Kids Corner

Images: stills from "The English Patient", a film adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's award winning novel.


A New Mantra for Sikh Youth Today:
Media & Finance





My admiration for the choice of Waris Singh Ahluwalia and Bhai Gurbaksh Singh as the “Chic Sikhs of the Year" for 2013 has only reinforced my long held conviction, which I have been preaching to audiences of Sikh youngsters in Canada, India, Switzerland, Japan, the UK and wherever else that I have met them, to focus on two professional fields as their choice of profession: media and finance.

Wherever I get the occasion to talk to Sikh families with young children, I request them to motivate their sons and daughters to choose media and finance as their preferred professions.

The recent fast by Bhai Gurbaksh Singh in India for the release of detainees having already completed their jail terms was literally a case study for further convincing me that media and finance are not only appropriate but also desirable choices for Sikh boys and girls.

Why so?

I watch three or four Indian TV channels blaring out 24 hour news, debates, panel discussions and interviews with experts. I did not see any report about Bhai Gurbaksh Singh’s fast on any of these channels. There was no panel discussion or interview about the cause for which Bhai Gurbaksh Singh was risking his life. He did not exist for these channels which were all the time going on about the Aam Aadmi Party, Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and the like.

None of the shrill and aggressive Indian TV anchors bothered to even mention Bhai Gurbaksh Singh’s cause or the problem of so many prisoners rotting in Indian jails after having completed their full prison terms. His fast unto death was a non-event for them.

The only channels from which I was able to get news about Bhai Gurbaksh Singh on TV were the three channels being telecast from outside India: the Sikh Channel, the Sangat Channel and the Akaal Channel, all of them established by Sikhs.

I was able to see for myself the fortitude displayed by Bhai Gurbaksh Singh in his sayings. I was moved by his simplicity and devotion to the ideals of Sikhi. His transparent sincerity came through in his belief in the justice of his cause.

It was such a refreshing change from the blatant hypocrisy amply displayed on mainstream Indian TV channels by Sikh and other politicians mouthing ideals in such total contradiction to their own lives and actions.

Bhai Gurbaksh Singh shone like a beacon of sincerity and honesty amongst this ocean of false prophets and leaders who hog the limelight on most Indian TV channels with their aggressive anchors.

We have so many rich and intelligent Sikhs spread around the world. However, I find it difficult to comprehend why hardly any good movies have ever been made about the lives of Sikh households or stories written by Sikh novelists about Sikh culture and tradition.

Bollywood has traditionally caricatured the Sikhs as bumpkins, buffoons or drunkards in innumerable Hindi films. A film like “Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai” was about a Sikh family but with a heavy dose of religious belief.

The moment any film touches upon Sikh religious aspects, it becomes subject to all kinds of objections from self styled Sikh ‘priest’, sants, politicians and fundamentalists who make more people see such films by creating controversies about them. Their own daily lives might be in total contradiction to the principles of Sikhi but they become fervent guardians of Sikhi in such matters.

My wife, a non-Sikh, has asked me several times about the flagrant paucity of good non-religious theme films about Sikh history and culture. She feels it is a pity that handsome looking Sikhs are not shown in films about Sikh heroes of which Sikh history has such shining examples.

Frankly, I do not know why this is so.

A Hollywood film, “The English Patient”, generated more interest about Sikhs in Switzerland than any action undertaken (if at all) by any Sikh jathedar or leader.

This film showed a Sikh as a capable army officer in a sapper unit doing efficient work in removing mines and unexploded bombs in Italy in World War II. I got so many questions about my religion from several Swiss people who had watched this film. Many of them would walk up to me in trains or on the street in the days after the release of this film in Switzerland to tell me with a touch of pride, “You are a Sikh”.

It showed me the necessity of making more such films showing Sikhs in every day life situations, having nothing to do with religious themes.

Why are rich Sikhs not financing more such films?

Even at the cost of sounding banal, I cannot help but cite the example of the presence of Jews in media and finance as a contrast to that of Sikhs in these fields.

Jews and Sikhs are both minorities in most places where they live. Of course, the Jews have the sovereign state of Israel since 1948. The number of Jews is slightly less than the number of Sikhs in the world. But just look at how they are perceived, thanks to their strong presence in the fields of media and finance and how we are perceived.

The cause for which Bhai Gurbaksh Singh put his life at risk should be a universal human right, yet I did not see any coverage of this at all on any channel other than the three channels set up by Sikhs.

Now contrast this to what happens in Israel or to events affecting the Jewish community in France or other countries around the world. Both Jews and Sikhs have been and are the victims of gross injustice and physical attacks in so many places.

Just observe the difference in the attention the media devote to events concerning them.

Just bemoaning how badly Bollywood films depict Sikhs will not serve any purpose unless Sikh boys and girls start going into media in a big way and projecting a different image of Sikhi through their creations.

I believe a start has already been made in this direction through the holding of Sikh film festivals in Canada and the US but this trend has to be generalised. This will require financing which is precisely where the other string to the bow comes in: finance.

We need a strong presence of Sikh men and women in the financial world to ensure that media projects envisaged by Sikhs obtain the necessary funding without which films about Sikhs cannot move to the next level in terms of quality.

Once Sikhs become strong in media and finance, Sikh youngsters, both boys and girls, could be provided better job opportunities in these sectors. Once such opportunities start appearing, it could motivate more Sikh youngsters to focus more on education geared towards entering these fields. The armed forces and agriculture have been two domains in which Sikhs have been traditionally very present. Both these sectors are now limited in scope.

The Indian government follows a policy of linking recruitment in the armed forces to the percentage of different communities in the Indian population while overseas governments impose severe restrictions on Sikhs with turbans being able to serve in their armed forces. However much such restrictions appear unjust and unjustified, which they are, we cannot wish them away.

Agriculture is becoming more and more capital intensive everywhere. There has been severe fragmentation of land holdings in Punjab. From what I have been personally able to see in the Indian Punjab, more and more Sikh youngsters spend their time in cities, enjoying the “good” life by selling off land at high prices rather than personally cultivating their lands.

Sikhs in Punjab keep complaining about the influx of Biharis, totally ignoring that there would be severe shortage of manpower in the agricultural sector there if the Biharis were not to come and work in their fields.

Alternative sources of employment have to be found for Sikh boys and girls. Media and finance should be their priority choices of profession. For this, the quality of education imparted to them needs to drastically improve. Competition in both these sectors is fierce. They will need to be amongst the best candidates available for positions with internationally reputed firms in media and finance.

Good work is being done by Sikh educational trusts, foundations and similar organisations by setting up educational institutions especially for Sikh girls. Many such institutions concentrate their curriculum on imparting knowledge about Sikh
religion by making students participate in early morning prayers and meditation.

This has to be accompanied by improvement in the quality of education which needs to be up to international standards of excellence. For this they need good teachers and facilities which need proper remuneration which comes from proper financing which comes from donors and financing institutions providing funding which implies that such funders need to be convinced of the validity of the project which they are being asked to fund which would become easier if there was a much stronger presence of Sikh men and women in deciding positions in media and finance.

We can turn this paradigm around whichever way we want. There is no escaping hard reality.

Unless we have a strong presence in media and finance, Sikh demands for justice and correct media image will continue to suffer the way they are suffering till now.

During my travels to various countries I do come across many Sikhs working in the financial sector but very few active in the media. Also, those active in the media in India are not exactly shining lights to be emulated. Some of them just seem to delight in projecting the image of Sikhs as whisky guzzlers as if drinking copious amounts of alcohol were a badge of honour to be worn with pride.

It is a mark of shame.

We need responsible journalism which will come with sensible, well educated Sikh boys and girls entering the media in large numbers. Many of them will be motivated to set up new journals, TV companies, film making companies. There will be several failures and not just successes. What is essential is to make media and finance as priority professional choices for aspiring Sikh boys and girls.

A Jewish friend told me that Jewish families used to choose successful Jews having lived through not just one but two bankruptcies as desirable matches for their daughters since such men had proven their resilience by losing everything but still getting back on their feet not just once but twice.

This story might not be true but it shows the right spirit.

The role of parents becomes crucial here. They have to first themselves be convinced that media and finance are desirable choices of profession for their children. I know of several cases of my contemporaries who were pushed by their parents to go in to the bureaucracy or the police in India.

Media and finance should start outranking the bureaucracy, armed forces, the police and other career choices in the minds of Sikh parents when they envisage professional futures for their children. Only then could the drivel being dished out by Bollywood about Sikhs be effectively countered.

Just consider some of the recent films released about Sikhs like “Son of Sardaar” or “Singh Sahib the Great”. The level of imbecility of such films as to be seen to be believed. “Singh is Kinng” was another shining example of undiluted stupidity. A surprising contrast was “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” which showed the hard work and dedication put in by the finest athlete India has produced till now, Milkha Singh.

Just imagine how many more such examples Sikhs have to show.

The rise of the internet offers several new avenues to Sikh youngsters to display their creative talents in the media but unless they occupy a major place in mainstream film industry, Sikhs will continue to suffer from a distorted image perception.

The way ahead is not going to be easy. Nothing has been easy for us in our history till now. It will need concerted efforts by Sikh parents and educational institutions to motivate Sikh youngsters to focus on media and finance as career choices.

For this, Sikhs who have succeeded in these two fields should take time to set examples for Sikh youngsters by talking to them. Different Sikh organisations should invite such successful professionals to talk to Sikh youngsters to show that success can be achieved without abandoning their articles of faith.

On the positive side, Sikh organisations in the US are doing very good work in informing Americans about Sikhi and what it stands for. This has already led to a reduction in cases of harassment inflicted at airports in the US on Sikh passengers because of ethnic profiling.

Politicians in countries where Sikhs live will also be more receptive to acceptable Sikh demands if they know that Sikhs are well represented in media and finance.

Once again, the example of Jewish organisations acting as major financial contributors and lobbying groups in the US comes to mind. Sikhs will be taken more seriously if they are strong in media and finance.

There are some extremely successful Sikh bankers and financial specialists. Their achievements should be highlighted by the Sikh media as an example to Sikh youngsters for future career choices.

Such developments will not happen overnight. They will take time, maybe even a generation. But they are essential if we are not to continue to wallow in our present situation of being the butt of jokes, distorted images and misconceived perceptions.

Our future orientation lies squarely in our own hands.

It will be a test of our collective wisdom and sagacity whether we manage to guide our youngsters towards media and finance as preferred career choices or not.

January 3, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Dhanwant Singh (Singapore), January 03, 2014, 11:32 AM.

Sage advice, dripping with wisdom. Ardently hope parents and their children will take it to heart. The trick is in remembering that life is worth living only when it adds to the common good of all. Otherwise, it's a wasted life. Jogishwar Singh is reminding us that we need to look ahead and plan strategically in order to optimize our blessings.

2: Ravinder Singh (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), January 03, 2014, 12:21 PM.

This is an awesome article and a great projection for the start of 2014. I completely agree and will endeavor to have my daughter into the media industry.

3: Manpreet Singh (Canton, Ohio, USA), January 03, 2014, 1:51 PM.

Thank you so much for writing this article. I read the article patiently. I have been following for the last two years and trust me I have read so many similar looking articles. All talk about the approach we should take to groom the new generation of Sikhs. My question to everybody is: when are we actually planning to do this? I hardly see anything concrete done by our Sikh organizations. Yeah, on a county/city level small organizations may be doing something but this needs national / international level of support. I hardly see successful Sikhs coming out and speaking about the truth. They only side with governments. Has anybody seen the current crop of Sikhs? Every Sikh kid in the West wants to become a DJ or a singer and every Sikh kid back in India wants to come to the West (both streams do not require education). We are becoming nothing less than 'fukraas' (someone who talks big but doesn't do that much). Apart from that I have also observed one more thing in youth: that they feel that giving up Sikhi saroop will help them reach the top much more easily. I rarely see Sikhs working at high level management or mid-level management in turbans. Trust me, we have numbers but by giving up the Guru-given identity, we have made ourselves a miniscule minority. The classic example is USA, where we have numbers but many have given up their external identity. How do you expect people to recognize us? Sorry if I was harsh in posting such a lengthy comment!

4: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), January 03, 2014, 2:25 PM.

Manpreet ji: your frustration is valid and legitimate, palpable and shared by many. You highlight the problem very clearly, but you have also pointed to the solution. You are troubled, like I am ... and so are many ... by the fact that we are all waiting for someone else -- some national or international organization -- to stand up and take the bull by the horns. Here's my two bits: why don't YOU ... and any one else who feels the same way ... start doing whatever you feel needs to be done. Find others of your ilk, and join hands, and one by one, step by step, grow. That's how the organizations you dream of are formed. Not by 'them', but by 'us'. So, since you are blessed with the insight ... and passion and many other qualities (it is obvious) ... there's no reason why YOU shouldn't get going! Start with baby steps. The big steps will follow automatically.

5: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), January 03, 2014, 3:45 PM.

This article says it all! Yes, media and finance can help in spectacular fashion ... like with the GAP advert with Waris & Co!

6: N Singh (Canada), January 03, 2014, 6:25 PM.

Sher Singh ji: point taken. I believe you had said the same on other occasions when people have raised similar objections. I have tried on several occasions to heed your advice, so here is a reality check from the ground floor level up (qualifier ... in Canada only). We are -- like all human groupings -- a clannish group, and unless some of us belong to a clan we are not interested in partnering on anything. Some of us support our own mini-group and will only promote our own. On the other hand, the concept of 'sarbat da bhalla' has become, in an overdose of openmindedness and liberality, distorted for some to mean 'Everyone else except a Sikh'. Therefore, unless one is well connected or financially independent there is little one can do to help, no matter how hard one tries. Which all goes back to Manpreet's comment that we need some formal strategy rather than ad-hoc efforts and a hodge-podge approach.

7: N Singh (Canada), January 03, 2014, 6:37 PM.

Also here is what the Jews do. Education, learning and teachers are openly praised and encouraged in the synagogue and during their religious service. We revere martial activities, they revere education and learning. Jewish mitzvah (law) dictates that Jews acknowledge Jews first and support them as an obligation. To openly shame a Jew is strictly frowned upon. Jewish children are encouraged to question and argue the Torah because that is how learning and development occurs. I have heard and observed that Jewish men make the best husbands because their mothers keep strict reign on them and they learn to treat women based on how they treat their mothers.

8: Mohinder (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), January 03, 2014, 11:40 PM.

An article with solid vision for the Sikhs. I won't say it's only for Sikh youth -- as opposed to ALL of us -- because it's never late to get involved in understanding and promotion of Sikhi. The best example is this website itself. I don't know any of the creators of this site, but certainly feel close to them through the common desire to promote understanding of Sikhi. Now, having said that, my general feeling about Sikhs is that we lack a spirit of unified community or a nation, like Jews do. The best example would be Bollywood. If it depicts Sikhs badly, don't support it. Hey, I haven't seen a Hindi film in 35 years. If Amitabh was suspected of promoting violence in Delhi against Sikhs, don't watch his movies. If people make jokes of Sikhs, don't laugh; we all know what happens when a comedian's joke bombs. Create your own and support your own. We don't lack talent, we just don't support it. Give you an example: I remember going to a concert in my town Calgary, featuring very young but highly skilled Sikh musicians. In spite of them being phenomenally good, there were more non-Sikhs in the audience of 50 souls. An old gentleman, who was sitting next to me, was probably a connoisseur of the music and had tears of amazement in his eyes during this concert. After the concert, he wanted to touch the feet of these boys, a normal gesture of respect in classical music circles. The tabla player was so good, a Hindu organization invited him to India to perform in their music festival called harivalav. He was only 15. Now I hear they were so discouraged by the lack of support, they don't perform anymore. We need to build a sense of community or nation. Look at the "Today's Photo" right here on the homepage. It features a wide range of Sikh personalities, it makes us aware of their achievements. Individually, we have accomplished so much, yet as a community or nation, we have almost nothing to show in today's world.

9: Taran (London, United Kingdom), January 04, 2014, 6:17 AM.

Jogishwar Singh is spot on ... We all know where the problems lie. May it be our jathedars, political establishment in Indian Punjab, the gurudwara pardhans or may it be our affluent and rich business class. We either lay too much emphasis on studying of our Sikh scriptures or we are totally off the track. The need is to have that balance and show it to the world what our Gurus gave us. Even by the standards of Guru Gobind Singh time and his life, many are far illiterate and regressive. The example of that is the caste system which is at its peak now amongst many of us. Also I agree with Manpreet Singh ji's comment that most young men in the west only wants to aspire to be DJs. They don't even know the ABC of music and they can hardly speak Punjabi but still they want to cash in on the rich Punjabi music. Whilst watching the struggle for getting six Sikh prisoners released by the sincere efforts of Bhai Gurbaksh SIngh, I felt a shiver in my body. Lots of Sikhs around the world felt like Sikhs and united for the cause. This is what we need.

10: Jasbir Singh (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), January 04, 2014, 5:31 PM.

Excellent article, Jogishwar Singh ji. Your logic is compelling and your suggestions need immediate attention. I feel children's career paths are significantly influenced by their parents. This is often guided by familiar and secure choices. I would request Sikh leaders in both the media and finance fields to reach out to parents and children, in similar manner to Dr Jogishwar Singh, to guide and help them better understand these career paths. This would decrease their fears and increase both the parent's and children's comfort level in these two career tracks.

11: Satjeet (USA), January 04, 2014, 11:56 PM.

Another TV program that takes up the issues related to Sikhs in India and abroad is "Nirbhau Nirvair" in the GetPunjabi channel aired from New York. True, it may only be watched by Sikhs, but it's a good beginning.

12: Aryeh Leib (Israel), January 05, 2014, 8:32 AM.

Sher ji (#4), at the risk of irreverence ... sometimes one has to grasp the bull by the TAIL, and face the ... uh ... situation!

13: Sunny (London, England), January 05, 2014, 9:56 AM.

I couldn't agree more with the sentiments of this article. I would add Politics to the list of Finance and Media. We need Members of Parliament, Advisors, Policy writers, etc.; if we are not involved in the making and debating of laws and legislation, then we'll be unduly affected by them. We need unity. the Jews have it but we do not. I myself always try to support our own kind first but unfortunately this support is not reciprocated. E.g., we should buy from Sikh businesses. If we need tradesmen, we should get Sikhs to fulfill the task. in return, we as consumers should receive competitive prices. from experience this rarely happens. It would seem that when money/fame are thrown into the mix, love of community is long gone. What a shame. Our premier Sikh institutions are out of touch with both a new generation of Sikhs but also the dynamic of Sikhs in UK, US and Canada. A relative of mine who was a top ranking officer in the Indian Air Force, once prepared a dossier for the Akalis / SGPC about how we as Sikhs could improve our influence. He lamented that his list of recommendations was ignored with them being interested in building more gurdwaras only. Maybe it's time to bypass them and setup, as T Sher Singh says, institutions ourselves. Getting a nationwide / international strategy is unrealistic. You'll be surprised how baby steps can end up being giant strides forward. I'm not sure who but somebody once said, 'Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.'

14: Sarvjit Singh (Massachusetts, USA), January 06, 2014, 12:05 AM.

There are very valid points that have been posted on this article. We all know something has to be done but seem not to have time, money or resources to influence things, but this type of forum and dialogue is a welcome step! This article reminded me of my own experience when the movie 'The English Patient' had just come out. I had gone to see this movie in a remote part of cape cod with my then girlfriend (later to be my wife). I still remember the initial scene when a turbaned man (with an unconventional style pugghri) comes on the screen and is seen crawling in the mud, sweeping for mines. American teenagers burst out in laughter at the sight of a turban because the plot had not begun or they probably assumed that he was an Arab doing some weird thing with a knife. It could also be because the very first scene had Arab music in it. (This was an era before 9/11). It was all very embarrassing for us. But as the movie progressed, people realized (or so I assume) that this Sikh character was not just some Arab side-kick but a real Sapper whose best friend was an Irish character (which is another story: in the early 40s, many Sikh were first granted Commissions in the Sapper units because it was considered a high-risk occupation)! Also, I'm told by some seniors that in pre-war Europe only the Irish, Italian and German nationalities dealt with Sikhs and other non-Europeans as equals, and thus formed bonds with them.] Naveen Andrews played a good role and I got to answer many questions by French friends about Zamzamma and Amritsar. I had heard stories that Mughals had stolen any thing that had copper or brass in it for casting the canon known as 'Bhangiyaa(n) di tope' which came to be known in Ranjit Singh's Empire as the Zamzamma.

15: Harmeet Singh (USA), January 06, 2014, 12:50 PM.

The biggest reason for our decline is our family structure that rejects exploration, growth, achievement, independent choice and learning. Nothing is going to happen until we address the culturally ingrained family value that limit Sikhs and their freedom to grow.

16: Dr Birinder Singh Ahluwalia (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 07, 2014, 7:47 AM.

Bulls and tails ... hm-mm-mm. History is testament to what happens when one attempts to grasp the tail of a bull (please don't try it). In my humble viewpoint there is no bull whose tail needs to be grasped - we are all humans with weaknesses and strengths. Let us further fortify our strengths and work diligently to do away with our weaknesses.

17: Ishverjeet Singh (Klang, Malaysia), January 08, 2014, 5:27 AM.

It is a fact that the presence of a saabat-soorat Sikh in media or finance attracts attention. It is then a matter of how he/she handles it both professionally and personally in order to further define his/her success in the chosen field. My mama ji, Malkit Singh Maan, is the CFO of Bank Islam Malaysia. During his appointment, many (especially Muslims) voiced their disapproval at a non-Muslim holding a top position. However, the top bank management and directors (ALL Muslims) held to their decision. Wisely so as, under his guidance, his team managed to reverse the debts and further lead the bank to be the most successful banking institution in the country.

18: Manpreet Singh (Canton, Ohio, USA), January 09, 2014, 2:09 PM.

T Sher Singh ji: In response to you note -- Starting with the point of me starting an institution or taking an initiative. I would say we all do it in some way or the other. One example is the 'daswandh'. My father ensured that I give my daswandh from the very first salary I drew in September 2006. I have been following this diligently, even after moving to the US. My question is that if we have to take initiative, then what are our institutions doing whom we give away 10% of our earnings? I am not saying that new institutions should not come up like SALDEF, SOPW, Khalsa Aid, etc., but I would like to know where is our money which we give in the form of daswandh, charrahva (which we put directly in the golak) going. I don't see anything happening on the front re the 1984 Sikh Genocide victims. I don't see anything being done to address the drug epidemic in Punjab. I don't see anything beeing done by many re unity, equality, etc. I don't see anything done by them to improve Sikhi knowledge among youth. I don't see anything done by them to contain the apostasy. I don't see anything done by them to pursue cases against the likes of Sumedh Saini, KP Gill and many others. I don't see much done to help victims of hurricanes and floods across the globe. I don't see them supporting any good Sikh cause like Bhai Gurbaksh Singh as well. I only see them eating 'Karah Parshad' in the gurdwara or fighting for gurdwara positions. They are everything but Sikhs. I will be more than happy to put my hard earned money and start an institution which addresses these issues and simultaneously I would stop giving my daswandh to others because money is indirectly going into the pockets of crooked politicians. In fact, we all should come together and start channeling our daswandh into institutions which address our causes. We know that the gurdwara is a focal point of our Sikhi, but as the Guru says, Sikhi starts from you. Sikhi is not like Hinduism wherein we have to rub our nose 100 times in front of an idol, put tilak on the forehead and do some 'dhongs', recite 100 times some verse, etc. Sikhi is about doing good karam and right and moral things within good rehat. Lastly, these wayward institutions should drop the word 'Sikh' from their names because they no more do anything related to Sikhs.

19: Pavan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 23, 2015, 12:43 PM.

Beautifully written article. You did a good job of writing about the current problems facing Sikhs today while at the same time providing a possible solution that can be actionable going forward which many forget to think of. I agree that we have too few Sikh role models today; Waris Singh Ahluwalia, for example, and the likes of him are, in my eyes, great role models. Such brave souls are are putting themselves out there in industries that actually have relevance in the world and creating respect for Sikhs in prominent areas of the economy. We should be celebrating Sikh entrepreneurs and pioneers in whatever industry they are in; otherwise we will continue to look up to Bollywood actors and other such nonsense that ironically hurt Sikhs instead of depicting us honestly.

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