Happy Vaisakhi!

In one of the rare years in which Vaisakhi falls on April 14th, I wanted to wish everyone a happy Vaisakhi! How did you/your family celebrate? Personally, I totally forgot until reminded by Ms. Phulkari, at which point I coerced my roommate into imitating a dhol while we both danced around. Having settled the cultural side of the day, I’m looking forward to next Sunday’s services.

Hope today found you in good health, and here’s to a fantastic new year!


A Thousand Words

While Fortune Magazine used this picture in a recent advertisement for Dow Chemical Company, I first saw this image on the premiere issue of a new magazine I subscribe to. The image, by world-renowned photographer Steve McCurry, was chosen for the cover of the first issue of NEED magazine, an independent publication dedicated solely to global and domestic humanitarian issues.

Steve McCurry is founder of ImagineAsia – an organization that helps children in rural Asian communities by addressing fundamental education and healthcare needs. The image, displaying Sikh children, was used to display (among other images) the pictorial state of education in Afghanistan. The education system in Afghanistan was virtually destroyed following successive wars and oppression by the Soviet Union and the Taliban. McCurry has been covering Afghanistan since before the Russian invasion in 1979. He has a unique and intimate knowledge of the country. He saw first-hand the turmoil of war and an entire generation of Afghans lose an opportunity to be educated. The result is a shattered country that ranks among the most illiterate in the world. [NEED Magazine]

Afghanistan’s children represent the country’s hopes for a better future, and education is the key to that future. The country’s new constitution makes education mandatory for children up to grade nine. This is a unique window of opportunity in Afghanistan’s history, a time when the need for education has been recognized and children are yearning to go to school. – Steve McCurry, Winter 2006 issue, NEED magazine.

You can order this issue (Winter 2006) of NEED magazine by viewing this website.


Another Take On Elderly Care

Desi Southpark to send you off to the weekend. For those of you easily offended…..dun vurry, he only joking you know, only joking yaar.

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Did you turn your lights off?

Recently, the Ontario Khalsa Darbar and the Punjabi Daily newspaper in Mississauga participated in Earth Hour to highlight the issue of climate change.

The Punjabi Daily newspaper from Mississauga has been urging its readers and Sikh
organizations to participate in EARTH HOUR. The Ontario Khalsa Darbar (Dixie Rd. Gurdwara Sahib-Sikh Place of Worship) has prepared for Earth Hour on March 29, a worldwide initiative launched by the WWF, the global conservation organization. It will be lights-off between 8 and 9 p.m. at the Gurdwara, where the hundreds gathered in the congregation will unite and use candles to pray for a cleaner and more peaceful world. “The Sikh Community has always taken a leadership role in protecting our environment. We are proud to participate in Earth Hour, which shows the Sikh communities commitment to protecting the environment, I encourage everyone to join in and turn off their lights for that one hour,” said Sukhminder Singh Hansra, of The Punjabi Daily, a Punjabi newspaper in Mississauga who urged the Sikh community join in using it’s editorials.

Earth Hour was a symbolic gesture to bring attention to the wastage of electricity and climate change. Though climate change is now almost universally accepted as a reality, its effects are often unclear. Some groups that had very little to do with contributing to its causes are already feeling the effects. Meet global warming’s first refugees (according to Sugata Hazra, the director of the School of Oceanography Studies at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University) in the Sundarbans:

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Multiculturalism: Canada’s Biggest Mistake?

This week the National Post launched a series about Canadas Biggest Mistakes. Written by different columnists, yesterdays big mistake was deficit spending. In todays installment of the top 5, columnist Barbara Kay sets her sights on multiculturalism.

I must admit I am not an avid reader of the National Post. In fact, I dont think I had ever even heard of it prior to this column. However, Wikipedia informs me that it is a voice for Canadian conservatives. A brief perusal of Kays biggest hits, including as “Hug the Earth, kill the humans, ” “Barack Obama’s selective silence on his racist pastor, Jeremiah Wright,” and “The College Campus: Anti-Semitism’s last North American Refuge and Taking Back the Campus” helps me situate her on a political spectrum. In America, we call her David Horowitz and Bill OReilly. Well, enough of that, let us try to engage the substance of her argument.

Kay doesnt mince her words on her stand:

Multiculturalism is Canadas greatest mistake, but if it is any consolation, it is every western countrys greatest mistake. And now some of them are paying a terrible price.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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]

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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?

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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.

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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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