Kids Corner


16-yr-old Sikh-American Filmmaker Twins




In one of the opening scenes of a light-hearted new film about Sikhism, the young filmmakers pose a challenge: If every Sikh could educate 300 people about the religion, then awareness of the faith would be a reality.

The filmmakers, 16-year-old twins Rasna Kaur Neelam and Harnek Singh Neelam, are doing their part in that regard. Their film - with its tongue-in-cheek title, "Iz yu ignant bout Sikhi?" - was included in a recent Sikh festival at Chapman University.

To make it, the siblings traveled around their hometown of Detroit (Michigan, U.S.A.), asking strangers what they thought when they saw Harnek's turban and what, if anything, they knew about Sikhism, the world's fifth-largest religion. The twins said they hoped to spread knowledge with their 25-minute film, but also wanted to steer clear of preaching.

Throughout their interviews, they encountered many of the same questions and comments, they said, some politically correct, others unintentionally humorous.

"I don't have any problems with turbans," one heavyset man says in response to the pair's questions. "It's the ... the other thing like a towel."

Using a flip camera and films like the 2006 comedy "Borat" as inspiration, the twins interviewed their subjects in such locations as the Detroit zoo, various museums and fast-food restaurants. And although they didn't interview 300 people in their week of filming, they say they have probably spoken to that many about their religion over their lifetimes.

"I want people to know who I am and not just stereotypes," said Harnek Singh. "This was my way of educating people. As I grow up, I hope my kids don't have to go through the same problems that I went through." He said he faced ridicule in elementary school and has often been chosen for random security checks at airports, apparently because of his turban.

There are about 25 million Sikhs worldwide and close to a million in the United States.

But Sikhs in the U.S. have struggled at times to create awareness of who they are. They have often been confused with followers of Hinduism or Islam, the latter especially after the Sept. 11 attacks, when hate crimes against Sikhs increased, apparently in the belief they were Muslims.

"We are our own religion; we are our own entity," said Asees Singh, one of the festival organizers where the film was screened. "And that's something that we aim to create awareness about through this festival. So when they come to the festival, they learn about the culture, they learn about the heritage."

For Sikhs, the challenge may be to find a way to distinguish themselves from Muslims and Hindus without seeming to put down followers of those religions.

"I think we did have to do a lot of negating, because people would say, 'Oh, I know who Sikhs are,' and they would have a wrong idea," said Rasna Kaur. She and her brother spoke in an interview this week after their film was shown at the Chapman festival. "A lot of what we were doing was correcting people's preconceived notions, and once we were done with that, we could tell them who we really are."

"A lot of our education isn't, 'Hey, we aren't these people,' it's been, 'Hey, this is who we are, this is our culture, these are our practices,' " says festival organizer, Ravin Kaur Kohli. "Our message isn't about negating, it's about educating."


[Courtesy: Los Angeles Times, edited for]


November 28, 2010


Conversation about this article

1: Sean (Malaysia), November 28, 2010, 7:49 AM.

I like what you all are doing. Our mistake during 1947 was not negotiating for a separate nation for ourselves. Instead we gave up our birthright to some idiotic Muslims and joined a bandwagon of equally idiotic Hindus. Otherwise our identity would be known all over the world.

2: Sangat (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), November 28, 2010, 2:52 PM.

What a wonderful effort to see all that through the eyes of our children and to tell us how they looked through their eyes. We fogies can learn from them. Or, shall we leave them alone to argue and show their saintliness by writing volumes on 'O Khotey-aa'? We have still to decide who are the real 'Khotaas' - the little cherub gender-friendly lovable 'Khotaoa Singh's' are exempt from this fogie description that we have taken such vehement exception to. Keep it up, you young fellows - show us the way.

3: Chadani Patel (New York, U.S.A.), November 29, 2010, 1:06 PM.

The Indian government should allow Sikhs to become an independent nation.

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