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I have a problem with our cultural attitudes. A big problem. And although the problem isn’t a new one I’m still going to write a post about it so bear with me.
Sometimes I feel so out of place when I’m with a bunch of Sikhs. Perhaps it is because I didn’t grow up in a tight-knit Sikh community. Perhaps it was my way of maintaining distance from certain superficial cultural attitudes that I had no intention of perpetuating or adopting. I thought I could be a contributing member of the sangat and simply ignore the nonsense.
Easier said than done.
Earlier this month, Harbhajan Singh, a popular cricket Indian player also known (slightly cheezily) as “The Turbinator,” was accused of making a racist comment towards Andrew Symonds, Australia’s only black player. Although the Australians are currently under investigation by the International Cricket Council for equally not-so-nice remarks towards South Asians and Africans, it wasn’t pleasant to hear someone who identifies himself as a Sikh espouse beliefs inconsistent with Sikh doctrine and see it splashed all over worldwide media.
It’s even harder to contain my expletives when I hear similar crap in person. Especially when it comes from a specific group of highly identifiable aunties gathered in langar halls around North America. They scour the sangat under a cloak of narrowminded beliefs and regurgitate their definition of beauty under hushed tones: that to be ideal is to be fair-skinned (the lighter, the better), tall (above 5’5″ and you’re all set), thin (but body fat percentage doesn’t matter), sharp-nosed (but not too sharp) and have long luscious hair (but don’t you dare have a hair anywhere else). Even L’Oreal, Garnier, and Ponds are aware of the power of auntie-think as they have pushed chemical-laden products that help lighten skin throughout markets in India and the US. How ironic that mega-corporations are looting aunties through their deeply embedded sense of self-hatred and laughing straight to the bank because of it.
I often refer to my thinking (and the thinking of some of you awesome readers) as progressive or revolutionary, but it isn’t, dammit! The ideas of equality, anti-discrimination, and empowerment were outlined by the Gurus not too long ago. What the hell is it going to take to get rid of the hurtful and ridiculous auntie-think that pervades our community? It may take readers like you to make an auntie afflicted with auntie-think aware of her ignorance. [Note: must be done with extreme politeness and respect to be effective. I’ve done it before (and in Punjabi I must add), and she stopped her remarks although I did get a strange look from her as we walked away.] It may take the form of young women speaking up in women’s groups and gatherings. It may be time for our young men to step in and confront their mothers, sisters, and wives. And, oh yeah, don’t purchase the disgusting products like the ones mentioned above.
The cure is in our possession, my friends; are you ready to help administer it?
I was this close (yes, this close) to tearing the media (the Times in particular) apart to shreds. I nearly got sucked into the drumbeat of outright war. CBS, however, prevented the escalation (and my own public embarrassment from future regret) from coming to light with the documentary “In God’s Name” premiering tonight at 9 PM EST.
The Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the Sikhs’ highest authority, is one of twelve spiritual leaders interviewed. Personal moments of prayer and family are included in promotional photographs as seen below:
The directors describe him as “speaking out strongly for women’s equality in the Sikh faith.”
So let me get this straight: a major media outlet interviewed, photographed, promoted, and reflected positively on Sikhi and its leaders. Yes, the photos above are placed at the end of the slideshow on the site and perhaps some of the other spiritual leaders will get more air time, but unlike other news that is supposedly fit to print, CBS acknowledged Sikhism as one of the world’s major religions. Although we may be a young faith, they recognize that more folks practice Sikhi than Judaism.
Someone deserves a high-five. Thank you for helping to initiate a temporary halt to my media bashing.
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?
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
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