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The Pew Forum, through their recently released “US Religious Landscape Survey,” provided information regarding a niche that the US Census manages to avoid: religious affiliation. You could imagine my excitement as I clicked on religions.pewforum.org to check it out and learn what the survey found in regards to Sikh Americans.

And that’s when it all started moving in slow-motion.

“Main page.” I scan through it. “Where’s the category for Sikhs? Okay, no worries. Perhaps we’re buried in the ‘Religious Composition of the US’ table in Chapter 1.” I move the edge of my finger over the mousepad ever so slightly so as to scroll down the page inch by inch. “It’s there, it’s there,” I tell myself reassuringly. “Wow, categories for Eclectic, a little bit of everything, own beliefs, New Age and Native American. Okay, seriously, where are we?” I shoot back up to the top and carefully re-scroll downwards. “You wouldn’t want to publicly hate on a survey for no reason. You’re definitely missing it.” I re-read the text. No luck. Re-loading the page doesn’t work either. “This can’t be for real.”

The record in my head came to a screeching halt.

After going through the entire frickin report I feel comfortable declaring that Sikhs were not included as a category in the study. We are neither a religion, an other world religion, an other faith nor an unaffiliated religion. I don’t get it. Out of the 35556 people over the age of 18 surveyed not one Sikh was reached? We weren’t away from our phones having post-Vaisakhi celebrations between May and August of 2007 (the time period the survey was conducted). How we got shafted remains uncertain.

It’s one thing for you and me to not be able to experience the joy that comes from seeing statistical data published on Sikhs. And trust me, our joy is of major importance to me. But it’s entirely problematic when a survey of great political importance snubs a huge percentage of the American diaspora.

…Muslims rival Mormons as having the largest families. And Hindus are the best-educated and among the richest religious groups, the survey found.

“I think politicians will be looking at this survey to see what groups they ought to target,” Professor Prothero said. “If the Hindu population is negligible, they won’t have to worry about it. But if it is wealthy, then they may have to pay attention.”

Experts said the wide-ranging variety of religious affiliation could set the stage for further conflicts over morality or politics, or new alliances on certain issues, as religious people have done on climate change or Jews and Hindus have done over relations between the United States, Israel and India. (NYT, Feb 26)

I hate to admit that certain groups are lobbied in greater preference than others and politicians cater to certain groups for self gain, but it’s sadly the nature of the beast. Our exclusion from this study is a big loss for our community. We must make sure that this isn’t repeated again. Speak up, people.

Status quo. Acceptance. Rediscovering yourself and your faith. Finding the path to inner piece.

I would say those are reasonable and cool themes to explore in a movie.

But throw in a Sikh transplant surgeon and a love story and you got the makings of Ocean of Pearls, a very-soon-to-be Hollywood release.

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Sarab Singh Neelam, director and co-writer of the film, founder of Lightpost Pictures, Toronto-ian, and gastroenterologist, will debut Ocean of Pearls at the Miami International Film Festival on March 2nd.

Although our protagonist, Amrit Singh, is a surgeon, his story is common to many Sikhs outside of medicine as well. I have seen one too many brother and sister struggle with adapting to western standards while compromising their Sikh identity. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling the pressure myself from time to time.

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Although the film centers around issues of Sikh heritage and principles, the director adds a healthy reminder of the realities and complexities faced by most in our current health care system. In an interview he commented “most Americans do not realize that even if you have health insurance and earn good money, an accident or a health crisis can bankrupt you.”

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Awesome to see folks like Sarab Singh Neelam pursue change for the community though diverse creative outlets. To see our experiences translated through characters such as Amrit Singh and the medium of film, art, and music is a beautiful gift I hope both our community and the general public will appreciate.

Check it out.

Guest Writer (a sikhpulse first)

As a Sikh, one is expected to earn his livelihood by honest and creative means. In my opinion, this means that one has to become a master of his trade. To become a master of one’s trade requires hard work and commitment.

My trade happens to be electrical engineering. In September 2001, I started my university studies in this field. As any engineer will eagerly tell you completing the degree is like reaching the summit of a mountain. From the first lecture in Math 101 till the thesis defence, obstacles of all kinds must be surmounted.

Being an engineer requires one to understand mathematically complex theory and apply it to the real world. Beside analytical skills, teamwork, and communication, an engineer’s work requires the highest level of commitment. The word “commitment” had been burned into my memory since a conversation with my professor during my freshman days.

For six summers and winters I did my best to demonstrate commitment to my work. While my friends from other degrees went sunbathing in Ibiza or skiiing in the Alps, my classmates and I would pore over textbooks trying to make sense of Maxwell’s theory and Differential equations. When our motivation would sink we would tell each other that all sacrifices would be worth it in the end. The only question was when this end would come.

As I sit now, many years later, writing the last chapters of my Master’s thesis I realize that the much anticipated “end” of my studies has come. While I cannot deny that every sacrifice helped towards developing the knowledge and abilities, I question what was the most valuable lesson that I had learned from my experiences.

While I had done my best to work with 100% commitment I was not happy from inside with the quality of my work. Despite my thesis supervisor praising the work produced I had often questioned its worth countless times. This was due to the fact that I had spent so much time at it and that I saw more imperfection than quality. I do not think that any person should feel like this about their work. My supervisor pointed out that I had been perhaps too committed to my work to pay attention to other areas in my life. Stifling my umpteenth yawn and wiping my red-set eyes, I nodded in agreement.

As a Sikh, I have always tried to work honestly towards mastering my trade. In hindsight, I should have taken more time off from work and concentrated more on other areas such as sewa and simran. I would have been much happier and satisfied with life.

I have learned now that honesty and commitment towards one’s profession or kirat karni does not mean working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week towards your goals. Commitment involves regular breaks especially when things at work are not turning out the way they should be. Otherwise one’s happiness and confidence can be torn apart by his very desire to produce quality work. I will treasure this lesson more than the ability to work through complex math equations or write technical reports.

Guest writer can be reached through the comments section.

A pain assessment usually begins with the following question: on a scale of 0 to 10, how would you rate your current level of pain? During a long day of asking people to describe and illustrate their pain through words I tried to find a bit of humor by imagining whether this scoring system could be adapted and applied elsewhere…

Twenty-five years ago, when Kanwaljeet Anand was a medical resident in a neonatal intensive care unit, his tiny patients, many of them preterm infants, were often wheeled out of the ward and into an operating room.

The journey of a Sikh and his career is described in a main article in this Sunday’s Times magazine. Wow. +3 points.

Known to all as Sunny, Anand is a soft-spoken man who wears the turban and beard of his Sikh faith.

The author highlights the physical emblems of our faith. +2 points. Yet, what did this comment add to the article? -1 point. I wonder why Singh was omitted from his name. -1 point.

Anand says he does not oppose abortion in all circumstances but says decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

How do Sikhs approach the issue of abortion? Is all life, no matter whether he will be born with defects or endanger his mother, entrenched with a blessed spirit? How do we feel about aggressive medical care for those nearing the end of their lives? Is this in some way meddling with Waheguru’s plan for our destiny? +5 points for getting us to think about this.

In the push to pass fetal-pain legislation, Anand’s name has been invoked at every turn; he has become a favorite expert of the anti-abortion movement precisely because of his credentials. “This Oxford- and Harvard-trained neonatal pediatrician had some jarring testimony about the subject of fetal pain,” announced the Republican congressman Mike Pence to the House of Representatives in 2004, “and it is truly made more astonishing when one considers the fact that Dr. Anand is not a stereotypical Bible-thumping pro-lifer.” Anand maintains that doctors performing abortions at 20 weeks or later should take steps to prevent or relieve fetal pain.

My, what an observation. He is not a stereotypical Bible-thumping pro-lifer. -0.5 point.

Total: 7.5 points. A considerable amount of pain on a scale of 0 to 10, but not bad on my imaginary scale of a good read that raises awareness of our community and promotes open discourse on important issues that are often pushed aside.

An image of a young Sikh man is plastered on a wall in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center. Nice. I’ve been debating whether to identify him because it would take away from the idea that he represents all members of the Sikh faith. But after some thought (and acknowledging the entertainment factor it would add), I gave in. He goes by Sandeep “Sonny” Caberwal and has a blog of his own. He’s the co-owner of Tavalon, a tea bar in New York’s Union Square. There’s a Facebook group you can join if you’re a fan. He’s a tabla player on Thievery Corporation’s third LP release. He’s also in the promo below. And, no, I’m neither working with the paparazzi, stalking him, nor a part of his entourage.

Correction Appended

Reseachers at the NYU/Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture published a study titled “The Effects of Torture-Related Injuries on Long-Term Psychological Distress in a Punjabi Sikh Sample” to determine whether “physical injury moderates or mediates the relationship between torture and major depressive episodes (MDE) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among survivors of political persecution in India.” Translation: do physical injuries in the setting of torture manifest themselves through mental disease? Major conclusions of the study included that “the diagnosis of MDE was not associated with torture, although depression was associated with chronic injuries” and “injury mediates the effect of torture on longterm PTSD.” Translation: it wasn’t the torture experience itself that led to MDE or PTSD in the sample of Sikhs studied, but rather the “traumatic cues” or reminders of being tortured through the chronic injuries one sustained that led to the manifestation of psychiatric illness.

Some bloggers have noted it was upsetting to not see Sikh physicians associated with the study. Although I agree to some extent, this is where it gets a bit fuzzy for me. It would be inspirational to see Sikhs in the medical world document the physical and psychological toll of human rights abuses in Punjab. Yet, these bloggers are setting a dangerous precedent by narrowing the population to be served to Sikhs alone. We, the Sikh Panth, are a nation defined by an insignia: we must maintain our miri and piri and protect our own spiritual and political sovereignty yet embrace the circular symbol of oneness and our duty to humanity by fighting all injustices and actions of oppression. The atrocities in Punjab have most certainly not been brought to an appropriate scale of attention, and we should use that frustration to motivate us. We must, however, make sure we do not remain blind to our current state of affairs. Genocides are going on right now in Kenya, Sudan, Chechnya, Palestine, and Burma. Right now. Yes, I’ll say it again: genocides are happening right now. In fact, we can broaden the list a bit further: when an individual is denied access to healthcare or medications a human rights violation is committed. Which means I’ve indited nearly every country on the planet, including the U.S. and Canada. Our frustration should not only be with the dearth of Sikhs within the field of human rights but with the number of spirited Sikhs enraged by the brutality currently being enforced on our brothers and sisters. Let us start by reading and getting up to speed with current national and world events and then ask questions, get linked into organizations such as Human Rights Watch or Physicians for Human Rights, sign petitions, blog our thoughts, write letters to the editor, go into the field, march in the streets, shout from the rooftops… okay, I’ll end before I start calling for total anarchy. But you get my drift, I hope.

Correction: February 1, 2007

There is an erroneous statement above, and it has been striked. The blogger did not place limits on the population to be served.