No Longer a Silent Spectator

Guest blogged by Ajj Kaim

Two of my friends invited me to a Holi party in San Francisco last Friday(03/05/10). They told me the DJ was great and he always played awesome Bollywood/Bhangra music. Being an ardent dance lover this was enough motivation for me to say yes. The venue of the party wasSupperclub, which seemed a lot different from any other club that I have been to. Once I was at the venue I found out that the event was organized byAsha (organization which promotes education of underpreviliged children in India) andTrikone (non-profit organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people of South Asian descent) .

Over the past several months I have been accustomed to the crowd at Rikshaw Stop forNon Stop Bhangra party every month so this atmosphere was a lot different for me. The DJ kick started the evening with a good mix of Bhangra and Bollywood music. The regular flow of the party was disrupted by two artists who tried to entertain the crowd with tasteless mix of bollywood dance, vulgarity and modern art. I had a hard time understanding what was being appreciated by some of the on-lookers. This break lasted for about 10 minutes and after that DJ Precaution started belting some more amazing tracks. It seemed like a perfect way to unwind after a hectic week at work. And then this happened.

The DJ stopped the music and there was a buzz and it seemed it was time for another artist to perform. This time we were to be entertained by a barely covered trapeze artist but in the background the DJ started playing themool mantar from the movie Rang De Basanti. I was shocked! An almost half nude artist was dancing on Ik onkar, satnam, karta purakh.. and everybody was looking at the performance like everything was normal. Immediately I rushed to the DJ and said to him What are you playing? This song is my prayer! He pretended as if he didnt hear me, I kept shouting at the top of my lungs and then he said he is following direction of the organizers. I went around looking for someone who I had seen acting like an organizer earlier in the night. I caught hold of one of them and started telling him to stop this nonsense as he is hurting my faith by using my paatth in such a distasteful manner and it is highly offensive. He was clueless and didnt know how to react. I saw few other people nodding their head that it was wrong to use mool mantar in the way it was being used but nobody came out in open. I went to the front of the club where an Indian girl had taken 20$ entry when I came in, she was still there and heard me cry out about the nonsense going on inside. I was flabbergasted at the whole situation. I was feeling helpless and extremely hurt. I couldnt take it anymore and made my way out of the club.

It has been few days since the incident happened and I have finally got over my anger. It got me thinking, I never considered myself very religious but this hurtful action by some ignorant people had me so charged up, it is unimaginable what goes through the minds of people when some group destroys and attacks on their religion on purpose (Gujarat riots, 1984, Ayodhya etc).

Now that I reflect back, I am proud of myself that I spoke up against something that was wrong and I was not a silent spectator.


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22 Responses to “No Longer a Silent Spectator”

  1. Randep says:

    … C O N T I N U E D

    The worst path to take is what you said: "Now that I reflect back, I am proud of myself that I spoke up against something that was wrong and I was not a silent spectator." This is nothing but self-congratulation over next-to-nothing. You were, as I said before, told in perhaps other terms "to shut up and go home". And, from your story, that's what you did. You raised a plea for concern, no one listened, and you were in other words told to shut up and go home. And the dance party went on. I can understand that you were in a terrible situation, and I didn't expect you to be heroic or anything like that by knocking the DJ out, and en route confiscating the DJ's CD or anything like that. I don't know how to handle the situation you were in, and I don't envy your being stuck in that situation one bit. My gripe with you is not that you were ineffective, or that your mere speaking up was "not enough". My gripe with you is your "I am proud of myself that… ".

    It is pride that you feel worth patting yourself on the back over that exemplifies "the suffocating claustrophobia". Namely, no matter how much the media (bollywood, CNN, or otherwise) stereotypes Sikhs, no matter how many Sikhs are injured or worse by hate crimes, no matter how much taunting or slurs Sikhs face, no matter how many national laws are passed to ban the turban (as in France), no matter how many clubs will play dance mixes of the mool mantar, all we can do is one thing: voice our concerns, and shut up and go home. Sure, we could hold pickets, hold signs and banners, even use a megaphone (this seems to be the strategy of The Langar Hall, Sikh Coalition, and Jakara- I'm not saying this isn't useful, but only that it is what we are cornered into and that it is suffocating)- but the principle remains the same: voice our concerns, shut up and go home. What a terribly suffocating claustrophobia. This is a nominal space of action worth being proud over indeed.

    But, of course, this is not reason to be fatalistic. But, rather, reason to be quite jubilant. For, there indeed a multiplicity of routes to take. Many possible avenues of political fortitude. The task at hand is to invent a new manifestation of the path towards just action. Let us leave these ossified and stultified paradigms in the cemetery that is their natural home, and let us learn to think in new ways to manifest just action. Thank you for your post.

  2. Randep says:

    ajj Kaim,

    Your story exemplifies the suffocating claustrophobia that strangles Sikh life (Although, I do think the point strikes at the 'religious' generally, in the spirit of sticking to particulars let me speak of Sikhs).

    What was most striking was your frenetic instinct towards preservation and correction. This unforeseen rupture– the unforeseen wrongness of the club's/DJ's/club organizer's self-proud chauvinism– raised this sense of alarm, this sense of alert, that spontaneously arises by something so wrong and hurtful that until then could not be imagined. I say this not to re-describe your story, but to reiterate a point that is invisible yet wholly apparent. That is, the situation from which your experience arises is common. I think we all experience it. And, for those who are sensitive to the character of Panthic spirits, this is strong experience driving Sikh scholars and politics.

    But what do I mean when I say that your story exemplifies "the suffocating claustrophobia", indeed the same claustrophobia that I think Sikhs all around feel? Suppose the DJ, now in a cool well-lit environment, initiated a dialogue with you and said, "Oh, indeed you were offended by what I had to say. But, as you see, we live in America (the greatest country on earth no doubt!), and here we have rights and law and other civilized principles. Here, it is my right to say what I please, even if it offends you." What then? Do you have anything else you could possibly say that could show him his error? And if he planned on playing this same music (the music of the mool mantar at the club) every week, could you do anything to stop him? I will venture to say: No.

    Here, I am of course characterizing this DJ fictitiously. I've never met him of course. But, this is not to say such a person doesn't exist. To the contrary, this is the average progressive, liberal, and conservative psyche of the West/ American that I am constructing here. It doesn't matter what your feelings are. What matters is if one can justify one's self on the basis of rights and laws. Simply, we don't care if you, or your religion, or your fictitious religious beliefs (here I am using the language of the secular West) are offended. You have one choice: shut up and go home. After all, secular Westerners think themselves to be judicious, wise, and above all _within their rights_ to do what they want (even if it means dancing a jig on your feelings about the mool mantar).

    But, let us not stop here. What is interesting about your post is that it is continuous with a wider feeling. After all, the very same impersonal dogmatism is routinely employed to dominate Sikhs. Consider, for instance, Operation Blue Star. The Indian State's washing its hands of blood involves the following strategy: first, claim that armed Sikhs inside Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib were terrorists and armed with weapons; Second, claim that Indira Gandhi's invasion was an attempt to oust terrorists. With this sort of logic in hand, the verdict is quite simple: Since terrorists should not hijack a religious compound, the Indian State was justified in cleansing the complex of militants. This justification makes perfect sense: of course militants and politics as such have no place inside a religious shrine. See how dominating and vicious this justification of Indian violence is! Nowhere is the Sikh perspective allowed. Nowhere is it allowed that Sikhs have their own harmonious relationship with politics and military weapons. Nowhere is it allowed that weapons and shastars have a natural home, and are indeed common and natural, in Harimandir Sahib.

    What this, and your anecdote, show is that we are expected to be at the behest of secular justifications of right and wrong. And, that is to say, whatever you feel— that Guru Nanak Sahib should not be disrespected, that one should not go out of one's way to disrispect Bani, that it is not right to use mool mantar in pop culture, that it is not right to make a distasteful dance mix of the mool mantar— is simply worthless, unless you bow down to the invisible God of secular justifications.

    From here, there seem to be an infinite quantity of routes to take. For, like all moments of political action, what can be most terrifying is not any "enemy", but rather the sheer multiplicity of paths to action.

  3. Randep says:

    ajj Kaim,

    Your story exemplifies the suffocating claustrophobia that strangles Sikh life (Although, I do think the point strikes at the 'religious' generally, in the spirit of sticking to particulars let me speak of Sikhs).

    What was most striking was your frenetic instinct towards preservation and correction. This unforeseen rupture– the unforeseen wrongness of the club's/DJ's/club organizer's self-proud chauvinism– raised this sense of alarm, this sense of alert, that spontaneously arises by something so wrong and hurtful that until then could not be imagined. I say this not to re-describe your story, but to reiterate a point that is invisible yet wholly apparent. That is, the situation from which your experience arises is common. I think we all experience it. And, for those who are sensitive to the character of Panthic spirits, this is strong experience driving Sikh scholars and politics.

    But what do I mean when I say that your story exemplifies "the suffocating claustrophobia", indeed the same claustrophobia that I think Sikhs all around feel? Suppose the DJ, now in a cool well-lit environment, initiated a dialogue with you and said, "Oh, indeed you were offended by what I had to say. But, as you see, we live in America (the greatest country on earth no doubt!), and here we have rights and law and other civilized principles. Here, it is my right to say what I please, even if it offends you." What then? Do you have anything else you could possibly say that could show him his error? And if he planned on playing this same music (the music of the mool mantar at the club) every week, could you do anything to stop him? I will venture to say: No.

    Here, I am of course characterizing this DJ fictitiously. I've never met him of course. But, this is not to say such a person doesn't exist. To the contrary, this is the average progressive, liberal, and conservative psyche of the West/ American that I am constructing here. It doesn't matter what your feelings are. What matters is if one can justify one's self on the basis of rights and laws. Simply, we don't care if you, or your religion, or your fictitious religious beliefs (here I am using the language of the secular West) are offended. You have one choice: shut up and go home. After all, secular Westerners think themselves to be judicious, wise, and above all _within their rights_ to do what they want (even if it means dancing a jig on your feelings about the mool mantar).

    But, let us not stop here. What is interesting about your post is that it is continuous with a wider feeling. After all, the very same impersonal dogmatism is routinely employed to dominate Sikhs. Consider, for instance, Operation Blue Star. The Indian State's washing its hands of blood involves the following strategy: first, claim that armed Sikhs inside Darbar Sahib and Akal Takht Sahib were terrorists and armed with weapons; Second, claim that Indira Gandhi's invasion was an attempt to oust terrorists. With this sort of logic in hand, the verdict is quite simple: Since terrorists should not hijack a religious compound, the Indian State was justified in cleansing the complex of militants. This justification makes perfect sense: of course militants and politics as such have no place inside a religious shrine. See how dominating and vicious this justification of Indian violence is! Nowhere is the Sikh perspective allowed. Nowhere is it allowed that Sikhs have their own harmonious relationship with politics and military weapons. Nowhere is it allowed that weapons and shastars have a natural home, and are indeed common and natural, in Harimandir Sahib.

    What this, and your anecdote, show is that we are expected to be at the behest of secular justifications of right and wrong. And, that is to say, whatever you feel— that Guru Nanak Sahib should not be disrespected, that one should not go out of one's way to disrispect Bani, that it is not right to use mool mantar in pop culture, that it is not right to make a distasteful dance mix of the mool mantar— is simply worthless, unless you bow down to the invisible God of secular justifications.

    From here, there seem to be an infinite quantity of routes to take. For, like all moments of political action, what can be most terrifying is not any "enemy", but rather the sheer multiplicity of paths to action.

  4. Randep says:

    … C O N T I N U E D

    The worst path to take is what you said: "Now that I reflect back, I am proud of myself that I spoke up against something that was wrong and I was not a silent spectator." This is nothing but self-congratulation over next-to-nothing. You were, as I said before, told in perhaps other terms "to shut up and go home". And, from your story, that's what you did. You raised a plea for concern, no one listened, and you were in other words told to shut up and go home. And the dance party went on. I can understand that you were in a terrible situation, and I didn't expect you to be heroic or anything like that by knocking the DJ out, and en route confiscating the DJ's CD or anything like that. I don't know how to handle the situation you were in, and I don't envy your being stuck in that situation one bit. My gripe with you is not that you were ineffective, or that your mere speaking up was "not enough". My gripe with you is your "I am proud of myself that… ".

    It is pride that you feel worth patting yourself on the back over that exemplifies "the suffocating claustrophobia". Namely, no matter how much the media (bollywood, CNN, or otherwise) stereotypes Sikhs, no matter how many Sikhs are injured or worse by hate crimes, no matter how much taunting or slurs Sikhs face, no matter how many national laws are passed to ban the turban (as in France), no matter how many clubs will play dance mixes of the mool mantar, all we can do is one thing: voice our concerns, and shut up and go home. Sure, we could hold pickets, hold signs and banners, even use a megaphone (this seems to be the strategy of The Langar Hall, Sikh Coalition, and Jakara- I'm not saying this isn't useful, but only that it is what we are cornered into and that it is suffocating)- but the principle remains the same: voice our concerns, shut up and go home. What a terribly suffocating claustrophobia. This is a nominal space of action worth being proud over indeed.

    But, of course, this is not reason to be fatalistic. But, rather, reason to be quite jubilant. For, there indeed a multiplicity of routes to take. Many possible avenues of political fortitude. The task at hand is to invent a new manifestation of the path towards just action. Let us leave these ossified and stultified paradigms in the cemetery that is their natural home, and let us learn to think in new ways to manifest just action. Thank you for your post.

  5. ClinicalEye says:

    There are few questions which arise out of ths situtation.
    One can a Sikh dance when praying? Answer is Yes, ans reference full article on sikhiwiki..
    Two, can a seminaked woman dance when praying? Well, I dont know..needs more research..
    Three, was the DJ wrong in playing Mool Mantar? Well, if this music cud make you realise that u r in a wrong place, then definitely not. But, this is topic is worth more research.. in my opinion, i see most of the youth now-a-days prefer clubs instead of satsang.. so, if the some TRUE words are also played in clubs,, might be it can prevent some further deterioration in society….
    lastly, i applause you for thinking about God even amidst the worst of places..

  6. ClinicalEye says:

    There are few questions which arise out of ths situtation.
    One can a Sikh dance when praying? Answer is Yes, ans reference full article on sikhiwiki..
    Two, can a seminaked woman dance when praying? Well, I dont know..needs more research..
    Three, was the DJ wrong in playing Mool Mantar? Well, if this music cud make you realise that u r in a wrong place, then definitely not. But, this is topic is worth more research.. in my opinion, i see most of the youth now-a-days prefer clubs instead of satsang.. so, if the some TRUE words are also played in clubs,, might be it can prevent some further deterioration in society….
    lastly, i applause you for thinking about God even amidst the worst of places..

  7. Karan Singh says:

    I'm really glad that you stood up and as you put it were "No longer a silent spectator"

    Whose to blame for this happening that night and all over the world…We are!!!

    It appears to have become acceptable for Sikhs wearing turban's to go to clubs. Well its not acceptable for any Sikh let alone a turbanned Sikh to go to a club regardless of whether its a charity fund raiser or not. Look at our history and the Sikh men and women before us..what shame we've brougth upon our identity. Why should they turn off the mool mantar recording…the club was probably full of Sikhs who didn't complain (with the excemption of you) We've sold ourselves so short and for what…a few bhangra moves and a couple of bottles of beer. We pride ourselves for being the heaviest drinkers and the best dancers but little do we know that all others think is Sikhs are nothing but "jokers". Would you ever see Baba Deep Singh or Bhai Mani Singh do the things that Sikhs of today do?

    Whenever i meet a new non-Sikh the first thing i'm asked is "I bet you love you drink (alcohol)", followed by "You guys know how to party". It always shocks them when i tell them neither do i drink nor party as i am a Sikh. They always say that they've never met a person living the Sikh life…yet they know many turbanned Sikhs (not that i am say i am the ideal Sikh or anything).

    I ask you…would the same have every occurred with a Muslim prayer…No!!!

    PS bhenjee/bhajee the above is not directed to you personally but us all.

  8. Karan Singh says:

    I'm really glad that you stood up and as you put it were "No longer a silent spectator"

    Whose to blame for this happening that night and all over the world…We are!!!

    It appears to have become acceptable for Sikhs wearing turban's to go to clubs. Well its not acceptable for any Sikh let alone a turbanned Sikh to go to a club regardless of whether its a charity fund raiser or not. Look at our history and the Sikh men and women before us..what shame we've brougth upon our identity. Why should they turn off the mool mantar recording…the club was probably full of Sikhs who didn't complain (with the excemption of you) We've sold ourselves so short and for what…a few bhangra moves and a couple of bottles of beer. We pride ourselves for being the heaviest drinkers and the best dancers but little do we know that all others think is Sikhs are nothing but "jokers". Would you ever see Baba Deep Singh or Bhai Mani Singh do the things that Sikhs of today do?

    Whenever i meet a new non-Sikh the first thing i'm asked is "I bet you love you drink (alcohol)", followed by "You guys know how to party". It always shocks them when i tell them neither do i drink nor party as i am a Sikh. They always say that they've never met a person living the Sikh life…yet they know many turbanned Sikhs (not that i am say i am the ideal Sikh or anything).

    I ask you…would the same have every occurred with a Muslim prayer…No!!!

    PS bhenjee/bhajee the above is not directed to you personally but us all.

  9. Rajinder Singh says:

    Ajj Kaim,

    First of all, I wish I could write as well.

    Sorry about your experience. A similar thing happened to my friends but the end was really funny. They went to a concert, and the guy on stage started quarreling with them. So they quietly cut the wires leading to the speakers- bringing down the entire sound system. The poor organizer kept touching all connections hoping the sound would come back – It didn't help.

    This strategy is NOT for everyone, but somehow seems to works all the time. LOL. People respond to economic disincentives quicker than moral persuasions.

    Guys, Randep, Life is short, No point carrying so much weight on your chest.

  10. Rajinder Singh says:

    Ajj Kaim,

    First of all, I wish I could write as well.

    Sorry about your experience. A similar thing happened to my friends but the end was really funny. They went to a concert, and the guy on stage started quarreling with them. So they quietly cut the wires leading to the speakers- bringing down the entire sound system. The poor organizer kept touching all connections hoping the sound would come back – It didn't help.

    This strategy is NOT for everyone, but somehow seems to works all the time. LOL. People respond to economic disincentives quicker than moral persuasions.

    Guys, Randep, Life is short, No point carrying so much weight on your chest.

  11. Roop Dhillon says:

    Unfortuatley a club is only about dancing. The rang di basanti track is designed to make one dance..the dj is not a punjabi-hindi speaker, they just hear cool sounds…it is inevitble, but sad..only solution is not to encourage westerners to play music in languages they don't understand..for that matter how many of you really understand Punjabi and are able to appreciate Sikh Prayers? Very few of us in the west I bet.

    You did what you could, I agree with all that has been said above. Our youth loves its music and drinking ans all those things…truth is out parents left the education to the Gurdwaras..a failed policy..the parents should teach at home..if you can't read a novel in Punjabi, but want to stay tied to the language..you play music…I bet half the Sikhs in that club don't even know what Mool Mantar is..or actually understand Punjabi

  12. Roop Dhillon says:

    Unfortuatley a club is only about dancing. The rang di basanti track is designed to make one dance..the dj is not a punjabi-hindi speaker, they just hear cool sounds…it is inevitble, but sad..only solution is not to encourage westerners to play music in languages they don't understand..for that matter how many of you really understand Punjabi and are able to appreciate Sikh Prayers? Very few of us in the west I bet.

    You did what you could, I agree with all that has been said above. Our youth loves its music and drinking ans all those things…truth is out parents left the education to the Gurdwaras..a failed policy..the parents should teach at home..if you can't read a novel in Punjabi, but want to stay tied to the language..you play music…I bet half the Sikhs in that club don't even know what Mool Mantar is..or actually understand Punjabi

  13. iSingh says:

    So is it ok to play Gurbani on your iPod while working out in the gym ?

  14. iSingh says:

    So is it ok to play Gurbani on your iPod while working out in the gym ?

  15. Paramjit singh says:

    One can enjoy good music,dance,beer,smoke,semi clad women and still be a good sikh.Those who refrain from these things are just prudes.I personally know granthis here in sacramento,who after the sunday services,indulge in these activities every week.So fellas lighten up the company of vices is lot more charming than the gurbani.

  16. Paramjit singh says:

    One can enjoy good music,dance,beer,smoke,semi clad women and still be a good sikh.Those who refrain from these things are just prudes.I personally know granthis here in sacramento,who after the sunday services,indulge in these activities every week.So fellas lighten up the company of vices is lot more charming than the gurbani.

  17. JaspreetSinghToronto says:

    i cant believe such kanjerness goes on and then they add GurBaani to it to make it seem as if it is justifiable.

    Today's granthis a lot of them actually do not have the character they did 100 years ago. a lot of them can no longer influence people, inspire people into beautiful and amazing Sikhi.

    bollywood purposely uses GurBaani to misreprent GurSikhs and Sikhi. latest example would be dil bole hadippa. and in that same movie such kanjerness is shown.

    using GurBaani to do something bad, wrong doesnt make it right. its like saying killing an animal and reading GurBaani at the same makes it right to kill an animal, therefore jhatka meat is ok.

    why didnt just turn off the moolmantar being played in the background, slapped the girl and thrown her off the stage?

    i would have done that.

  18. JaspreetSinghToronto says:

    i cant believe such kanjerness goes on and then they add GurBaani to it to make it seem as if it is justifiable.

    Today’s granthis a lot of them actually do not have the character they did 100 years ago. a lot of them can no longer influence people, inspire people into beautiful and amazing Sikhi.

    bollywood purposely uses GurBaani to misreprent GurSikhs and Sikhi. latest example would be dil bole hadippa. and in that same movie such kanjerness is shown.

    using GurBaani to do something bad, wrong doesnt make it right. its like saying killing an animal and reading GurBaani at the same makes it right to kill an animal, therefore jhatka meat is ok.

    why didnt just turn off the moolmantar being played in the background, slapped the girl and thrown her off the stage?

    i would have done that.

  19. Paramgit says:

    Paramjit is a turd bent on mis-representing Sikhism, I'm shocked that the moderators allow such slanderous comments to be posted.

    Mr Paramjit needs his head examined

  20. Paramgit says:

    Paramjit is a turd bent on mis-representing Sikhism, I’m shocked that the moderators allow such slanderous comments to be posted.

    Mr Paramjit needs his head examined

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