State of the Movement – May 2017 - Punjabi Zubane Zindabad!

It has been some time, since I have last updated the sangat and while I owe an apology, it has not been due to a lack of work.  Since we last spoke, the Jakara Movement has some really important news to share.  Here is a snap shot in bullet form of what this email will cover.  If you're brave enough to get to the end, don't hesitate to share with me your thoughts and ideas.

  • Jakara Movement Efforts to Demand Punjabi Recognition from Congress
  • US Census will Recognize Punjabi in 2020
  • Growth of Punjabi Language in California
  • The State of the SHSS - High School Sikh Life
  • The State of the JMC - Collegiate Sikh Life
  • Update from Soojh: Building Begampura and Casting out Caste
  • Lalkaar Conference - 5 Reasons Why EVERY Collegiate Sikh Needs to Attend
  • Bhujangan Kaur Leadership Retreat (July 13-16)
  • Bhujangi Sikh Boys Academy (July 15-23)
  • 4th Annual "Rise Above the Influence" Basketball Tournament (June 3-4)
  • 5Rivers Scholarship
  • Support Gurmukh Singh's Family
  • 1984 Sikh Genocide Resolution in Pittsburgh, PA

However, before I go into the big news, please allow me to digress about a more fundamental issue.  As we continue to grow our roots in this soil, it is important for us to think about our local situations and understand how we can build the power we celebrate during the Dohra after Ardaas.  The dominant discourse in our community by many Sikh organizations has been building ‘representation.’  This is an important strategy in areas with miniscule Sikh communities.  This model utilizes a ‘multi-cultural’ approach that seeks to make sure there is a Sikh ‘face’ in interfaith forums, a Sikh ‘representative’ in collaborative advocacy efforts, and a Sikh ‘prayer’ in some public settings.  There is nothing wrong with tis being a tactic, so long as it is not a strategy.  The importance to highlight is that this tactic may be necessary in certain situations, but it does not build power.  It is at the mercy of others and that place can be removed at any time.  Sikhs of Delhi may have to pursue one tactic, but Sikhs of Punjab can pursue a very different strategy.

Screen_Shot_2017-05-24_at_2.07.46_PM.pngIn the United States, for too long we have used this ‘representational’ tactic as our sole strategy.  However, for many Sikhs in the United States, another future is possible.  This is true community power, based on the resources of the community – utilizing both economic and people leverage.  We do this not by merely donating to elected representatives, but by demanding from them and holding them accountable.

In King County (Washington), Queens County (New York), and in California: Santa Clara County, Sacramento County, Fresno County, Alameda County, Sutter County, and San Joaquin County – our numbers are above 10,000 people.  We may not be Surrey in British Columbia, Canada, but we are not Kansas City either, and our tactics must be different accordingly.

We must make DEMANDS based on our power, not just requests based on our access due to campaign contributions.  Last month the Jakara Movement did just this and many electoral representatives are listening.

Jakara Movement Led Efforts to Demand Change from Congress

Screen_Shot_2017-05-24_at_1.48.54_PM.pngWe demand Punjabi language access for our parents, grandparents, and recently arriving brothers and sisters – the same that is offered for any other community of our size.  We have been denied Gurmukhi/Punjabi language access for decades.   I wrote an op/ed piece that was published by the Fresno Bee on this topic.  NPR did a an audio-report on the issue as well.  Jakara Movement Community Organizers, Kamaljit Kaur and Ramandeep Kaur, approached nearly 20 Congressmen and Congresswomen, who all signed a support letter asking for separate recognition of Punjabi in the 2020 Census.  You can see the letter in its entirety signed by Congress members David Valadao (Kerman area), John Garamendi (Yuba City area), Jim Costa (Fresno and Livingston), Devin Nunes (Fresno), Judy Chu (Los Angeles), Jeff Denham (Ceres/Turlock area), Tom McClintock (Fresno and Madera County areas), Mark DeSaulnier (Bay Area), Keith Ellison (Minnesota), Anna Eshoo (Palo Alto region of Bay Area), Barbara Lee (Oakland/Berkeley), Zoe Lofgren (San Jose), Doris Matsui (Sacramento), Frank Pallone Jr. (New Jersey), Todd Rokita (Indiana), Brad Sherman (San Fernando Valley), Jackie Speier (San Mateo).  This bipartisan letter brought together 5 Republicans and 12 Democrats.  We are also appreciative of the staff of Republican House Leader from Bakersfield, Kevin McCarthy, for taking an active effort in this letter. 

Fresno Bee Piece - http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article147247079.html
NPR Piece - http://kvpr.org/post/punjabi-californians-say-voting-materials-needed-their-own-language

If you'd like to donate to help continue this endeavor, consider sharing your dasvaand at this link.

US Census will Recognize Punjabi in 2020

We are proud to report - Punjabi will be reported as a SEPARATE language beginning in September of this year and will be tracked for Census 2020.
  While most community efforts have been around separate ‘Sikh’ designation and we have participated in these efforts as well, the most fundamental changes will be around Punjabi language advocacy and we promise to do our part.  Our goal is that every voter ballot, immigration form, school signature form, or social security form will be in Gurmukhi and that mandated Punjabi-language translators will be available.  This has the possibility to create new and profound changes not only in our community, but in the entire state.

  1. Did you know that Punjabi is the 15th most spoken language in California?
  2. Did you know that the three counties with the most Punjabi language speakers are Queens County (NY), Santa Clara County (CA), and Sacramento County (CA)?
  3. Did you know Punjabi is the 3rd most spoken language in Bakersfield, CA?  That’s not the only city – it’s the 3rd or 4th most spoken language in many cities along Highway 99!


The possibilities for power in our community are immense.  As Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale reminded us, WE ARE NOT A MINORITY; WE ARE A NATION.


Growth of Punjabi Language in California

While we are delighted to share the victory of the Sangat around the Punjabi language at the federal level, we have much work to do.  First off, we have no intention of waiting until 2020 for changes to occur.  We are beginning conversations with Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office and other California State Assembly and Senate members to speed up the process of brining Punjabi language access in public health, education, voting, immigration, and social security documents.

In addition, we seek to build out the number of second generation Sikhs that can read and write Gurmukhi, in addition to building on their spoken Punjabi language skills.  Prior to this year there were 6 California high schools providing Punjabi language instruction as an elective.  These are:

  • Live Oak High School
  • Yuba City High School
  • River Valley High School (Yuba City)
  • James Logan High School (Union City)
  • Livingston High School
  • Kerman High School

We are pleased to share that the Jakara Movement has initiated new programs in the following schools:

  • Central High School – East Campus (Fresno) – beginning fall 2017
  • Ridgeview High School (Bakersfield) – job opening now
  • Selma High School – under talks for 2018-2019 school year
  • Ceres High School - under talks for 2018-2019 school year

We are also pleased to share that CSU Stanislaus is the only college in the nation that offers Bilingual Authorization in Punjabi.  We have begun conversations at CSU Fresno as well.  This authorization allows teachers to seek full-time employment in Punjabi and earn higher teacher salaries.  Our hope is that younger teachers, especially second generation, will see this as a viable option and pursue their degrees and credentials in an exciting path that will shape Sikh futures.

The State of the SHSS – High School Sikh Life

We have completed another full year of Sikh Honors and Service Society (SHSS).  These are officially-registered high school clubs on various campuses in Yuba City, Sacramento, Elk Grove, Union City, Fremont, San Jose, Ceres, Livingston, Fresno, and Bakersfield.  With nearly 500 members, they engage in community service, Sikh learning opportunities, collegiate assistance, mentoring, and social opportunities.  Parents are surprised that their Sikh children want to participate.  It shouldn’t be surprising.  When 2nd generation Sikhs connect with others that have shared experiences, learning and creativity flow.

Screen_Shot_2017-05-24_at_2.08.36_PM.pngIf I had to list out the activities that the SHSS have been engaged with in the past few months, I wouldn’t know where to begin.  From Stockdale High School (Bakersfield) SHSS creating a venue to called “Strength Not Fear: A Forum of Solidarity” with their Muslim and black peers, to Livingston High School being featured in local newspapers for their Know Your Neighbors Initiative that goes into some of the region’s poorest communities to share pizza in the spirit of Baba Nanak, to our Fresno-region Seniors Class of 2017 being celebrated for their commitment to Seva and Sangat, to our James Logan High (Union City) SHSS for creating continuous opportunities for youth to engage be it through hikes or beach cleanups, and so much more!

While each region is getting ready to celebrate their seniors and elect next year’s officers, we give thanks to all of the students and their parents for another amazing year.  We celebrated together at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, bringing 150 high school students from all over the state to come and gather.  We hope you celebrate the Sikh youth and encourage their continuous growth as well.  This summer we host our annual SHSS officers retreat.  We are able to keep the event free for nearly 50 officers due to the generous sangat that believes in engaging our high school youth.  If this project excites you, donate generously here.

The State of the JMC – Collegiate Sikh Life

Screen_Shot_2017-05-24_at_2.15.33_PM.pngWhile our focus has been around high schools this year, we have been growing our presence on collegiate campuses as well.  Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, most University of California (UC) campuses have had some sort of Sikh Students Association (SSA).  However the community has hardly supported this most critical Sikh youth institution.  This has led to an abysmal state of collegiate Sikh affairs, despite the valiant efforts of many individuals.  Our goal has been to change this by investing our staff and financial resources into these organizations.  We have begun this by focusing at the California State University (CSU) schools, as FAR MORE Sikh students attend these working class universities than the UCs.  We have started the first Sikh organizations at CSU Stanislaus, CSU Bakersfield, and have revived programs at CSU Fresno and CSU Sacramento.  They have held a variety of programs over the years, including around the police brutality case and unlawful killing of Parminder Shergill as well as our popular Piram Pyala program that brings the best of Sikh youth performing arts together in celebration of Kaur Voices.  This summer we are hosting our annual JMC/SSA officers retreat.  We are able to keep the event free for nearly 30 officers due to the generous sangat that believes in engaging our collegiate youth.  If this project excites you, donate generously here.

Update From Soojh – Building Begampura and Casting out Caste

Last month, we held our annual Soojh program that brings collegiate students together to focus on the most compelling, but misunderstood conversations within our community.  We have visited the California-Mexico border and met with undocumented workers, teaming up with organizations like Border Angels.  We know that Punjabis are the largest non-Latino group crossing the border today, yet few in our community discuss or even attempt to formulate policy around this important issue.  This year we focused on caste.

Most conversations about caste in the Sikh diaspora are rather limited.  They are limited to debates between privileged sections or our community vying for their preponderance.  What all these privileged groups agree upon is the continued denigration of those that come from Dalit backgrounds.  Until we understand that the true mission of the Khalsa was a radical equality, one that challenges racism, sexism, misogyny, casteism, capitalism, classism, anti-blackness, and patriarchy, then we cannot fulfill our destiny.  Baba Nanak shared his desire to eradicate the virus of casteism that continues to fester in our villages, our towns, our Gurdwaras, our homes, and even in our hearts.

Neecha andar neech jaat neechee hu ati neech, Nanak tin kia sang saath vadian so kia rees

Those who are the (so-called) lowest of the low, the (perceived) very lowest of the low;

Nanak seeks sangat with them. Why would he copy those that think themselves high?

We read articles and had conversations around discrimination in the United States against other Sikhs from Dalit backgrounds; we talked about the Punjabi music we consume; we went to the Guru Ravidasia Gurdwara in Rio Linda and had an opportunity to hear the stories of members of the sangat.  It filled us with shame and hope for a different future.  We will be continuing this conversation at our Lalkaar Conference in Bakersfield and hope you’ll join us there.

Lalkaar Conference – 5 Reasons Why EVERY Collegiate Sikh Needs to Attend 

5 – Meet Your Peers from Across the State

Lalkaar is a venue meant to be comfortable, educational, and fun.  It brings together collegiate Sikhs from all over the United States (though largely California) for a weekend of critical engagement and good times.  This is not a ‘lecture’ system, but based on our own experiences, critical conversations, and opportunities for shared learning.  We challenge you to come ready to talk about privilege and open your heart to empathy and compassion. 

4 – Learn How We Can Build Begampura

In the Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagat Ravidas Ji describes Begampura (a city without sorrow).  This is a city based on equality for all that challenges us to our core.  The Guru’s vision of Begampura is open to all of us, but is based on a radically different politic than that which surrounds us.  Will you become a builder on the path of Begampura?

Screen_Shot_2017-05-24_at_2.17.17_PM.png3 – Engage in a Dalit-Centered Narrative and Become a Cultural Critic

Most of our narratives celebrate certain privilege sections of our community without even noticing missing sections of our community.  Mughal sources are replete with admonishing Sikhs for empowering the most marginalized sections of the populace.  Join us at Lalkaar 2017 for an alternative narrative around Sikh history that challenges caste and class, while also raising critical voices of mainstream culture peddled by dominant Punjabi music industries. 

2 – Be Part of the Longest Running Sikh Conference – 17 years!

Born in 2000, there is a reason that thousands of Sikh youth have a shared summer experience – attending the annual Lalkaar conference.  From the first decade in Fresno, to the next 5 years in Sacramento, to the latest 2 in Bakersfield, this conference has been an annual tradition that has taught and been attended by nearly a generation of Sikh youth.  It has sparked off other conferences, other organizations, and newer discussions – but all California youth have this shared experience.

1 – Be a Better Sikh

In Japji Sahib, Guru Nanak states that “Dhaul Dharam Daya Kaa Pooth" – Dharam/Righteousness/Religion is the child of compassion.  Even when the Panj Pyare stood up on that Vaisakhi day in 1699, it was Bhai Daya Singh that arose before Bhai Dharam Singh.  Compassion makes us better Sikhs and we learn compassion through empathizing and forming solidarity with those most marginalized in society.  This is the path of the Gurmukh – we hope you’ll join us at Lalkaar to be inspired and educated by your peers.  REGISTER TODAY!

Bhujangan: Kaur Leadership Retreat (July 13-16)

Planning has long been underway for Bhujangan 2017.  While in the past we held multiple retreats, this year we bring all the Kaurs together for one.  Spots are extremely limited, so we strongly encourage you to reserve a spot for the special high school girl today.  There is no other camp like this in the world – one that is inclusive of all and celebrates Kaurs to be themselves.  Visit www.jakara.org/bhujangan for more information.  If this project excites you, donate generously here.

Bhujangi: Sikh Boys Academy (July 15-23)

 There are few experiences like Bhujangi: Sikh Boys Academy.  Now in its seventh year, this 10-day retreat is aimed exclusively at high school boys.  It is a place for them to grow, build bonds that last a lifetime, and understand the meaning and value of brotherhood.  Visit www.jakara.org/bhujangi for more information and sign up today (or sign up your brother, cousin, nephew, son, or friend today!). If this project excites you, donate generously here.

4th Annual “Rise Above the Influence” Basketball Tournament (June 3-4)

 Every year the Jakara Movement hosts a basketball tournament that encourages Sikh solidarity, alternatives to underage drinking, and athleticism.  We continue that tradition with the upcoming tournament June 3-4, 2017 in Fresno.  We have EXTREMELY limited spots left for teams in our 15 and under, 18 and under, and Open leagues.  Visit www.jakara.org/basketball for more information and to register your team.  If this project excites you, donate generously here.

5Rivers Scholarship

The Jakara Movement has long nurtured a relationship with the 5Rivers Scholarship Program.  This Sikh-specific scholarship provides financial support to Sikh students who are motivated to pursue higher education opportunities but lack the financial resources to get there. The scholarship is for college bound students.   There are a few scholarship spots available for this upcoming Fall semester.  Please visit www.5Riversfoundation.org for more information.

Support Gurmukh Singh’s Family

Screen_Shot_2017-05-24_at_2.21.02_PM.pngTo the Sikh community, Gurmukh Singh, a taxi driver in Orange County, has been suffering in ICE custody ever since ICE arrested him on May 8, 2017 at what was suppose to be a routine check-in appointment in Santa Ana, CA.  We have been in touch with friends of the family and are trying to support his daughters. 

Gurmukh Singh’s family is suffering as he is the main source of income for his household, which includes his wife, 2 daughters, and elderly parents, all of whom are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.  You can read about his case here and here.

We have partnered with Asian Americans Advancing Justince-LA who is providing pro bono legal assistance for the Singh family.  If you’d like to contribute, you can do so at this link.


1984 Sikh Genocide Resolution in Pittsburgh, PA

While we have been largely successful in various California cities to declare the events of November 1984 as a “genocide,” we are extremely proud of Jakara Movement member Manjot Singh, who singly led efforts to have the genocide declared by the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  This is now the largest East Coast city to recognize the genocide.  We applaud the efforts of Manjot Singh and hope others will continue to carry the torch for justice.

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