150+ Revolutionaries – Answering a Lalkaar

Guest-blogged by Mewa Singh. Mewa Singh is a sevadar with the Jakara Movement.

Previously, here in The Langar Hall, there was a discussion by Navdeep Singh on an important panel discussion, held in NYC, on faith, feminism, and Sikhi. Brooklynwala had asked for a comment and report about Lalkaar 2011, and I am more than happy to oblige.

However, before getting into that, I wanted to strongly encourage our Sikh youth sangat throughout California to come to Fresno/Kerman this coming weekend for an amazing opportunity. While most Sikh organizations depend on large contributions by high-fly financiers with their own set of pre-conditions, Sikh youth organizations such as the Jakara Movement and the Sikh Activist Network do not. The Jakara Movement’s biggest donors are its own members, making small contributions and the sweat and blood of its own members that come every year to sell fireworks. This is truly grassroots, where the youth give their own labor for causes and projects they love. Check out the video, follow the facebook event page to sign up, and then click below the fold for my report on Lalkaar 20111.

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For general information for how the weekend went, see the report by one of the participants, who blogs for our sister website at Kaurista. It gives a valuable synopsis of the workshops and the ebbs and flows of the conference.

Reflecting after the Kaur Voices 2006 conference, the Jakara Movement wrote:

Jakara 2006 sought to create a forum to engage and question gender inequalities in our community. Too often violence against women is swept under the rug and the community makes no efforts to engage with these critical issues. The silence can be deafening. To begin the process of finding solutions, the Jakara Movement inaugurated a quantitative study seeking input from over 285 women in a web-based survey. The results were alarming, but unfortunately not too surprising. As perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual abuse, sex-selective abortion, and internet pedophiles run rampant in our community, we all suffer. The conference began on Friday by engaging in case-studies highlighting these problems. Participants created videos of these case studies and ended the day exploring the Gurus message about how we should be forming relationships with one another. At times conversations became heated; at times some participants felt the issues had not received the importance they required; at times some participants felt the critical analysis required to discuss these issues was lacking. Some were hurt; some were upset; some were relieved; some were excited. The first day was the first awkward steps to begin a conversation long overdue in our community. After identifying and realizing the tragedies, on Saturday, the conference moved towards proposing solutions. Organizations that were suggested included Ladoos: Pink and Blue that would include a community-pooled fund that would distribute ladoos in celebration of both boys and girls. Also on Saturday, regional groups were created to celebrate the first annual Mata Khivi Day in the local communities to open these issues to a larger forum amongst the youth. Jakara 2006 sought to create a space for Kaur Voices to be exalted, expressed, and empowered.

5 years later. We re-tooled the conference schedule, workshops, and materials. From an activist perspective, a key change was in making sure that people feel challenged, but not hopeless. This was at times lost in 2006, where the overall curriculum allowed for ups and downs, but what was forgotten was that the participants live in individual moments, not according to some grand ‘narrative’ that planners may have had in mind. This is a critical lesson learned and one that all activists, especially with ‘educational’ aspects as part of an agenda, should keep in mind.

Not described in the Kaurista write-up (as it could not be by a Kaur) was the concurrent Singh Code workshop. Here the men had a very powerful, difficult, and challenging first conversation in our community on the nature of ‘male privilege.’ The worksheet read:

Given the devastating history of racism in this country, it is understandable that getting Sikh men to identify with the concept of male privilege isn’t easy! For many Sikhs men, even the phrase “Punjabi male privilege” seems like an oxymoron — three words that simply do not go together.

While it is understandable that Sikh men are hesitant or reluctant to examine the concept of male privilege, the Sikh community will never be able to overcome the serious issues that we face if we as Sikh men do not confront our role in promoting and sustaining male supremacist attitudes and actions. This is the challenge our Gurus gave us.

Inviting Sikh men and boys into a conversation about male privilege does not deny centuries of discrimination or the burden of racism (in America) that we continue to suffer from today. As long as a Sikh man can be shot dead in the streets of Elk Grove, harassed at airports, or even receive less call-backs for a job than a white man with a felony record, we know that racism that targets Sikh men is alive and kicking.

Examining Sikh male privileges offers Sikh men and boys an opportunity to go beyond old arguments of “personal responsibility” or “blaming the man” to gain a deeper level of insight into how issues of class and race are influenced by gender. Gender is one of the most important tools in the production and reproduction of power because it relies on consent and not just coercion.

Another point worth elaborating was on a particular powerpoint presentation. Many of us (but by no means should we assume all(!!)) are familiar with names of inspiring Sikhs, such as Mai Bhago, Mata Khivi, Bibi Nanaki, Bibi Upkar Kaur, etc., however without proper study of Sikh history, we have no idea if such activists were exceptional women or actually more common than we might think. One of the powerpoints, delved into this particular question, by looking at a document that was produced in the Court of Guru Gobind Singh, during the early 18th century. The Param Marg Granth provides special insights into the place and status of women in the society of the actual court, challenging notions of patriarchy and glib assumptions of ahistorical male dominance. The feedback from that session was generally positive, but there was some criticism (mostly by males) that the presentation should have focused on some of the more well-known shabads from Gurbani. Far be it from me, to not acknowledge the ultimate inspiration for any Sikh, ultimately comes from the Guru Granth Sahib, but the lives of the Gurus, be they through Janamsakhis and popular oral traditions, have always played an important role in shaping Sikh ethics and mores.

Overall we were excited by the exuberance, passion, and spirit of the attendees. Our slogan became “150+ Revolutionaries now!” It is not enough for our generation to merely criticize that of our parents. They have bequeathed to us a remarkable inheritance, especially in the diaspora, of institutions and buildings. It is the challenge of our generation to create the programs that fulfill all of our needs and make sure that we become compassionate, sensitive, and caring individuals to all sections of our community. Guru Nanak, himself, stated:

nIcw AMdir nIc jwiq nIcI hU Aiq nIcu ]
nwnku iqn kY sMig swiQ vifAw isau ikAw rIs ]
I seek the company of the lowest of the low, I am the very lowest of the low.Why would I want to associate or emulate the (so-called) great?

The next line from this shabad read:

ijQY nIc smwlIAin iqQY ndir qyrI bKsIs ]4]3]

Where the (so-called) low find care/love; there is Your (Waheguru) Grace and Blessings

Thus it is compassion for all people, coming not from a sense of presumptuous, paternalistic, or over-bearing where we believe we know what is ‘best’ for others, but as part of our own struggles, love, and compassion. This year we have a number of projects that will be coming out of the conference, as the movement is much bigger than the conference. Whether you attended or reading it for the first time here, all of the sangat is invited to participate:

  • Bhujangi Youth Academy August 1-10, 2011 in Kings Canyon National Park.This 10-day camp is aimed at at-risk boys, ages 13-16.Help identify potential youth (maybe a brother, nephew, cousin, or even friend) or even fill out our volunteer form at bhujangi.org. Also check out the article at SikhNN on this pilot project.
  • Ladoos: Pink and Blue Care about health-related issues facing Punjabi Sikh mothers?Want to take a stand for equality? Last week we called for help in designing the box; get more details at the website for the project.
  • Kaur Voices Help create our own space for Kaur Voices at this female performance venue.Similar to YKB or VM, this inaugural event will be held in the Bay Area in December 2011.Get involved by emailingkaur voices [at] j a ka r a [dot] o r g
  • Jakara Juniors Camps What do you know now that you wish someone had shared with you as a 10 year old boy or girl?Now is your chance.Here is a scene from our camp 5 years ago Help us add new scenes this year!Camps will be held in October of 2011 throughout California and beyond.Make sure it happens in your city by getting in touch with us through the “Jakara Movement” Facebook page.
  • Voices against Privilege – Jay Singh is creating a montage of voices against male privilege in our community. He is requesting members of the Sangat to create a roughly minute length videoexplaining their thoughts on subject of male privilege. The video should be simple- a webcam or cellphone will suffice – and to the point.It could begin with the sentence:”Male privilege in the Punjabi Sikh Community means this to me:_________.”Singh voices are strongly requested.For more information, email mugufu[at] hot mai l [dot] com.

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4 Responses to “150+ Revolutionaries – Answering a Lalkaar”

  1. Sundari says:

    Mewa, in reference to the Singh Code Workshop, you say "Here the men had a very powerful, difficult, and challenging first conversation in our community on the nature of ‘male privilege" – what were some of the issues that came up? Was there an acknowledgement of this 'privilege'? Along with privilege, i also believe there is a burden placed on sons within our community to be the one's to "take care" of their parents or earn for the household (even though daughters can play this role successfully). Was this discussed, since it may somewhat contradict with the concept of privilege?

    Also, looking back to the 2006 Kaur Voices – do you get a sense that 5-years later, the community has reached any milestones in terms of gender equality? Was the survey, which was administered in 2006, readministered to assess this?

  2. brooklynwala says:

    thank you for this great summary! it really sounds like it was a powerful and important space that you all created once again. i am especially glad to see that there was a male privilege workshop as a part of the program. was it something that all the men were required to attend? was there any sort of reporting back to the larger group after this workshop?

    i'm also curious if there was any discussion about the problems of having a rigid gender binary — i.e. there are just 2 genders, men and women. and also to what extend heterosexism/homophobia was addressed? all these issues are so interlinked and ultimately a part of what upholds patriarchy–both in the sikh/punjabi community and beyond.

    thanks for your great work, this is really inspiring!

  3. […] this year, I wrote an in-depth post, summarizing the workshops and questions raised at the Jakara Movement’s annual Lalkaar […]

  4. […] this year, we wrote an in-depth post, summarizing the workshops and questions raised at the Jakara Movement’s annual Lalkaar […]