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An interview with Christina Antonakos-Wallace, filmmaker of with WINGS and ROOTS
Christina Antonakos-Wallace, filmmaker of with WINGS and ROOTS.

Christina Antonakos-Wallace, filmmaker of with WINGS and ROOTS

Christina Antonakos-Wallace is the filmmaker behind with WINGS and ROOTS, a 90-minute documentary that tells the stories of five people from different immigrant communities living in New York or Berlin, Germany, who have struggled to shape their identity in various ways.

The film features The Langar Hall’s own Sonny Singh, a Sikh living in New York. Part of his story was featured in the well-received short documentary Article of Faith, spawned from the with WINGS and ROOTS project, that portrays Sonny’s activism around bullying of Sikh school children in New York. Another short film, called Where are you from from? was also produced out of this project.

Below, Christina Antonakos-Wallace discusses the film and provides great insight about its intended message regarding the immigrant experience and the search for identity. You can view the trailer for with WINGS and ROOTS at the end of this post.


Burqa ban crosses the Atlantic

The legal banning of the burqa and niqab has once again been in the headlines this last week, but this time beyond Europe, in Canada (or as Tanmit from G.N.E. called it last week at Lahir, “America’s pagh”).

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, known for his conservative and anti-immigrant policies, announced that new Canadian citizens will now be forced to remove the burqa or niqab while taking their oath of citizenship.

According to the Associated Press,

Jason Kenney said most Canadians have misgivings about Islamic face coverings and said new Canadians should take the oath in view of their fellow citizens…

The Conservative minister called the issue a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of Canada’s identity and the country’s values of openness and equality. He said women who feel obliged to have their faces covered in public often come from a cultural milieu that treats women as property rather than equal human beings.


Burqa Ban Spreads in Europe

Along with the start of the holy month of Ramadan, the last few weeks have seen an increase in momentum for laws that ban the wearing of the burqa and niqab in European countries.  We’ve talked about France before, where the implementation of its law banning Muslim face covering began this past spring.  Now Belgium, which passed a similar measure last year, has begun implementing its ban on burqas as of July 23rd, and in Italy, new anti-burqa legislation was just passed by a parliamentary commission this week.

In both countries, like France, a miniscule number of women actually wear the burqa or niqab, begging the question of why an increasing number of European nations feel so threatened by it.

In Belgium, the lawmaker who proposed the bill, Daniel Bacquelaine, “said it was necessary to forbid the wearing of clothes that ‘totally mask and enclose’ the wearer. He described wearing the burqa as ‘not compatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society.’  Peter DeDecker of the Flemish separatist NVA saw the ban as a way of defending ‘our fundamental principles of the enlightenment.'”

Just as in France, what I would argue (and have previously argued) is an attack on religious freedom is being justified with the rhetoric of freedom and liberty (and public safety).


Sikhi or Soccer?


[Note] There has been an update to this post, please see below.

Earlier this month the ruling body for international soccer, FIFA, banned the Iranian women’s team from playing because of their uniforms.  The stated reason for the disqualification is that the women’s uniforms, which include a track suit and a head scarf, violated the FIFA dress code.  The rules for the 2012 Olympics, according to FIFA, state that,

“[p]layers and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits.”

Covering the full body is required of women in Iran and when these players were faced with a decision between their faith or football, they chose their faith.  Previously, we’ve blogged about the slippery slope of religious symbols, particularly in places like France.  Several blogs and opinion pieces have noted that “it seems unlikely that FIFA’s decision is truly independent of any kind of paternalistic or anti-Islamic sentiment, like the anti-head scarf fervor and bigotry going on in France.”

saturday_images_image_11_623183038.jpgDo Sikhs need to be worried about such policies?  Would we need to choose between Sikhi or Soccer?  While it seems like this may not be of immediate concern to the Sikh community (because really do YOU know any Sikh football soccer players?!) – it is of concern to us because often times turbans come under similar scrutiny.  We have amazing athletes, such as Fauja Singh, who are integrally involved in sports in places like England (there are even Facebook pages dedicated to “Fauja Singh for London 2012 Olympic Torchbearer”).  Imagine if this sentiment continues to grow across Europe, as it seems like it is, what will that mean for Fauja Singh and other athletes who wear turbans?  So, readers, I’m curious – do we need to worry about this issue?

UPDATE: According to a recent article, Sikhs are impacted by these policies,

Muslims are not the only minorities being affected by the rules of professional sporting bodies, such as FIFA, and those enforcing them. Another player, this time a young Sikh, 14-year-old Sagerpreet Singh, was also prevented from playing because he wears a turban, which the Quebec Soccer Federation argues gives him an “unfair competitive advantage on headers”. Given that turbans do not cover the forehead (the part used for “heading” a ball) it is not clear how this could give an edge to a player.

If you’d like to sign a petition which urges FIFA to reconsider and reevaluate its stance on the dress code restrictions it has placed so that all women can play, you can do so here.

[email protected]

A new film, by Turbanology filmmaker Jay Singh-Sohal, discusses the presence of Sikhs in the World Wars.  Sikhs at War is a free online educational short-film exploring one young person’s journey to discover the invaluable contribution made by his community during the First World War.  This documentary has been made specifically with young people in mind.  Educators can use the film as a resource to find out more about Sikhs who fought during both World Wars for Great Britain.

From their simple village life in the Panjab regions of modern day India and Pakistan, the Sikhs volunteered in their thousands to fight for Britain. During the Great War their numbers rose from 35,000 at the beginning of 1915 after the crisis in Europe turned into War, to more than 100,000 who were in active service by the time it ended in 1918.

The Sikhs formed 20% of the British Indian Army in action despite being only 2% of the population of India. They fought on all fronts in Europe, from Turkey and in Africa to the fields of Flanders. Their bravery is legendary – of the 22 Military Crosses awarded for conspicuous gallantry to Indians during the conflict 14 were rewarded to Sikh soldiers.

But for the thousands that left their homelands to join the fighting many did not return. During both the Great War (1914-18) and World War Two (1939-45) Sikh soldiers killed in action numbered 83,005 with 109,045 more wounded. One again despite being a minority in British India.

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Punjabis Stranded in the Strait

A documentary titled, “Stranded in the Strait” discusses the plight of young men and their dreams to emigrate to Europe (hat tip: JSB).  This particular story focuses on a group of Punjabi men who are stranded in Ceuta, an autonomous city of Spain located on the North African side of the Strait of Gibraltar and claimed by Morocco.

In the densely forested hills above Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast, 57 young Indian immigrants await their fate in a shanty community they’ve built to avoid deportation. With lush visual style, the film accompanies them in their daily trials as they scramble to survive, waiting to cross the last 14 km that separate them from Europe. Will they make it there? [link]

“After the Indian ambassadress visited the city in 2007,” says Gurpreet, spokesman for the “rebels,” “the situation became ever worse; almost 50 percent of us were repatriated immediately. Thus, as sign of protest, we decide to take shelter to the forest. We hoped to come to the attention of the community, but, as you can see, after one year, we are still here.” [link]

These men have essentially given up everything to pursue their dream of reaching Europe.  For many of these men, there is no alternative but to do whatever they can to cross those final 14kms.  Returning to India might be the natural suggestion, but for many of these men, this is not an option as they have used all their savings to get to this place.  Khalsa Aid, a non-profit organization based in the UK, has offered humanitarian assistance – but what these men need is political assistance.

Another clip below the jump:


Liberation or Racism?

The French government is at it again.  France’s lower house just passed a law that would make it illegal for women to wear the full Islamic veil (burqa or niqab) in public.  It would fine women 150 euros for not complying.   Sundari posted on this issue back in February, and now this attack on religious freedom has come one step closer to being the law of the land as the bill passed 335 to 1 in the National Assembly this week.  The bill would have to be ratified in September by the Senate to become law.

Proponents of the law say the National Assembly vote is a victory for democracy and French Values.  Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie stated it was a victory for, “Values of freedom against all the oppressions which try to humiliate individuals; values of equality between men and women, against those who push for inequality and injustice.”

What about the value to practice your religion freely and  express your identity (religious or otherwise) through what you wear?  Madeline Bunting, in a great column in the UK’s Guardian today, stated: “Women wearing the skimpiest of mini-skirts sit down on buses next to other women in saris, business suits, salwar kameez. None of these cultural codes expressed in dress are regarded as the business of the state. Nor should they be.”


Men charged for last year’s Vienna violence

About this time last year, in July, an attack on a dera in Austria sparked violence in Punjab.  Six men have now been vienna_riot.jpgcharged- one with murder, and five with attempted murder as accomplices – for the initial attack in Vienna.

A 35-year-old man has been charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder, a Vienna court spokesman said. The five others are charged with being accomplices in attempted murder and with attempted severe assault on the worshippers. [link]

The five charged as accomplices are planning on pleading not guilty. [link]

The thirty-five year old charged with murder claims that he suffers from memory loss “after being subdued by worshippers wielding frying pans, a rolling pin and a microphone stand. The defence said it would submit a psychiatric assessment to the court.”  He’ll be submitting a psychiatric evaluation to assess any such loss.

The Slippery Slope of Religious Symbols in France

france_sikhs.jpgFrench legislators are currently considering a ban that would prevent Muslim women the right to wear full-body veils in public areas such as buses, trains, hospitals, restaurants, schools and other public places.  Since 2004, head scarves and other signs of religious affiliation have been banned from public schools by a government determined to enforce France’s tradition of strict secularism amid fears of growing fundamentalism.  Although Sikhs have also been fighting for their right to wear turbans in France – what will an overt ban, which sends a clear statement to its citizens about religious tolerance, mean to other minority groups in the country?

Identifying the burqa as alien to French culture, say the ban’s critics, also fans xenophobic sentiment. What will be declared un-French next? The sari? The Sikh turban? Day-Glo bicycle shorts? [link]

Interestingly – there are only about 2,000 Muslim women in France who wear these veils.  Many say that France, a country that prides itself on liberal democracy, is simply taking away the individual freedom to make a choice.  As an Op-Ed piece in the NYT asks, “Why the French obsession with the burqa? After all, as the French government itself has conceded, only about 1,900 women wear the full-body covering. So why are over half of the respondents in recent public opinion polls in favor of a ban on it?”


Armed And Ready

queen_guards_TLH.jpgI was very impressed to see this great article (and cool pic!) in today’s Daily Mail. Along similar lines as last week’s post on the Blue Beret Kanhaiyas, it is wonderful to see Sikhs presented in this light…as confident and courageous soldiers in highly respected positions. Equally fascinating are some of the comments to the article which seem to be coming from mostly non-Sikhs, such as “Her Majesty is in safe hands with those two guarding her” and “Very smart they look too.” This is a far cry from the hate you’ll find on some of the military websites and blogs regarding the Sikh Coalition’s “Right To Serve” campaign. I hope this milestone and media attention of the Queen’s new guards will help serve as a stepping stone in this historic campaign here in the US.

Sikhs and Dera SachKhand – Vienna and Jalandhar

sikhvienna.jpgAs suggested by our readers (pagh salute: ambi and an indian Sikh), I am posting on the tragedy in Vienna.  The facts are still coming in, so we have little perspective on what exactly occurred.

This much is known.  In the Austrian capital of Vienna, six Sikh men carrying various weapons and a handgun entered a Dera [Some media are calling this a ‘Sikh temple’ or a ‘gurdwara’, but it seems to be a dera attached to the Sach Khand group].  The men proceeded to go towards the ‘preachers’ of the Dera and in the melee 16 people have been reported injured, including 6 seriously – two names have been reported amongst the injured – Niranjan Das and Sant Rama Nand – and the other 4 were the attackers (there are rumors that Sant Rama Nand may have been killed, but this has not yet been confirmed.  Sant Rama Nand is one of the highest leaders of the SachaKhand Dera).

Some of the media is attempting to frame the dispute in terms of caste, asserting that the Dera is set up to honor Bhagat Ravi Das, whose own Bani can be found in the Guru Granth Sahib.  Other reports for a cause have provided the following:

[the attackers] accused one or both of the preachers of being disrespectful of the Holy Book [Sri Guru Granth Sahib]. Indian news reports said the attackers were incensed that one of the preachers was given a ceremonial shawl considered a high Sikh honor. [link]

Still some of the local press has provided the following reason:

It was assumed by local media that the conflict between the temples like competing for worshipers might be the reason of this shooting incident. [link]

The story does not end there.


Enjoy The Show But Leave Your Kirpan At Home



Vaisakhi in the diaspora usually brings two things to those living in cities with large Sikh communities: Nagar Kirtans and Vaisakhi concerts. Unfortunately, if you were an Amritdhari Sikh in London this year and you wanted to partake in both, you would have been out of luck. Tickets for the recent Gurdas Maan concert held at Wembley Arena had a unique warning printed on them, “NO KIRPANS OR SHARP OBJECTS”.

I won’t dwell too much on the irony of banning kirpans at a Vaisakhi concert, which usually start with the requisite dharmak songs, like Gurdas Maan’s tribute to Guru Gobind Singh and his contributions to Sikhi.

What I wonder is exactly what the organizers must have been thinking in doing this. I suspect the banning of kirpans probably falls under generic security rules banning knives and other weapons. In fact the terms and conditions on their website state that the “possession of any article, which is or may be used as a weapon or missile” is strictly prohibited. Pretty standard fare at all large venues.


More “Sikh” products- tv channels

More Sikh (or being promoted as Sikh) products are launching- I’m referring to the new tv channels: 1) The Sikh Channel– which is replacing Brit Hits TV and 2) Punjjabi TV

punjjabi_tv_1.jpgPunjabi and Sikh people finally have the opportunity to watch programs in their mother tongue with the launch of a dedicated Sikh channel on Sky digital 840 and the perceived arrival of Punjjabi TV coming on air as early as Monday next week. [link]

Does this increase in Sikh products mean that Sikhs will have a platform and voice which we’ve been lacking before? Not necessarily. Zee Punjabi and many other channels have already been targeting Punjabi and Sikh audiences.   So far it seems like these new channels will continue to provide the same coverage as earlier channels- sitcoms, kirtan, music, and some non-controversial news. There’s very little information available online about these channels thus far, and I’m interested to know whether they’re owned by Sikhs or just targeting a Sikh audience.

Regardless of the owners, the launch of these channels does signal that at least some parts of our community are gaining economic and social power, at least in the UK where these channels seem to be based.   And perhaps (depending on who the owners are) these channels can serve as platforms for discussing ideas that other news forms avoid, out of a desire to remain non-controversial. Or perhaps it’ll be more of the same.

Airline for Sikh pilgrims, Akal Air, launches

An airline with potentially the best airplane food (for those with Punjabi palates) has just launched. Akal Air has just started bi-weekly flights (Wednesdays and Saturdays) from Birmingham, UK to Amritsar, a gateway for Sikhs to akalairlogo.jpgPunjab. 

Daljit Singh Birring, managing director of Akal Air, suggested that Birmingham International Airport is the “perfect base” for the airline. He said: “Access to Amritsar is of huge importance to the large Punjabi and Sikh population of the Midlands taking the pilgrimage to the Golden Temple and visiting family and friends.” [cheapflights uk]

The new flights are good news for the large Asian community in the Midlands. “Birmingham is the perfect base for Akal Air. Access to Amritsar is of huge importance to the large Punjabi and Sikh population of the Midlands taking the pilgrimage to the Golden Temple and visiting family and friends, as well as for business people trading with India’s emerging and developing economy,” says Akal Air managing director, Daljit Singh Birring. [link]

It seems that hospitality will be a major feature of the airline.

Akal Air customers will always be treated with respect, due care and consideration and be offered a pleasant flight experience by all Akal Air staff from Check-in, boarding, in-flight through to baggage claim. [Akal Air]

Happy travels to all in Birmingham! I hope to see Akal Air expand in the near future.

Brutal Attack on a Sikh Man in Italy

italy.jpgIn a brutal attack, a homeless Sikh man, Navtej Singh Sidhu, in Italy was attacked and set on fire.  While news of our brothers and sisters in Italy does not always feature prominently in The Langar Hall, the horrific nature of this attack has received international press and proper condemnation from Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano.

The President stated:

“By now, these cannot be considered as isolated events but as alarming symptoms of a widespread trend that is unfortunately growing,” he said.

“I appeal strongly to those who have institutional, cultural and educational responsibility to commit themselves fully to putting a stop to any display of xenophobia, racism and violence.” [link]

[Sorry for a quick digression, but it is interesting that last week I reported on TOI’s usage of religion.  When reporting about Khalsa murder of Hothi, the TOI was quick to use the word ‘Sikh’ in the headline.  In this attack, the TOI article’s headline is Italian President slams racist attack on Indian.]