Currently Browsing: Human Rights
Sikh Solidarity with Gaza

At least 21 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and hundreds more injured in the last week by the Israeli “Defense” Forces.  Three Israelis have also been killed in this latest escalation of violence in the region.  The situation is dire, as Israel is now ramping up for a full on ground invasion of Gaza, an area of only 141 square miles inhabited by 1.7 million residents.  One of the most densely populated areas in the world, it has also been called the largest open air prison in the world.  (Read Ten things you need to know about Gaza for more).

Let us be clear:  Israel is not defending its citizens.  It is on an aggressive, offensive, politically-charged rampage.  We must read beyond the deceiving mainstream media coverage to get the to reality of the situation (see this timeline of recent events).  This isn’t about Hamas rockets or any dangers to the existence of the state of Israel.  Phyllis Bennis wrote in the Nation:

So why the escalation? Israeli military and political leaders have long made clear that regular military attacks to “cleanse” Palestinian territories (the term was used by Israeli soldiers to describe their role in the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza) is part of their long-term strategic plan. Earlier this year, on the third anniversary of the Gaza assault, Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Army Radio that Israel will need to attack Gaza again soon, to restore what he called its power of “deterrence.” He said the assault must be “swift and painful,” concluding, “we will act when the conditions are right.” Perhaps this was his chosen moment…

This is primarily about Netanyanu shoring up the right wing of his base. And once again it is Palestinians, this time Gazans, who will pay the price. The question that remains is whether the US-assured impunity that Israel’s leadership has so long counted on will continue, or whether there will be enough pressure on the Obama administration and Congress so that this time, the United States will finally be forced to allow the international community to hold Israel accountable for this latest round of violations of international law.

If you pay taxes in the United States, you are helping fund Israel’s invasion. Just a few months ago, President Obama announced the addition of $70 million in military aid to Israel.  We Americans are literally funding the atrocities being committed against our brothers and sisters in Gaza right now.


Decade of Dissapearances: Addressing Human Rights Through Art

Following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, the Indian government employed orchestrated pogroms against Sikhs. Mobs, equipped with weapons, kerosene, and the addresses of Sikh homes, chanted “khoon ka badla khoon se lenge! (Blood for blood)” as they hunted innocent Sikhs, and those protecting Sikhs, throughout Delhi. Suddenly, Sikh Indian citizens were left stranded in their homeland with no protection and no exercise of control by the Indian government.

“Murderous gangs of 200 or 300 people led by leaders, with policemen looking on, began to swarm into Sikh houses, hacking the occupants to pieces, chopping off the heads of children, raping women, tying Sikh men to tires set aflame with kerosene, burning down the houses and shops after ransacking them. Mobs stopped buses and trains, in and out of Delhi, pulling out Sikh passengers to be lynched to death or doused with kerosene and burnt alive. In some areas, the Sikh families grouped together for self-defense. The police officials then arrived to disperse them, by force when the persuasion did not work. In other areas, the police searched the houses for weapons including ceremonial daggers, and confiscated them before the mobs came. Over the next five days, nearly 3,000 Sikhs were killed.” -Reduced to Ashes, pg. 42


Letters Home

Guest blogged by Preeti Kaur

The following is an excerpt from Preeti Kaur’s poem “Letters Home,” in honor of those lost and injured in Oak Creek, WI. Read the full poem here, and sign the petition to push the FBI to track hate crimes against Sikhs.  

i travel the 5th udaasi
i see no stranger in this country
when i was born my mother carried me
to richmond hill new york gurdwara to discover the first
letter of my name
as grown woman i perch above
pacific watch from el sobrante, california gurdwara
as fog rolls under golden
gate’s spine at sunset
i recite rehraas toward an angel island

100 year udaasi and i have traveled the whole country
hyphen is a language i lost

when the door to the Guru arrived
as asteroid from amritsar to stockton
Mian Mir put down the first brick
in the americas too
walt whitman spoke to 10 Nanaks
left his four directioned
pairs of shoes outside stockton’s darbar
shoes for us to borrow

in oak creek Bhai Taru Singh Ji’s scalp
lives again an eternal hair
which grows from 1907 bellingham
tied into the topknot of wisconsin

our kanga combs this hair with media soundbites
hair which absorbs perfume of flags
a mane we sometimes fear to wash

lakhi shah vanjara, mehar karo
give us your brave flame today
make our roof known as only nirbhao nirvair

hot winds blow away
with 5th Nanak’s naam we alight
this fire beneath us the first shaheed
a heat which ignites miri piri
for when they come for us

Tom Mulcair Responds: Tells India he won’t be bullied and stands firm on 1984 Statement

Guest blogged by ResistSingh

amneet_620x270.pngEvery June and November, Sikhs in Canada (and globally) are curious to see what Canadian politicians will say about the tragedies of 1984.

Will they align themselves with the community and provide support and solidarity with the Sikhs as they come together to remember both the invasion and massacre of innocents inside the Darbar Sahib complex during the hot month of June; and then the senseless targeting, butchering, killing and raping of Sikhs during the November Sikh Genocide?

Although the answer is a no brainer to human rights activists, like many social justice issues they seem to be tough political decisions that attract countless discussions and debates amongst politicians and political parties about vote banks, international cooperation, trade relations, development, foreign policy and much more. That is why we have seen sporadic statements from the Liberals and Conservatives for November, rarely if ever for June and a lack of consistency.


India’s Foreign Interference: Telling Lies, Spreading Hate

Guest blogged by ResistSingh


As the month of June has passed, Canadian Sikhs, along with human rights activists and their allies, are recovering from yet another campaign of misinformation by the Indian High Commission and a recent wave of visceral and unfounded attacks.

Twenty-eight years after the Indian Army Invasion of the Darbar Sahib Complex during Massacre Bluestar, the Government of India has continued its assault by attempting to deny Canadian citizens an opportunity to engage in the healing and reconciliation process as they deal with the wounds inflicted upon them during the invasion.

With the recent attempts by the Government of India to undermine unity and reconciliation in the Diaspora amongst all South Asians in Canada, it has given rise to some serious questions one must consider: how and why is India interfering  in the lives of Canadian citizens and their democracy?; is there any substance to the claims they are making?

While conducting an analysis of India’s response to the Leader of the NDP, Tom Mulcair’s statement of solidarity with the Sikh community, a basic review of the Indian High Commissions claims has shown many nuances and problematic statements have been made, lacking independent validation. Additionally, beyond the factually incorrect statements that have been identified, the language of the Indian High Commissioner has unfortunately been mirrored by members of Canada’s unelected, patronage-appointed Senate.

Of particular concern, a published article by Conservative Senator Asha Seth titled “Building walls, spreading hate” contains many sentences that resemble those in a letter written by the Indian High Commissioner, along with claims that are simply, factually incorrect.


Sikhs challenging racial profiling

Photo courtesy of the Sikh Coalition

My Facebook news feed and email inbox have been buzzing with discussion and calls to action to challenge racial profiling and, in particular, the NYPD’s infamous “stop and frisk” policy.  I was happy to receive multiple emails today on the issue from Sikh American civil rights organizations, namely SALDEF and the Sikh Coalition.  I’ve previously written about my own experiences with racial/religious profiling in NYC and the importance for us Sikhs to make the connection between the profiling we face post-9/11 and the profiling young black and Latinos have been enduring for decades.

Encouraging the NY Sikh community to attend a massive silent march this Sunday (father’s day, not coincidentally), the Sikh Coalition’s email alert stated:

In the post 9/11 era, Sikhs know all too well the consequences of racial profiling. We have felt the violence of profiling at airports; it is humiliating. It is a violation of our civil rights and it severely undermines our liberty and our safety.

As Sikhs, we have an obligation to stand for the human rights of all people. It is important that we uphold this sacred commitment as African American and Latino communities endure the type of unfair scrutiny that leads to hate crimes, workplace discrimination, school bullying, and profiling.



Guest blogged by @NSYF (National Sikh Youth Federation)

1984.jpgThe Sikh community in the UK is once again preparing to mark the anniversary of the June 1984 Indian army invasion of their holiest place of worship. Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple located in Amritsar, was invaded in an unprecedented Indian army action against the civilian population that resulted in massive casualties and wide spread human rights violations.

Every year for the past 27 years the UK Sikhs have been gathering in Hyde Park London for a protest march that ends with a rally in Trafalgar Square. This year is no exception with the rally taking place on the 10th of June. The rally makes vocal the Sikh demands for justice and has been seen as a show of solidarity and remembrance.

As times have changed and the Sikh diaspora have become more educated and media savvy, their methods of protest have also evolved. Young Sikhs have come together to found a charitable NGO and Think Tank called the National Sikh Youth Federation (NSYF). This organisation, whose motto is ‘To Educate, Inspire and Unite’ has become the platform for an innovative media campaign to highlight the events of June 1984. Utilising both social and physical media NSYF are attempting to create mass awareness. From the 1st to the 10th of June NSYF will be uploading one picture everyday at 0700 GMT via their twitter account @theNSYF centred around the hashtag #10DaysofTerror.

NSYF will be telling the story of June 1984 by recreating the major events of each day with a historic newsfeed, culminating in the release of a video to tie the campaign together.

Sikh Coalition hits a home run with FlyRights app
FlyRights App from the Sikh Coaltion (photo:

FlyRights App from the Sikh Coaltion (photo:

By now, you have likely heard of the smartphone app (available for iPhone and Android devices) released by the Sikh Coalition called FlyRights, which was released yesterday (April 30), and is free of cost. The news of this app’s release has spread virally among news outlets and has been applauded by other civil rights organizations and the general public.

FlyRights allows travelers (Sikh or otherwise) to now report complaints to the TSA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) if they feel that they have been racially profiled by TSA agents.

Based on past experiences, it is an app I wish I had before, but I’m glad that it’s available now.



Guest blogged by Preeti Kaur

For Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana

For everyone who flies the kesri jhaanda today


















21st Century Lynching with Impunity

17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s life was taken away from him a few weeks ago in a gated community in Florida simply because of the color of his skin.  On his way back from picking up a pack of Skittles and an iced tea at the local 7-11, he was shot dead by 26-year-old George Zimmerman, who was a part of the neighborhood watch group and found Trayvon “suspicious.”  Trayvon was wearing a hoodie and carrying a pack of Skittles, unarmed.

To date, Zimmerman has not been arrested nor charged with any crime.

A petition has been circulating on for the last week or so, calling on Florida prosecutors to charge Zimmerman with the murder of Trayvon Martin.  In the last few days, the mainstream media has picked up on the story.

In a message sent through today, Trayvon’s parents said:

Our son didn’t deserve to die. Trayvon Martin was just 17 years old when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Trayvon wasn’t doing anything besides walking home with a bag of Skittles and some iced tea in his hands.

What makes Trayvon’s death so much harder is knowing that the man who confessed to killing Trayvon, George Zimmerman, still hasn’t been charged for Trayvon’s killing.

Despite all this, we have hope. Since we started to lead a campaign on, more than 500,000 people…have signed our petition calling for Florida authorities to prosecute our son’s killer.

Our campaign is already starting to work. Just last night, the FBI and Department of Justice announced they were investigating our son’s killing. Newspapers around the globe are reporting that it’s because of our petition.

But our son’s killer is still free, and we need more people to speak out if we want justice for Trayvon.

We aren’t looking for revenge, we’re looking for justice — the same justice anyone would expect if their son were shot and killed for no reason.


Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana


See UPDATED post from TLH here at The Wonder of the Shaheed.

On March 31st, Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana is set to be executed in Punjab for his involvement in the assassination of former chief minister of Punjab, Beant Singh.  It will be the first execution in Punjab’s history in 24 years.

Chief minister Beant Singh was involved with carrying out brutal and mass killings of Sikhs in Punjab.  He is widely held responsible by many Sikhs for ordering the kidnap, torture and death of many young Sikh men.  A report by Amnesty International can be found here.

Balwant Singh Rajoana has confessed his involvement in the assassination.  He’s accepted the sentence without protest,  identifying a lack of faith in the Indian judiciary system and accusing Indian courts for applying dual standards of law.  The Indian judiciary system is one that has continued to protect the culprits of the mass killings of Sikhs.  In his will Balwant Singh announced his wish to donate his eyes and other body parts after his death, in particular, he expressed his desire that his eyes should be transplanted to Hazoori Ragi of Darbar Sahib, visually impaired Bhai Lakhwinder Singh.  An English translation of his living will can be found here.

Sikh groups in the diaspora are organizing demonstrations to bring awareness to Balwant Singh’s case.  You can find out more about these events on this facebook page.  In addition, a petition has been created to stop the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana.

Let us not forget those men and women who have stood up against injustice.

Homeless Punjabis in Southall

In late 2009, we wrote a post about the growing number of homeless Punjabis and Sikhs living in Southall.  Almost three years later, the situation in Southall continues to concern us.  A recent article from the BBC discusses the plight of these young men who seek voluntarily deportation back to India but who, without documents, are unable to navigate an unforgiving bureaucratic situation.

Jagdeesh pulls away a piece of cardboard revealing a tiny hole in a concrete wall. He invites me to climb through, declaring: “This is my home, come in.”

“I was told that life was good here. It’s not just me, other boys came for work,” he says. “You can see what state we’re in, there’s no work, no government help.” Jagdeesh has cut himself off from his family, saying he is ashamed of his failure to find work and would rather they thought he was dead than knew he was living in filth. “They sold land and took out loans to get me out of India. What can I say to my family back home? The money we’ve invested is lost,” he says. [link]

According to figures from the UK Home Office, voluntary departures have risen steadily over the past few years, from 335 in 2005 to 15,537 in 2010.  While many of these cases have been logged with the UK Border Agency, it seems that the Indian High Commission is dragging its feet on processing the cases. According to the article, the UK Border Agency admits that establishing the identity of illegal immigrants in order to issue them with emergency travel documentation is a “complex” process and that the time it takes to process these individuals varies by case.  One individual, a man in his 30s, has been waiting for three years.

Many of these individuals abuse drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the situation. Their thoughts often turn to suicide.  Their only support system is each other and the majority of them haven’t even told their families, back in Punjab, about their broken dreams.  It’s a difficult situation for these men – their lack of options in Punjab drives them to seek opportunities abroad but this promise of prosperity is not always what it seems to be.

As our UK co-blogger, Naujawani Sardar, states, “There are many questions being asked about the problems facing masses of illegal Punjabi immigrants in West London, but the most important questions that will prevent this situation from reoccurring in the long-term are not being asked: Why do so many youth risk everything to leave The Punjab? What is being done to curtail the agents that are facilitating their travel? And, what repercussions do UK citizens face for exploiting illegal immigrants?”


The Face of Human Rights in India

Communities on the periphery of the Indian State, be they Sikhs, Kashmiris, Christians in Nagaland, or even Bengalis and Bangladeshis have long seen the brutality of the “world’s largest hypocrisy.”  Despite claims of democracy, progress, and growth, the facade is held together by a sadistic security state.  Here we see its face.  What is not unique is the instance caught here on a video that was to be used to psychologically and collectively terrorize; what is unique is that the video has made it to the public.

The video has begun to leak into worldwide news outlets, but has not raised the proper level of concern and outrage in the Indian State.  There are many brave individuals in India that fight for human rights and dignity; there are many more that are silently complicit.

The video shows BSF (Border Security Force) soldiers torturing a Bangladeshi man.  Human Rights Watch in 2010 had documented the grave human rights abuses, committed by these soldiers. Titled “Trigger Happy“, the report documented the deaths of over 500 people due to the hands of the BSF since 2006.  The Border Security Force will not be unknown to those that seek justice in Punjab.  The BSF was known to have committed wide-spread human rights violations in the Punjab; this, too, was documented by the Human Rights Watch.

For those that may have friends or family that don’t believe widespread torture, murder, and rape occurs under the name of “Indian security,” here is your evidence:



J.Korps 2011 – SUJH and Border Angels

Untitled.jpgFirst off, my sincere apologies to all in delaying the posting of this entry for far too long.  Over winter break, nearly 20 students participated in the Jakara j.Korps initiative that seeks to explore the issue of immigration.  Here is a photo-essay composed by Josh Singh.

During winter break 2011 members of the Jakara Movement were brought together for the first annual SUJH Alternative Winter Break to examine the issue of immigration first-hand by visiting the so-called ground zero, the Mexi-Cali border.  The issue of illegal immigration continues to be brought to the forefront as witnessed in the divisiveness this issue caused among 2012 Republican primary candidates and the recent rise of nativist sentiment that has been fueled by deteriorating economic conditions.  In 2006, huge protests calling for a more open and humane immigration policy were lead mostly by our Chicano/a and Latino/a brothers and sisters.  The Sikh-American response to this issue however has been largely indifferent and silent.  Through this trip, our goal was to break down commonly held conceptions about undocumented migrants and their journey into the U.S. (sujh=becoming aware).  One of the most common misperceptions among people is that illegal immigration is a Latino-centric issue and therefore primarily deserves attention from that community. However, as seen in the LA times article earlier this year highlighting the increasing number of undocumented Punjabi workers in the U.S. (1600 were caught and detained in 2010 alone), this is hardly the case. It is imperative for us to stand in solidarity with other communities, especially on issues we have a personal stake in.  Otherwise, how can we expect them to support issues that are deeply important to us?


Inshallah Kashmir, film on Indian Military Abuses Previews Online on ‘Republic Day’

Oscar nominated director, Ashvin Kumar today offers a free preview of his film on the twenty year military presence in Kashmir, ‘Inshallah, Kashmir: Living Terror,’ a film that documents the treatment of the Kashmiri people at the hands of  half a million Indian military troops. The film reveals through personal stories the experience of torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions that have swept the region since 1989.

Here’s a short preview:

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Breaking the Silence: Reflections on Surat-Lalkaar

I spent this weekend in Fort Lee, New Jersey across the river from Manhattan at the Surat-Lalkaar Conference, “Kaur Voices: Exalt, Express, Empower.”  As discussed previously, this event was a new collaboration between organizers of the popular Surat Conference in NY/NJ and California’s Jakara Movement.  Never having attended a conference put on by either group, I was curious what the weekend would bring and eager (and a bit nervous) to help facilitate dialogue in our community about gender, sexism, and intimate violence.

Perhaps others will also have report backs and reflections on the conference in the coming days and weeks (feel free to share your thoughts in the comments), but for now I wanted to share a few highlights, a few aspects of my experience as both participant and a facilitation at Surat-Lalkaar while it’s fresh.

What struck me the most this weekend was simply the theme of the conference: issues of gender and gendered violence in the Punjabi Sikh community.  As I was co-facilitating an intense discussion about a case study (based on a real situation) about child sexual abuse in a Sikh family, I looked around at the dozen or so Singhs or Kaurs in my group and realized I had never talked about this issue with a group of Sikhs.  Nor had the rest of the participants in my discussion group.

A shared experience of nearly everyone in the group (and likely everyone at the conference) was the resounding silence about domestic violence, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse in our families, our gurdwaras, and our communities.  There was a sense from many that these issues are indeed problems in our community, but problems that are hard to know the scope or seriousness of because no one talks about them openly.  Many participants saw a tendency in our Sikh families to brush any “problems” under the rug to preserve the reputation or “honor” of the family.


Obama Rings in the New Year with Indefinite Detentions

As many of us in the US and around the world have been celebrating the beginning of a new year this past week as well as the Gurpurab of Guru Gobind Singh, a new draconian law has been brought upon us in the United States with near silence from the mainstream media.  On New Year’s Eve, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes provisions that allow the US military to round up and indefinitely detain people, including US citizens, without any charge or trial.

Obama himself originally threatened to veto the bill if the language of indefinite decision wasn’t taken out.  Yet he proceeded to sign the bill into law as we move into 2012, perhaps giving him the legacy, as Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth states, ” as the president who legalized indefinite detention without trial or cause.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states:

We are extremely disappointed that President Obama signed this bill even though his administration is already claiming overly-broad detention authority in court. Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back those claims dimmed today.  Thankfully we have three branches of government, and the final word on the scope of detention authority belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority. But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.


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.


Slavery in Punjab

While most focus on Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Middle East for its importance in today’s media landscape, slowly their incisive programs and documentaries have gained an audience amongst those serious about global issues throughout the world.  I am a huge fan of their English service and can spend hours on end viewing some of their programming.

One of their recent series Slavery: A 21st Century Evil looks at this horrific practice.  While our history books supposedly celebrate the end of the Atlantic Slave trade in the 19th century as the culmination in this most inhumane of all practices, this series belies such a facile narrative.  They have documented sex slaves in Moldova, food chain slaves in the US,  child slaves in Haiti, and charcoal slaves in Brazil.  This week they turn towards bonded slavery in West Punjab.

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The ubiquitous kilns of the Punjabi countryside are not only found on the west side of the border, but very much on the east side as well.  I have extended family members that own such businesses, but have not considered what may be the labour situation governing there.  The topics in the film even overlap with my own experiences in the diaspora.  One too many uncles that I have known personally have traveled to Lahore, replete with their made-in-Amrika dollars, in order to purchase a replacement kidney for their years of alcohol abuse.  I hope our Langa(r)eaders find time over the weekend to watch this touching episode and am interested to hear their own stories and thoughts on the issue.

To view the entire program – click here!

Afghanistan: 10 years of war, 10 years of occupation

Occupation has come to carry a different connotation of late as the #OccupyWallStreet movement quickly spreads throughout the country.  But for millions in Afghanistan it still means U.S. militarism.  It still means war.  It still means injustice.  Today marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, originally deemed “Operation Enduring Freedom” by then president George W Bush.

Based on my mother’s last name, I know I have roots in Afghanistan, as do many of us Sikhs.  Hundreds of thousands of our Afghan sisters and brothers have lost their lives in this war, which has escalated under the Obama Administration.  Rather than making my arguments for a complete and immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country, I am instead posting this message from human rights activist and former Afghan MP Malalai Joya on the 10th anniversary of this seemingly endless war.

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