If You Don’t Know Me By Now

When an author chooses to write a memoir, they take the risk of unveiling a plethora of secrets that otherwise (and perhaps preferably) would remain buried. And when that author is Punjabi Sikh, it is almost guaranteed that issues will be brought up that make people uncomfortable. Sanghera.jpg For our parents’ generation, secrets remain in the family and they are never discussed in public – we are raised to uphold the family izzat (honor). But at what cost do we remain quiet? A new memoir by Sathnam Sanghera, If You Don’t Know Me By Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhamptom, opens up the dialogue around being raised in a working-class Punjabi immigrant family and being a child living in a family paralyzed by schizophrenia. Some of these experiences can be felt universally throughout the Panjabi community and others are more personal, but what is clear is that there is a great need in our community to dialogue about these issues.

I clutched my schoolbag tightly as I walked along with Dad, as if my life and dignity depended on its contents (which, in a way, they did), mumbled the Japji Sahib, the beginning of the Guru Granth Sahib Mum had taught me, and watched Dad hum to himself – Hindi songs I didn’t recognise from Bollywood films I’d never seen – click his fingers to some beat I couldn’t hear, and smile, at people going past, at nothing in particular. [Link]

While I haven’t yet read the memoir (it is being released in March), several articles discuss his story at length. It wasn’t until he was in his twenties that Sanghera realized his father was a paranoid schizophrenic and his older sister also shared the condition. Intermingled within that tale is Sanghera’s own story of being a young Sikh boy growing up in Wolverhampton (one of the most densely populated Sikh communities in the UK).

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“Nanak Kheti”: Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Natural Farming In Punjab

Guru Nanak Dev Ji is admired and well-known for his travels, for example, across South Asia and the Middle East by foot in an effort to begin the development of Sikh theology through engagement with others of different faiths and belief-systems. gurunanakfarming.jpgEven though I have always had great admiration for his travels and their significance, I always wished people would also give more focus to how he lived his life as farmer after he gave-up his Gurdadhi. As we know, Sikhi is a way of life … so as a Sikh … how did he farm … why did he farm … what significance did it have for him as a Sikh?

Interestingly, there is a growing group of small farmers in Punjab who are taking up natural farming based on Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s teachings. These farmers have seen the destruction caused to the soil through chemical and mass farming resulting from the Green Revolution in Punjab. Umendra Dutt writes:

“There is a silent and constructive revolution happening in Punjab to save the environment, regenerate ecological resources bring back soil productivity and re-establish ecological balance in the farms. This is the natural farming movement of Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), a civil society action group headquartered in the Jaitu town of Faridkot district. The movement is led by experienced farmers who believe in Guru Nanak’s tenet of Sarbat da bhala (well being of all),” says Amarjeet Sharma, a farmer from Chaina village, district Faridkot who heads the village level Vatavaran Panchayat.”

Along with the concept of “Sarbat Da Bhala”, KMV asks common farmers

“ … to adopt the famous verse [by Guru Nanak Dev Ji], Pavnu Guru, Panni Pita Matta Dharat Mahat (air is guru, water is father and the earth is mother)”.

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The U.S., France, and Britain (among other nations) have formally recognized Kosovo after it declared its independence on Sunday. This tiny province was unable to reach a deal with Serbia after decades of conflict and the dissolution of former Yugoslavia. kosovo.jpg

The province declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, sending tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians streaming through the streets to celebrate what they hoped was the end of a long and bloody struggle for national self-determination.

Not everyone in the community of nations is as happy about this declaration as Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians. Some dealing with their own separatist movements have resisted and protested recognizing Kosovo.

Russia, which opposes Kosovo’s independence, demanded an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Sunday to proclaim the declaration “null and void,” but the meeting produced no resolution…the foreign minister of Spain, Miguel Angel Moratinos, told reporters that the declaration did not respect international law and Spain would not recognize Kosovo…Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Greece have also been reluctant to recognize Kosovo.

China expressed grave concern over the declaration, fearing Taiwan would be encouraged to follow suit. Sri Lanka, dealing with Tamil secessionists, condemned the declaration. Even Condi qualified her recognition saying that Kosovo should not be seen as setting a precedent for other ‘situations’ in the world today.

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Hiring a Hitman in Hoshiarpur

An interesting news article caught my attention yesterday. While we have read on this blog about ‘holiday brides’ and other problems in Punjab, it seems that these problems, along with many older ones (especially involving jameen [land]) have opened a new-old market for contract killings. According to the Kalinga Times:hitman.jpg

Contract killings involving non-resident Indians have increased in Punjab in recent years. In most cases, fallen out marriages, illicit affairs and property disputes are the main reason why NRIs get people killed. The killings are carried out in Punjab and not in the adopted countries of these NRIs because of the lax laws here.

So want to kill a Punjabi? Wait until he/she goes to Punjab. It will only cost you a mere $25,000 to $125,000. A crooked Punjab Police would be only too eager to turn the other way for the right price.

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UPDATE: “All Eyez on Me,” Pakistan

The pundits (is that really an appropriate word here?) were right, the Musharraf coalition suffered a crushing defeat. The party of the slain Benazir Bhutto, the PPP, gathered 31%of the national assembly seats(83/272), Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N gained 25% (69/272), and the Musharraf-backed PML-Q collected 16% (43/272).pak.gif

What we know from the votes?

  • The PPP, although the largest party at the center, will need a coalition partner. Whether it goes with the pro-Musharraf PML-Q or anti-Musharraf PML-N will have huge ramifications on the immediate future of the country. The PML-N has vowed to work towards Musharraf’s impeachment. The PPP has made no such indication at present. However, even if the two rivals – the PPP and PML-N – form a coalition, they will not have enough votes to impeach Musharraf.
  • At the state-level, the election shows the divided Pakistani populace. The PPP won a majority in the Sindh Assembly. Sindh has traditionally been the PPP’s base region. In the most populous state, Punjab, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is the largest party with more than 1/3 of the total assembly seats (101/297). Nawaz Sharif comes from a huge steel magnate family based out of Lahore.
  • The PPP is the only national party in Pakistan.
  • Musharraf is the biggest loser of the election in that his popularity was largely eroded due to his dealings with the Chief Justice and the lawyer protests, his invasion of the Lal Masjid, and his widely being blamed for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
  • The religious coalition in the important NWFP, the MMA, unraveled and led to a victory by the ANP, a secular Pashtun nationalist party. It seems the attempt to impose harsh interpretations of shariat law led to the defeat of the incumbent MMA.

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Preserving History the Right Way?

gobindgarh.jpgGood news! After years of coaxing and clamoring by Sikhs worldwide, the SGPC has recently committed to preserving Sikh buildings in their historic condition – instead of updating facades with rows of crisp white 4×4 tile, layers of white paint, and sheets of white marble, among other forms of traditional Sikh rehabilitation. The conduits for the SGPC’s work of keeping up historic and new buildings are the groups of Kar Seva Wale Babe and this week the SGPC announced that:

‘kar seva wale’ saints will be requested to maintain the original structures without making additions or alternations.

This is amazing news because in the past a lot of valuable Sikh history and art in the form of frescos and architectural detail has been lost due to the SGPC’s building renovations and updates. Now there seems to be an affirmative acknowledgment that such things can’t continue to happen – a step in what a lot (including I) feel is the right direction. However, the announcement comes at the heels of an interesting tid-bit regarding one historic Amritsar structure: In early January this year, renowned New York hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal announced that he had plans to turn Gobindgarh Fort into a hotel and museum. Hence, the question in the title of this post. As a historic building, Gobindgarh Fort is one of a the older forts in Amritsar, and was built around 1760 by the Bhangi Misl. It was later taken over and refortified by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and used to protect the city of Amritsar. It is, therefore, one of a number of historic buildings that would most likely be subject at some point to the SGPC’s newfound preservationist attitude. In announcing his plans, the report noted that:

Chatwal said that the amount of non-resident Indians as well as foreigners visiting Amritsar is massive because of the Golden Temple but unfortunately the city still does not [have] a world class hotel.

Obviously, allowing such a joint venture would meet a number of different needs simultaniously – fulfilling the desire to keep intact the old fort, meeting the needs of NRI and foreign visitors, and providing a steady stream of return on investment for Mr. Chatwal – BUT the big question is – whether this is the type of preservation Sikhs want. Does turning a historic Sikh fort into a heritage hotel really count as preservation? Thoughts?

Update: Hook a Sikh Punjabi Brother Up


Who knows if the “Langar-ite Leap” helped Rohanpreet gain the maximum number of votes last weekend, but it surely did help. If you voted last week, make sure you vote again. If you didn’t vote last week, make sure this week you do.

It is down to the final 3. After an acrimonious elimination last week, Rohanpreet has advanced out of the Final 4. The quest to number 1 continues. His talent brought him this far, it’s our job to bring it home. If you forgot how to vote, scroll down and remember. VOTE OR DIE! (Thanks, Puffy)

Rohanpreet needs your help. We have featured Rohanpreet, the Prince of Patiala on this blog before and now he desperately needs your help. rohanpreet.jpgHe needs your vote. Atleast for this weekend, forget Hillary, Obama, and even McCain, think Rohanpreet. (Yes, we are usually against group identity blocks, but sometimes we make exceptions)What you need to do – VOTE FOR ROHANPREET.

  1. Go to this website
  2. Click on the ‘Sign Up’ blue tab under the password entry area
  3. Fill out the registration. (Yes, it’s lame, but this one is easy, JUST DO IT!)
  4. Vote as many times as possible (There is no limit! Stop being lazy, you have nothing better to do, c’mon just a few more times)
  5. If you do it, leave a comment here. Let’s see how many we can get to vote Rohanpreet!

Voting ends Monday morning 10:30am IST, thats Sunday night 9:00pm PST.

Do it for love. Do it for music. Do it for Punjab. Do it for Rohanpreet. Just DO IT. Ok enough of this bakwas, back to your regularly scheduled broadcasting….

The Longest Walk to the Lodi Sikh Gurdwara

While perusing the internet news, I found something interesting. It seems that Native Americans, in order to bring awareness to issues concerning both Native Americans and 1_walk_080214.jpgthe global community, have started an initiative, called the Longest Walk 2008, commencing from San Francisco this past Tuesday with volunteers walking to Washington DC on foot and reaching there by July 11, 2008.

From their press release, their mission and the occasion is stated:

On Tuesday, February 12th, representatives from hundreds of Native American nations participated in a ceremonial and cultural commencement for the Longest Walk 2, the 30-year anniversary of the historic 1978 Longest Walk. More than two hundred participants of the Longest Walk 2 have embarked on a five-month long trans-continental journey on foot from San Francisco. The walk will arrive in Washington, D.C. on July 11, 2008, bringing attention to issues of environmental injustice, protection of sacred sites, cultural survival, youth empowerment, and eroding Native American rights.

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Pyaar and Literature

Love lost, love gained, and love yearned for … HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

gurunanak.jpgSome of the first things that comes to my mind when thinking about Valentine’s Day are thoughts of carnations, roses, scobby-doo miniature valentine day cards, and those sugary heart candies with statements like “Be Mine” and “Page Me”. With the “expression-of-affection- through-consumption” aspect of of Love Day aside, let’s take this time to think about the idea of love. As I think about the depth, significance, and longevity of the emotion and meaningfulness of love … thoughts of Heer/Ranjha, Sohni/Mahiwaal, shyaari (poems) by Shiv Kumar Batalvi, and Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s love poetry come to mind. These works share the complications, nuances, selfishness, self-lessness, and spirituality of love.

backsikhcouple.jpgEven though the ending in some of these works is not “happily-every-after”, I think beauty lies in the process and meaning of their love … how their actions expressed it … not so much the outcome! Let’s take Love Day to think and appreciate the expression of love in Punjabi and Sikh literature !

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Punjabiyaan (Canadiaan?) di boli

New census figures show that by 2011, Punjabi will step up two places to become the fourth most spoken language in Canada (after English, French, and Chinese). Apparently, not only is the influx of Punjabi immigrants driving these changes, but also a resurgence of Punjabi-learning among Canadian-born Punjabis. While an increasing number of banks and businesses are offering Punjabi-language services, I can’t help but wonder if Canada has similar language-access legislation to the U.S. [Of course, with my Cali-U.S. bias, it’s hard for me to not wonder how these sorts of things compare or relate back]

Within the U.S., federal compliance with Title VI requires that — in areas with “significant” minority language populations (wishy-washy phrasing, I know) –, state agencies must offer translation services. They don’t have to have them on site, but they do have to have ready access to translated government documents, pamphlets, forms, and a spoken translator on reserve. As the Punjabi-speaking community continues to grow in Canada, despite any English capacity, it becomes increasingly important to ensure adequate language access. Two years ago, access to Punjabi translation became central in a government bribery and corruption investigation. How does this trend influence government spending/resources when basic access to services (e.g., shopping, banking, health care) requires accurate and ready translators?

Mortgage Crisis, Foreclosures, and Punjabi Sikhs

Co-Blogged By Camille and Phulkari

The National Context: Subprime Markets & Immigrant Communities
It’s hard to read the economic news these days without coverage of two big issues — the subprime mortgage crisis and a looming recession. mortgagecrisis.jpgIn many of these stories, the narrative of the subprime mortgage crisis focuses on two issues — how banks extended credit to low-income and traditionally unbanked communities, and how these communities lacked the funds to keep up with large interest rate step ups.

Underneath the surface of this narrative, a salient aspect of this conversation is rooted in the unique ways that predatory lenders sought borrowers with very little financial training. I live in Connecticut, where nearly 2/3 of the properties facing foreclosure were refinances of pre-existing mortgages. Even more jarring is how the lack of understanding around lending terminology impacts the upward mobility of both working poor and immigrant communities. For folks who had made enough money to buy into a higher tax bracket or economic class, subprime mortgages seemed to deliver on that promise of a nice house in a nice neighborhood.

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Pink Ludoos

Recently, in Cheema Kalan village near Ludhiana, some well known Punjabi singers entertained to bring awareness of socialbhangra_men_and_women.jpg problems like sex-selective abortion. Singers in attendance included Sarabjit Cheema, Jaspal Jassi, Babbu Mann, Jasbir Jassi and Inderjit Nikku. Why were these singers willing to take time out of their recording and busy performing schedules? Sarabit Cheema said:

Singers do have an ethical responsibility to spread meaningful messages among the people which helps bring a transformation in the society. We want the youngsters should listen and join us because usually they follow us after watching us on television. It is our duty to share consequential messages to the society which the youth will follow.

harmandir_sahib.jpgMeanwhile, in Amritsar, a new-born girl was found abandoned in the Harmandir Sahib complex with a letter written by her mother, requesting that the girl be looked after.

“We have no option but to raise the girl,” SGPC secretary Dalmegh Singh said from Amritsar…

An SGPC official said the important thing to realise was “fate and her mother had willed the child to live” in a state where aborting girl children was rampant.

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Will the Revolution be Televised? Sikhs and the Media

So, I’m a fan of Waris Singh Ahluwalia. It should be no surprise – he’s an actor who makes incredible jewelry and I’m all about diverse talents. Last year, with the release ofwaris2.jpg The Darjeeling Limited, he did an interview and responded to being honored for his positive portrayal of Sikhs in the media. I thought it was significant,

I don’t want to be honored that much. I really don’t. I’m humbled and utterly confused to be put in this position. All these galas and fundraisers, they’re really important–especially after 9/11, when we’re seen as one of the major religions, and nobody knows who we are. In terms of the Sikh community, we’ll raise our families, go to work, pay our taxes, be American citizens, and that [should be] enough. Guess what? That’s not enough.

Why is it not enough? Regardless of how “citizen-like” we act, will we continue to fight the typecasts and stereotypes the media has imposed on an “unfamiliar” community?

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The Romance that is Panjabiyat

I recently read an article by Christine Moliner, a French doctoral student in anthropology. The article’s title “Frères ennemis? Relations between Panjabi Sikhs and Muslims in the Diaspora” caught my attention and I thought it raised a number of interesting questions. While the different issues raised in the article may be of note, one that was most prominent for me is the romantic project to which I have also been delusional. It is the romance that is Panjabiyat.

Moliner aptly defines it:

partition_bros.jpgWithin this large South Asian category there co-exist several narrower types of identification that nonetheless cut across the national/religious divide. One of the most powerful ones is Panjabyat. This term of recent coinage, roughly translated as Panjabi identity, refers to the cultural heritage, the social practices, the values shared by all Panjabis, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, Indians, Pakistanis, and increasingly the diaspora. It is heavily loaded with nostalgia for pre-partition undivided Panjab, idealized as a unique space of communal harmony. Its usage tends to be restricted to intellectual, literary, academic or media circles, and although these valorize popular culture in their definition of Panjabyat, the term is not much used by the people. [Emphasis added]

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Follow up: A “Sensible” Religious Response to LGBT Sikhs

Earlier this week I blogged about how Queer/LGBT Sikhs have been (shamefully) excluded from the Sikh community by religious leaders. Today, I was sent the following blog post and BBC article about “marriages of convenience” for queer desis who feel they cannot come out, by virtue of their religious or ethnic identities (thanks, Jodha!). Balbir Singh, a leader in the Southall community comments:

“The whole family suffers. We are living in 2008 and it’s time they should come out to the parents… I’ve even heard that parents have died because of the shock of finding out about these pretend marriages. But for Asian gays and lesbians, the situation is very difficult.”

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On Common Ground – Sikhs and the DOJ

This tip just came in (thanks DJ Drrrty Poonjabi).

It seems that the US Department of Justice has released a training video, developed with SALDEF, for public view. Although the video has just been placed on their site, the US DOJ seems to have been using it for internal purposes since the Thanksgiving last year (2007).http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6224218468847681650

An article reported:

Meanwhile, all 43,000 TSA screeners will undergo Sikh cultural awareness training before the Thanksgiving holiday travel season. The trainings will include two tools developed by SALDEF in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice: A training video entitled “On Common Ground: Sikh American Cultural Awareness Training for Law Enforcement,” and a poster titled “Common Sikh American Head Coverings” that TSA is distributing to all 450 airports across the country.

Take a look at the video either through the harder to see Google Video posted or check out the clearer version on the DOJ website. Your thoughts?

Threading, Unfair Labor Practices, and Activism

Yes, like many of the ladies out there in blog-reading land … we love (not the process, but the outcome) getting our eyebrows threaded and not waxed or plucked. I know for myself, I usually go to a small beauty shop where generally an immigrant South Asian woman has set-up shop by herself or has hired a few “new arrivals” to work with her. activism.jpgI personally like the environment of a small salon, versus the mega salon, but I knew before I passed judgment I had to check-out one of these mega-salons owned by South Asians. So, I walked into a massive ZIBA Salon one-day (one of their beauty magazines really caught my attention) … looked at the price, felt the atmosphere and walked out. However, I got a good look at the “threaders” [not all were South Asian or female, but many were], their polished black uniforms, the people waiting in line to get their threading, and thought this is a pretty large business and … they probably get paid pretty well and better than the workers in the small-salons. Low and behold I read about a recent protest against ZIBA Beauty Center by the women who work at their salons and SAN (South Asian Network).

The statement made in the announcement:

On January 15, 2008 fired workers from ZIBA Beauty Center and the community protested on Pioneer Blvd. in front of one of ZIBA’s 11 stores. The protest came after several attempts to change the harsh contract which was being forced on its workers and after severe harassment by ZIBA’s management. ZIBA is one of Los Angeles’s largest corporate beauty salons which specializes in mehndi (henna) and eyebrow threading and has been engaging in unfair labor practices against its workers. The new contract which workers were being manipulated and forced into signing, would have decreased workers’ commission percentage as well as moved them down the pay scale, despite the fact that ZIBA has increased the prices on its services, thus increasing its profit. ZIBA also has threatened its employees with lawsuits if they try to work for another employer and has refused to provide sick pay or any vacation pay to its employees

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The Seat of the Timeless One

Many of you, like me, may have been following the recent debates in the UK over the establishment of religious courts. Today, the Archbishop of Canterbury has caused a furor with his comment that it “seems unavoidable” that parts of Islamic Sharia law will be adopted in the UK. In an interview with BBC’s Radio 4, Dr. Rowan Williams says that the UK has to “face up to the fact” that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.

Dr. Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion. For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court. He says Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty.”

He suggests that having only one approach to law compels the loyalties and allegiance individuals hold for their cultural or religious codes of conduct and therefore poses “a… danger.” He supports aspects of Muslim law being accommodated into the legal system as have other aspects of religious law. (Currently, the Beth Din, Orthodox Jewish courts already exist in the UK).

“The principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a western democracy,” he said. “But I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose that people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that…What we don’t want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people’s religious consciences. We don’t either want a situation where, because there’s no way of legally monitoring what communities do… people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes another way of intensifying oppression inside a community.”

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Stating the Obvious

With After the comments about the DSS, I thought this article by Pritam Singh, a professor in the business school at Oxford Brookes University (not to be confused with the Oxford, you are probably thinking about), might shed some light.  may be interesting. Instead I found it rather obvious. The article is titled “The political economy of the cycles of violence and non-violence in the Sikh struggle for identity and political power: implications for Indian federalism” and was published in Third World Quarterly 28.3 (2007).

I reproduce verbatim his abstract:

sant.jpgABSTRACT: This paper presents a critique of the essentialist notions of any community as a pacifist or militant community by examining the long history of the cycles of violence and non-violence in the evolution of the Sikh community in the Indian subcontinent. The theoretical premise of the paper is that communities’ resort to violence and non-violence is determined by their strategic perspectives to achieve their politico-economic goals and not from any doctrinal adherence to violence or non-violence. The paper attempts a panoramic view of over 500 years of Sikh history (1469 – 2006) and offers a reinterpretation of that history by locating cycles of violence and non-violence in their historical context. It then provides a politico-economic perspective on violence and nonviolence in their struggle for identity and political power. It focuses more on an analysis of the recent political conflict between Sikh militants and the Indian state, and concludes by drawing out the policy implications of that analysis for the politics of the modern Indian state regarding the Sikhs of Punjab. It identifies federal arrangements and human rights as issues of key importance in the political economy of this relationship.

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Domestic Abuse

I will happily admit I am an Opraholic. In the years of watching Oprah she always does episodes on domestic abuse. I remember where a man had video taped the abuse of his wife. I don’t remember the details or the name of the victim – but I remember her tears, and the visuals of her husband hitting her and verbally abusing her. I can vividly remember her face and his and in a matter of seconds I am nauseous, angry and frustrated.

I felt the same way when I read this article . Why do we hear this so often? Brutal murders of wives by their husbands. What disturbed me even further was that the family was completely shocked that this happened. In no way or form do I pass any blame on the family – but I feel that as a community our awareness of domestic abuse is so limited that we wouldn’t even be able to recognize the signs if they were in front of us.

Where does the solution start? At the Gurdwara? At the family level? How do provide resources not only to victims but their families as well?

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