We visited the San Jose Gurudwara today to celebrate Baisakhi, the founding of the Sikh Khalsa, or brotherhood.
To commemorate Baisakhi, the Sikhs lower their flag for a ceremonial cleaning with milk and yogurt. You can hear the chant “Waheguru” praising God, and the victory shout “Bole so nihal! Sat sri akaal!” as they return the flag.
Hosted by The Sikh Foundation, International at Stanford, this was a particularly relevant conference for us attend. Speakers included our project contacts and advisors Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, founder of The Sikh Foundation; Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang, founding member of the Punjabi American Heritage Society; anthropologist Professor Sangeeta Luthra; and creative writer Meeta Kaur; among many other notable members of the community interested in progressing Sikh Education.
To start, musician Shivpreet Singh sang this beautiful song:
Dr. Kapany then opened the conference by explaining the need for Sikh education, that is, the education of Sikhs and the education of non-Sikhs about the Sikhs. He listed the many channels of education, including a need for a documentary or series of documentaries – that’s us!
Of particular interest was the panel that examined the establishment of Sikh studies programs and chairs at colleges, particularly the UCs. The UCSB chair Gurinder Singh Mann spoke of their successful Sikh and Punjabi studies program created by Dr. N.S. Kapany together with Mark Juergensmeyer, an expert in religious conflict resolution. Professor Mann closed by happily announcing his retirement into grand-fatherhood – “what is under your turban, grandpa?” “what is under my turban?” “A ponytail!”
Professor Pashaura Singh, chair at UCR’s Sikh and Punjabi Studies, then stressed the importance of Sikh education in progressing the Sikh’s global influence. He compared the Sikhs with the Jewish, another religious minority victim to pogroms in recent history. However, the Jews have since gained much more global interest and power. Compared to the 25 million Sikhs worldwide, there are just 15 million Jews, 40% of which are in America where they make up 6% of the House, 12% of the 2010 Senate, and 3 of 9 Supreme Court Justices. While Jews pursue largely urbanized interests, most Sikhs work in agriculture, thus Professor Singh attributed the Sikh’s comparative lack of self-determination and cultural power to their efforts in education.
He acknowledged that Sikh education has made great progress in the past decades. Where the Sikh tradition was once dismissed as a derivative or combination of Hinduism and Islam, or ignored all together as a regional and modern phenomenon, it is now recognized as a distinct religion in academia and its study institutionalized in many universities.
We attended this year’s Sikholars conference at Stanford, organized by Jakara Movement. A panel of Sikh graduates presented their research and discussed various topics in education, health, gender, and social justice pertinent to the community.
Particularly relevant to our project was the Social Life of Sikhs Panel. The presentation “Educational Pathways: An exploration of California Sikh Youth” by Prabhdeep Kehal and Palvinder Kaur proved the resilience of Sikh youth in the face of socio-economic barriers, resilience being the ability to succeed despite those barriers. Their survey of California Sikh high-schoolers found that Sikh youth have strong academic resilience, but not as much college-going resilience, however.
Also of interest was a presentation on the drug crisis currently crippling Punjab. Speaker Basant Virdee shared statistics illustrating how heroin addiction in Punjab has reached epidemic proportions. An estimated 70% of men 16-35 years are addicted; 8,000 men applied to 376 vacancies in the military and 85 vacancies remained – the rest were deemed unfit to serve because of their condition. During elections in India it is not uncommon for political candidates to bribe voters with alcohol, but in Punjab they bribe with heroin. Meanwhile, the Indian government has been largely unresponsive and inefficient in providing rehabilitative health care.