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Saturday, September 30, 2006

MacSikh loves T.O.

News Date: 09/30/06
News Source: The Toronto Star


After taking to the streets of Toronto, proud Scotsman Hardeep Singh Kholi pronounces the city "a groovy place."

This, after discovering that Canadians are far better informed about Sikhs than their British cousins, whom he interviewed Rick Mercer-style for a hilarious film screening this weekend at Spinning Wheel, a festival of films by or about Sikhs.

Asked to guess where the jovial, imposing 6-footer — sporting a bright red turban and full beard with jeans and sweater — comes from, a dozen Torontonians deliver answers so heartwarming they made him want to immigrate here.

Some, like construction worker Daniel Rioux, start out amusingly with, "Well, it ain't Poland." Adds fellow builder Steve Dafonte: "Does it make a difference? We're all brothers from different mothers."

Most of the folks he waylays downtown assume Kholi is Canadian because, well, why wouldn't he be?

Only after hearing his accented English do they deduce that he was raised in Britain, and from his appearance, that somewhere along the line, his ancestors came over from India.

"Because you're brown and you're wearing a turban," says Nadia Amir, a student.

The only thing people get wrong is the accent. The missing clue is the kilt hanging back in Kholi's hotel room, which he dons later for a photograph.

"The reactions are so cool. It's a great tribute to your country. If people everywhere naturally assumed you're one of us and not one of them, how lovely would the world be?" says Kholi, 37, in his thick Glasgow brogue — adding, deadpan: "I always run the risk of sounding like a Whitney Houston lyric."

In Kholi's short film Hardeep Does Race, he puts the same question about his origins to strangers in a town just outside London, England. Unlike Toronto, everyone there assumes he's a foreigner. Only one person gets it right.

"Some people thought I was from Cambodia or Afghanistan," Kholi says with a chuckle, adding that the response surprised him. "I was sort of expecting people to say, `You come from India.'"

The difference in perception is perhaps linked to immigration patterns and a lingering colonialist mentality in the UK, he says. "Even though we (immigrants) have been there for such a long time, in what capacity have we been there? We've been there doing those faceless s--- jobs the locals didn't want to do. They weren't giving us the good jobs they wanted.... So consequently we were in the places they didn't see us, in the places we became one homogenized group. As we're more comfortable and confident as British people, things are changing."

Born in Britain to Sikh parents who emigrated from India in 1965, Kholi was raised in Glasgow, a place he says is not unlike the Punjab, where his parents are from. "They love partying, heavy drinking and eating red meat in Punjab, and similarly in Glasgow. It's a working-class city and that's where Sikhs come from, working-class roots," says Kholi, who graduated from law school and worked for the BBC before following his passion as a filmmaker and comic.

"My mum is still really pissed off I'm not a lawyer, but what can you do?"

Growing up as a turban-wearing Sikh in 1980s rough-and-tumble Glasgow was difficult, he admits, quickly turning that to a joke: "I wasn't a very good-looking child either, which didn't help. I was so ugly when I was born the nurse slapped my mother. "

But for every one of those nutters that try to knock your turban off in the street, there are 10 people who will defend your right to be who you are to the death. People in Glasgow are so passionate about multiculturalism and everyone being together that they will actually stand in front of you in a fight, and that's incredibly touching and uplifting."

Kholi has become a celebrity in the UK after writing, directing and acting in a six-part comedy series, Meet the Magoons, about a Punjabi family running a curry house in Glasgow. It aired on Channel 4 last year. He's writing another sitcom for the BBC, A Fine Living, about traffic wardens.

Sikh on the Street, another film screening at Spinning Wheel, shows that Americans are just as ignorant about Sikhs as the Brits, but sometimes with tragic consequences.

Many Sikhs were attacked in the aftermath of 9/11 by people who thought they were Muslim terrorists, including Balbir Singh Sodhi, shot dead in front of his Arizona gas station.

None of those interviewed for Sikh on the Street knew anything about the heroic Bhagat Singh Thind, who, after serving in the U.S. Army in WWI, was denied citizenship because of his ethnicity by a Supreme Court ruling in 1923. Thind went on to earn a PhD in metaphysics and eventually won citizenship.

Like Kholi, filmmaker Sartaj Singh Dhami asked people on the streets of Washington, D.C., to guess his heritage. Most said Middle Eastern, Persian or Muslim. Some believed Sikhism is a faith of "mystics and wanderers."

Dhami's conclusion?

"Americans don't know jack about Sikhs."

It's up to Sikhs to educate people about their way of life, he adds.

Rather than getting it wrong, people should simply ask, Kholi agrees.

"The crime is not to ask. It's more offensive, surely, when people feel unable to approach us and ask us and question us. I do think political correctness has been a sledgehammer to civil liberties and understanding."

Immigrants and the children of immigrants tend to balance on a "fulcrum of past, present and future," says Kholi, adding that he believes being secure with your roots is the key to moving forward. In seeking understanding from others, he adds, you must also commit to the place where you now call home.

"If we don't engage in contemporary issues and the society we're in, then we have nothing to fall back on when we try to protest our own civil liberties being encroached," he says, pointing to the plight of Muslims in the UK in the era of terrorism.

"The way you change hearts and minds isn't always through the law or force — it's actually by being more charming and inveigling yourself in people's lives."

Hardeep Singh is a comedian and filmaker from the U.K. whose film 'Hardeep does Race' will be screened at the Spinning Wheel Festival this weekend.
Hardeep Singh is a comedian and filmaker from the U.K. whose film "Hardeep Does Race" will be screened at the Spinning Wheel Festival this weekend.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sikhs Gain Further Mainstream Exposure with a New Short Film to Premiere in Washington DC and Toronto Simultaneously

Washington, D.C. (PRWEB) September 22, 2006 -- In late 2005, a group of Sikh Americans decided to film a series of interviews on the streets of Washington, DC to see if their fellow Americans could correctly identify followers of the Sikhism, a monotheistic religion based in the Northwest Indian state of Punjab.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Sikhs faced unwanted scrutiny due to their unique identity of colorful turbans and uncut hair or were mistaken to be followers of the Islamic faith. With intensive education done in the post 9/11 era about Sikhism, this group of Sikh Americans hoped to find that society was now able to easily distinguish who they were by their identities.

Their high hopes left them dejected.

Under the banner of the film group Dashmesh Pictures, the group decided to release these interviews in a short non-profit film in hopes to provide continuous awareness of the Sikh faith. Titled “The Sikh on the Street,” the film will be premiered in two separate film festivals in Washington DC and Toronto on October 1st.

“It’s surprising to see how successful this film has been thus far, especially through digital mediums like YouTube and Google Video,” recalls Sartaj Singh Dhami, who is one of the Co-Directors for “The Sikh on the Street.” Copies of the short have been shown throughout college campuses in America, Canada, England, and even as far as Singapore.

However, the film offers a sobering truth that Americans still know little about the Sikh faith. Supreet Kaur Rekhi, Co-Director and Cinematographer of “The Sikh on the Street,” reflects that “As our Nation honors the fallen on the five year anniversary of 9/11, it is shocking that Americans continue to mistake Sikhs as Muslims.”

“The Sikh on the Street” has caught the attention of Sikh advocacy based groups, such as the Washington DC-based Sikh Council on Religion & Education (SCORE). Dr. Rajwant Singh, National Chairman of SCORE, stated that “After watching this film I feel that Sikhs, and friends of the Sikh community, need to continue to educate all Americans about this peace loving faith that believes in universal equality for fall. I endorse initiatives like ‘The Sikh on the Street’ that offer new creative ways to let all know who the Sikhs are and their contributions to society.”

The Sikh on the Street,” created by Dashmesh Pictures, will be showing at the following film festivals:

Sunday October 1st, 2006 at 2:30 PM (Free Admission)

Verizon Presents the 7th Annual 2006 DC Asian Pacific American (APA) Film Festival
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Jefferson Drive at 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20013
(202) 633-4880

Sunday October 1st, 2006 at 5:30 PM

The 4th Annual Spinning Wheel Film Festival
Isabel Bader Theatre
93 Charles Street W,
Toronto, ON
Phone: (416) 813-4092

About Dashmesh Pictures

The sole purpose of Dashmesh Pictures is to provide a creative art media outlet, with an emphasis on visual works, to help promote a positive image for Sikhism. The mission can be divided into two subcategories:

1.) Provide knowledge to society of who the Sikhs are through creative works, as a mechanism to promote educational awareness, acceptance, and communal harmony.

2.) Provide inspirational works for members of the Sikh community, as a mechanism to aide in restoring their pride, as experienced by their ancestors in previous generations.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Balbir Singh Sodhi. Five years later.

It’s sad that with all the major news coverage and reflection on television marking the five year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, not even the slightest coverage was given to Balbir Singh Sodhi. Sodhi was the first known hate crime victim loosing his life on 09/15/01 being shot to death by Frank Roque.

Luckily I was able to capture this news piece which was documented by ANI’s South Asia Newsline.

Balbir Singh Sodhi. Five years later.

In recent news, the Arizona Supreme Court removed Roque from Death Row ruling due to his low IQ and suffereing from mental illness.

Upon his arrest for killing Sodhi in 2001, Roque shouted "I am a patriot!" and "I stand for America all the way!"

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Nation Remembers

09/11/06 brings another year of remembrance and contemplation of what happened to our Nation five years ago. We will never forget those images of that horrendous day that will be forever etched into our memories and hearts.

As we heal as a Nation, we remember those all those who innocently perished on that day. Our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones, irregardless if they were family, friend, or fellow citizen.

And personally, the Sikh American community will be remembering Balbir Singh Sodhi during the week of 09/11. Sodhi was gunned down to his death in Mesa, Arizona on 09/15/01 due to being mistaken as a radical Muslim terrorist.

India Abroad recently ran a publication about Balbir Singh Sodhi five years after his passing, which is available below in its entire format.

May God bless all those who have suffered due to the 09/11 attacks.

And may God bless all so that no one has to suffer in the same manner as Balbir Singh Sodhi did.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Challenger of Darkness...

On September 6, 1995, human rights defender Jaswant Singh Khalra was abducted, tortured, and murdered because he exposed the disappearances and killings of thousands of Sikhs by the Punjab police.

In his last speech made to a Canadian audience, released with subtitles by Ensaaf (www.ensaaf.org), Jaswant Singh Khalra discusses his investigations into the disappearances and his readiness to die to expose the truth about these crimes.

This video includes clips from his speech made at Dixie Gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Toronto, Canada in April 1995, at a conference organized by the radio station Ankhila Punjab.

Please visit http://www.ensaaf.org/khalra.html for more information.