Guest Post: the Sikh Research Institute’s Annual Sidak Retreat, June 9 – July 25

May 4, 2011

Sidak attendees

Sidak is the Sikh Research Institute’s annual two-week leadership development retreat in the Hill Country of San Antonio, Texas. Attendees choose one of three tracks of study: Sikhi 101, Sikhi 201 or Gurmukhi 101. There are also group sessions daily where all three groups come together for presentations on leadership styles and techniques, as well as discussions on developing healthy, positive, interpersonal relationships and finding ways to develop individual talents and passions through community service.

This year, Sidak will be held from June 25 through July 9, and spots are still available. For more information, including what you need to get an application started, please visit:, e-mail us at, or check out our videos here and here.

We’d like to share two stories from a past Sidaker, to let them tell in their own words what the Sidak experience could mean for you.


Education is the First Step

By Ravinder Singh

Sidak 2006 & 2007

It is a rarity to find mentors and teachers who will provide a spark to an inquiring mind.  I have found that my experiences at Sidak have led me to seek a better understanding of my faith.  The spark I received at Sidak was the beginning of a journey.  I set out to learn as much as possible about Sikhi and Gurbani.  I wanted to learn about the social and political issues affecting us as a people.  From human rights abuses in Panjab to civil rights issues in the diasporas, it is imperative that we become cognizant of the issues affecting us.  Once we gain awareness, hopefully we can begin the process of addressing these issues.

Education is the first step and that is what the programs at Sidak provide.  In the year following completion of the Sidak program, I was able to help develop lectures and small group discussions for a national Sikh conference.  I attended the Sidak program twice in the summers of 2006 and 2007.  Three years later, my brother and I still have weekly Gurbani vocabulary quiz sessions.

Sidak was a life changing experience.  There are very few programs that can provide a positive influence on one’s life.  I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to learn at Sidak and I hope others are able to share my experiences by attending Sidak.


Gurmukhi 101: Revealing the Art and Science of Translating the Inscribed Elegance

By Narenderpal Singh

Sidak 2009

The Gurmukhi track at Sidak 2009 is a very structured course whereby high school and college students and adults with either minimal Gurmukhi skills or with fluent modern Punjabi written and spoken skills (or anywhere in between) can learn to translate Gurbani. Two weeks is hardly enough time to learn a language, but the Gurmukhi track at Sidak is presented through detailed course materials, and supplemented with the tools and techniques to help you continue your journey to discover the Guru Granth Sahib Ji for yourself with self-study afterwards.

The instructors at Sidak 2009 were excellent, and they used well-developed course materials to transfer their knowledge to students who came from a wide variety of backgrounds. The proof of their effectiveness of instruction is in the fact that I saw young adults with minimal written and spoken modern Punjabi skills translating shabads on their own in a span of two weeks. The instructors were knowledgeable and passionate about teaching.  However, the course is rigorous and has ample homework and it is definitely not for the meek or timid, I think. If you are serious about learning the Gurmukhi used in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji then Sidak is the only place that I know of that will offer the depth and scope to help you extrapolate your existing English and modern Punjabi, or other language skills, to understanding Bani with parts of speech, vocabulary, and techniques of grammar.

The Gurmukhi track at Sidak is unique in that it caters to a diverse audience – those that already are or aspire to become highly accomplished as professionals in field as diverse as engineering, medicine, social studies, psychology, computers, mathematics and law. Students and professionals from almost each of these fields attended Sidak 2009 and student’s ages ranged from late teens to mid-thirties.

The Sidak Gurmukhi track enabled me to leapfrog my understanding of Gurbani from that of a green novice to becoming adequately equipped with tools and techniques to continue through self-study.  I am thoroughly impressed by this course and wholeheartedly recommend it for every Sikh and non-Sikh who wishes to learn, translate, and understand Gurbani for themselves.  If you are of the mindset that the ancient Gurmukhi of our Gurus that is comprised of a multitude of languages is a rare art form that a select few “back inIndia” could have the privilege of learning properly, then you are in for a pleasant surprise.  The Gurmukhi track at Sidak reveals the art and science of Gurmukhi and makes Gurbani accessible to you, even if you do not practice using modern Punjabi in your daily lives! If you have just the desire to learn the word of the Guru Ji in Guru Granth Sahib Ji, then you will come out of this course with enough knowledge, tools and techniques, and literature references to start your journey towards discovery of Dhur Ki Bani by yourself.

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh


Established in 2003 and located in San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A., SikhRI ( is a non-profit, faith-based initiative whose mission is to “facilitate training and development while inspiring Sikh values, create global awareness of Sikhi, and deliver solutions to the key challenges faced by the Sikh community.


Reflecting on the Power of 1699

April 15, 2011

You have probably heard about the Sikh Coalition’s 16.99 Vaisakhi Campaign.  But what is the historical significance of 1699?  Consider the following extracts from the writings of historians Gopal Singh, Nikki-Guninder Kaur, and J.D. Cunningham:

“1699. It was on the first day of Vaisakh, mid-spring … that Guru Gobind Singh [the Tenth Sikh Guru] … decided finally to evolve a new order. Upto now, everyone, Hindu or Muslim, was welcome to the portals of the new faith, if he pledged to forego his caste exclusiveness, interdine, serve man irrespective of his creed and to believe only in one God, and discard all cant, superstition, and ritual. It was a society of the peaceful and the holy.” [GS]

“But it was the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur (the Ninth Guru) in Delhi that finally consolidated the martial aspect of Sikhism.  [Guru Teg Bahadur] challenged the policy of the Muslim rulers of converting Hindus by force, and for this defence of religious freedom he was executed in 1675. His son and successor … though only nine years of age then, provided vigorous leadership to the Sikhs. His first task was to infuse a new spirit among his people.” [NGK]

“The Guru, therefore, decided to evolve an order which would keep as its ideal of life nothing but sacrifice for the cause of [righteousness], and would not accept slavery, either political, or social or economic. And, if for this they had to fight their way through, they wouldn’t shirk the use of arms.” [GS]

“Guru Gobind Singh fulfilled his aspiration for religious freedom in 1699 by inaugurating the Khalsa, the Order of the Pure. It was a casteless and self-abnegating body of Sikhs ready to take up arms to fight against oppression[.] Chanting verses from the Guru Granth [Sahib], Guru Gobind Singh began the initiation into the Khalsa by churning water, poured into a steel bowl, with a double-edged sword. His wife, Mata Sahib Kaur, came forward and dropped sugar crystals into the vessel. Sweetness through the feminine hand was thus mingled with the alchemy of iron.” [NGK]

“The occasion marked a dramatic departure from the past. The five to whom the rites of initiation were administered by Guru Gobind Singh were given the surname of Singh, meaning ‘lion’ and were ever after to wear the emblems of the Khalsa, popularly known [today] as the Five Ks. These were Kesha or uncut hair; Kangha, a comb tucked into the Kesha to keep it tidy; Kara, a steel bracelet symbolizing strength and unity; Kachha, short breeches; and Kirpaan, a sword. Their rebirth into the new order represented the annihilation of their family (caste) lineage, of their confinement to a hereditary occupation, of all their earlier beliefs and creeds, and of the rituals they had so far observed. They were enjoined to help the weak and fight the oppressor. Guru Gobind Singh reiterated [the First Guru, Guru Nanak’s] message to have faith in the One, and consider all human beings equal, irrespective of caste and religion.” [NGK]

“This done, [the Guru] now stood before [his disciples] with folded hands, entreating them to administer the Amrit to him … [and] the Guru was administered Amrit the same way, much to the wonder of his devoted followers. It electrified the atmosphere as nothing else could. It is said many thousand persons were baptized thus on that day at their request[.]” [GS]

“Women were also to wear the five emblems of the Khalsa. As men received the surname Singh, women received the surname Kaur, signifying “princess,” and they retained the name whether single or married. Thus the patriarchal structure of society was modified. Men and women no longer traced their lineage or occupation to the ‘father’; as ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ both became equal partners in the new family of Sikhism.” [NGK]

“A living spirit possesses the whole Sikh people, and the impress of [Guru Gobind Singh] has not only elevated and altered the constitution of their minds but has operated materially and given amplitude to their physical frames. The features and external form of a whole people have been modified and a Sikh chief is not more distinguishable by his stately person and free and manly bearing than a minister of his faith is by a lofty thoughtfulness of look which marks the fervour of his soul and his persuasion of the near presence of the Divinity.” [JDC]

Sources: Gopal Singh, Guru Gobind Singh (1966); Nikki-Guninder Kaur Singh, The Name of My Beloved: Verses of the Sikh Gurus (1995); J.D. Cunningham, History of the Sikhs (1849)

Fighting the Bullying Epidemic – Gurwinder’s Trip to Washington

April 13, 2011

Duong and Gurwinder at the White House

I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to share my experiences on bullying at the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention. Attending this conference and meeting other people affected by bullying helped me understand that I am not alone in this struggle.  Although there is a lot of work to be done to stop bullying in schools, there are a lot of people around the country fighting this very serious issue.

I grew up in Richmond Hill in Queens, and ever since I can remember, I’ve been treated differently.  It wasn’t exactly bullying – that started in elementary school – but the other kids didn’t like me very much.  I stood out from the rest of them because my joora made me look different.  When I got to elementary school, they used to call me “egg head.”  Or they would ask me, “What’s inside there?  Is it a potato?” Sometimes my mom would come to school to defend me, but she wasn’t able to do much, because she isn’t fluent in English.  Loneliness just became a part of my life.

After 9/11, things became much worse.  Kids called me names, and would ask me things like “Are you related to Osama bin Laden?” or “Is Osama bin Laden your uncle?” They called me a “terrorist” or “terrorist’s son.”  The kids on the bus used to look at me awkwardly, so I tried to avoid looking at them as much as I possibly could.  I would just hide.  Once on the bus ride home, someone pulled my patka off my hair.  I couldn’t do anything; I was helpless.  No one was there to stand up for me, and I didn’t know how to stand up for myself.  My mom was the one who did my joora, so I didn’t know how to fix it myself.  I had to walk home with my patka off, and my joora open, which was very embarrassing.  I was crying, and wondering what I could do.

This conference allowed me the opportunity to hear President Barrack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama speak on bullying in schools.  I discovered that President Obama was also bullied when he was in school, and I realized that I am not alone in my experiences.  They both sent a strong message to the country, saying that they take bullying issues seriously.

I also met with other students who are working to address bullying issues in their own schools.  One particular individual was Duong Nghe Ly, a kid my age who had joined with other Asian students at his school to fight bullying there. Duong and I were placed in the “In-School Policy” group to have a discussion on bullying.  Others in the group included psychologists, professors, parents and other experts on bullying. One mother spoke about her child committing suicide because he could not handle the bullying he experienced.  It was difficult hearing about the distress her child had faced. The mother was very strong and I pray that she never faces another situation like that again.

When it was my turn to speak, I introduced myself and explained how I was a youth member of the Sikh Coalition. I then shared one of my bullying experiences in high school where my classmate dumped soda all over my patka. After sharing my story I suggested that the schools should educate students on all religions, including Sikhism, Islam and Judaism, so that all students understand who we are and the values that we believe in.  .

After the conference, I ran into KalPen Modi (former star on TV’s “House” and the Harold & Kumar films) on my way out of the White House!  I was thrilled to see him, but even more so when I later learned that he had had a role in helping me get invited to the conference.

I would like to thank the Sikh Coalition for giving me this opportunity. This experience meant a lot to my family and me. My mother, who has always supported me, was the happiest person there. I hope to continue to fight against bullying everywhere.  There is a long way to go toward eradicating it completely, but I want to reach out to Sikh students to reassure them that there is hope and help available.  There is no limit to what you can do!

How We Lobbied for Civil Rights … and Got Profiled by Capitol Hill Police

April 5, 2011

Rajdeep Singh – Director of Law and Policy, The Sikh Coalition

On the morning of April 4, 2011, it was my privilege to accompany Sikh youth activist Gurwinder Singh to Capitol Hill, where he was due to give a presentation about his experience with school bullying and his efforts to combat it.  This opportunity was made possible by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a civil rights organization, as part of its 2011 South Asian Summit.

Like all summit participants, Gurwinder and I were instructed to deposit personal bags and suitcases in a storage room on the 5th floor of the Cannon House Office Building, which was reserved for SAALT by Congressional staff.  And so, after clearing security with Gurwinder’s bag, we found the relevant room, mingled with some familiar faces from the South Asian community outside, and deposited the bag.

On the way out, we ran into my colleague, Sikh Coalition staff attorney, Sandeep Amy Kaur, who also dropped off her bag, and proceeded to exit the building so that we could watch Gurwinder make his presentation at a different location.  After walking about a block toward our destination, 3 Capitol Hill police officials stopped us; asked us whether we had dropped off a bag a few moments earlier; told us to step aside in the grass (in full view of curious onlookers); demanded our identification cards; and rudely grilled us with questions about what we were doing there that day.

After several awkward minutes, other summit participants (carrying suitcases) happened to pass by the area and backed up our claim that a storage room had been set aside for the South Asian Summit.  By this time, the policemen also received confirmation from their colleagues that we had done nothing wrong.  As our driver’s license cards were returned to us, one of the police officials noted that a civilian had reported “two men of Middle Eastern appearance acting suspiciously” inside the Cannon Building.

It was at this moment that I realized we were being profiled and that what made us “suspicious” in the eyes of some misinformed bigot were our turbans. I clarified to the 3 officers that we are actually from South Asia; requested their business cards; and told them that we would “be in touch.”  At long last, we made our way to the Capitol Visitor Center, where Gurwinder delivered an excellent presentation with poise and incredible grace, only moments after being profiled by police outside the halls of the United States Congress.

Diversity Video Competition Winner Has THIS To Say…

March 30, 2011

When approached to write about my personal experiences with the Sikh Coalition, I was quick to accept the task. It’s pretty simple really: Girl subscribes to the Sikh Coalition e-newsletter. E-newsletter informs Girl of film contest. Girl whimsically enters contest. Sikh Coalition votes Girl as finalist. Girl thinks Sikh Coalition is weird. Girl wins contest on popular vote. Girl thinks greater population is weird. Girl officially becomes Sikh Coalition volunteer. Moral of the story: Don’t enter contests organized by the Sikh Coalition, for if you win, you will wind up indebted for life.

Oh Sikh Coalition, how I kid thee…

It has been great getting to know you. In fact, the process has been an outlet: creative, spiritual, and social.

Watch Chandani’s winning video:

I have always been proud to be Sikh in spite of questioning it like mad. I grew up in Virginia – not Northern Virginia where Indians have infiltrated the scene in droves but Chesterfield where confederate flags soared proudly from pick-up trucks in my high school parking lot and the opening of a new Walmart highlights the town’s chatter. Situationally (and personally) my relationship with Sikhism has been an internal one. With time, however, the need for resolve surrounding the bolstering ambiguity and questions of religion became more evident. This unease coupled with circumstances, placed me in the mix of the North-Eastern tribe of Sikhs. Even after living in Manhattan for 5 years, I revel in the amazement that so many of “us” live in one area. From the glamorous tri-state area Sikhs at the gala that followed the Sikh Arts Film Festival to the vibrant crowd of my generation when filming the Coalition’s Bowl-A-Thon fundraiser and each such subsequent encounter, a new perspective of sangat took shape. This only left me with more questions – an articulation of thoughts perhaps for another post.

Watch Chandani’s video on the Sikh Coalition’s New York City Bowl-a-thon:

My latest and most important project for the Coalition was the Year in Review clip highlighting the organization’s campaigns in 2010. I accepted the task quickly dismissing the uncharacteristic cynicism, however slight, that I felt towards the Sikh Coalition as a non-profit organization. How are donations actually spent and is justice an actual output? Perhaps these pointed questions stem from the luxury I’ve grown up in. That is, the luxury of not having my rights abused. The luxury of not feeling isolated by the way I look. Or the simple luxury of having grown up in our chota Richmond sher di Punjab and in a family that holds education in high regard, that by default, I sincerely believed all Sikhs were established members of society who have reaped the benefits of this supposed land of dreams.

What I learned (besides my need to better voiceover recordings) is that our people are being abused and violated, feel isolated and unsafe…constantly. The time, effort, and money required to bring justice to each case spans over the course of several weeks to several years and if it weren’t for organizations like the Sikh Coalition to devote each of these to our community, then who would hear our voices? Would tolerance be a greater obstacle than it is already? Would you personally reach out to a fellow Sikh in need, see justice through or create awareness? I didn’t. While it exists to bind our community near and far, the Sikh Coalition more importantly gives each of us a voice. Mine, while perhaps different, has begun to crescendo into existence. To you, Sikh Coalition, I thank you for not only loaning me speakers, but for all the work that you do for our Sikh community.

written by Chandani Kaur Kohli

Bringing Sikhi to the Superbowl!

February 7, 2011

Guest blog by Amit Guleria

Amit and his father being interviewed by the Journal Sentinel. Click the picture to watch the video.

My father and I are two die-hard Packers fans who love being Sikhs. On Super Bowl Sunday, we wanted to display our Packers pride and our Sikh articles of faith.

Normally, a Packer fan wears a jersey and a cheesehead. In place of a cheesehead, my father and I wore yellow turbans.

We didn’t think much of our outfits or the reactions we would receive, but much to our surprise everyone loved it! Groups of people by the dozens approached us, praised our turbans and asked to have a photo with us. Some even stood in line and patiently waited to be photographed with two Sikhs at the Super Bowl.

A photographer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Mike De Sisti, witnessed some of these interactions and asked to interview us about it.

Moral of the story: take pride in being a Sikh.

And if you’re still not convinced, wear a yellow turban to a Packers game. Oh, and cheer for the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.

– Amit Guleria

Calling all Sikh Student Leaders

December 8, 2010

2011 Summer Congressional Internship for South Asian students


The Washington Leadership Program (WLP) is pleased to announce that it is accepting applications from high-potential South Asian college students for the 2010 summer leadership program scheduled to take place from June 13, 2011 to August 5, 2011. The WLP cultivates the South Asian American community’s next generation of leaders by placing them in Congressional offices or Government Agencies for eight-week summer internships and a structured leadership training curriculum. The students gain a firsthand view of the process behind creating tangible change in America. Applications are available online at The deadline for submitting applications is February 1, 2011.

All students who are either US citizens or legal permanent residents are encouraged to apply. Selection to the WLP is highly competitive and not limited to students pursuing majors in social sciences. The backgrounds of past participants have ranged from medical school to art and business. Interns will receive a total stipend of $1,500 and will be required to complete 2-3 short writing assignments during the internship.

The WLP has over 180 alumni who have interned for notable elected officials including Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), and Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA). The original program built a strong reputation on both the Hill and in the community and continues to receive favorable reviews from former participants. Former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) called the WLP “the best program of its kind on the Hill.” The 2010 program received generous support from alumni, the community-at-large, and community organizations and corporations such as the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association and Landis-Gyr.

For more information about the program, visit the WLP’s website at

Harin J. Contractor

The Washington Leadership Program