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 “You’re 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 problem’s with Bassey’s 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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Where are Sikhs in the U.S. presidential campaigns?

Apparently everywhere! The Sikh News Network recently ran an analysis (imperfect stats, but interesting) on Sikh fundraising patterns in the current election. They claim that the “longtime affinity for Republicans” has been broken by Hillary Clinton [I’m not sure how prevalent that so-called “affinity” is for either party, but it is true that folks have funded Clinton heavily]:

According to data from the Federal Election Commission, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., led in Sikh contributions, receiving almost $248,000 through Jan. 31. That’s more than half of the total $412,000 from 241 donors. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was next with about $64,000. And among Republicans, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson led with $24,400… While Sikhs gave slightly more to President Bush than Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the last election, the contributions to Democratic candidates have surged this time.

The article goes on to highlight the leadership roles that Rajwant Singh (Chair of SCORE and Clinton-supporter) and Ravinder Singh (attorney and policy advisor for Obama) have in the Democratic campaigns. I’ve already disclosed my bias, but I’ve found this election season to be really inspiring. I may be plagiarizing Michelle Obama, but for the first time in my adult (voting) life I’ve felt compelled to really engage in the political process. I’ve been excited by the number of Sikhs and young people in general taking ownership in the elections. This engagement also helps build a small but growing voice for long-term political advocacy.

We know that Sikh engagement in politics is not entirely new, and there are certainly a number of Sikhs in elected office across local governments in the U.S. However, it seems like the nature, dynamic, and depth of Sikh involvement is growing by leaps and bounds.

  • What does this engagement mean for us as a community,
  • and how does it guide our work inside and outside of formal political bureaucracies?

Going Green in the Gurdwara

“Air is the Guru, Water the father, Earth the great mother.
Day and night, Male and female nurses, In whose lap the whole world plays.”

JAPJI SAHIB, Guru Granth Sahib (p.8)

greengurdwara.jpgWe as a community can do an enormous part in contributing to the preservation of our planet. Our Gurus were environmentalists, and looking at the values they gave us, we can see that we should be ahead of the game.

Some of us might be doing our small part each day: Maybe you recycle your newspaper after reading it or even better, subscribe to the news online; maybe you drink free-trade coffee and tea; or maybe you eat organic cereal and drink a healthy shake of organic fruits; or maybe you turn off the tap while you brush your teeth to save some water? These are all great steps! But there are some additional steps we can take as a community.

Our Gurdwaras are not the most environmentally friendly places, but that is due to our own responsibilities. That can change! If we start taking even one of the following steps, we can look forward to a greener Gurdwara in our future, and additionally teach the next generation about preservation and the importance of Seva.

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Introducing: Darsh Singh

Can a kesdari Sikh man excel at high levels of athletic competition in the U.S. and practice his faith? Just ask Darsh Singh, junior starter and co-captain of Trinity University’s basketball team:

Darsh Singh

This season, fans haven’t had to chant for Darsh – the team co-captain has appeared in every game, and every time he plays, he makes a statement. As a follower of the Sikh religion, Darsh speaks volumes by wearing a turban and allowing his beard to grow. In fact, it’s believed that he is the only turbaned Sikh to play in an NCAA basketball game.

Maybe you weren’t as impressed as I was by his exploits as a jock. Not to worry, beta is an active engineering student, making honors every year and working in a number of student organizations.

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Who Speaks for Sikh Americans? (Part 1 of 2)

While Sikhs have lived in the U.S. for over 100 years, our numbers have grown tremendously after 1960s immigration reform. With this increase in numbers, we’re beginning to see the first long-term interactions between waves of immigrants and within generations of immigrants. These shifts in demographics, in concert with growth in the population of U.S.-born Sikhs, have created a space in which we are re-visioning and exploring advocacy and expression on behalf of the Sikh community.

Among many U.S.-born and 1.5-generation Sikhs, this advocacy and participation has happened through the creation of new institutions. Sidestepping the process of sangat-based decision-making, a slew of new “community-focused” advocacy organizations have popped up. Many of the organizations we now think of as household names (SALDEF – formerly SMART, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, Ensaaf) were founded in the last 15 years. While these same organizations provide important legal advocacy tools, a lack of coordination between organizations, paired with a hesitancy to engage Sikh spiritual organizations, at best leads to confusion around a cohesive, unified Sikh voice/message. At its worst, this failure to work together leads to the creation of campaigns that often either duplicate efforts or undermine each others’ work.

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Silver for the Prince of Patiala

Although we have been following the story for some time, it seems Rohanpreet Singh, the Prince of Patiala, fell short in winning SaReGaMaPa’s Little Champ’s competition. Although winning the “North Zone” that includes Punjab as well as having a 200,000 margin in the ‘international voting’, receiving 3,847,176 put him far short of Assam’s Anamika Choudhury, who gained 4,482,738 votes.

Despite falling short of the prize, Rohanpreet won a place in the heart of Sikhdom (at least until the next competition)! So here is the hero of the moment’s homecoming in all of its stereotypical glory. Oh well I am also a sucker for it too….YouTube Preview Image

The Power of Nightmares

Recently, I watched a brilliant documentary called The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of Politics of Fear. Produced by the BBC, this documentary is 3 one-hour films comparing the rise of the American Neo-Con movement with the radical Islamists. It discusses certain parallel ideologies and the symbiotic relationship of the two that serves only to create fear and terror.

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So before you head out to watch Will Ferrell’s Semi-Pro, this movie deserves your time. Maybe less laughs, but I found it absolutely fascinating.

Although I saw it in a theatre, Youtube has the beginning clip and the entire movie can be streamed here.

Your thoughts?

Breakthrough for HIV+ women in Punjab: a self-help group

We’ve discussed AIDS in Punjab and its impact on women before. An impressive and inspiring update has since takenAids_virus.jpg place.

…a small group of HIV positive widows from rural Punjab has taken to a path that may prove to be a major initiative in making people living with HIV/AIDS self-reliant…

12 women in Anandpur Sahib have created a self-help group.

“We look at the formation of this self-help group as a rebirth. Our group wants to be financially self-reliant so that we can tell our relatives that we are no longer at the mercy or doles of relations for travel to a medical centres or to buy emergency drugs”, says Avtar Kaur, democratically elected president of the Bhai Ghania Self-Help Group.

The group is being assisted, interestingly, by Ambuja- a cement company responding to the alarming rates of infection of its truckers. The company has teamed up with the International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank, to “proactively prevent and manage HIV/AIDS from affecting the Ambuja communities in eight manufacturing locations of the company across India.”

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Dear Momma

sikh_mom.jpgThere are no words that can express how I feel
You never kept a secret, always stayed real
And I appreciate, how you raised me
And all the extra love that you gave me
I wish I could take the pain away
If you can make it through the night there’s a brighter day
Everything will be alright if ya hold on
It’s a struggle everyday, gotta roll on
And there’s no way I can pay you back
But my plan is to show you that I understand
You are appreciated
(2pac – “Dear Momma”)

While Sundari beat me to the punch, I submit a slightly differently emphasized take on the same story as well….

The historic bravery of Sikh mothers run deep. From our history (although possibly still not highlighted enough) to our family households, often we are in the company of greats. From Gurbani to Manak’s Maa Hundi Maa, celebration of these women is deeply ingrained. Here is another dedication, with an asterisk.

The timesonline published some promotional pieces about an upcoming book written by its Business columnist, Sathnam Sanghera. The book is his personal memoirs titled, If You Don’t Know Me By Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton.

Sathnam takes us into his world. A matriarchal family in a patriarchal society. His mother, a hardworking devout Sikh woman, makes ends meet and bravely survives and loves despite difficulties. Living with a schizophrenic and at-times abusive husband and again raising a schizophrenic daughter, Surjit Kaur is the heroine of Sathnam’s book.

Traditional and controlling as she is, Surjit comes out as the heroine of the book, an almost universal loving mother figure, who could equally be intensely Jewish, or Catholic. When Sanghera comes home, he admits, she still has his bath running, and sprinkles holy water in it. And even when she could not provide material things, even when mental illness put a shroud over their lives, she still gave her children a sense of worth.

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