You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2007.

Ensaaf and Human Rights Watch released a damning joint report against the Indian government titled “Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India” along with a slideshow and video testimonials.

Lots of links to click on above, but definitely worth taking a look at each carefully.

As much as I love my Armenian brothers in System of a Down (SOAD), please don’t think like me and conjure up images of rock stars when you hear the word Armenian. Rather, I’d like you to consider this: Interesting how Armenians have creatively switched gears from directly confronting their Turkish-government-in-denial to instead lobbying their US Congressman to declare that the Ottoman Empire authorized and committed genocide against their ancestors. Yes, it may have taken twenty years for Armenian-Americans to get the attention of their legislators and draft a bill. And yes, the chances of the bill being passed by the House are slim to none in our current geopolitical climate. Yet our community may want to take note of this as an example of how powerful we can be if we organized ourselves as one voice with specific and unified goals and employed our collective votes and lobby machines in the same manner. And we shouldn’t forget the role of rock stars: the guys in SOAD have held demonstrations in Washington, D.C. to fight for recognition of their history. Perhaps a Sikh band similar to SOAD could get together to remind people of our “forgotten” history as well.

What can you do right now to be part of the movement? If you’re downright lazy, register to vote. Have a bit more energy? Register to vote and join a rock band.

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I’m not the biggest Bush fan. And with his approval rating hovering around 24%, I don’t think many of you are either. Yesterday, however, Mr. Bush managed to get my respect. (But only for a moment. Too bad he had to screw it up with his ridiculous press conference banter earlier in the day.)

President Bush became the first US leader to appear publicly with the Dalai Lama despite threats by the Chinese government that such an event would bring about “a severe violation of the norms of international relations.” The White House acknowledged China’s displeasure with the event by not releasing photographs of the two leaders at a private meeting on Tuesday. Yet, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader was presented with the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal as Bush praised him as a “universal symbol of peace and tolerance, a shepard of the faithful, and a keeper of the flame for his people.” Photographs of the ceremony were released this time around. Talk about a diplomatic dance to the death.

So the Chinese are pissed that the US honored a man who promotes so-called secessionist activities and political unrest towards the motherland. And the Chinese may be partially correct in their thinking as the CIA contributed millions of dollars during the 1960’s to support the exiled Tibetan administration in India. We have a lot to lose by further angering the Chinese; they could totally kick our rear-ends by supporting governments we’re trying to destabilize or by diverting their capital surplus away from underwriting our ever-growing debt.

Yet, in the midst of this tortuous love-hate relationship, each party has somehow humbled himself to ascribe to the message of gratitude. We showed our love to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama gave us some love in return. The Dalai Lama passed some love over to India while expressing no hatred towards the Chinese. The Chinese didn’t show much love to anyone but toned down their rhetoric somewhat. I even had a moment where I respected the Bush administration.

Whether Christian, Sikh, or Buddhist, lame duck president, spiritual leader or civilian, we each have unique qualities that can be celebrated and shared. I could have come to a similar conclusion and been spared of the sillyness of this week’s news if I had just remembered that Guru Nanak Dev Ji devoted himself to highlighting the oneness of humanity by exploring the differences that separate people. That he promoted open discourse and interfaith dialogue without press secretaries and journalists meddling in the process. That it is possible to co-exist while respecting what makes each of us distinct. That ultimately all of creation has the same origin and end and that during the short time we experience life through human-form we should practice being tolerant, humble, honest, and compassionate towards one another.

The wonderful folks at SALDEF developed and recently released a video designed to help law-enforcement agencies become familiar with Sikh customs and principles. It illustrates various scenarios in which law-enforcement personnel may interact with Sikhs (i.e., Mr. Awesome Kirpan Wielding Sikh awaiting assistance for his crappy Jeep’s flat tire, Mr. Sharp Looking Off-Duty Sheriff Sikh photographing Famous Government Structure, Mr. Regular Dude Sikh walking through security at an airport) and also addresses the proper etiquette to be observed when handling an article of faith or entering a gurudwara.

The video highlights both the Sikh community’s desire to correct public misperceptions and the welcoming attitude of government agencies in furthering cultural competency within their ranks. Hopefully, this video will prevent future mishaps and misunderstandings by maintaining free-flowing dialogue between both groups.

I have to admit that this video also serves some selfish purposes because of its general applicability: I think I may show it to anyone who asks me “so tell me about Sikhs.” And the SALDEF folks will get a little plug as well. Superb.

In high school, my closest group of friends and I all somehow managed to work on Yearbook. After a long night of cropping photos, making layouts, and reciting lines from Titanic* we decided to call it a day. A friend joined me as I walked home. “So do you think we’ll have much of a weekend?” she asked. I snickered. “Yeah. A weekend dedicated to writing papers. I’ll probably go to the gurudwara with my family just to change things up a bit.” She laughed as she adjusted her peach-colored hijab. “Oh yeah? I can’t go to the mosque this weekend.” “Why not?” I asked. She paused for a moment. “Well, it’s because I’m having my period now. Women aren’t allowed to attend then.”

I didn’t say anything at first. I was debating whether to reply with either:

1. Um, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.

2. What the fuck?

3. May I ask why?

or

4. I see. Interesting.

I chose #3. “You have to be clean and pure when you go to the mosque to pray. We aren’t seen that way when we are bleeding.”

Although I respected her reply and the beliefs she maintained, I couldn’t help but feel helpless, sad, and a bit angry for her. I was completely unfamiliar with such a scenario: the idea that something could restrict me from entering a place of worship. My friend, an educated, moral and spiritual young woman, was going home to help her mom feed her father and brothers (and probably clean up after them by herself) and yet she wasn’t allowed to attend prayer services because her body, designed by a higher power, was undergoing a process that she had no control over. A process that in part played a role in her ability to bear children without gender discrimination.

It was this conversation some 10 years ago that came to mind today as I sat behind and respectfully waved the chaur sahib over the Guru Granth Sahib. It was quite a moment for me when I realized that I,:

1. a woman

2. wearing jeans

3. with a cough and runny nose

and

4. in the midst of her period,

am able to tend to the embodiment of the gurus without fear of being criticized or punished. Neither time, place, appearance, nor circumstance dictates my ability to remember Waheguru. I can argue this using the ultimate feminist manifesto: it’s my choice and my choice alone. (Well, with Waheguru’s blessing of course, but you get what I mean.)

If only everyone could experience what we as Sikhs sometimes take for granted.

To the guys: please respect the period as a continuous cycle and not limit it to the time when someone may be PMS-ing. Respect its implications. And more importantly, to the women: Look inward and respect yourselves. Look outward and demand it from others. Honor your body and the sacred gift it shares.

* = denotes mild embarrassment

Don’t put your air guitar down just yet. Singing shabads and playing tabla and harmonium may lead you to realize your dream of becoming a rock star and playing side by side with bands like Rage Against the Machine and Ozomatli. Sonny Suchdev of Outernational proves it’s possible.

Suchdev is not only a musician, but a writer as well. His intimate short essay “The Day My Skin Came Off” details his experience of being harassed as a young Sikh traveling on a Brooklyn train.

Each of us has faced times where our beliefs have been challenged; Sonny is an example of how “staying up” can keep one afloat from unwarranted criticism and how terrible experiences can inspire one to become an activist and promote tolerance and social justice for all.

Choice and fate both play a role in determining the name of a Sikh. The family crafts a name after looking to the Guru Granth Sahib to provide the first letter of the child’s name. The first name is followed by Singh for males and Kaur for females. Singh and Kaur are names universally shared by Sikhs as this exemplifies equality within the community by reinforcing that Sikhs are sovereign under one God.

Although certain prefixes and suffixes are commonly used, each name remains highly meaningful and defines a Sikh’s identity. The beauty of this concept, however, is being drowned in the perception that global acceptance and success are unattainable if one appears to be different from the masses. More are purposefully choosing to either modify their given names to shorter ones, westernize their names, or completely omit their middle names and replace it with their family names.

One of my favorite essays titled “The Concise Eloquence of Names” celebrates the idea of embracing our historical past and the blessing our name bestows upon us. Perhaps this may help us appreciate what lies within and move forward with our names intact and our heads held up high.

I love it when I see articles in major newspapers covering issues important to the Sikh community. I’m always hopeful they’ll be positive reflections; however, this article didn’t necessarily bring out the warmest of emotions. Rather, it left me feeling hurt and worried.

Popularity contests, apathy, and laziness are the leading forces behind why one of the most conspicuous emblems of our faith is nearing extinction. Sadly, I don’t think I’m exaggerating. A sense of deep concern is reverberating through our community as seen by the number of Sikh revivalism schemes flourishing as of recent. Young Sikhs can visit “turban clinics” to learn how to tie fashionable turbans. A CD titled Smart Turban 1.0 is being marketed to the technologically hip. “Mr. Singh International Pageants” are being held to celebrate the accomplishments of model Gursikhs.

The gurus taught us to embody an independent spirit by maintaining a unique appearance. A sense of duty, responsibility, and respect naturally follows with the adoption of this identity. It seems that these remarkable and forward-thinking teachings alone are not enough to motivate our youth.

Why do we need to market our article of faith as a fashion statement in order for young Sikhs to keep their kesh and wear a turban? Why can’t we simply accept and respect our unshorn hair as a part of God’s design? Why are we blinded by embarrassment and the need to conform instead of seeing our turban as a crown and symbol of wisdom, power, and knowledge? To single out men and place them at fault alone wouldn’t be fair: what has happened to our mothers, our strongest female presence, who are vital in raising proud young Gursikhs? What are our mothers teaching our daughters, the next wave of women responsible for raising the next generation of young Gursikhs?

As long as our community addresses this issue as one that is complex and demanding of our attention, I think we’ll be okay. This isn’t going to be as easy as tossing in a couple of pills to get rid of an annoying headache. A much more not-so-tasty regimen will be needed to reverse this self-created and self-destructive pathology.