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Sikh Women: A Look Back in Time

Co-blogged by Sundari and The Sikh Love Stories Project

Each year, International Women’s Day is celebrated to honor women’s economic, political and social achievements. As individuals around the world celebrate this day – in both big ways and small – I am left to consider how we can work to honor the achievements of Sikh women not only today but on an ongoing basis.  Sikh women have contributed in such meaningful ways, and yet much of that dialogue is often missing from our history.

In this post, we will be sharing some images with you and discuss various ways Sikh women have been witness to and engaged in our history both locally and globally.  We know this post will not be comprehensive – there is much to unearth about Sikh women’s contributions – but we hope it’s a starting point that will encourage us to keep this valuable history in our minds. Many of the following images each depict a different element of Sikh women in history.

Stories often begin with immigration and this first image shows Sikh women pioneers in Canada who were part of an immigrant labor force recruited in the early years of the twentieth century.

1_Three WomenMill Town Pioneers. Most of Canada’s early Sikh immigrants found work in lumber mills throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Canada’s largest mill community, Fraser Mills in New Westminster, BC, had between 200 and 300 Sikhs living and working there in 1925.

In this photograph from that period, three Sikh women stand in front of company houses at the mill. [link]

One of them wears a traditional embroidered shawl called ‘phulkari’. The phulkari played an important role in the lifecycle rituals of women in Punjabi villages at times of birth, marriage and death.



Fair & Lovely for Sikh Youth?

Embracing my new role as a proud Chacha, I recently bought some Sikhi-related children’s books for my niece for her first birthday.  I was especially excited about this new book and CD of Sikh nursery rhymes called Ik Chota Bacha.  The book/CD is a great way to teach basic Sikh values to kids and help develop their Punjabi skills (all the nursery rhymes are in Punjabi) in a fun way.  I played the CD for my niece on the daily when I was visiting for her birthday, and by the end of the week, the whole family was singing along to some of the catchy (and rather cheesy) tunes.  (See a full review of the book here.)

My excitement about the release Ik Chota Bacha quickly became muddied with disappointment and frustration once I saw the book’s illustrations.  Every single Sikh child  and adult depicted in the book looks WHITE.  I don’t just mean they’re all fair-skinned on the spectrum of brownness.  I mean peachy, rosey-cheeked, white.



Proud Sikh at Pride Parade


A friend sent me this photo yesterday from this past weekend’s annual LGBT Pride Parade in New York City, which was attended by about a million people.  I’ve seen this Singh around NYC before.  He happens to be one of the transit workers standing up to the NYC Transit Authority’s discriminatory “turban-branding” policy and now is also standing up for LGBT rights.  Sikh solidarity seems to be in full swing lately.

The Pride festivities in NYC were a little different this year since they came just after state lawmakers voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage in New York last week.  While some Sikhs (and Sikh institutions) have been outspoken about their opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry, many others of us are celebrating this milestone civil rights victory in New York, seeing the fight for justice for LGBT people as no different as justice for women, people of color, or any other oppressed group.

Despite my previously alluded to reservations about the state sanctioning the way we structure our romantic relationships, households, and/or families, I believe that legalizing gay marriage is nevertheless a much needed blow to the deeply ingrained homophobia and heterosexism in our society.  A lot more than marriage equality is needed to create the sort of radical transformation our Gurus envisioned for our world, but it is, at least today, a reason to say fateh!

Sikhtoons book to be released

Happy 100th Birthday Fauja Singh!

New York City-based Vishavjit Singh, the creator of Sikhtoons, is releasing his very first Sikhtoons illustrated book next weekend at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival in NYC.  We’ve blogged about Vishavjit and Sikhtoons many times before, and are glad to see Sikhtoons going to the next level in book format.

According to Vishavjit, “The book focuses on dispelling the mysteries of the Sikh dastaar…target[ing] young and old, Sikh and Non-Sikh.  The book features Fauja Singh, Hip Hop Singhs, Waris Ahluwalia and much more.”

Sikhtoons has long been a creative and light-hearted medium to tackle important issues for our community from 1984 to Hindutva, bullying in schools to contemporary Punjab politics.  The details on the release event are below, and you can buy tickets in advance here and RSVP on Facebook here.  Hopefully the book will be available to order online in the future.  We’ll keep you posted.

Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival
MoCCA Fest 2011!
Saturday April 9th and Sunday April 10th 11am-6pm
At the Lexington Avenue Armory
68 Lexington Ave (Between 25th &26th Streets)
New York, NY 10010


Nourishing Souls at the Darbar Sahib

223723_washing_up_in_the_worlds_biggest_guru_ka_langar_amritsar_india.jpgAnyone who has been blessed enough to visit the Darbar Sahib in Panjab will always speak about the amazing experience of Langar that takes place there.  A free meal is provided to about 80,000 people each and every day.  For those who have not visited the “Golden Temple” or perhaps are not familiar with this unique aspect of Sikhi, this NYTimes article provides a great overview of how souls are nourished in this small complex in Amritsar.  The video below is titled, Peace and Roti at the Golden Temple and highlights how langar brings people of all faiths and backgrounds together as equals.

You can view the VIDEO here.

You can view the PHOTO GALLERY here.

The Best-Dressed Life of Waris Ahluwalia

Waris_3.jpgHaving just been named as one of the international best-dressed honorees by Vanity Fair, Waris Ahluwalia is getting noticed not only for his dynamic sense of style but for his versatile portfolio.  Best known for being a unique jewelry designer, Waris is also an actor (having starred in Wes Anderson and Spike Lee films) and recently co-wrote a book, To India with Love.

I never get tired of talking about Waris Ahluwalia by the way, but apparently i’m not alone.  Blogs and articles are abuzz discussing his jewelry company, House of Waris, his sartorial taste and even his interest in Bollywood.

Waris.jpgWait, Bollywood… really?

…Despite his turban and beard look, Waris says that he has never been stereotyped in Hollywood. “Everyone likes to put people in categories, whether its Hollywood, Bollywood or the media in general. Whenever I meet agents their big concern is that I’ll be stereotyped. Well, I haven’t been stereotyped yet. “Some of the roles I’ve played; camera man, a bank hostage, a Republican, a hypo-chondriac, none of these roles called for an Indian.” [link]


Turban Phobia

The Washington Times printed this photo of Elena Kagan yesterday with the caption “Elena Kagan and Sharia”:


The fear continues.

From Children to Adults-1984 Anti-Sikh Riots Victims

m.jpgI was just forwarded the link to a photo essay which speaks volumes for children who grew up in the shadows of the 1984 riots in Delhi.  Photographer Sanjay Austa has shared pictures and stories of young men and women whose fathers and husbands were killed during 1984 and how the events of that year transformed their lives.

They were in their mothers stomach, just delivered, toddlers or school going children in 1984 when their fathers, uncles or siblings were butchered in the anti-sikh riots in Delhi which left almost 3000 sikhs dead. These children were suddenly wrenched out from their cosy family life and hurled into the world of neglect, apathy and abuse. They grew up in the shadow of the riots, struggling between going to school and making a living. Their fathers were killed and their mothers either remarried or were so busy working to eek out a living that the kids were virtually forgotten. 25 years on they have grown up into young men. Some wayward due to the neglect , others unemployed due to lack education, and yet few others transformed their lives by sheer grit and determination. These are their stories. [link]


Miss World Punjaban 2008

I found this video of the Miss World Punjaban 2008 contest interesting because the contestant chose to highlight her Sikh identity that is intimately linked to Punjabi culture.  I find that it is easy for us to “intellectually” talk about the separation of the two identities.  However, for many, being Sikh and Punjabi are intimately connected.  They mutually exist-one does not envision oneself without the other.

Ms. Gurpreet Kaur Khaira from Canada chose to highlight this co-existence of the two identities in the talent portion of the contest.  She performs dhadi vaar, while wearing a simple white suit and kessari chunni.

Who is Miss Punjaban and what does she look like varies … there is not only one notion of Punjabi “beauty” or identity … at least in this beauty contest!  You can sing dhadhi vaar in simplicity or a Punjabi song in a bright red chunni and kokaa.

(FAST-FORWARD TO 1:44 to see Ms. Gurpreet Kaur Khaira from Canada)

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Sikh Style


gq2.jpgRemember that one particular Kenneth Cole ad in NYC that caught our eye?  Yes, the picture of the sardar who received much admiration from Sikhs and non-Sikhs around the globe.  Well, as it turns out – he’s back.  Sonny Caberwal is being featured in GQ’s upcoming Spring/Summer 2009 (German?) publication.  Unfortuantely, there isn’t much press around it yet – but what we do have are some pictures from the shoot in Germany.


As with the Kenneth Cole ad – it’s great that the image of the sardar is receiving positive attention.  Perhaps it will encourage those who aren’t familiar with Sikhs to learn more.  I said perhaps.  More realistically, the page will be turned (no, not all Sikh men dress that well like that) and Sikhs will still be unknown.  It’s in our human nature to see something unfamiliar, and then go back to our dinner and never think of it again (take Darfur for example).  And while it’s great that Sonny is getting these wonderful opportunities (Sikh PR right?) – we should definitely save room for other Sikh male fashionistas… like this one from one of my fav sites The Satorialist!  After the jump…


Happy New Year!

Lakh Lakh Vaidhayan!
On behalf of the TLH family, I’d like to wish all our readers the very best for 2009.

“Devotees throng the fog-covered holy Sikh shrine of Golden Temple in the northern
Indian city of Amritsar to offer prayers for the New Year January 1, 2009.” [Link]

Reuters Images of the Year

Reuters News Pictures Service (RNPS) recently announced its images of the year for 2008.  One of them is the following picture taken of “Gurmeet Singh, 72, a Sikh, work[ing] on a hand written version of the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ (the holy book of Sikhs) in the northern Indian city of Amritsar.”


I also enjoyed — and wanted to share — these Reuters images of gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and of the Golden Temple.


Bank of America Sikh

bankofamericasikh.jpgLookout New Yorkers! There’s a new Sikh in town! Where is he? Who is he? He’s on your subway wall… representing Bank of America, sporting a NICE pagh with the cleanest layers I’ve seen in a long time. It looks like the folks at Kenneth Cole’s might have some competition…

The designers obviously weren’t Sikh because they messed with his pagh and flipped it- maybe to make it look more original. The inset of the picture on the left shows the model with his pagh properly tied – with the larhs (layers) on the right.

Previous discussions of Sikhs in the media, entertainment and modeling:

1. Raising Awareness or A Turban Commodified?

2. Will the Revolution be Televised? Sikhs and the Media

Picture of the Day

Pakistan-bound Sikh devotees wave to relatives as they depart by a special pilgrimage train in Amritsar, India. Hundreds will journey to the birthplace of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev, in Nankana Sahib, to celebrate his birthday.

[Photo by Altaf Qadri]

Picture of the Day

A Sikh devotee offers prayers at a gurudwara in New Delhi November 5, 2008.
REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (INDIA).

Pictures of the Day

“Major Singh, a Nihang or a Sikh warrior, wears a head wrap that is about the length
of four football fields during a religious procession in Amritsar, India.”