Unnatural Causes

PBS is currently running a fascinating documentary called Unnatural Causes which explores the racial and socioeconomic inequalities in health. Do we all have an equal chance for health? Is this inequality making us sicker? These are the questions that build the foundation for this seven-part documentary that looks at the root causes of health and illness and goes beyond popular conceptions linking health to medical care and explores evidence of more powerful determinants such as the social conditions in which we are born, live and work.

We spend more than twice the average rich country spends per person on medical care. Yet we have among the worst disease outcomes of any industrialized nation – and the greatest health inequities. At every step down the socio-economic ladder, African Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders often fare worse than their white counterparts. The unequal distribution of social conditions – and their health consequences – are not natural or inevitable. They are the result of choices that we as a community, as states, and as a nation have made, and can make differently. Our international health status has fallen radically in the last few decades. In 1980, we ranked 14th in life expectancy; by 2007, we had fallen to 29th. [Link]

One issue that is particularly interesting is how racism adversely impacts an individual’s and ultimately an entire community’s health. Researchers are circling in on a way to explain the presence of worse health outcomes amongminorities and suggest that the chronic stress of racism can be embedded in the body, taking a heavy toll on people of color. The researchers suggest that when you have a reaction to a situation in your life that makes you anxious or gets you stressed out, you not only have a psychological or emotional reaction but you also have a biological reaction. If that stress is chronic, over time it creates wear and tear on your body’s organs and systems and thus, causing illness. Another issue of interest is the fact that immigrants, who are often poorer, tend to be healthier than the average American. However, the longer they live here, the worse their relative health becomes, even as their economic status improves. Children of immigrants are particularly at risk for obesity, heart disease, and mental illness. The documentary explores what it is about new immigrant communities that shield people from poor health and how this protective shield erodes over time.

Both these issuesare relevant to thePunjabi Sikh community. It’s important to look at the social conditions as mentioned in this documentary to help us understand the high rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and mental illnessthat are impacting our community.

Unnatural Causes airs on PBS on Thursdays through April 17th.

On Neutrality and Justice

The New York Sun posted an editorial today that raises the question of neutrality and justice. Quoting from Federal Judge John Noonan in the famous case of Harpal Cheema, who was jailed for six years on suspicion of fundraising for the Khalistan Commando Force:

“Contrary to the government’s assertion, it is by no means self-evident that a person engaged in extra-territorial or resistance activities even militant activities is necessarily a threat to the security of the United States. One country’s terrorist can often be another country’s freedom-fighter.”

The New York Sun editorial calls for giving amnesty to two freedom fighters that fought/are fighting against communist regimes. General Vang Pao, is a hero to most Hmong-Americans, and maybe even known to our readers in Sacramento, Fresno, and other locales with high Hmong concentrations. General Pao is facing weapon charges for attempting to aid Hmong militants against the Laotian regime. The other, Cambodian-American Yasith Chhun, attempted something similar against the Cambodian government.

As the summer Olympics game approaches and we are repeatedly reading of continued Tibetan freedom protesters against the Chinese government. What should be the role of Tibetans in America? Should America (or fill in whatever country you are from) provide a space for dissenters to come together? For Irish-Americans, Jewish-Americans, South African-Americans, the American soil has always allowed this ground. Some chose organizations that were not violent, but many did not. What should be the limitations? Is it violence? However, even here it becomes murkier. In Harpals case, he didnt engage in any violence, but he did fundraise for certain groups. What is our barometer of justice? Should the American judicial system be wed to the existing nation-state set-up in the world? Or is the metric the relationship between the opposed state and the United States?

The Brave Kaur

A fellow blogger (thanks Jodha) sent me a link to an incredible new animated movie to be released across North America in May 2008. Sundri the movie, based on Bhai Vir Singh Ji’s masterpiece (and yes, my namesake), is the third animated Sikh movie released by Vismaad. Many of you may have seen the notable work they did with Sahibzadey and Rise of Khalsa. This movie looks similarly impressive:

YouTube Preview Image

The film salutes Sikh women and presents a piece of history which celebrates equality and respect. From the site,

Singhs ought to respect Kaurs.
Kaurs ought to live as true daughters of Guru Gobind Singh ji.

“Gender equality” may become a genuine practice than a mere rhetoric.

Continue Reading »

If You’re Punjabi and You Know it Clap Your Hands

Wishing all of you a great weekend. Although this is old, hopefully it will make you laugh….including some fellow bloggers that aren’t having a great day.

YouTube Preview Image

Unaccustomed Earth

For anyone in the D.C. area interested in Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing- she is on a book tour and will be speaking at Sixth & I on Wednesday, April 23 at 7 pm.

Tickets are available at Politics & Prose for $6 or you can buy the book for $25 and get 2 free tickets with it. Contact P & P at 202. 364. 1919.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories about the Indian-American diaspora vividly evoke both the ambivalence of the older generation appreciating their adopted nation, but feeling dislocated and the freedom of the younger generation, unfettered by their South Asian origins, except for parental expectations. Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for The Interpreter of Maladies, and her second novel, The Namesake, was adapted to a film in 2007.

A little more info: Lahiri’s new collection of stories (as well as her older works) elegantly capture the way we navigate dual cultures.

Assimilation, in Lahiri’s fiction, is about coming to terms with disorientation. It is about not fitting in or settling down, not starting over from scratch and freely forging a new identity or destiny. Her characters balance precariously between two worldsnot just Asian and Western, but inner and outer…

Continue Reading »

My Daughter the Terrorist

The question is poignant: What makes anyone want to blow themselves up for a cause?

As the discussion of violence has manifested itself a number of times on this young blog, I read with interest discussions of this documentary, My Daughter the Terrorist. As most discussions on political violence are the tales of men or women-victims, often using the language of chest-beating and revenge or human rights and dignity, this documentary seems to focus on a different tale. From its own webpage it states:

In this intimate and personal portrait we join two young female elite soldiers trained for the ultimate mission. We share their childhood experiences, their dreams and their families loss. Left behind are the mothers. [Emphasis added]

YouTube Preview Image

Continue Reading »

Creating Your Own Path

How many of you have ever heard the following words from your parents, “Become a Doctor, (feel free to interchange with Lawyer or Engineer for the same effect)!”?weirdo.jpg

Our generation is definitely starting to see the freedom to pursue career paths that are unconventional to our parents’ or their parents’ generation. When you realize you will ultimately be doing the same job for the rest of your life, you begin to think about what you’re most “passionate” about. Many parents are coming around to the idea that there are many lucrative fields of work for their children to pursue and which they are “passionate” about.

Last week I heard journalist Lisa Ling say that she is often asked to speak at college graduations, and the one thing she feels a lot of students are doing is studying for a career, rather than studying to become a well-rounded person and allowing the career to find you.

Many of us are told to pursue a “stable” career first, and do your “hobby” on the side. Although patterns have shown that Sikhs are probably one of the most entrepreneurial group of people in the world. Our ancestors before us have shown how perseverance of a dream can become a reality. Many of our parents’ generation came to the West with a few dollars, or pounds, in their pocket to begin their new life- and live the American Dream.

Continue Reading »

“Volunteering Is Good For The Soul”

Shifting focus from the hoopla surrounding this year’s Surrey’s Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan, I found just a nice piece highlighting one Sikh Granthi’s service. While we often comment onGiani_Narinder_Singh_20080330.jpg those granthis that are corrupt, perverse, and all kinds of bad adjectives that I could list, I still believe that this is the exception not the rule. Unfortunately, their actions have maligned many. Here is Surrey’s Granthi Narinder Singh that is letting his actions at the local hospital speak:

The elderly lady with the long grey hair was furious. The stroke that had confined her to a wheelchair and restricted her ability to move had also left her unable to speak. But her eyes were flashing with indignation and she was clearly greatly offended about something. She kept pointing at her chest.

Singh, who regularly visited the hospital to conduct religious services for Sikh patients, had forged a friendly relationship with the dignified older woman, evolving an improvised sign language to communicate.

She would even let him comb her hair, something she refused to permit the nurses to do. He could see the problem right away. Someone, probably a well-meaning nurse, had buttoned up the ladys sweater for her, but got the buttons in the wrong order. Her garb was crooked and she didnt have enough mobility in her hands to fix it. Singh re-buttoned the sweater properly. She smiled, threw her arms wide and hugged him.

Continue Reading »

Awarding Interfaith Dialogue

On March 24th, His holiness the 14th Dalia Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was named the first recipient of the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize, awarded by Hofstra University.

dalai_lama_2.jpgThe $50,000 prize, which recognizes efforts at interfaith dialogue, will be presented to His Holiness on November 18, 2008 in India by a delegation including Hofstra officials, the family of Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra, which established the prize at Hofstra, and former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, a member of the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize Honorary Committee. The Dalai Lama has agreed to visit Hofstra in the near future.

The Prize:

The biennial prize for $50,000 was established at Hofstra University in 2006 by the family of Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra to encourage and award organizations and people who strive to increase dialogue amongst people of different faiths and understanding. A chair of Sikh Studies, the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair, named after the family’s matriarch was also established at the same time.

As the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak taught that we discover our oneness with humanity by exploring the differences that separate us. The Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize recognizes and supports the efforts of those individuals and organizations who work to advance that vision.

Continue Reading »

Murder of Elderly Punjabi Sikh Man: Rethinking Elderly Care In The Diaspora

Recently there was a news report of an elderly 70-year old Punjabi Sikh man, Pargat Singh Kahlon, who was found decapitated in Alberta, Canada. His right hand was also damaged, according to Police, in an effort to prevent identification based on tattoosmug.jpg commonly seen on elderly Punjabi Sikh men and women.

Police say they believe Kahlon was slain because there was a high level of physical violence visible on his remains.

Kahlon had moved from Vancouver to Calgary and was currently living at a Sikh Society Center. Last time, anyone saw him was when [he] got a ride to the bank.

Apparently, like many elderly parents in Canada/U.S. with children left behind in India, he was providing his sons with financial help.

“He had to send money to one of his sons in India. He went to the bank in the northeast and from there he withdrew $2,500,” Aujla told reporters.

He wasn’t seen again.

Police are still investigating the crime to discover a motive for the killing and possible suspects. Does anyone have recent updates on the case?

Khalons death also made me reflect on the need for us to rethink elderly care in the Diaspora based on the varied circumstances and needs of elderly Punjabi Sikhs. For example, different waves of South Asian immigration to North America has created an elderly Punjabi Sikh community that has raised 1.5, 2nd and 3rd generation children in the Diaspora; while many elderly men and women have recently immigrated to the United States/Canada with financial and moral responsibilities to support and resettle children still in Punjab. How do these issues influence elderly care in the form of day-centers, nursing homes, and in-home assistance for our community?

The Rights of Punjabi Farmworkers

In the past few months, New America Media has reported on the treatment and exploitation of Punjabi farmworkers and the cultural isolation they are experiencing. This is not a new issue nor is it unique to Punjabi farmworkers, but it is a growing trend that is beginning to be addressed by workers’ rights organizations. One of the most recent articles by NAM speaks about the exploitation of farmworkers who are here on temporary visas.

yubaupdate_1130.gifIn California’s rural Central Valley farmland, there are rumors that American farmers of Indian origin are, in an ironic twist, also abusing the temporary work visa program. In 2005, the case against a prominent Yuba City, Calif. grower, Harbans Bath, was settled in favor of his workers. He had been accused of housing hundreds of temporary workers, including some of his own relatives, in trailers, pesticide storage sheds and other structures that didn’t meet housing safety and health standards. According to Lee Pliscou, a lead attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance, the workers weren’t provided with food – instead, they were made to eat the crops they picked. They were also told that they wouldn’t be paid until the end of the harvest season. The workers from the Indian state of Punjab readily accepted this condition, since that is how payment has often worked on Punjabi farms.

An interesting statistic suggests that while South Asian growers account for less than one percent of the farmers in California, records show that they have been the targets of five percent of civil actions. Related to labor violations, Punjabi farmworkers are also experiencing cultural isolation that is adversely impacting their health. California governmental agencies that are responsible for protecting the rights of farm workers do not have Punjabi-speaking outreach workers. Many farm-working Punjabis often endure hazardous conditions, substandard pay, and little or no access to health care. Indian American growers in California have paid more than $15,000 in field violation fines to county agricultural commissioners in the past two years.

Continue Reading »

UPDATE: Who is this Child?

In an interesting twist an Indian Bihari family is claiming that the 9-years-old Gurrinder isSingh360_307115a.jpg really their kidnapped son 6-years-old Shintu Kumar, who was kidnapped on March 3rd of this year.

The mother has stated:

“We saw his photo too [on TV]… I know my child.”

The Bihari police have stated that a DNA test will need to be conducted before proceeding further. The family was able to move immediately as the mother is related to a prominent Bihari legislator. Officials in England have been notified. Our thoughts are with the child and hope that he is being taken care of and that he may be reunited with his proper family soon. More as it become available….


Although there may be more pressing global news, especially as the morning newspapers report about the 4,000th death of an American soldier, along with the soon approaching 90,000 projected Iraqi civilian deaths, in the last six years in Iraq, I start the week with a question that is being asked by the Sikh community in Southall (London, UK). Who is this child?

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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]:

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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!

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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?

Continue Reading »

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….

Page 59 of 65« First...102030...5758596061...Last »