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The Ostrich & The Butterfly

EDITORIAL

 

 

 

 

 

EDITOR:  Once again, the Nikki Haley story is in the news and, once again -- in the usual knee jerk reaction -- some of us are screaming 'betrayal', without using the filter of sober thought and reflection.

Yes, there has been betrayal: we ourselves have betrayed ourselves, and are now thrashing about without making much sense because we have done little, if anything, to address the real issues.

The following editorial was published right here on sikhchic.com six years ago. As far as we can see, our community worldwide remains short-sighted and has yet to start facing the reality of our own failures, and therefore winces vociferously over the inevitable and logical consequences. Crying 'Wolf!' or burying one's head in the sand will not get us anywhere. All we'll do is go around in circles ... as we currently are ...   

 

 

 

In recent weeks, stories we have published on two persons in particular have caused considerable confusion amongst our readers, who have questioned the reason for sikhchic.com to even carry such reportage.

The first set is around Nikki Haley, the North Carolina Governor hopeful who has publicly declared her allegiance to the Christian faith, though she was born and brought up a Sikh.

The purpose of reporting on her as she successfully made her way through her many trials and tribulations was neither to claim ownership of her on behalf of the Sikh community nor to celebrate the political strides she has made by renouncing her Sikh Faith.

The point behind highlighting this international story in our pages - unfortunately lost to many of our readers - was that in a nation that cries itself hoarse in professing its commitment to democratic ideals and a clean separation between religion and state, in day-to-day reality falls painfully short by allowing its populace to demand of its political candidates a public declaration of their allegiance to one specific religion only.

The crux of the Nikki Haley story was not that a Sikh-American had proved weak and had turned her back to Sikhi but that she had succumbed to inappropriate public pressure in doing so.

The aim of reporting this story was not to instigate a dialogue on whether she was good or bad; a Sikh or not a Sikh; or if we at sikhchic.com should waste any ink on her; but to have you, Sikh-Americans and others across the diaspora, challenge this outrage, loudly and publicly, so as to ensure that no one again was ever required to go through this shameful and unconstitutional experience.

Sadly, no one picked up the ball. All we got was a lot of griping over why sikhchic.com had posted the story or wild claims that we were ‘celebrating' her in some way and shouldn‘t.

Then, there's the story of Harleen Kaur Nottay, a Sikh-Briton model who chose to cut her hair while making her way up the ladder in a popular and prestigious Top Model competition.

We reported her story, warts and all, to alert our readership that these are the choices our children are finding themselves being forced to make while climbing to the top of their career ladders.

Why report this fact? So that the community - parents, really - will learn to anticipate these situations and prepare their children well in advance, instead of wincing and fretting belatedly as they stand on the very threshold where these decisions are made.

So, dear sikhchic.com readers, would you like us to NOT report such stories, so that you can be saved the pain? ... so that we can all go about merrily in our daily lives, mercifully oblivious of what is happening in other households ... until it knocks on our own doorsteps!

Is it preferable that we get news of these stories from non-Sikh media outlets, where they are invariably given a spin to suit the mainstream perspective?

Should we concentrate on putting blinders over our eyes, to save ourselves from 'bad' things that some Sikhs do and quietly, unwittingly, follow the lemmings towards the approaching cliff-edge?

On the contrary, we at sikhchic.com have chosen to work as best as we can in accordance with the highest journalistic standards.

We recognize that some Sikhs do great things ... and, at the other end of the spectrum, some do bad things. The good ones and the bad ones, both are ... us! We can't keep on disowning people as soon as they do something we or the community disapproves of. Or turn the other way, pretending we didn't see it, that it never happened.

We must face reality, painful though it is; recognize it, analyze it and look for solutions.
 
We at sikhchic.com, however, HAVE put some limitations on ourselves, and mapped out the area we want to concentrate on.

To reiterate: we avoid full-frontal religion, politics, news ... while we remain focused on art and culture.

True, there are no clear lines between these and we do not shy away from crossing them when it becomes necessary.

But we simply reject the suggestion by some that we have diluted our mission by reporting more on culture and less on religious matters.

Our belief is that there is no religion without culture. In fact, it is the glue that keeps a religion and a community together. These facts, we felt, have been overlooked by many and it is for this very reason that we have therefore chosen to focus on them while other sites do yeomen service in focusing on other areas.

Thus, as far as we are concerned, Manmohan Singh is - in addition to all the other things he is and does - a cultural phenomenon. Good or bad, successful or a failure, he is a Sikh and he is ours. We cannot shy away from recognizing that his successes are our successes, his failures are our failures, and his faults are actually ours too. 

Sikhs are unique in that they inherit a global vision from birth. But that is no reason why we should be unable to think locally when it is warranted.

A little too often, we tend to blame monumental forces and goliathan enemies, for our difficulties. Though those concerns are not baseless, we do tend to overlook our own, individual shortcomings, neglects, failings and oversights as having contributed as well to our looming challenges.

Let's look at ourselves in the mirror.

How do we address the simplest of things, the most basic and easiest of requirements, in our lives?

Do we wear a kara?

Have we shed our names, Singh and Kaur, for self-demeaning caste affiliations?

Do we trim our hair - (only a bit!) - because it appears to be convenient?

Do we do langar seva?

Do we contribute daswandh to Sikh institutions? ...

Though a short list here, each of you can, we're sure, add meaningfully to it.

We have been careless for decades now, and now that yet another new generation has left the nest, the chickens have come home to roost.
 
The point is, if we neglect the most basic things - things that require little or no effort and sacrifice - then there's no point in railing over the bigger things which require much more energy, commitment, courage and sacrifice.

And, let's not trivialize these 'little' things. If the message we give to our children, albeit unwittingly, is that it is okay to let values, traditions, rules, maryada, to drop by the wayside if and when it becomes expedient to do so, then those very examples will mushroom later and shape larger decisions ... but by then, with callous disregard.
 
Thus, the ‘little' things are capable of producing their own version of the proverbial Butterfly effect.

In our case, it is true ... a butterfly flapping its wings in Los Angeles can and will produce a tornado in Chandigarh, and vice versa.

Our difficulties of today have their roots in what we did and/or failed to do decades ago. The fault does not lie with Nikki or Harleen or Manmohan ... and it is certainly not in our stars. "It is in ourselves ...!" (to quote the English Bard.)

All is not lost. It's never all lost. If we get working, each one of us individually - and collectively - we can repair the damage and forge ahead in chardi kalaa.

Let's all work on the smaller and simpler things ... especially those in and around us. The rest will follow in due course.


First published on July 10, 2010; re-published on November 25, 2016.   

         

 

Conversation about this article

1: Jodh Singh (Birmingham, England), July 21, 2010, 7:39 AM.

sikhchic.com is my first port of call when I switch on my computer each morning. With a myriad of interests and hobbies, there is a swathe of internet sites to go with them. However, I invariably find myself on sikhchic.com many times during the day, hoping for a new essay by I.J. Singh, an anecdote by Sangat Singh, a new poem by Michele Gibson or an article by T. Sher Singh and countless other works by countless other unnamed composers. However, I have an admission to make. On rare occasions, I have thought twice as to why an article has been published on these venerable pages. As a Briton, the article on Nikki Haley was interesting and relevant. It deserved to be published here. The article on Hard Kaur (Music forum) two years ago was equally deserving but perhaps one-sided. The engaging element was the comments section. Commentators seemed equally split on whether the article should have been published and also, views on the person concerned were split on an almost equal basis. I was disappointed by the editor obviously curtailing some comments, or adding unnecessary points which detracted from the correspondent's viewpoint. Sikhs are as ferociously intelligent as any other social group on the planet. However, in order to curtail potential altercations which detract from other commentators making sensible evaluations, may I present my view? Let us all realize that this site is run by Sikhs for Sikhs (as well as others interested in our philosophy). sikhchic.com provides a rich resource of knowledge, which should be mined by all. In light of our sometimes unenlightened outlook, Sikhs are as guilty as anyone of missing the point sometimes! No matter! What we should stick to is to articulate what we have gained from the composition put before us and refrain from unnecessary disparagement, which I have noted recently. My personal aspiration for this site is for it to provide contemporary, inspiring and intelligent insights into our faith and philosophy without recourse for anyone to feel ostracized from what is presented.

2: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), July 21, 2010, 7:58 AM.

You are doing just fine ... modern, latest, new and newsworthy, within the Sikh/ Punjabi/ Khalsa context. Your perspective is extraordinary, need of the day, today. It's easily understood, comprehended and grasped by Sikhs and non-Sikhs, the watchdogs, agents of provocation, evil forces, think-tanks and intellectuals. It's time that we never complain - never explain, and just carry on.

3: N. Singh (Canada), July 21, 2010, 10:00 AM.

Thank you for this site! On a personal level it has helped me come to terms with the events of 1984 and beyond, and to give a voice to my pain, to be heard and sometimes to be recognized. This is all part of the healing process for an individual and a community. We need a place where we can all gather, exchange views and be heard. It is also uplifting to hear of the success of others, and to know what we are still in Chardi Kalaa, regardless of the challenges we have faced or will face!

4: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), July 21, 2010, 10:29 AM.

Dear Editor: I must admit I myself was not convinced as to why Nikki Haley's story was being told on this forum (since she has willingly and publicly renounced the Sikh faith and sikhchic.com is about, by and for the Sikhs) but now I do understand your rationale. As far as Harleen Kaur Nottay's posting is concerned, I had no doubts as to why you published it. Besides, forewarning parents and young Sikhs aspiring to enter such professions, we must also realize that regardless of whether or not Harleen has kept her hair, she is one of us. Those that have not kept the Sikh identity should be considered as much Sikhs as those wearing all the five symbols - they are simply at a different level in their commitment of practicing Sikhi. On these very same sikhchic.com pages, we have often discussed that anyone who believes in the Sikh philosophy and the universal message of Guru Granth Sahib is a Sikh. Although we are all at different levels in our practice and commitment, we need to continue to celebrate the successes of all Sikhs, regardless of their appearance and also need to be aware of our own faults and shortcomings as a community. Keep up with the marvelous work you are doing. As said by Irvinder Singh, "just carry on". You can never please everyone in any case! We are grateful to you. And, yes, I also land upon sikhchic.com multiple times in a day to see if there is a new essay by I.J. Singh, T. Sher Singh, Gurmeet Kaur, and many others, and of course Sangat Singh's thoughtful comments and anecdotes!

5: Plate (Michigan, U.S.A.), July 21, 2010, 7:08 PM.

I must congratulate you for publishing both the stories. The reason I liked these stories as you have already mentioned is that they highlight and bring to the fore the issues we as a community are facing. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg (hairberg, in our case) as there are many more from our younger generation who are making decisions because of societal pressure. Please continue to post such stories and as I have stated earlier I cannot wait for a sikhchic.com TV channel so we can actually have video stories. There is readership for such stories and once again thank you for doing a commendable job.

6: Sukhindarpal SIngh (Penang, Malaysia), July 22, 2010, 2:41 AM.

Wherever and whenever I get the chance, I tell the sangat about sikhchic.com and its contents. Please carry on telling us what you tell us so beautifully. Your series on 1984 which was printed in book-form by the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia inspired the month-long programme in October last year in Gurdwara Sahib, Bayan Baru, Penang to commemorate the 1984 pogrom. The stories on teachers, mothers, fathers, 1947, the Fauja Singhs, Saragharhi, the list is endless. GuruRakha.

7: Kanwar Nijjer (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), July 22, 2010, 10:03 AM.

As a Sikh we should put all our efforts into educating the local population where we live and work. We should help in hospitals and other charities. The Sikh Coalition have done a great job. We need more people doing it in every country. This way our kids do not change their identity. Our appearance will be reflected positively all through world. We need to get out of the gurdwara controlling business. Use gurdwaras to develop ourselves and the community.

8: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 22, 2010, 12:02 PM.

You seem to have two ideas in the Nikki Haley story: one is correct; the other, I am not so sure. You are right that in this multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation, any pressure on one who is nominally not a Christian is inappropriate. Your second point bothers me because it may not be based on evidence. You say that "The crux of the Nikki Haley story was not that a Sikh-American had proved weak and had turned her back to Sikhi but that she had succumbed to inappropriate public pressure in doing so." Is that really so? News reports say that she and one brother made the choice to turn Christian. Perhaps it is a choice she made, just as one Bobby Jindal seems to have done. She seeems to be a practicing and believing Christian and that may well be her choice - as she has every right to make. Apparently another sibling in the family did not make this choice and is still identified as a Sikh. It is really her choice to make, not ours at all. And she has made it.

9: Harpreet (Texas, U.S.A.), July 22, 2010, 12:03 PM.

Okay, here are my points, and I hope that you would be as wise and honest in letting it be asked as you cleared your stand: 1) Regarding Nikki Haley story: Bobby Jindal was chosen before her, and his story, about renouncing his faith under public pressure, is ditto similar to Nikki Haley. Why you didn't care to highlight that? Did you not find it compelling enough, forgive me to ask, because he was Hindu first? As to what I understand from your rationale of this story is that first religion (here Sikh for Nikki) does not matter. Moreover this is not a recent trend. If you google, you will find that the first Sikh, and south Asian, congressmen in USA was Sikh before he converted to Christianity after running for Congress. 2) Regarding the Harleen Kaur Nottay story: I have reiterated in my previous comments every time that being good or bad in terms of Sikhism is not what I ask for. I understand that we can't change people. However, my question is how did you authenticate, or the girl in question herself pointed out, that she believes in only Guru Granth Sahib? Forgive me to say, but just because the story of this girl with a Sikh name came up in British tabloids which compelled you to include her under Sikhs? The point is there are numerous successful people born into Sikh families worldwide, however it is a bad precedent to show your readers until we don't know whether they actually follow (least to expect is faith in Guru Granth Sahib only) Sikhism. [Editor: In answer to the two questions you have posed to us - 1) The story of the NC voters' demand that Nikki declare her allegiance to Christianity publicly was reported worldwide. The issue thus came to the fore. No such situation occurred vis-a-vis Jindal. 2) If your position bears any merit, then we will be unable to post YOUR comment on this site - without getting authentication from you that you are a fully-practicing Sikh who meets YOUR own and other definitions. To sum up, all we do is report and post stories that we think will give you food for thought. We hope that readers will take advantage of this opportunity - hitherto not available in this form - for the purpose of introspection and reflection ... and some activism, either personal or public, if you feel it is warranted.

10: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 22, 2010, 12:55 PM.

The self-professed mandate of sikhchic.com is to be broad-based or expansive, yet the fundamentals of the religion and Sikh life are not ignored. I point to the series: "The Guru & I," "1984 & I," "Partition & I." Some on Sikhs are clearly also controversial matters but touch the fundamentals like the series of reports on Prof. Darshan Singh, as also the postings on Hew McLeod. Translations of gurbani and commentary that are on fundamentals - like poetry and reflections on the Siddh Gosht. Of the many essays that I have written, quite a few explore Sikhi fundamentals; and now the whole series on "The Talking Stick" - Japji Sahib, Sohila, and now Bhai Gurdas' Vaaran. There are perhaps just as many more that I have missed in this list. Sikhs are people and as people they need to be looked at as well, honestly and even critically but always with a dollop of kindness and humor - how they live, how they think, and even how many of them compromise their fundamentals. One can't live in this world and be oblivious to what exists all around us. And differences of opinion, of course, are both inevitable and welcome. That's what this site is all about.

11: R. Singh (Canada), December 13, 2011, 7:36 PM.

Please continue to cover all relevant stories, for we do not want to enclose ourselves in an insular mental prison of our own making. We cannot just be a community of puritans, who have nothing to do with real life. We all have to accept all hues of Sikhs, without judgement. It is this very tolerance that will change minds, not long winded lectures or outrage at perceived violations.

12: Bhupinder Singh Mahal (Dundas, Ontario, Canada), November 25, 2016, 8:41 AM.

By and large the editorial is right on the mark. However, the question is not so much of whether the protagonist of the story is a Sikh or an apostate but that the story is devoid of embellishments or inaccuracies. Sikhchic.com did not “waste any ink” on writing about Nikki Haley or Harleen Kaur Nottay. Nikki Haley herself has admitted: “My mother took us to every church in my hometown because she wanted me to see the many ways that people get to God and to respect all of them. She would say you can't have too much God in your life. She actually wanted us to be exposed so that we weren't judgmental, so we didn't think it was wrong.”

13: Harinder Singh (Punjab), November 26, 2016, 12:38 AM.

We need to also propagate our faith as other religions do.

14: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), November 26, 2016, 6:08 AM.

All persons have their own mothers whom they love and serve. Labels to mothers do not matter so long as the children are devoted to their families. Nikki is profusely devoted to her family. Nikki has roots in her inner life. Even our Gurus approached persons of other faiths as if they belonged to them.

15: RunDeep Singh (Rockville, Maryland, USA), November 26, 2016, 4:06 PM.

#13 Harinder ji: First of all, not all religions propagate their faith, if I assume you're referring to external dissemination, and not internal breeding from the parent stock (which definitely IS necessary!. Secondly, the very best way to propagate my faith to a broader audience is not to preach it - but, to live it!

16: Tinku (Punjab), November 27, 2016, 10:44 AM.

We need people with better commitment to their faith. Sikhi is not about quantity; it's everything about quality.

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