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Thursday, March 30, 2006

"Babies, Bigotry and 9/11"

According to the Washington Post:
The ugly wave of anti-Arab feelings immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, may have been responsible for a sharp increase in the incidence of premature and low-birth-weight babies born to women of Arab descent in the United States in the months that followed the terrorist attacks.

The evidence is circumstantial but compelling, epidemiologist Diane S. Lauderdale of the University of Chicago says in the latest issue of Demography.

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"Petition to Florida Governor Jeb Bush to Stop the Forcible Cutting of Sikh’s Hair"

Satnam Singh who is currently in federal prison, may have to cut his hair and remove his turban when he is transferred to the Florida state prison system after April 9, 2006. Chapter 33-602.101(4) of the Florida Administrative Code states that “[m]ale inmates shall have their hair cut short to medium uniform length at all times….” No similar provision exists for female inmates. [Link]

The petition is available here.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Man charged with arson in fire at Sikh temple"

An 18-year-old man was charged with arson yesterday after a fire destroyed the interior of a Sikh temple in Williams Lake.

The RCMP said the Crown is also asking that the man be remanded in custody for a 30-day psychiatric evaluation.

He is accused of setting a fire on Sunday that caused about $500,000 damage to the Guru Nanak temple.

RCMP Corporal Mark Menard said police are confident the temple fire was not racially motivated. [Link]

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Film on Sikhs post 9/11 wins accolades

A film by an Indian-American depicting the story of a Sikh faced with the post 9/11 realities is being appreciated in international movie circles.

The film The Gold Bracelet by Hollywood based Indian actor and film producer Kavi Raz won the best feature drama award at the Cinequest, ranked among the top ten film festivals in the world, recently. [Link]

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Supreme Court reverses High Court order

The Supreme Court has reversed the Punjab and Haryana High Court's earlier decision that Sukhmohinder Singh could be promoted to the Indian Police Service (IPS) even though he was charged in a criminal case.

Although Sukhmohinder Singh had retired in 2004, and has also been charged in three disappearance cases from over ten years ago, the Punjab government brought him back from retirement to serve an additional year. When that year of service ended, the Punjab government decided to induct Sukhmohinder Singh to the IPS, even though the disappearance cases were pending against him.

Sukhmohinder Singh is one of three police officers charged with the sudden disappearance of the three brothers. One of the police officers was alleged to have a family dispute with the brothers. Neither the brothers nor their bodies have been found.

Two men seeking promotion to the IPS appealed the Punjab government's move to promote Sukhmohinder Singh, but the Punjab and Haryana High Court dismissed the appeal.

It held that even though chargesheet had been filed by the CBI, no charge had been framed against the officer and hence criminal proceedings could not be said to be pending against him.

However, the Supreme Court disagreed, stating that:

"Filing of charge-sheet is preceded by an indepth investigation. Charges are filed in court when a prima facie case is established. �. The dangerous interpretation assigned to the statute by the High Court would negate the intendment of the Legislature. In our view, the High Court has committed grave fundamental error of law and the same is unsustainable in law," the Bench held.

This Supreme Court order will also affect other cases; the Union Government is reported to have at least ten requests from state governments wishing to apply the High Court order to officers charged with serious crimes. Following the Supreme Court order, the Union Government is now planning to rescind Sukhmohinder Singh's promotion to the IPS.

[This entry is cross-posted on ENSAAF's blog.]

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"U.K.'s Highest Court Backs School Ban on Muslim Dress"

Bloomberg News is reporting that
A British high school that excluded a girl from class for wearing a head-to-toe Muslim dress didn't infringe her right to practice her religion, the U.K.'s highest court ruled....

Cherie Booth QC, Prime Minister Tony Blair's wife, argued the case for Shabina Begum, now 17. The student had insisted on wearing the floor-length jilbab to class and was excluded for two years until she switched high schools. Booth had argued that the school had not considered her client's right to practice her religion and receive an education before making its decision.

Today's unanimous ruling by five Law Lords overturns a Court of Appeal judgment. The lower court had found Denbigh High School in Luton, north of London, didn't properly weigh Begum's human rights in 2002 when she was told to change into her school uniform or stay home. [Link]

The opinion is available here.

[Hat Tip: The Basher]

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"Minuteman Project Plans New Border Patrol"

According to the Associated Press:
"A controversial civilian border patrol group is planning a return to Arizona in two weeks to again confront the problem of illegal immigration.... [M]any Hispanic groups and advocates for immigrant rights still call the Minuteman group racist or vigilantes."

Our previous report on the Minutemen is available here.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

"Author Says American Muslim Women Defy Stereotypes"

Contradicting traditional stereotypes of Muslim women as veiled and oppressed, Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today (Oxford University Press, 2006), by Georgetown University Professor Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and co-authors Jane I. Smith and Kathleen M. Moore, reveals Muslim women in America to be diverse and active in shaping the role of Muslims in the West.

“Muslim women have been empowered to participate in the public arena to pursue their interests, whether these interests are counteracting prejudice or pursuing professional dreams or serving the common welfare through community service,” the authors write. “They have contributed in especially significant ways in the negotiation of what it means to be Muslim in the American context.” [Link]

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Florida: "Lawmakers target school bullies, bias"

Sarah Khan's schoolmates have called the 17-year-old Muslim a terrorist since the 9/11 attacks.
Khan, who attends Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High, said all she wants is to focus on her schoolwork and her role on the cross country team -- and for the harassment to stop.
Khan and other students, teachers and equal-rights activists gathered in the Capitol on Monday to support a bill sponsored by state Rep. Ken Gottlieb, a Hollywood Democrat.
His bill would require Florida school districts to enact policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination based on race, religion, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other differences. [Link]

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Film on Sikhs in America after 9/11

IT MUST be a trick of fate that the Sikhs, some of the bravest soldiers in history, ended up in the highly perilous job of urban taxi driving. At the beginning of Kavi Raz's The Gold Bracelet, a Sikh cabby is shot—a senseless, wrong-time, wrong-place death staged with maximum surprise and probability. [Link]

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Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall Visit UK Gurdwara

As a relative newcomer to the Royal Family, the Duchess of Cornwall can be forgiven for still being shocked by the often wonderful and bizarre sights that go with official duties.

However, even such an old hand as her husband looked mildly alarmed at the sight of a blindfolded Sikh swordsman slicing through a melon on a man's stomach.

Camilla covers her eyes as the blindfolded swordsman...
But the hair-raising climax of a spectacular martial arts display laid on for the royal couple proved too much to bear for the duchess.

As the critical moment approached, to the roll of drums, she held her hands over her face and averted her eyes. [Link]

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

"Muslims in Spain Under Cloud of Suspicion"

Associated Press writer Daniel Woolls notes, in a story picked up on the front page of Yahoo.com:
Two years after the bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,500, human rights groups and Muslims themselves say with relief that there has been no significant backlash against Spain's estimated million-strong Muslim community.

But Muslims feel targeted in subtler ways — a rise in job application rejections, trouble finding housing, grumbling from neighbors when they want to set up a mosque.

"This is not something you can measure. But people live it. They notice it," said Begonia Sanchez, spokeswoman for immigrant aid group SOS Racism. "They notice it when they get on the bus. They notice it when they seek work. They notice it when they run into neighbors in the stairwell." [Link]

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Sikh Coalition: "IRS Orders Sikh Women to Stop Wearing Kirpan at Work"

According to the Sikh Coalition:
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ordered Kawaljeet Kaur, an accountant in the IRS’ Houston office, to stop wearing her kirpan to work. The Sikh Coalition is prepared to file a lawsuit on behalf of Kawaljeet Kaur’s right to wear her kirpan to work if necessary.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Senate panel rejects bid for NSA inquiry"

Senate Republicans on Tuesday agreed to expand oversight of President George W. Bush's domestic spying program but rejected Democratic pressure for a broad inquiry into eavesdropping on U.S. citizens.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the committee voted to create a new seven-member subcommittee that would scrutinize the eavesdropping under a plan approved by the White House. [Link]

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Sikhs vs. Quebec - Round 2

After a major nationwide victory allowing their children to go to school wearing ceremonial daggers last week, Quebec Sikhs have another cultural battle on their hands.

This time the fight is between Sikh truck drivers and the Montreal Port Authority.

Quebec Sikhs are angry about a new law that requires all truck drivers coming into the Port to wear hard hats.

Sikh truck drivers say that wearing a helmet is not possible because it is against their religion to remove their turbans.

Prithvi Saluja, a Quebec Sikh, argues that throughout history Sikhs have preformed dangerous tasks without helmets.

"Indian Sikhs have served the Royal British Army in World War One and WWII and they didn't wear helmets at that time, they didn't need extra protection from the bullet," Sulaja said. [Link]

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"Man pleads guilty in attack on Muslim family's van"

ABC News reports:
27-year-old suburban Chicago man has pleaded guilty to trying to intimidate a Palestinian Muslim family by setting off an explosive in their unoccupied van in March 2003.

Eric K. Nix of Burbank pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to one count of criminal interference with the right to fair housing.
Nix admitted targeting the family because they were of Arab descent and had chosen to live in Burbank in Chicago's southwest suburbs.

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"French Sikhs appeal on turban ban"

According to the BBC:
French Sikhs have appealed to President Jacques Chirac over a ruling that they must remove their turbans for driver's licence photographs.
France's highest administrative body reversed an earlier ruling in favour of Shingara Mann Singh, a French citizen forced to remove his turban in 2004.

It said the order was justified on the grounds of public security and was not a restriction on freedom of faith.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Elderly Sikh Man Victimized in Yuba City

An 80-year-old East Indian man sustained a fractured hip after he apparently was knocked off his bicycle by unknown assailants in Yuba City.

Shawna Pavey, spokeswoman for the Yuba City Police Department, said Yuba City resident Harbans Singh was reportedly riding his bike at 4:51 p.m. Saturday on Winship Road near Garden Highway, when four or five occupants of a maroon-colored Chevrolet Tahoe sport utility vehicle began throwing rocks at him.

Pavey said none of the rocks hit Singh, so he ignored the men - described as either Hispanic or white males between 25 and 30 years old - and continued riding. The drove ahead of Singh to the corner of Winship and Main streets and stopped the vehicle, where one man got out and allegedly pushed Singh, causing him to fall off his bicycle.

"It was reported as an accident by a witness who looked out the window," Pavey said Monday. "It looked like a car had hit the gentleman, so the witness called it an accident."

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Murder, Memory and Mourning

One month ago, on Christmas morning, Gurpartap Singh was murdered in his cab in Richmond, California. He was a turbaned Sikh cab driver, the fifth to be shot in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2002. The police called the murder an attempted robbery; local Sikhs saw it as part of a pattern of violence against their community since 9/11.

I found out about Gurpartap’s murder the day after Christmas. We were eating chocolate chip pancakes around the kitchen table when the call came. I stumbled upstairs, took in the news, Christmas news. I did not know Gurpartap. I registered his death as yet another murder in the city of Richmond, another possible hate crime, another piece of evidence to include in our film.

I was on the phone immediately. I called cab drivers we had filmed (pictured) and police officers we had interviewed at the Richmond Police Department. I called leaders at the local Sikh temple, El Sobrante Gurdwara, and reporters at the Contra Costa Times. My cousins downstairs had forgotten about me; I was lost to a bout of furious action, what my family has come to call my ‘passion’ but what I know to be my ‘desperate-need-to-overcome-helplessness-in-the-face-of-violence.’ Then I got an email. It was from S., my friend, a fellow student. She knew Gurpartap:

Wish you could just be here to help me just now. Gurpartap, the cab driver who was so kind and helpful to me, who took me into his home, who shared the experience of his gurdwara, who was truly an inspiration, who denied the hate in hate crimes... is dead, shot by the same sort of person that I was trying to write about, so that understanding might help put a stop to such horrible crimes. I can't say how devastated I am. I cannot write Punjabi, and Surinder, his wife, does not understand English - I so want to send her my sympathy… Oh, G-d: why do such things happen? Please, please: send a bit of the light you are trying to spread. I feel it is truly dark right now.
I wrote S. only one prescription: “I think the best thing we can do is to channel the sadness into action.” I encouraged her to write a letter to the editor and offered to help get it published. She said she would think about it.

A few days later, while I was still at home, my grandfather’s health declined rapidly. Each afternoon, I sat by his side as Parkinson’s took his body whole. I wondered how much time we had left – and how I would come to remember him. Would I remember my childhood naps on his shoulder, drifting to sleep gazing at his ivory feet. Would I remember my shrieks when he became the tickle monster and asked us, ‘Happy, happy?’ Would I remember watching him in his garden, tall and stoic from his military days, overseeing his orders of tomatoe and squash. Would I remember the time his words of disapproval stung the center of my heart. Would I remember his slow moving mouth, his elegant speech, dictating his life story as I wrote down his every word, clinging to his every memory as if this were the last chance.

On these afternoons at his bedside, I was mourning my grandfather’s death before he had even left me. I let this pre-mourning prepare me for the grief that I knew would soon strike hard, sudden, like a knife. On one of these afternoons, I received another email from S., who had just returned form Gurpartap’s funeral:

I was just so lost at the funeral. I didn't know how to contain my feelings, with Gurpartap lying there, all "fixed" for those to see - with Surinder crying quietly and that lovely granthi chanting the long service, which I so wished I could understand. Then when the time came for loving remembrances, Navjot turned and asked me to say something. I had to walk the long way up to the reader's stand and really had so many feelings and memories to express, but said barely anything - the words just wouldn't come… Oh, Valarie! I miss him so! He would have been heartened that so many of his friends were there together. Navjot is a proud offspring of his father. He was also so kind and loving--I am just speechless. I am sorry if I did not feel driven to make the death an issue for the public. It just felt like so private a time.
I wondered what S. and others said in their ‘loving remembrances’ of Gurpartap and for the first time, I began to imagine what I would remember about him if I had known him (pictured). Would I remember his eyes. The sound of his voice. The prayers he recited in the morning. His gesticulations at the dinner table. His faith in the goodness in people. The way he looked at his son. How does memory choose the details that are remembered, how is it shaped by the story we tell ourselves about that person?

For the police, on the other hand, Gurpartap is not a story but a statistic. They will remember him as another murdered cabbie, yet another mark on their record. Locals who read the newspaper articles about him will barely remember his name now, a month later. Even activists will remember Gurpartap Singh’s death as further evidence of racial violence after 9/11, another case to cite, a murder that happened (symbolically) on Christmas morning.

I suddenly realize that I am (shamefully) one such person. I have remembered Gurpartap as a statistic, a subject for the camera. How could I have ever told S., “Channel your grief into action.” As if there is a formula to healing! As if the ways of memory would ever allow such a formula.

I had forgotten that grief comes hard and fast. It knocks you down and works through your body before it can release you for action. In a culture that hides death, it is easy to forget to allow others (and myself) time and space to grieve, to mourn, to remember, in order to make the meaning required for meaningful action.

All this thought about murder, memory, and mourning has found its way deep into my psyche. Last night, I dreamt that I was raped (this is every woman’s terror), then killed; and when my body was placed in the ambulance, the nurses (who were hungry) ate my body. They started with my stomach. “Just like an eggplant sandwich!” they laughed.

There is the fear of not being remembered – of being reduced to a corpse, a statistic, a case study for consumption.

I must refuse to treat Gurpartap Singh that way, just as I could never treat my grandfather that way. Memory makes it possible to mourn a person’s death without ever having met them. Remembering the memories others have of Gurpartap in life becomes a way to mourn him in death - a safeguard against the dangers of consuming the dead for one’s own means.

I kiss my grandfather’s cheek and leave home, leave California. Back in Boston, I return to working on my documentary. Both my grandfather and the cab drivers appear in the film, their voices preserved as sound-bytes: this is how audiences will remember them. What fragments! What fractions of the human personality. What a metaphor for life: we show each other only glimpses, and ask to be remembered whole.

And somehow, miraculously, it is enough (more than enough) to keep us going.

[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind," and was originally published on January 25, 2006.]

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Supreme Court of Canada Unanimously Rules that Kirpans may be Carried in Schools

The Supreme Court of Canada Sikh students can carry kirpans, or ceremonial daggers, to schools and that the kirpans do not present an undue danger to others. The Court specifically held, "an absolute prohibition against wearing a kirpan infringes the freedom of religion of the student in question under s. 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Canadian Charter”). The infringement cannot be justified under s. 1 of the Canadian Charter, since it has not been shown that such a prohibition minimally impairs the student’s rights."

The opinion is available here.

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The Discrimination & National Security Initiative (DNSI) is a research entity that examines the mistreatment of minority communities during times of military action or national crisis.

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