Thursday, May 28, 2009
My father always kept a large collection of "Sikh" books at home, covering all aspects of Sikhi - history, Gurbani, and contemporary issues. I rarely delved in to these books, because the English was so hard to understand - often written by authors from the early 1900's or non-English speakers. But on a hot summer day, while on break - one book caught my eye.
It was a series of essays - easy to read, easy to understand…and most of all...captivating! I read the entire book in one sitting. I was able to relate to it so well, as it spoke about Sikh history's significance in today's society. One essay, titled "What Is A Head Worth" blew me away. Although I heard the story of Vaisakhi Day in 1699 dozens of times, this essay brought it to life for me, and I connected with it in a way I hadn't before. More importantly, the author made it relevant to today...and relevant to me. He explained that 300 years later, the Guru is still asking for our head. And we are being tested every day by our choices and actions the same way Guru Sahib tested his Sikhs on that day. The author concluded the essay with a question that shook me, and I immediately wrote it in my journal.
Three hundred years later, once again the Guru wants your head. Many will slip away, just as they did three hundred years ago. Many more will look away, just as they did then. The question is: How are you going to answer the call?I was so moved by this book, I did something I never did before...I wrote a letter to the author. This was long before email and commenting on blog posts...this was a hand-written note. I wanted to tell the author how much I loved the book and how much this essay meant to me as a young Sikh discovering my faith. To my surprise, a few weeks later...I received a call.
Sure enough, it was the author. He was appreciative of my note and we engaged in discussion. I couldn't believe a professor and published author would take the time to call me...a mere college freshman. I invited him to speak at a conference a few of us university students were organizing and he obliged. The conference was a disappointment, as it turned out most of the participants were more interested in partying than attending the workshops - very few actually attended his talk. But he gracefully understood and encouraged me not to get frustrated and continue organizing such events...so I did.
As years passed, the author and I lost touch, but we would run in to each other from time to time in various cities - at workshops, retreats, seminars. He was always a featured speaker and it didn’t matter what the topic or theme was - he was always an expert. And each time we would meet, he would mention the letter I sent him as a kid - and remind me that he still keeps it!
I have followed his writings over the years, through his books and his articles on sikhchic.com, and they still captivate me. Often times he titles them with something provocative, as though he may make some controversial declarative statement at the end - but he rarely does, sometimes to my frustration. He instead raises pertinent issues, analyzes both sides of the argument down to the intricate details - and then leaves the reader to make up their own mind. As I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate this more. As I've seen in Sikh politics and Sikh leadership, we often rush to make declarative statements without the necessary discourse and debate. And we become more comfortable just following the "loudest talker" rather than thinking for ourselves.
Late last year, on a whim - I sent an essay of my own to the author for his feedback. I respect him as a writer and was hoping to develop my own writing. I had rarely shared my essays with anyone else before. He promptly replied with some feedback and encouragement. He also suggested I send my essay to sikhchic.com. With that encouragement, I've continued to write and share pieces - which has been a tremendously reflectively experience and one where I’ve discovered a lot about myself in the process. It's funny, that same person who patted me on the back and encouraged me then as a kid, is still doing the same 15 years later.
I thank Dr. IJ Singh (UncleJi) not only for his guidance and encouragement of me, but for his guidance and encouragement of so many Sikhs of my generation. Although he is a self-proclaimed "gray-beard", he has a knack for connecting with youth activists unlike any other, serving as a trusted mentor and advisor to several Sikh organizations. He has filled the gap as a "visionary" and "thinker" for our institutions, something we as a community often lack.
In one of UncleJi's previous columns, "From Seeds To Flowers”, he poignantly addressed the youth of today, stating, "Sometimes I like to tell them to keep in mind that if they can see farther and act more purposefully, it is because the young stand on the shoulders of giants."
True indeed! I wish UncleJi the best of health, the highest spirits...and most importantly...the strongest of shoulders!
Friday, May 22, 2009
A political science and policy studies major with a focus on law and justice, Kaur has a longstanding interest in human rights and justice issues that stems from the violent history between the Indian government and Sikhs in Punjab.
For her fellowship, Kaur will travel to four countries — Chile, Rwanda, Israel and France — to work with minority populations on the issues of access to human rights and justice.
In Sukhdeep’s three years at Rice University, she not only excelled in her academics, but also in several extra-curricular activities - participating in club volleyball, bike team, equestrian team, and the bhangra team. She is also well-known for her active participation as an instructor and counselor at Gurmat camps throughout the United States. After her fellowship next year, she hopes to begin law school with the ultimate goal of pursuing a career in public policy on human rights and justice issues. Furthermore, she hopes this fellowship will give her better insight to how other countries deal with human rights issues and what can be learned for the case of Sikhs in Punjab.
There are many things that inspire me about Sukhdeep Kaur, but more so than anything else, is her spirit. When asked about the obstacles and challenges she and others faced in India while doing research- lack of support by the government, interference by the police, and the tiring legal process, she said,
“The process is meant to deter us. It is meant to deteriorate our hope and strength. But as Sikhs, we cannot give up. We cannot stop fighting.”
Congratulations Sukhdeep Kaur! Guru Ang Sang!
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
I used to wonder, how could people so hard on their luck, have so much faith? I have seen so many times with family and friends, after they’ve suffered difficult circumstances or loss, God and religion are the first things questioned, i.e. “How could God do this to me?”
I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on “faith” lately, as I’ve noticed a growing pattern of Sikh Youth beginning to doubt their belief in God. In my conversations with some of these youth (many of whom come from wealthy backgrounds), I’ve tried backing off the subject of God altogether, and simply asking - “What do you believe in?” And it’s been pretty consistent. Most of their belief lies in achieving materialistic and financial goals - a high-paying job, big house, nice car, admiration and respect from the community etc. I would listen to this in awe, thinking to myself, that’s it? There is nothing else? Nothing deeper?
I’m not implying that poor people are more inclined to be spiritual or more likely to believe, while the wealthy are incapable of it - of course, all of us can think of examples to prove that theory wrong.
But in simplest terms - in order to believe in God, you must first believe that there is something bigger than yourself.
In page 346 of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Bhagat Ravidas Ji says:
malin bhee math maadhhavaa thaeree gath lakhee n jaae
My intellect is polluted; I cannot understand Your state, O Lord.
karahu kirapaa bhram chookee mai sumath dhaehu samajhaae
Take pity on me, dispel my doubts, and teach me true wisdom.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
“The fact that almost 3,000 people can be murdered without anyone being brought to justice is offensive to any notion of justice and should be an embarrassment to the Indian government.”
"For the Indian government to dismiss these cases due to lack of evidence is farcical. The various agencies responsible for carrying out the investigations failed to carry out the most cursory of tasks – including recording eyewitness and survivor statements.”
As troubling as it is to read this, I was pleased to find that Amnesty International had covered it at all. As many of know, AI, as well as other independent human rights groups and initiatives were either banned or prevented from conducting research in India in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It seems as though there is hope for an independent investigation on the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and perhaps the subsequent disappearances during the counter-insurgency.
Not so fast…in an un-related story, the Tribune reported that Amnesty International has decided to shut down its India operations. The decision is said to have been triggered by continued denial to the Amnesty International Foundation of the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) registration by the Government of India. In a letter to the country offices Amnesty International said,
“The Government of India continues to deny the FCRA registration to the AI India Foundation and our local resources are very insufficient for our survival.”
You might ask - with a corrupt government, poor human rights record, rejection of independent investigations, rejection of the ICC, and an unbelievably strong lobby - what course of actions must Sikhs take for justice? I don’t know… But I do feel our generation has a unique opportunity to present our case to the world in a way the previous generation could not. The material is out there…AI Reports, HRW reports, Ensaaf reports, and personal accounts - but it’s upon us to either let this information lay on shelves collecting dust in law libraries…or to make it known to the world. Let this 25th anniversary of the Sikh Holocaust serve as a call to artists, musicians, film-makers, MCs, poets, writers, educators and story-tellers…the Panth needs you…let the truth be heard!