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December has historically been a month comprised of revolutionary events. On December 9, 1948, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was opened for signature. On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In December 1995, the FDA approved the first protease inhibitor, one of the now many classes of therapies available for the treatment of HIV infection. December 1 is now designated as World AIDS Day.

On Monday, December 8, 2008, Physicians for Human Rights and Harvard Medical School will be hosting a town hall meeting titled HIV/AIDS and the Right to Health: Leadership in the US and Globally commemorating World AIDS Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. RSVP by midnight and be prepared to arrive super early if you want a seat.

From December 13-15, 2008 United Sikhs will be hosting Global Sikh Civil Rights Conference during which a Global Civil Rights Report will be released, cases will be presented to the United Nations and sangat, and a panel discussion will be held at the United Nations Church Center. E-mail law@unitedsikhs.org to RSVP or visit unitedsikhs.org for more information.

Because of revolutionary thinkers and activists, HIV is no longer a lethal disease but a chronic manageable condition that is now screened for in the same way we screen for high cholesterol and reported (in most states) in the same manner we notify patients about other blood work and studies. Because of raised voices and collective seva, Sikhs are making headway in defending their right to dignity, life and safety, and practice Sikhi. December 2008 marks only the beginning of change to come. Do your part in educating yourself about the issues and diseases afflicting our panth, erasing intolerance and helping to enact interventions through more than just surveillance research. Let us open our eyes and acknowledge past and present human rights violations in Punjab and throughout the world*. Let us reevaluate our own stigmas and acknowledge that HIV/AIDS affects Sikhs of all sexual orientations, backgrounds and ages. Let us raise our fists together and stay committed to change for months and years to come.

*including Zimbabwe, Turkey, Congo, Russia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Thailand, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Kazakhstan, and the United States (Human Rights Watch Weekly Digest, Nov 28-Dec 3)

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.

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.