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Earlier this afternoon, tristate-area Sikhs marched through the streets of Richmond Hill, Queens and demanded the New York City Department of Education to take action and protect Sikh students from bias-based harassment. The Sikh Coalition, in its press release, commended the Department of Education and Chancellor Klein “for pledging to create a system to monitor and address incidents of bias-based bullying in city schools” although it falls “short of the protections called for in the Dignity in All Schools Act passed by the City Council in 2004.”

Hold up, though. It doesn’t look like the large, loud, and colorful posters will be stored in a sevadar’s basement just yet. The press release notes that the community intends to continue marching in larger and larger numbers until the Department of Education: 1. informs and trains teachers on the particular dangers faced by Sikh students and 2. teaches students about Sikhs and Sikh concerns in order to reduce bias and bigotry.

To all those who organized and participated in an effort to protect each child’s right to freely practice his faith: thank you.

Vinay Chakravarthy represented a common cause that engulfed my spirit and traversed the universe of blogdom. I was saddened to learn that Vinay passed away early yesterday morning. May we continue to fight his battle and carry his courage and strength through our own endeavors.

Update: A message from his family and friends with memorial service information if you’re in Boston.

It could have been me. Easily. Move the location 1.4 miles east, go back 14 years and I could have had the same experience as Gurprit Kaur.

Mind you, both Gurprit and I went to public schools in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Most of my friends were curiously open-minded. Yet, the evils of harassment and ignorance crept up in some from time to time. There were a few kids who’d nervously laugh as they asked “so what would happen if we took this scissor and snipped your hair?” And I’d look them in the eye as I sternly replied “that isn’t funny; you know why I don’t cut my hair so keep your scissors away from me.” I guess the look I gave and tone of my voice was enough to help them distinguish right from wrong.

Stern looks and terse voices don’t have much effect anymore. Or any effect for that matter. On June 8, 2008, one of Gurprit Kaur’s classmates intentionally cut three inches of her braid as she sat in her English class. Stern looks and terse voices don’t seem to catch the attention of local and national media either. Either the media is unaware of the blatant infringement of Gurprit Kaur’s rights or has deemed the story un-newsworthy. Type “Gurprit Kaur,” “P.S. 219” or any combination thereof in search engines and you’ll end up empty handed. Seems completely ridiculous as this is the third instance of physical harassment and religious discrimination towards Sikh children within a year, the last one taking place five days prior to Gurprit’s unfortunate attack.

The Sikh Coalition has recognized the lack of attention and is taking matters into their own hands by organizing a march to push the New York Department of Education to end bias-based harassment of Sikh children in city schools. Help the Coalition in our community’s collective efforts by joining in “Sikhs of New York City to March for Sikh Children” on Monday, June 30. We can’t have our young ones practice their faith in fear any longer. Take a peek at the flyer below for more information:

Many, many thanks to organizing/activist extraordinare Sundeep Singh for spreading the word.

Have you ever watched a commercial repeatedly and then come to realize that you never quite figured out what it was attempting to advertise? You’ll remember the jingle and the characters, but not much else. And then, out of nowhere, neurons fire, and whoa, you’ll finally realize that someone was trying to make you buy something and that both the someone and the something are very clear.

I remember going to the gurdwara as a young Kaur in the summer and asking myself when is that day going to arrive– that day when the sangat distributes wonderfully cold and sweet rose-flavored milk. Year after year I remember that day finally arriving: the contrast of the cold cement supporting my feet and the stagnant heat finding its way through my chuni while taking the first delicious sip of refreshing ruhafza before chugging it down and looking for more. But year after year, even after listening (and not passively either) to kathaa about the significance of this service, I would forget all the painful history that led to this tradition. Similar to the way I typically fail to recognize a product placement in an ad, I missed the boat completely when it came to Sikh history. Unlike the commercial, however, the boat wasn’t a campaign designed by a marketing agent to sway my purchasing power. Rather, the boat was exponentially more important: it was a part of Guru Ji’s message and a reflection of my spirit.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the firth Guru of the Sikhs, came to this world in 1563 C.E. as the youngest of three sons of the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das. In 1581 C.E., Guru Ram Das designated Guru Arjan Sahib as his successor Guru. During his stewardship of the faith, Guru Arjan Sahib continued his predecessors’ work of spreading Guru Nanak’s message of faith, hope, prayer, and love and unity of all faiths… Guru Arjan was tortured to death on June 16, 1606 in Lahore and his body was thrown into the river Ravi. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Socrates’ death by poison are the only historical parallels to the unwarranted torture and resultant death of Guru Ji. Guru Arjan, a messenger of love of God and among all people, was executed because of his growing popularity. Sikhs often refer to Guru Arjan Sahib as “Shanti de Punj, Shaheedan de Sartaj,” or “the embodiment of peace, the supreme martyr.” The martyrdom took place during the hottest part of the year, and the torture included seating Guru Sahib on a hot griddle and pouring hot sand over his body. After four days of torture, one devoted follower forsaking personal safety managed to get cold fruit juice through to the Guru. Since then, it has become traditional for Sikhs to observe the anniversary of Guru Sahib’s martyrdom with congregational prayer, taking out processions singing prayers, and performing “Chhabeel” or serving cold refreshing drinks to all, irrespective of religion, race, or caste. The drink traditionally consists of diluted milk sweetened with sugar and often flavored. Juices or cold water may be offered as well.

The Boston Sikh Sangat is commemorating the anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s martyrdom by holding a Chhabeel on Sunday, June 14. Hopefully with your help this year the headlines in the Boston Globe will differ from years past. And hopefully I’ll remember more than just the cold yummy drinks in the years ahead.

The 2008 season of North American Sikh Conferences is winding down. Surat, Jago, and Seattle Sikh all had successful runs this year, and it’s likely Jakara will as well. Although the four conferences have their fair share of insightful and engaging discussion and lectures, it’s just that: a fair share. One two-week seminar, however, leaves the others straggling behind and triumphs them all: Sidak! Returning for its sixth year Sidak promises to end the year with a bang though courses in Sikh history and theology, culture and language and daily morning and evening divans.

Develop your faith, courage, and discipline.  Cultivate and invigorate your soul.

What are you doing during July 13-26? If you’re free, register here. If you’re not, block it off for 2009.