Monthly Archives: July 2009

Lahir 2009: The Movement Has Only Begun

This past Saturday night, twenty artists from all over the country took to the mic in front of a packed and energetic crowd at the University of Maryland for Lahir 2009. It was a powerful evening of remembrance and reflection to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Sikh Holocaust, organized by the DC Sikh Youth.

It was amazing to see teenagers, college students, young professionals, and even a few parents take to the stage and share their thoughts and reflections about 1984, human rights, and justice. Not only did the performers span across generations, but the performances themselves ranged in art form from musical pieces, poetry, and spoken word.

For me, it was fascinating to see how different each of the performers connected with 1984 – early in the show one artist eloquently recited an excerpt from Sirdar Kapur Singh’s 1966 speech to parliament, another tied environmental issues and water rights to 1984, while others shared personal accounts, poetry, dharmik geets, and dhadi vaaran. Regardless of how different each artist connected to 1984…the connection itself was strong…and watching that unfold on stage was absolutely breathtaking!

The evening concluded with G.N.E performing some of their recent tracks in front of their hometown audience. Seeing uncles and aunties “waving from side to side” was definitely a sight to remember.
For much of the last 25 years, Sikhs have been portrayed in a negative light around the events of 1984. We have quietly criticized the media – and while on the defensive – tried to point out inaccuracies about what actually happened…but it seemed we never really had a voice…Saturday night, that voice was heard loud and clear!

This 25th anniversary has produced several projects and initiatives that have helped document the Sikh experience of 1984, and these open mic events have also proved to be a powerful medium to document our story. I hope to see more and more of these events pop up throughout the country and abroad.
As the show came to a close Saturday night…the jakaaray kept going and the audience didn’t want to leave their seats…I kept thinking to myself, the show might be over…but the movement has only begun!
Here, here and here are some video clips of Lahir 2009…
Photos: Courtesy of Japnam Kaur

Moving The Movement…Lahir 2009

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”(Margaret Mead)

Last Summer, a small group of thoughtful, committed Sikh youth from the DC Metropolitan area came together to form “Lahir” (movement) – a conference organized and run by high school and college students to promote human rights awareness.

There were three themes to the event. Educate, Inspire, and Act. The “Educate” segment consisted of a series of short presentations outlining the history of post-1984 human rights violations in Punjab, based on published documentation from Ensaaf. These presentations interspersed with videos of the victim’s families told the story of grave violations that occurred between 1984-1995 during the counter-insurgency movement – including torture, disappearances, and illegal cremations. The “Inspire” segment consisted of poetry, spoken word, and musical performances along the same theme. In the final portion, titled “Act”, participants broke out in to discussion groups and brainstormed ideas on how the Punjab case can be raised to a mainstream audience and reviewing what other communities have done to highlight their cause. Overall, the conference was a resounding success and launched several new initiatives.
This Summer, the Lahir team has re-assembled and Sikh youth activists and artists from all over the country will again descend upon the Nation’s Capital for Lahir 2009! This year’s format is an all-out ‘Open Mic’ with musical performances, displayed art, poetry, and spoken word. Trailers have been circulating around the internet, providing a glimpse of what to expect.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I feel the message and tone of our protest of 1984 has evolved little in 25 years, and as a result has yielded little return. The struggle for justice has been minimized to angry slogans and accusatory speeches…much of which has turned off so many of my generation, to a point where any time “1984″ is brought up, the inevitable “rolling of the eyes” follows.

However, a new generation has arrived! And to quote my fellow blogger Maple Leaf Sikh, “the kids are going to be alright.”
A small yet growing group of Sikh youth has emerged…with amazing creative talent and a passion for truth and justice. They have molded the stories of pain, suffering, inspiration, and courage of our last 25 years of history and crafted it into a beautiful mosaic of music, art, poetry, and film. Lahir 2009 will put such passion on display. It will surely be a memorable event…don’t miss out!

Details are as follows:

Saturday, July 18th 2009 – Doors Open @ 6PM!
University of Maryland, Shady Grove Center
9630 Gudelsky Drive, Rockville, MD 20850

There are still a few spots available for artists to perform if you’re interested, contact

Ardaas – What Are The Rules?

We’ve all sat through it before…or…stood through it, that is.

As Anand Sahib ends, we stand for Ardaas and collectively reflect on the lives and accomplishments of the Gurus and the 18th century martyrs who gave their lives to preserve our Sikh way of life. Somewhere in between this reflection, and wishing for “Sarbat da Bhala”, we take a bizarre detour in to the “ins and outs” of our community.” Yes…I am referring to the lengthy list of births, birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and other milestones we find in the middle of our Ardaas.
I’m not sure when this practice started; where a member of the sangat would make an offering to the Gurdwara so an “Ardaas” can be done on their behalf. Birthdays are most common week to week, but I have heard more creative ones – celebrating a new job, new car, first mother’s day, wishing someone well on an upcoming exam, or safe travels for someone’s trip to India. Some even taken advantage of this process, by doing an “Ardaas” on behalf of their business week after week – essentially advertising their local store, while they have the entire community’s ear. I’ve raised this issue to the committee that perhaps there needs to be a better way to handle these “community announcements” rather than during Ardaas…I mean, seconds after we recount the martyrs who were cut limb by limb and scalped, we collectively thank Waheguru for Tinku’s new Benz? It just doesn’t seem right.
So what should we do an Ardaas for? What should be allowed? What rules need put be put in place? Looking at the Guru for guidance, there are many references to Ardaas, but to quote a few:

In Guru Raam Daas Patshah’s Ardaas, he asks to be in the company of those who praise/seek Naam:

thin kee sangath dhaehi prabh mai jaachik kee aradhaas
Grant me their company, God – I am a beggar; this is my prayer.

Bhagat Ravidas Ji, a cobbler and tanner who at the time was considered of low social status only had one request in his Ardaas…His darshan:

sagal bhavan kae naaeikaa eik shhin dharas dhikhaae jee 1 rehaao
O Lord of all worlds: reveal to me, even for an instant, the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan.
Guru Angad Patshah explicitly states in Asa Ki Vaar:

naanak hukam n chalee naal khasam chalai aradhaas 22
O Nanak, no one can issue commands to the Lord Master; let us offer prayers instead. 22

So what does this tell us? Should we really be doing an Ardaas for mundane issues, material things, or trivial matters?

Rather than asking for a bigger house, should we be asking for compassion instead? Rather than asking to ace an exam, should we not be asking for humility? And instead of asking for our problems to go away, should we be asking for the strength and courage to deal with our problems?

Even with such “academic” understanding of all this…in my most troubling of times, I too have asked for such mundane and worldly things in my Ardaas. Is this a measure of how little I’ve progressed on the Guru’s path? Perhaps.
But then there’s another perspective to all this…

One of the many things I love about being a Sikh is there is no priest, intermediary, or holy man that stands between me and the Guru. Although there is a community element to that Sikh-Guru relationship (through Sangat), there is also a deeply personal and individual relationship a Sikh has with the Guru…and I for one, do not like to place any restrictions on that.
I do not belong to a God-fearing religion, but instead, a God-loving religion – and I feel my Guru accepts me for who I am, with all my strengths and weaknesses. And so my dialogue with the Guru should be open, honest, and unapologetic. So if that means in my Ardaas I ask for help in achieving a personal milestone, or for a sick friend to feel better, or for a prisoner of conscience in Rwanda to be released, or offer thanks for a new car…so be it.
Furthermore, I should be able to ask anything and seek guidance for whatever question or challenge I have…as long as I’m willing to seek his Shabad for answers.

To some extent, I still feel my Ardaas is indicative of my relationship with the Guru. And perhaps through seva, simran, and reflection, that connection will become stronger, the gaps in understanding will dissipate, and my Ardaas will no longer be filled with requests, but merely an expression of what my Guru has given me…Love.