Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lifetime achievement award for Australian Sikh

A Sikh has been given the 2006 lifetime achievement award in volunteering by the New South Wales (NSW) government.

Bawa Singh Jagdev became the first Sikh to receive the prestigious award for volunteering which was handed to him by NSW Speaker John Aquilina at the NSW Parliament recently.

Jagdev who arrived in Australia in 1975 from Kenya was among the first few to set up s Sikh Council of Australia (SCA). The council provides a platform for Sikhs in Australia to liase with government and non-government agencies, according to Indianlink, an ethnic Indian newspaper.

Jagdev defended the kirpan that was threatened by the knife legislation passed by the NSW Government in 1997. He was instrumental in convincing the then NSW premier Bob Carr to amend the legislation to allow an average Sikh to carry the dagger.

The 72-year-old former lecturer at TAFE, an adult education organisation in Australia, said SCA plans to build an old age home shortly. This will be in addition to the already existing two Punjabi language schools.
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Friday, March 09, 2007

California education board votes to remove Sikh image from texts

SACRAMENTO- The state Board of Education voted Thursday to ask a publisher to remove from a seventh-grade history textbook a picture of a Sikh religious leader that many followers said was offensive and inaccurate. The board agreed to the recommendation from state Department of Education officials and the textbook's publisher, Oxford University Press, to remove the historical portrait of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, from "An Age of Voyages: 1350-1600."
The controversial image shows Guru Nanak wearing a crown and with a close-cropped beard. The depiction runs contrary to Sikh faith, which requires observant men to wear a turban and not to shave their facial hair. Guru Nanak also was a man of the people and would not have worn an ornate crown, more than a dozen members of the Sikh faith testified Thursday.
The image is taken from a 19th century painting made after Muslims ruled India. The publisher used it because it complies with the company's policy of using only historical images in historical texts, said Tom Adams, director of curriculum for the Department of Education.
After Sikhs complained that the picture more closely reflected a Muslim man than a Sikh, Oxford offered to substitute it with an 18th century portrait showing Guru Nanak with a red hat and trimmed beard. But Sikhs said that picture made their founder look like a Hindu.
The publisher now wants to scrap the picture entirely from the textbook, which was approved for use in California classrooms in 2005. There are about 250,000 Sikhs in California. Sikh leaders say they want a new, more representative image of Guru Nanak, similar to the ones they place in Sikh temples and in their homes. The publisher has rejected those images as historically inaccurate. No images exist from the founder's lifetime, 1469 to 1538.
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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Nihangs steal show at Hola Mohalla, Anandpur Sahib

Anandpur Sahib - The last day of the Hola Mohalla was dominated by Nihangs who displayed their martial art skills and later organised a procession here last evening. However, two Nihangs, Balwinder Singh of Dashmesh Tarna Dal, Sangrur, and Major Singh of Guru Nanak Tarna Dal, Batala, were seriously injured when their horses collided.
They were admitted to Civil Hospital here. One horse died in the mishap while the other suffered a leg facture.
The inflow of pilgrims continued on the last day and over 13 lakh devotees visited the town during the three-day festival.
The main attraction of the day was the procession by over 10,000 Nihangs wearing the traditional dresses and huge turbans astride 200 horses and elephants. The march began from Gurdwara Shaheedi Bag and the Nihangs were armed with swords, rifles, "katara" and "barcha". Small children and elderly Nihangs displayed magnificent skills on the streets.
Different groups of Nihangs included the Buddha Dal, Tarna Dal, 96 Krori Nihang Chhavni, Harianbelan Wale and others.
As the last day of festival coincided with Holi, the Nihangs also sprayed colours on the pilgrims standing along the roads. The devotees, besides standing all along the road, were also seen on roof tops.
Thousands of pilgrims also participated in another procession organised by the SGPC. Jathedar of Akal Takht, Joginder Singh Vedanti, Jathedar of Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, Tarlochan Singh, were among those present.
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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Washington company changed its policy to allow Sikh woman head covering

An academic testing company changed its policy to allow head coverings in their facilities after a complaint was filed by a Sikh woman. In October, Jagjit Kaur went to a Pearson VUE testing facility in Austin, Texax, to complete her Oriental Medicine Licensure exam. Upon arrival, a security guard stopped her from entering the facility. He told her to remove her “hat” for her own protection. Kaur told the guard that she was not wearing a “hat,” but rather a mandated religious article of faith, a dastaar (turban) that she could not remove.

Kaur sought help from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. SALDEF sent a letter to Pearson VUE’s general counsel’s office informing them of the discriminatory action of the security guard, and recommended necessary steps to remedy this situation quickly.A letter followed to Kaur. The company’s vice president, Anthony Zara, noted: “We take matters such as this very seriously and we regret that you felt humiliated during this incident.”His letter to SALDEF stated: “In response to your letter, Pearson VUE has updated its policy on religious and cultural apparel. Please note that under the revised policy no candidate will be asked to remove any item of religious apparel for inspection.” The policy specifically mentions the Sikh dastaar.

Losing Heritage at Hazur Sahib, Darbar Sahib is Next

Despite desperate pleas and worldwide attention, the demolition of historic structures on the premises of Gurdwara Sach Khand Hazur Sahib is continuing. The Ramgarhia Bunga has been destroyed.

Gurmeet Rai, director of the Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative, again demanded the immediate removal of Parvinder Singh as president of the management committee of Hazur Sahib for his failure to protect its heritage. “How can an officer in service of the state justify making management decisions of Hazur Sahib? He has many compulsions for the state,” Rai said at a Punjabi University seminar. Parvinder Singh is an Indian Police Service officer who is also serving as director general of police of Maharashtra state. In December, Rai led a team of conservation architects and urban designers to Nanded, in Maharashtra, to evaluate the demolition plans on the Hazur Sahib grounds. They found the plans to be detrimental to historic buildings as well as the gurdwara.

Meetings with the project’s managers were unsuccessful. Parvinder Singh had invited Rai to meet with him personally, but that never took place.

"The threat to historical heritage has started. The gurdwara and state authorities have begun bulldozing monuments in preparation for visitor housing. …The proposed plan lacks adequate sensitivity to heritage buildings," Rai said. The site is slated for construction of large buildings and open spaces, referred to as a Galiyara, around the inner sanctum.
The Ramgarhia Bunga was built during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The building accommodated the masons he sent from Punjab to build the inner sanctum of Hazur Sahib. It can only be seen in photographs now. Some structures in close proximity to the inner sanctum of Hazur Sahib were already demolished, and a food storage building, called the Modikhana, was being demolished during her December visit, Rai said. Other heritage structures were crumbling from neglect. The management is holding off on the destruction of parts of the Baradari, where the Guru Granth Sahib and Guru Gobind Singh's weapons were kept during construction, for now, she said.

Rai was speaking at a seminar on Punjab handicrafts organized by Patiala Heritage Society. She also criticized the construction of a 5.35 km elevated road to Darbar Sahib. The Rs.173 crore project will increase traffic chaos around the complex. And the close proximity of vehicles traveling to Darbar Sahib will disturb its sanctity.
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