there’s validity to both arguments. Accommodation, especially in democracies, ought to be a key value in integrating diverse communities. That said, it sounds like the UK (or local) government did not take the issue of diversity seriously. The problem is not in the 100,000, per se, it’s in the failure of the state to actively support, or deal seriously with, the issue of Sikh guards.

But is there ever a (monetary) limit to accommodation? How do we find that limit? Is it a simple cost-benefit analysis, or are there other, more weighted, measures that come into play? Was it the money itself, or the poor management of said money?


A note of hope in Jersey

turban_tying.gifCould the community’s recent rallying in response to hate crimes have similar results (though in smaller proportions) as was seen after Operation Bluestar of people re-committing to their faith?

Many Sikhs today, unfortunately, cut their hair at some time during their adolescence. This is seen amongst Sikhs who are isolated in communities that have little or no exposure to Sikhs (or sometimes anything outside of that particular community) but also in communities with large numbers of Sikhs.

It seems that at least in New Jersey, the increasing number of Sikhs along with recent media exposure is alleviating at least one of the reasons that kids decide not to keep the Sikh roop.

Despite the recent brutal harassment of a high schooler in New Jersey which made international (Indian) news, some Sikhs in Jersey feel that awareness of Sikhs is growing. The media campaign after the incident has also probably contributed to increasing awareness in the area.

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Representation and Reality

Apparently the police have arrested over 70 Sikhs in Mumbai for vandalizing MTV’s headquarters there. The reason for the protest and vandalism? Apparently MTV’s poster promos featured a sardarni massaging a man, which they found offensive to the faith community and its principles.

Now, I typically do not advocate vandalism or violence as a means of protest, but I think this incident brings up a larger issue around representation, especially for minority communities. Is it possible that there is a Sikh girl, somewhere, who is a masseuse? Probably. However, the issue at hand is whether or not such a representation is offensive to the teachings of Sikhi (I have not seen the poster, so I can’t comment on how salacious it is), and if so, what an appropriate response would be.

Like many other minority communities, Sikhs face a unique task in trying to combat stereotypical and lampooned representations in the media while dealing honestly with the diversity of experiences and viewpoints within the broader faith community. This event, while very different, reminded me of the gurdwara incident in the UK a few years ago. Many feel that it is dangerous to “indulge” negative representations because they tend to produce new stereotypes or to violate the ethic core of the community (a good example of stereotypical Sikh representations would be the buffoon/drunkard or villain/nemesis in Bollywood films). So, if this poster was offensive, how should the community have dealt with the issue? I don’t know if they had tried other tactics (e.g., letter writing, phone calls, non-violent protest), but then again, it’s not hard for a non-violent protest to turn to vandalism or other outward action.

In the U.S., SMART (now SALDEF) originally started as an organization to combat misleading and incorrect stereotypes in American media. The Mumbai case is different on many fundamental levels: Sikhs are a much larger and much more visible minority in India, there is less of an “excuse” for ignorance on the part of national media networks (or international, in this case). However, it doesn’t seem like there’s a great mechanism for dealing with incidences like this.

How can Sikhs work to balance negative representations against the reality of community issues without recasting themselves as another stereotype or caricature?


Happiest place on earth? Not for Sikhs

For a place that makes money off turban-wearing and multicultural disney characters, it seems a little ironic that a turban-wearing employee of Walt Disney would be fired for not having the “Disney look.” Uhh what?

This story has been getting a lot of press lately (so for the two of you who haven’t heard) Sukhbir Channa applied for a job (as a trumpet player) with Disney in September 2006 but was told that he couldn’t be hired unless he removed his religiously-mandated turban. He was told that he did not conform with Disney’s grooming and dress requirements known as the “Disney Look.” (Okay, but Aladdin does?) Our friend over at SikhSwim makes a good point,

On my last visit to Disney World, little kids, when they saw me, would say, Hey look, its Aladdin! So I think Disneys position has no basis. I think Sikhs have the Disney look if average people confuse us for some of the popular Disney characters! [link]

SALDEF has stepped in to help Channa with his lawsuit,

“Disney’s position is fundamentally un-American because it forces Sikhs and also observant Jews and Muslims to sacrifice religious freedom in order to pursue their career goals,” said SALDEF Chairman Manjit Singh. “It is also hypocritical for Disney to make millions of dollars promoting cartoon characters that wear turbans and simultaneously reject the right of an employee to wear a turban in accordance with his faith.” [link]

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in music, Channa just completed a nine-month U.S. tour with the Broadway show Annie. We’ll update you as soon as we hear more about this story. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on this and am I the only one impressed that we know a Sikh trumpeter?!


Aaloo Revolution

Revolutions come in strange shapes. Sometimes ‘French,’ sometimes ‘Islamic,’ other times ‘American,’ and maybe even ‘Russian.’ Closer to us, they may even be ‘Sikh.’ However, they may even be in the form of a carbohydrate.aaloo_Sikh

During the 16th century, an expansionist Spain accidentally found itself in the ‘New(?) World.’ Armed with firearms, but mainly syphilis, the Conquistadors devastated a continent and saw the near annihilation of the native people. Along with the silver wealth brought back to Europe came the potato.

While the history of the potato is a famous story in its own right, the potentiality of the potato is becoming more impressive for a number of different policy makers. Recently the world stage is beginning to forecast a food crisis in the making. Those of us that keep an eye on Punjab and the rest of the world should begin paying more attention to the growing ‘food crisis.’ With an expanding world population and increasing consumption, some experts are predicting increasing global insecurity. An agrarian-sensitive Punjab would feel the repercussions of such insecurity manifold.

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Baeke Vekh Jawana…

BobbyGrewal.jpg 72 year old Balwant (“Bobby“) Singh Grewal is walking 500 miles (800 km) from the Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh to the House of Parliament in London in five weeks. He began on June 5th and is scheduled to finish on July 9th. He is raising 100 million pounds for cancer research. (If you can’t tell by the bolded format, I’m rather impressed by this feat.)

Grewal is undertaking the walk to raise one million pounds for research into bowel cancer and other bowel diseases at St Mark’s Hospital, Harrow, a hospital unique in the U.K. [link]

This isn’t the first time Bobby Grewal has walked to raise large sums of money for medical research.

In 2001, he ran the London Marathon in just over five hours, and in 2004-5 (aged 68), he completed a walk covering 2,500 miles across India from the North-West frontier to the deep South…The walk raised 100,000 pounds for research into cancer and AIDS. [link]

Do you think Bobby Grewal is in the same class as the legendary Fauja Singh?


Leadership Training by Sikh RI

Few programs exist that provide an in-depth study of Sikhi. Fewer exist in the United States. While there are other ventures, such as the Jakara Movement that attempt to allow entry and inspiration, Sikh Research Institute’s (San Antonio, TX) Sidak provides

distinctive learning program for young adults seeking to increase their commitment towards the Sikh faith. This intensive two-week educational experience is a unique program consisting of instructional seminars on various facets of bani (scripture), tvarikh (history), and rahit (discipline). Sessions on leadership development and community building also serve as key foundations for Sidak. [link]

From Harinder Singh‘s esteemed pedagogy, to various learned guest-speakers, and the culmination in a final project, Sidak is an amazing educational and spiritual experience. This year Sidak is being held on 13 26 July, 2008. For more information visit www.sikhri.org

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Panjab’s Got Talent

So this week, I blogged about two unfortunate murders in the community. Maybe as a release, maybe just to cheer everyone up for the weekend, I am returning to my Friday lite post.

We’ve seen the talent in Britain, with Suleman Mirza and Madhu Singh together as Signature. And as brilliant as they may be, I have a partiality towards Sardool Sikandar.

Sardool Sikandar is often known more for his marriage to the beautiful Amar Noorie than for his own singing talent. However, hits like Tor Punjaban Di and Mittran Nu Margiya still remain some of my favorites.

Here is a recording from the mid 1980s at Doordarshan’s Amritsar studios. It was this performance that launched the Sufiana classically-trained Sikandar’s career. Here he does various impressions of Mohammad Siddique and Ranjit Kaur’s classic “Aagay Roadways di lari, na koi sheesha na koi bari….

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While I am partial to his amazing Kuldip Manak and Yamla Jatt, do you have a favorite?


Try a bike

Adding onto prior posts concerned about the environment, it’s interesting that the Transport Minister of Punjab made a statement today by riding his bike to work.parrot_on_a_bike.jpg

In a rare display of a public official and a cabinet minister and that too the transport minister of a state at its austere best, Master Mohan Lal, Transport Minister of Punjab on Thursday chose a rather conventional mode of transportation to reach his office at Civil Secretariat, here… Master rode a bicycle from his official residence in Sector 39 to attend his office. [link]

His one day bicycle ride was in response to increasing oil prices. Like Earth Hour, statements such as these are beneficial, but ultimately ineffective unless backed up by real, sustained efforts to change peoples’ actions on a daily basis. So – great statement Mohan Lal ji, but is it just a show?


UPDATE: Tragedy in New Zealand Sikh Community

The police have apprehended two suspects and are charging them with the killing of Navtej Singh. The police are still searching for additional suspects and accomplices.

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Many of our friends and family own small businesses. Whether gas stations or convenience stores, the hours are long and the risks are high. Few of us would probably not be aware of some friends or family that have not had some circumstance occur while working.navtej.jpg

In Auckland, the New Zealand Sikh community suffered a tragedy with the killing of 30 year old, Navtej Singh, a father of three children all under 5 years of age.

Almost as disturbing as the cold-blooded murderers, who stole fifteen bottles of beer and a few dollars, was a callous customer that stole a box of alcopops as the victim lay in his blood.

The 12,000 member Sikh community in New Zealand is an established community with five gurdwaras and are asking questions. There is some division as to whether these crimes have a racial motivation or are crimes of opportunity:

“What is happening in South Auckland?” asked Sandeep Verma, who was with Navtej Singh when he was shot, and when he later died in hospital.

“All the people from the Indian community, whether they are Fiji Indians, Indians, Punjabis, Gujaratis; only those people are the main target.

“What are the police doing for the security of our people?” [link]

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New Theater Play about 1984 Sikh Genocide

A recent play seems to have caught my attention. I provide the description here in length:

dangalnama.jpgDangalnama is a gripping account of sectarian rioting in India since the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. It is also the story of a younger generation making sense of their history.

Through the voices and personal testimonies of Indian journalists, students, artists and politicians, director Prasad Vanarase presents survival stories, which shed light on the current social, economic and political climate in India today and the wide disparity between the poor-rural and modern-urban population. Performed in five languages (Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, English and Kannada), this eye-opening and satirical take on Indians recent past also looks forward to a more unified future.

Dangalnama boasts a cast of 14 drawn from across India. Using satire and comedy, Dangalnama shows us the human side of Indias complex and often hidden issues in this powerful 90min production followed by a lively 30min discussion with the cast and director. [link]

Dangalnama A Flame Production directed by Prasad Vanarase
A Lift commission / UK Premiere
Fri 13 – Wed 18 June 13, 14, 15, 16, 17: 7.30pm – 9.30pm
15, 18: 2.00pm – 4.00pm

An immediate observation leaps out at me from the description. It is striking though that the play in being performed in five languages, yet the main language of the victims of the genocide, Punjabi, is left out. I wonder why?

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UPDATE: Signature’s Finale

In a day of updates, I figured I should update this one as well.

Although losing out on the 100,000 pound grand prize, the dynamic duo of Suleman Mirza and Madhu Singh have been invited by Michael Jackson to join him on his comeback tour in the UK. The newspaper report is a bit ambiguous suggesting that Signature may also perform with MJ in Las Vegas as well. Amazing job fellas! I am sure they are on cloud 9.

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We’ve been following Signature over the last few months. From their audition appearance, to their semi-final Thriller, to even an interview with me highlighting their place in British Bhangra, before we all suffer from Signature overkill here is Suleman Mirza (often misspelled as Suleiman ) and Madhu Singh’s final performance.

Our dynamic Muslim and Sikh duo finished second on Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) to the dancing talent of George Sampson. While I was hoping for a “Beat It” performance, Madhu’s busy work schedule at PC World may not have allowed him to come up with a new routine. They stuck to their bread and butter of Tigerstyle’s Nachna Onda Nahin. A fine performance fellas. You even got Simon Cowell and the rest of the dorky judges to dance in their chairs.

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UPDATE: Navraj Bassi – Sikh CFL Football Player

Since the Sikh community first learned about Navraj (Nuvraj) Singh Bassi, many on the internet have rushed to create facebook groups, orkut groups, and other fan displays.bassi_camp.jpg I think the CFL in general, but the SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS, in particular, will see a new group of excited fans.

Many have wondered about Nuvraj Singh Bassi’s status and luckily here in The Langar Hall, we have made friends with some great Roughrider fans, including Behaving Bradley, photographer Downtown Aaron Brown, Giventofly (GTF), and others on the Roughrider Fan Forums.

So from what I gather, Navraj is still a ‘raw’ player, but many are excited about the player he may become. He seems to have suffered a foot injury, but is still in attendance at training camp. We hope him a speedy recovery and the Roughriders a great season! We’ll try to keep you updated with the help of Behaving Bradley and others from the forum!

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A long time ago, my fellow Langa(w)r-iter, posed the question:

Can a kesdari Sikh man excel at high levels of athletic competition in the U.S. and practice his faith? [link]

Back then she was introducing us to Darsh Singh, Trinity University’s keshadhari (turbaned) Sikh starter and co-captain.

Today, I introduce you to Navraj Singh Bassi.

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Sad and Disturbing

In Ceres, California an 86 year old Sikh bibiji, Jagir Kaur Johal, was found stabbed to death in her home. The Modesto Bee reports:jagir.jpg

She died as a result of loss of blood from a stab wound to the chest and multiple slash wounds to the face, arms and legs, the Stanislaus County coroners office said.

Authorities said today the womans husband, 85-year-old Piara Johal, likely will be arrested.

Johal had a knife wound on his hand. The man was “suffering from some kind of confusion. He’s not sure what happened,” McKay said. “He acted as if he didn’t know of her injuries.”

This is a hard case, McKay said. Hes old. Hes feeble. We dont even know he if knows what he did — if he did it. [link]

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Is there such a thing as Sikh banking?

I had a long and interesting conversation with a friend of mine this weekend on different attitudes towards finance and charity between different world religions. We noted that both Judaism and Sikhi require a 10% charitable contribution, in addition to service, which has no upper or lower bound and serves a different purpose. This dovetailed with a conversation I had with a few friends, including one who is an Islamic banker in Dubai, about religious concepts of usury, interest, and charity.

For many low-income and poor communities, asset/wealth creation is a major hurdle, and access to financial/resource markets and services is non-existent. Although Sikhi has strong proscriptions against materialism, greed (moh), and attachment (maya), it also has a redistributive element. While simplicity is embraced, wealth is not necessarily wholly eschewed (if earned honestly and put to just uses).

If a financial institution were opened upon Sikh principles, what would it look like, to you? What kind of services would it offer, or how would it help address the structural exclusion of the poor? For example, I could imagine very low interest or no interest loans, but perhaps other infusions? In other time periods, Sikhs built free clinics and community schools. Khalsa College, on an endowment from one of its funders, still offers free college tuition to local residents (regardless of religion). What are the kinds of “assets,” beyond simply wealth, that could contribute to Sikh principles of economic justice? Do you feel such principles (i.e., economic justice) exist in Sikhi?


Punjabi Sikh Women And The City

3_girl_movies.jpgAbout a week ago, Sex And The City (SATC) hit theaters. Many may resist an association with the dating scene that the movie and show explored with the lives of Punjabi Sikh women, and wonder whether this is appropriate for The Langar Hall. But the stories and characters of SATC reflect broad ideas that apply to all women and since every woman I know has seen or is planning to see the movie, I’m curious about how these themes apply to Punjabi Sikh women in particular and how our experiences compare with other groups. This post does not promote anything portrayed in SATC, but instead explores the stereotypes in the characters and questions how our Punjabi-Sikh-ness affects how much of those stereotypes we embrace. First, what is SATC really about?

the three-girls-in-the-city movie… a cinematic staple since the 1920s, has been an unusually enduring and lucrative one, exploiting each succeeding era’s anxieties surrounding women’s changing roles and helping define those eras’ new ideas of modern life. In them, audiences can watch women negotiate and sometimes subvert the forces that limn and limit their choices. [link]

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UPDATE: Avoid the Late Fee! Jakara Sikh Youth Conference

Prices go up after Monday. Take a moment at work, take a quick break from your finals, but take it now! A commenter asked to for a meet-up at the conference. A few of the bloggers will be in attendance so come meet a few of the faces behind the nonsense we write! Register now at www.jakara.org

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From our discussions on dividing Gurdwaras to Green Gurdwaras; from confronting the demons within to forging a new consensus; from questions of grassroots movements to moving beyond generation two blues; all are invited to attend JAKARA 2008 and discuss face-to-face these important issues.

jakaraconf.jpgThe Jakara Movement Sikh youth conference is only three weeks away with registration closing on June 16th. REGISTER NOW to avoid late fees.

Who: YOU!
What: JAKARA 2008: Growing with our Gurdwara

Where: FRESNO, CA

When: June 19-22, 2008
Why: Because YOU need to be there. Visit the website for more information.

Yes I had urged all to attend in a different post, but consider this a friendly reminder.

Plan to attend, even if you just want to see life beyond bhangra or shoooooooooot, because you just want another Sikh T-shirt (no, you don’t get those ones).


Celebrating Triviality

WARNING: This is MY opinion and DOES NOT not represent anyone else on The Langar Hall. Hopefully, unlike Ennis, I won’t have to take this one down.

I am sure I am going to be labeled as a hater. I don’t care it must be said.

Scouring the news I came across a recent press release by the Sikh Council on Religion and Education. I almost feel even more embarrassed by highlighting it. SCORE, for the uninitiated, is a Sikh organizationrajwant.jpg based out of Washington DC. It is the child of Dr. Rajwant Singh, a Maryland-based dentist. He is definitely one of those guys that likes to ‘speak for Sikhs.’

Like many Sikh organizations, SCORE is a one-man show. Don’t believe me, check out the pictures on the website, you’ll find few without Dr. Rajwant Singh. He may be the most pictured Sikh-American. (Look to the right, I just added one more!)

Now I really don’t know what SCORE does, other than look for photo opportunities, but to Dr. Rajwant Singh’s credit, he has established relationships with many political figures in Washington DC and has ingratiated himself as the ‘Sikh’ representative in many interfaith functions and communities in DC. DC loves interfaith functions! That is a good thing. Sikhs should have a representative and in the meantime we have Dr. Rajwant Singh.

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