Harambee and Daswand

Right after I graduated college, I moved to semi-rural Kenya. I had heard that there was a historic desi/Sikh population, so I looked for the nearest gurdwara. I found it two hours away on Temple Road in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city and the cultural capital of Luo-land.

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara is pleasant with a diverse sangat, but even more exciting was the building across the street — the “Guru Nanak Harambee Dispensary Center.” The dispensary center is as big, if not bigger, than the gurdwara itself. I found it refreshing that the gurdwara not only serves langar each day, but it has devoted equal resources to (re)distributing aid.

It’s hard to give a good translation of “harambee,” but it reflects a community coming together to do good work. If I had to distill it into keywords, I’d pick unity, mobilization, and empowerment. These concepts reminded me of our earlier conversation on daswand. In Kenya, harambee is a means of reaching across differences in wealth, tribal ancestry, gender, and profession. I believe that daswand, paired with seva, attempts to build community in similar ways.

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Update: The Flying Sardar?

sikhhelmet.jpgUPDATE: Canadian courts ruled against Baljinder Singh’s request for a religious exemption to its mandatory motorcycle helmet law. While the court found that the law DID violate his right to religious freedom, they felt that the net benefit to the country’s healthcare system justified such an infringement [Globe & Mail]. The court also argues that failure to wear a helmet raises the potential for emotional risk and trauma should Mr. Singh — and other Sikhs — suffer injury in a collision. I found the last point a little weird; was the court attempting to avoid civil suits against it for negligence or some other such duress (lawyer-readers, can you help me out here)? Mr. Singh will be appealing the Ontario decision.


We saw this story last week, but I wanted to comment on the recent coverage of a kesdari Sikh who challenged Ontario’s motorcycle helmet statute under grounds that it is unfairly applied to turban-wearing Sikhs [cite 1, cite 2]:

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Beyond Empire, A Thousand Kosovos Now

Throughout the world, the reverberations of Kosovos independence are still being felt. A number of nations have continued to recognize the new country, the latest including Canada. freedom.jpgThe issue of self-determination was raised earlier and I want to return to it for this brief post.

The word balkanization has entered out vocabulary. Although first coming about with the fall of Titos regime, it has come to mean different ethnic groups breaking into smaller ‘ineffectual’ regimes. The word has an extreme negative denotation [check out the dictionary.com definition]. No longer quite relevant in Europe, it flows East to look at remnant Empires — maybe China and India. These two states are much larger than any existing nation-state. They are imperial remnants from a bygone age.

With Kosovos declaration of independence, commentators from China and India have been quick to reply. Indian newspapers are full of headlines such as Kosovos declaration places India in a quandary and Why India must oppose Kosovos independence. Newspapers in China are little different. The current situation in Tibet China, may be read in light of what has occurred in Kosovo and the international spotlight with the upcoming Olympic Games.

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Towards an American Sikh collective

collective.htmBloggers have discussed past achievements in the Sikh community and ideas for future efforts in collective action. But we haven’t yet really talked about what this collectivism is, where the contrasting individualism stems from, and what both entail.

Whats the difference between an individualist and a collectivist psychology? Collectivists emphasize group harmony and duties to the group over their individual, personal goals. They emphasize cooperation, respectfulness, and loyalty. Collectivists tend to communicate in spirals, taking a scenic route to tell a story and generally avoid conflict because it disrupts group harmony. In contrast, individualists value personal freedom, self-reliance, competition, and personal achievement over anyone else’s. Individualists see conflict as a positive opportunity for change and prefer to address it directly. Strong individualists like many Americans are rigidly linear in their communication.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced spiral communication. Think of your dadaji telling a story in a way that incorporates the broad history of the era, and every group in the village, maybe even details like the type of birds that were flying through the air at that moment in time. He will get to the pointof the story in a winding, colorful manner.

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The Art of Giving

Last weeks Fortune magazine named Apple the most admired company. Being a fan of Apples innovative products for some time, I read the article with pride. The article was very interesting and talked a great deal about Steve Jobs and his struggles to get where he is today. bxp67488.jpgHowever, there was one thing I learned from the article that disappointed me, and that was the fact that Apple is one of the least philanthropic companies in the world. On the other hand, Bill Gates company Microsoft may have been 16th on this list, but they are considered one of the most philanthropic companies globally. This article facilitated some personal thought to my own quest in giving enough back to the community, and what the importance of charity is in our Sikhi. Wand kay shako is one of the three main concepts of Sikhi, which encourages Sikhs to share their earnings with those less fortunate than ourselves. Guru ka Langar is a way in which we distribute this concept in the Gurdwaras. Dasvandh is donating a tenth of our earnings. It’s interesting that there are many religions that uphold the concept that “a tenth” of your income should be donated to charity in some form.

Although I know that other religions are strict in making sure this donation is made on an annual level, I am not sure whether we are as philanthropic? How much are you as families donating to the cause of Wand kay Shako? We are lucky to be a part of a religion that is so progressive and way ahead of the times. There is even more we can do to be more involved in the concept of “giving back”, because there are a growing number of organizations that are allowing us to contribute our “dasvandh” for a great cause – such as Sikhcess, Sikh Coalition, Sikhnet, and Sikh Giving. Many of these organizations have been started by our generation, which shows we truly are a generation of change and a generation of humanity!

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NRI Women and Grooms-For-Money-And-Visas: What is Going On In Punjab And Abroad?

Recently on “The Langar Hall” there has been discussion about “Runaway Grooms” who with their immigration status abroad marry women from Punjab, only to abandon them after receiving the dowry. Along with being deserted by their husbands, these womens dreams of going abroad are also shattered. These dreams were generally a primary reason many of the women were married to these men. Hasit Shah writes in his BBC news article,

“You can see it around you. There is a lot of foreign money in this city [Jalandhar]. The NRIs have been coming back and building huge houses and flaunting their success. The locals see this and want a better life for their daughters, but when the husband is unscrupulous, the women’s lives are ruined.”

Many Punjabi men in Punjab/India are also tremendously influenced by this wealth and have dreams of going abroad (a lot of it has to do with lack of job/economic opportunities in Punjab). NRI womens green cards and citizenship status become routes for gaining permanent residency abroad. Interestingly, it is the unscrupulousness behavior of husbands and gendered power dynamics prevalent in Runaway Groom situations that translate into the predicaments faced by a growing number of NRI women who are also manipulated and abused by their Punjabi Sikh husbands from Punjab/India. Their husbands were not interested in a marriage … they really only wanted the money and permanent residency abroad. I completely agree that this is not the outcome of all NRI and non-NRI marriages. Many couples are very happy. Yes, I acknowledge that the circumstances are different for NRI and non-NRI women based on the power hierarchy between the US and Punjab, which influence the choices these women make. However, with these issues aside, in this post I would like to focus on the similarity of situations between NRI and non-NRI Punjabi Sikh women and highlight the unique circumstances of NRI women.

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Generation 2 Blues

Last week, an article appeared in the Toronto Star by a young university student, Jasmeet Sidhu. In the article Jasmeet discusses her [is this gender assumptions or what, the name given is only Jasmeet Sidhu and nowhere in the article does it state whether she is male or female, but I am assuming female based on her music tastes]liberation.jpg problems with living the life of a “bicultural suburban teen.” Now this topic is hardly new to the The Langar Hall. In fact in some ways, it has been discussed here in various manifestations many many many times.

Jasmeet’s case seems to follow a similar story. Tired of the what she feels is the hypocrisy of her own community, she is attracted by the lures of greater Canadian society. [An interesting assumption here is that Punjabi-Canadian society can never be considered 'Canadian' despite the huge presence, influence, and cross-cultural encounters that have spanned for more than a century.]

For Jasmeet and for many others, the world seems only binaries:

Bhangra or Rihanna? Arranged or “love” marriages?

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Another Sikh Wedding Act?

Too often in the diaspora, Sikhs are discouraged from becoming involved with the politics of their homeland. While on certain occasions I have been critical of special ‘entitlements‘ and malicious effects the diaspora has had on the Punjabi homeland, sometimes ourwed46.jpg political workings can bring about great effects.

In an earlier post, I had mentioned what I believed to be the Top 5 Sikh Successes of 2007. At #2 I mentioned the Pakistani Sikh Anand Marriage Act. This certainly has been a long demand from the community. In fact it was due to the nullification of the Anand Marriage Act of 1909 and the lumping of Sikhs as “Hindus” in the Indian Constitution that Sikh representatives refused to ratify the constitution.

Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale often reminded Sikhs that if they believe they have an independent status within the Indian state, look no further than their marriage certificate that is signed under the Hindu Marriage Act and compare that to the separate status of the Muslim and Christian communities. The efforts of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and the American Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee led to the announcement last year that Pakistan will recognize and enact legislation recognizing the Anand Marriage Act.

It seems that this political pressure may mark dividends for Sikhs in Punjab. This week, the Indian Law and Justice Minister HR Bhardwaj stated that the government of India is planning to bring in a special marriage act for the Sikhs.

He said the Government has taken note of demands in this regard from various Sikh organisations and “there should not be a problem” in introducing such an act.

“We will bring it soon,” he said replying to supplementaries.

Reality? An empty promise? We’ll find out soon….

So How are Sikhs Passing Gas?

So yesterday I had to fill my car with gas. I never really pay attention to the price of gas until I get to the pump. Yikes!! Is it really $3.75?? And that is just for the 87 octane. I feel bad for the ‘ballers’ in our community that choose to drive expensive redundant SUVsgas.jpg and other vehicles that might come in handy should the apocalypse strike.

All over the media, we are hearing about the scary $4/gallon that is coming up. Most of these articles read the same. However, a recent article on the same subject in the Fresno Bee reminded me of another factor…we own these businesses.

Harry Dhaliwal, owner of the Olive Avenue Chevron, said he sympathizes with his customers, who are increasingly making smaller purchases of gas.

“It used to be people would spend $20, or $30, and now it’s more like $10 and $20,” Dhaliwal said. “The only people who fill up anymore are the people with the credit cards. What does that tell you?”

So let’s here our take. Are you driving less? Are you considering to join the hybrid craze? If you own a gas station, what has been the effect on your family? At least from the Fresno Bee poll, people are not putting the blame on gas stations. So, will there still be too many Hummers in the Gurdwara parking lot on Sunday?

A costly error by the Ministry of Women and Child Development

renukha_chowdhury.jpgIndia’s Women and Child Development Minister, Renukha Chowdury recently unveiled an expensive initiative to combat sex selection in India.

India has launched a dramatic initiative to stop the widespread practice of poor families aborting female foetuses by offering cash incentives for them to give birth to the girls and then bring them up.

Families can expect to earn around 1,500 per girl under a government scheme announced this week.

In many parts of India, especially in remote and rural areas, male babies have long been the preferred child of expectant parents. Such is the perceived cost of marrying off a daughter and the contrasting anticipated benefits of having a male child that millions of daughters are often killed before they are born.

Unfortunately, the plan suffers from a giant blind spot. The economic incentives that are at the plan’s foundation assume that it is primarily families in poverty who abort female fetuses. The incentives offered ($3,000 over the course of 18 years) will only entice families who do not own multiple cars and take vacations to hill stations.

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Looking After Our Elders

Old_Sikh_man_with_stick.jpgA recent documentary on BBC Asian Network discusses the growing population of South Asians entering old age and the impact that is being felt on the middle generations who look after them. The documentary discusses the responsibilities second-generation Asians have to look after their elderly family members while balancing a career at the same time. The documentary illustrates the difficulties and sacrifices people make when looking after their parents/grandparents and the subsequent loss of dignity the elderly experience when suffering with illnesses and a loss of independence. I’m glad the documentary brought attention to an important issue that we have not readily addressed in our community.

0fdadb5e_1d75_401c_86ba_c75a28c6826d_c985edca_0858_4b28_88ef_92eca2810e85.webjpg.jpgHaving had recent personal experience with this issue, it is something I have thought about extensively. In our community, it is natural for children and grandchildren to take care of their parents or grandparents. It is an integral part of our culture and in fact, I think it creates a special bond between generations who are often pulled apart by language and culture. The documentary talks about the duty to look after our elders and the guilt individuals feel when they are faced with the decision to put their parents/grandparents in a nursing home. As one individual says,

I never thought I’d be speaking to meals on blooming wheels for my father… and having to resort to the [government] to take care of him.

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Simmering Sikhs

The Economic Times of India in its ‘Special Pages’ section last week carried an extended article titled Simmering Discontent: Sikhs in Punjab are fighting many wars.profile_1.jpg

The article sought to understand the ‘current and cross-currents’ of Punjabi society.

At the forefront were:

  1. The rise of the Dera-complex the article cites that over 10 Deras in Punjab currently have over 100,000 followers, the largest being Dera Sacha Sauda, but the actual number of smaller Deras is almost infinite, only limited by the number of actual villages in Punjab

  2. The burning issue of caste

  3. Rising unemployment and the stagnation of the Green Revolution economy

  4. Drug Addiction

While the journalist, Praveen Thampi is most interested in asserting his political point:

Punjab has burning issues to address. But the only people interested in revival of the Khalistan movement are the journalists coming down from Delhi.

Although quoting another journalist about this issue, Thampi falls into the same trap. Instead of finding solutions and proposals for these burning problems, Thampi wants to waive the ‘Khalistan’ boogeyman to sensationalize his news.

So using some of the information, Thampi uncovers I humbly submit some of my thoughts on these four problems and invite other readers to comment, disagree, and suggest their own.

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Beyond Bhangra

Once upon a time there circulated a stupid joke that the only culture of Sikhs was agriculture. Despite the stereotyping of yesteryears, for tooa6_1.jpg many the only associated culture to be promoted is bhangra (and sometimes giddha).

There is a growing legion that are seeking to promote Sikh arts, such as the classical kirtan tradition in Guru Granth Sahib’s ragas, visual expression (some examples were discussed on an earlier post), the art of gatka, and many more. However, still despite these and other efforts, when promoting to large audiences, we do bhangra.

With full transparency, I must admit I am not much of a fan of Bharatnatyam, but I completely agree with Bharatnatyam dancer Navtej Singh Johar‘s assertion that:

Punjabi culture is very rich and we are just not about giddha and bhangra. Our folk tales, Sufi music and poetry traverse boundaries.

Although I don’t agree with his elitist hierarchies of South Asian dance forms, I am intrigued by his production: Fanna: Ranjha Revisited.

So here is my question. What is life beyond bhangra? Whenever Sikh organizations have an opportunity to exhibit whether to Sikh crowds or non-Sikh crowds, what are other alternatives outside of bhangra (and gatka when certain measures don’t allow for it)? Any other thoughts or ideas?

A jago for landless laborers and more on Int. Women’s Day

Punjabis (at least in East Punjab) love to protest. The cause is usually grim, the consequences leave one hoping for more, but the spirit and energy behind the gathering leave one (at least this one) with a sense of contentedness in belonging to such a proactive community. In honor of International Women’s Day, women from various groups were found on the streets highlighting the problems they face.

int._women__s_day__amritsar.jpgIn Amritsar, a group of women burned an effigy in protest of the state and central government’s “anti-people” policies, according to The Tribune (I hope that journalists become a little more investigative soon- which “anti-people policies” did the burning effigy represent? We’ll never know. If only Mr. Vishal Kumar had bothered to ask a few follow up questions…)

In Nawanshahr, a Kavi Darbar and seminars were organized in honor of Int. Women’s Day where Punjabi poets read their works urging women’s empowerment. (Ironically, the poets were all male.)

Our neighbors to the West (in Lahore) noted that most efforts in their half of Punjab for Int. Women’s Day did nothing for the most vulnerable women- those struggling to survive. Expressing dissatisfaction, some women called the efforts of Ministers, NGOs, and government organizations “ploys to attract foreign donations.”

Perhaps the most interesting celebration of Int. Women’s Day was in Shahkot (Jalandhar area), where dalit women put a new twist on Jago, the traditional dance meaning “wake up” performed by women before a wedding. They ingeniously took out a Jago to highlight the sham free electricity that had been promised to landless laborers by politicians during election time. I would love to hear the boliyan they came up with for the occasion…

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From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come…From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all.
- Guru Nanak, Raag Aasaa Mehal 1, Page 473

w_missionaries.jpgToday is International Women’s Day, a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women. In celebration of this day, I wanted to take the time to recognize the contributions that women have made to Sikhi. Sikh history records the names of several of these women such as Mai Bhago, Mata Sundari, Rani Sahib Kaur, Rani Sada Kaur and Maharani Jind Kaur who played a leading role in the events of their time and left their imprint on our history. In the tumultuous decades of the eighteenth century when Sikhs went through fierce persecution, Sikh women displayed exemplary resoluteness. Their deeds of heroism and sacrifice are to this day recounted in our Ardas,

Those women who sacrificed for truth, suffering through hunger and pain at the hand of the enemy, but never gave up their faith and determination to live according to Sikh Dharma with all their hair to their last breath.” [Link]

While this post is brief, I hope it allows us to take a moment to revere the enormous contributions women have made to our history and the, often unrecognized, inspiration they provide to many of us today.

On a Lighter Note

While this week, in The Langar Hall we heard about ‘Boogeymen,’ Darsh Singh, and Going Green, I thought this old video might throw in some humor. Although old and produced by our siblings to the West, few other videos better depict Chachu and his headlights. Have a great weekend.

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Illegal Immigration and Entrepreneurship

In this election year, both during the primaries and presidential election campaigns, immigration policy is a hot issue. A lot of the debate on immigration reform centers around illegal immigrants/ion from drivers licenses to fences. Furthermore, this debate has created prototypical illegal immigrants in the United States as Latinos who are manual laborers on low wages, particularly during an election year when presidential candidates are trying to win the sizeable Latino vote. Therefore, they have created a narrative around illegal immigration that continually highlights this one aspect of the issue to the point where immigration reform has become the Latino Issue in the general eyes of the public (even though some presidential candidates are addressing some of the nuances). Understandably, Latino manual laborers are by-far the population in the United States most effected by immigration reform policies and need attention paid to their particular circumstances; however, by making it only the “Latino Issue” we are forgetting to address the nuances and complexity of illegal immigration in the United States, adding to the politics that continues to divide people of color and immigrants, and giving more ammunition to groups who continue to vilify illegal immigrants, particularly Latinos.

John Buchanan of The Washington Post recently tried to address some of the nuances of illegal immigration by writing,

Many illegal immigrants in the United States are manual laborers on low wages. But there’s another group that attracts much less attention: entrepreneurs who have set up businesses, created jobs and grown affluent.

These entrepreneurs come from, for example, India, Mexico, China, Taiwan, Israel and South Africa.

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Guru Manyo Granth

A few weeks ago, I attended a seminar at the Bradshaw Gurdwara (Sacramento) on the dasam granth. Although I was unfortunately unable to attend the entire conference, I was able to listen to Dr. Harpal Singh Pannu, Professor and Head of the Department of Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala. Dr. Pannu provides the intellectual content for those that argue of the authenticity of the entire dasam granth and I was delighted to be able to listen to his address.

ggs.jpgWhile the conference had a sizable attendance, I left the conference wondering. In this year that we will be celebrating the 300th Anniversary of the Gurgaddi of our everlasting Guru the Guru Granth Sahib and the Guru Khalsa Panth, why are we wasting time debating about the dasam granth? Where are the conferences about the Guru Granth Sahib?

Why are we dividing our community on the basis of another scripture? The brilliance of the framers of the Panthic Sikh Rehat Maryada becomes especially apparent.

The Panthic Sikh Rehat Maryada was a TRULY collective effort in the spirit of the Sarbat Khalsa. It took over 15 years of participation, collaboration, and discussion. The drafting of this document may in fact be one of the greatest Sikh historical movements in the post-Guru period. Although presented over 50 years ago, with the exception of the time-period’s gendered language, the document retains its brilliance. Hopefully we can be worthy of our ancestors and use the same process to update its language.

Over 70 organizations collaborated in the creation of the Panthic Rehat Maryada. Before the age of airplane travel, even the Sikhs in the United States (not to mention other Sikh communities in Burma, South East Asia, etc.) gave their opinion and weighed in. The Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan, Stockton (America) is a proud signatory to the Panthic Rehat Maryada.

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The Forgotten French?

francesikhs.jpgJust like Hurricane Katrina is no longer the hot topic at the dinner table for Americans it seems that the French Sikhs have been forgotten for the Sikhs. I will state the obvious that there are formal organizations that are supporting these Sikhs in their fight for the right to wear their turbans; however is the “issue” getting the widespread spotlight it did for a brief moment when the ban was first put in place? There is sympathy on a global perspective of the rights of the French Sikhs being violated; however I am more concerned with the affects on their day to day lives. How many Sikh boys are still not in school – or is this even the case? What about those that can’t get driver’s licenses or ID’s. Are there children that have been out of school for an extended period of time – are they now working? What about their futures? I can only speak for myself and those around me – our conversations, and concern is for the most part only around issues that have a direct impact on our lives. The latest TSA regulations are always of concern and something to gripe about – but how much do they really infringe on our lives? Are our futures limited by TSA regulations? Dare I say we are a selfish bunch that can’t look beyond our own backyards?

Beware of the ‘Boogeyman’ that is the BKI

The Broadcast Piece:

Last week Radio 4 on the BBC broadcasted a piece titled Sikh Terror – the UK Connection. The piece was produced by Amardeep Bassey as an investigation into possible terror links within the UK Sikh community. You can download the 40 minute report by clicking here.

bki.jpgDespite other bloggers believing that criticism of the piece by Bassey somehow emboldens the enemies, my feeling is that is as stupid as saying “Youre with us or with the terrorists.” However, those that cannot begin the process of internal discussion within the community are guilty of the same stupidity.

I have major problems with Basseys portrayal. To interview Ajay Sahni and claim him from the independent Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, the same organization that is headed by the Butcher of Punjab – KP Gill, flies in the face of all Sikhs. The praise that Gill receives in the Indian press and this omission in the BBC report only further insults those families that were devastated by state violence. Human rights groups such as the Khalra Action Committee, ENSAAF, and others are at the forefront of fighting for justice for the victims of state violence. To interview a member of an organization that is led by Gill, claim him as an independent authority, and not provide context about the charges raised by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about Gill is beyond an error of omission. It reeks of negligent white-washing.

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