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Torontonians reach out to help quake victims

By Leslie Ferenc

Whatever it takes.

Savinder Pandher, 47, wearing a white turban, helps dispense meals from a mobile kitchen set up by United Sikhs volunteers from Toronto who are now in Haiti. - Photo provided by Ramandeep Kaur

That’s the unofficial rally call of Torontonians mobilizing in droves to support victims of the Haiti earthquake.

Scores, possibly hundreds of grassroots organizations and countless thousands of individuals across the GTA are pitching in to help, selflessly donating time and money.

Wednesday, students at public schools across the city are taking part in a PJ Day, donating what they can to wear their fuzzy slippers and fleece to classes in support of the Red Cross or Free the Children.

Within 48 hours of the earthquake, “United Sikhs were in Haiti, where volunteers set up a set up a base camp and community kitchen in Port-au-Prince,” said Ramandeep Kaur. A group from Toronto, including her father, Continue reading ‘Torontonians reach out to help quake victims’ »

The Turban Headache in France

France-based Sikhs bring the turban issue to Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, hoping for a larger support from the diaspora, says SUJATHA SAMY

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

At the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, this year, there were three men on a mission. Although they came from France, you can think they were just regular Sikhs wearing a turban. In fact, this is notreally the case. Their dastaar (turban) is a major source of headache in their new homeland.

The reason? A French law requiring that all people be “bare-headed” on the photographs submitted for identification documents such as ID cards, passports or even as simple as a public transportation card.

For most Sikhs, removing their turban even for a picture is a sacrilege. Most of the France-based Sikhs I spoke with claimed their headgear is part of the identity and without it they would look completely different. Hence, they could not see the relevance of the requirement.

Unfortunately, in their cases, no exception could be made. Sikhs refusing to submit pictures “bareheaded” end up without papers. Among those cases, the one of Shingara Mann Singh is unique. He is a French citizen but because of the current requirements, he has no valid ID. “I am the only French without papers,” he jokes when asked about it.

He becomes tense when talking about his fate in the coming months. He owns a taxi agency and drives regularly. His driver’s license is about to expire and he knows his turban will bar him from getting its renewal. In his case, it could mean that he will be jobless pretty soon. His bank has also warned him that they would not be able to renew his debit card if he cannot prove his identity.

His friend Ranjit Singh has a legal political refugee status. The man has severe health issues but without valid papers, he is unable to get his social security benefits and has to pay full price for any medical treatment. He is also not able to apply for housing.

So far, the local Sikhs are leaving no stone unturned. They have filed cases in local courts and appealed court decisions, but without much success. They have written to local MPs, ministers and politicians in India. But no one took up their case. They then decided to bring their problem to the European Court of Human Rights. Here again they met with disappointment.

In 2004, a delegation of Sikhs from France was even sent to India. They spent days, meeting as many officials as they could. Sonia Gandhi was also on the list. After speaking with them, she assured that the issue would be taken up through the diplomatic channel. So far, the French Sikhs say, they have not seen any movement.

Even during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the French Bastille Day, last July, Sikhs claimed they were ignored. No Punjabi association was invited to the official reception, whereas 200 other Indian associations were part of the function.

So what about the future? In New Delhi, the delegation brought a memorandum explaining their difficulties to the members of the Diaspora. They also collected 4,000 signatures from other Sikhs here (French law does not allow statistics based on race or gender, but here are an estimated 12,000 Sikhs in France). However, they have no illusions about a positive outcome from the conference but still have the hope that a solution could come out from political intervention.

On the legal front, United Sikh – a UN-affiliated NGO fighting the Sikh cause – had turned to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2008. They are expecting a decision soon.

The turban issue is far from being a simple one – Neither for France nor India.

France has a tradition of “integration”. The country expects its immigrants “to blend” into French society. However, what “integrate” really means remains unclear nowadays. Does it mean that in order to fit in, all individuality or unique community symbols have to be erased? Another question to ponder is: Unlike the burqa – a commission is currently studying the possibility of a legal ban on the burqa in France – one can see the faces of the men wearing a turban. So how is the turban posing an identification problem?

No society can function properly without a fair set of boundaries. However, France has to come to terms with the changing face of its society and opt for more nuanced laws that would not alienate its minorities. This would be a good step to attain the much coveted integration objective.

India is not in a comfortable situation either. What much can the Indian government, even headed by a dastaar-wearing Sikh, can do when those people have become foreign nationals? What could be done beyond basic education and information? The local Sikhs blame the Indian inertia on lucrative business prospects. Could that be the only reason?

In the middle of so many questions, to which answers could never come, the Sikhs in France have no intention of ending their struggle. Love them or hate them but their resolve cannot leave you indifferent.

Sujatha Samy is a Paris-based journalist

WRITER’S EMAIL
ssrandy@gmail.com

Source: Tehelka

Minority Unemployment Rates to Hit Record High This Year

The unemployment rate for African Americans is set to soar to a 25-year high of 17.2 percent by the third quarter of this year, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute. The rate for Latinos is also expected to hit a record high of 13.9 percent this year.

Comparatively, the national unemployment rate for Whites is set to hit nine percent.

One reason that the racial disparities are so high is that two of the sectors that traditionally employed high numbers of Blacks and Hispanics, construction and manufacturing, have been hit the hardest in the recession.

Members of the Congressional Black Congress are calling on Congress to create training programs and jobs in low-income communities with the highest unemployment rates. Some civil rights groups are advocating for Congress to pass a job bill that includes three key elements: direct job creation, assistance for struggling families and aid to states and localities.

In an op-ed published today in Politico, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, and John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, called on the federal government to address racial disparities in employment as part of a commitment to cut poverty in half by 2020.

“Poverty reduction across all races is critically important, but we must also be brutally honest about the racial disparities that continue to separate black and Hispanic Americans from white Americans,” they said. “Such disparities demand serious, committed and prompt action, starting with a strategy to create good jobs that provide decent wages, benefits and pathways out of poverty in the hardest-hit communities … A plan to directly create jobs must balance the need to put people to work right away with a long-term strategy to create living-wage jobs for low-income and minority communities.”

Source: Civilrights.org

West Coast Sikhi Camp Held in California

Caruthers, CA – “VAHEGURU JI KA KHALSA, VAHEGURU JI KI FATEH”, said the campers for the last time to each other. Tears, smiles and hugs were abundant among the campers and the organizers. The mood was one of great happiness and joy at the successful camp, but a great sadness that the camp was over. “When is the next camp?” shouted one of the campers, which was met with smiles and cheers from the other campers and organizers.
The West Coast Sikhi Camp, with the limitless blessings of the Almighty, was a great success, above and beyond what the organizers could have hoped for. Seventy five lucky campers experienced 4 days of fun filled learning, activities and of course, the delicious langar. The organizers were very appreciative of the campers’ cooperativeness and enthusiasm over the camp.
The uniqueness of the West Coast Sikhi Camp was its focus on having Sikhs living and working among society provide their remarkable input. Shattering the stereotype that keeping the Sikh physical image and employment are incompatible, the speakers (local as well as international) presented their talks and led discussions on Sikh religion, the faith, its meaning and its experience to the riveted campers, most of which was in English. Rather than being a one sided lecture, the talks from various speakers were followed by an open discussion, which fostered an environment of learning and enthusiasm.
The organizers wish to thank the campers for making the first ever West Coast Sikhi Camp a great success, the parents for their great trust in feeding their children’s spirituality and all of the volunteers that stepped up and made the camp come together. We are greatly indebted to Bhai Manvir Singh and Bhai Ravjeet Singh who joined us from England, along with Dr. Gurtej Singh from Sacramento. The three well renowned speakers led various topics and talks to acquaint the campers with history and beliefs of the Sikh religion.
One last note from the West Coast Sikhi Camp organizers: See you at the next camp and stay tuned to www.WCSikhiCamp.com for announcements.

Caruthers, CA – “VAHEGURU JI KA KHALSA, VAHEGURU JI KI FATEH”, said the campers for the last time to each other. Tears, smiles and hugs were abundant among the campers and the organizers. The mood was one of great happiness and joy at the successful camp, but a great sadness that the camp was over. “When is the next camp?” shouted one of the campers, which was met with smiles and cheers from the other campers and organizers. Continue reading ‘West Coast Sikhi Camp Held in California’ »