Sikhi(sm), Literature and Film
Fall 2012, October 19-21, 2012
Organized by the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies
Dr. Nikhil Pal Singh (New York University)
THE REMAINDERS OF WHITE SUPREMACY: REFLECTIONS ON OAK CREEK
SAFINA UBEROI (Award-winning Indian-Australian filmmaker)
GURDWARA (PORTAL OF THE GURU): A DOOR TO DOCUMENTARY TRUTH
Screening of ROOTS OF LOVE by Dr. Harjant Singh Gill (Towson University)
Read now: Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal, OAK CREEK KILLINGS: THE DENIAL OF A CULTURE OF OPPRESSION
Sikhi(sm), Literature and Film
Hofstra University and the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies are excited to announce a conference on the literary and visual cultures within, or pertaining to, Sikh traditions both in Panjabi and Diasporic contexts. The conference is designed to be explorative and is therefore open to any and all submissions within these two fields. This conference aims to chart new territory by exploring the aesthetic and expressive traditions within Sikh(ism).
Proposals are welcomed within the area of literature broadly defined, including: romance (kissaa), ballad (of war/strife, vaar), lyric (revelation), hagiography and biography (Janamsaakhiis), didactic and devotional (revelation, commentarial), revival and reform (political, nationalist, moral/didactic tracts), fiction and short story, poetry and new poetry, prose, drama and play.
Proposals are welcomed within the area of film or visual culture broadly defined including: Cinema/Film (Bollywood, Hollywood, Lollywood and Independent productions, Internet websites, YouTube, Vimeo, Music video-Rap, Bhangra), TV (terrestrial and satellite stations), Comic (Amar Chitra Katha, Sikhtoons), Fine Arts (miniature paintings, court paintings, modern art, photography, contemporary art), Commerical Art (calendar art, lithographs), Fashion and Advertising (e.g. Sonny Caberwal ,Vikram Chatwal, Waris Ahluwalia), Museum Exhibitions (V&A, Rubin Museum, Smithsonian etc), Architecture (monumental, temple and residential)
This conference aims to explore the most recent scholarship in the areas of literature and film as they pertain to the field of Sikh Studies. The gathering together of scholars and filmmakers from across the globe and academic disciplines aids the drive to make Sikh studies an interdisciplinary and growing field. With the explosion of new media, led by the internet, this conference brings intellectual and critical reflection upon the power of You Tube films and songs, as well as assess traditional literary genres found in manuscripts. It provides the opportunity to expand the network of Sikh Studies scholars and thus increase the possibility for future collaborative research projects.
SIKHI(SM), Literature and Film Conference: Program
All sessions in the Leo A. Guthart Cultural Center Theater, Axinn Library, south campus, Hofstra University
- Friday Evening, October 19th
- Saturday, October 20th
- Sunday, October 21th
|FRIDAY EVENING: PUBLIC LECTURE ON OAK CREEK KILLINGS|
|5:30||Registration and Light Refreshments|
|6:00||Opening and Inauguration: Provost, Herman Berliner and Tejinder Singh Bindra|
|6:05||Introduction to the Conference and the Public Lecture: Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal|
|6:15||Dr. Nikhil Pal Singh (New York University)
THE REMAINDERS OF WHITE SUPREMACY: REFLECTIONS ON OAK CREEK
|7:15||First Response: Dr. Ann Burlein (Hofstra University)|
|7:30||Second Response: Dr. Arvind-pal Singh Mandair (University of Michigan)|
|SATURDAY: LITERARY GENRES|
|9:00||Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal (Introduction)|
|Panel 1: NARRATIVE & HISTORY – Chair: Dr. Arvind Mandair|
|9:10||SIMRAN JEET SINGH (Columbia Uni) – De-categorizing Sikh Literature Of Genres Hagiographies and Janamsakhis|
|9:30||Dr. RAJ KUMAR HANS (Uni of Baroda, Gujarat) – Bhai Jaita’s epic Sri Gur Katha: a New Milestone in Sikh Literature|
|9:50||Dr. ARVIND MANDAIR (Uni of Michigan) Beyond Secular Apologetics|
|10:10||Respondent: Harjeet Grewal|
|10:25||Open Discussion to 11:30|
|11:30||***** LUNCH *****|
|Panel 2: DIASPORA & POLITICS– Chair: Dr. Arvind Mandair|
|1:00||NAJNIN ISLAM (Jadavpur University and UPenn) – History and Memory in Shauna Singh Baldwin's Narratives|
|1:20||Dr. PARVINDER MEHTA (Davenport Uni) – Framing Sikhs as Other Literary Representations & Discursive Limits|
|1:40||Dr. ANNE MURPHY (UBC) – The Past and Present of the Diasporic Subject|
|2:00||Respondent: Dr. Raj Kumar Hans|
|2:15||Open Discussion to 3:00|
|Panel 3: DASTAR & FINE ARTS – Chair: Dr Geetanjali S Chanda|
|3:10||Dr. HARJANT SINGH GILL (Towson University) – Masculinity, Migration and Shifting Meanings of the Sikh Hair and Turban in Contemporary Punjab|
|3:30||Dr. GUNJEET AURORA (Ambedkar Uni, Delhi)– Punjabi Theatre Spaces Icons Cultures|
|3:50||SATWINDER KAUR BAINS (Uni of Fraser Valley, BC) – Visual Cultures Museum Exhibitions|
|4:10||Respondent: Dr. Parvinder Mehta|
|4:25||Open Discussion to 5:00|
|5:30||Dr. Geetanjali S Chanda: Introduction to the keynote address by (5:40) SAFINA UBEROI – GURDWARA (PORTAL OF THE GURU): A DOOR TO DOCUMENTARY TRUTH|
|6:30||Dr. Geetanjali S Chanda: Introduction to the Screeningof the Film: (6:40) ROOTS OF LOVE (2010, 26 mins)|
|7:10||SAFINA UBEROI in conversation with Dr. HARJANT SINGH GILL – moderated by Dr. Geetanjali S Chanda|
|SUNDAY: VISUAL CULTURES (CONT'D)|
|9:10||Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal – (announcements)|
|Panel 4: FILM, CINEMA & INTERNET – Chair: Dr. Gunjeet Aurora|
|9:20||Dr. GEETANJALI SINGH CHANDA (Yale Uni) – Recognition and Rejection of Sikh Identity in Film|
|9:40||Dr. ANJALI ROY (IIT) – Representation of Sikhs in Bollywood Cinema - read by Dr. Amritjit Singh|
|10:00||NATASHA RAHEJA (NYU) – The Warriors of Goja: Pains and Pleasures of the Sikh (Male) Body|
|10:20||BIJAY MEHTA (Calcutta Uni) – Analyzing Punjabi Rap & Hip-Hop as new Expressions of Punjabi Youth|
|10:40||Respondent: Dr Raj Kumar Hans|
|11:00||Open Discussion to 11:30|
|11:30||***** LUNCH *****|
|Panel 5: INTERNET & MUSIC – Chair: Dr. Amritjit Singh|
|12:40||HARJEET GREWAL (Uni of Michigan) – Hip Hop Vaar|
|1:00||Dr. FRANCESCA CASSIO – Female voices in Gurbani sangeet & influence of media on the contemporary tradition|
|1:20||Respondent: Dr. Anjali Roy|
|1:30||Open Discussion to 2:00|
|2:00||Closing Reflections by Punnu Jaitla (UofM)|
Sikhi(sm), Literature and Film
International Conference at Hofstra University, OCT 19-21, 2012
Sponsored by the Surjit Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies
and the Department of Religion
Panel 1: Narrative & History
Chair: Dr. Mandair, Respondent: Harjeet Grewal
Recent studies of Sikh literature have been shaped by the categories they employ. Whether we speak of bani as scripture or janamsakhi as hagiography, the act of translating specific texts into western categories has substantially impacted the ways in which they have been received and interpreted. In this paper, I will interrogate two literary genres that have been deployed to organize early Sikh writings – janamsakhi and hagiography. I will begin by focusing on key debates and methodological issues that relate to the category of “janamsakhi.” My analysis will juxtapose the three most commonly cited janamsakhi traditions (i.e., Puratan, Bala, Miharban), and I will seek to identify the continuities and disjunctures among these. In doing so, I will raise questions regarding the validity of “janamsakhi” as a unitary and stable category, and I will also explore the ways in which the uncritical usage of this category problematizes our senses of early Sikh literature and history. Second, I will examine the broader category of “hagiography” by exploring the utilities and drawbacks of using this non-native genre to understand early modern South Asian writings. I will explore the assumptions implicit in this categorization, and I will delineate the ways in which the framework of “hagiography” has colored the readings of modern scholarship on South Asian biographical writings with specific reference to studies on janamsakhis. In problematizing and de-constructing the literary genres of janamsakhi and hagiography, I hope to create a space for re-constructing new frameworks that account for various features of these writings (e.g., language, context of composition, purpose). I expect that this critical study will contribute significantly to our understandings and organizations of early Sikh literature and history.
It is one of strange ironies of the Sikh tradition that the otherwise vibrant scholarship on Sikh studies has hardly taken note of a magnificent text by Bhai Jaita (c.1661-1704), viz. Sri Gur Katha, even when it has been in the public domain for last few decades. This is a powerful and evocative epic around Guru Gobind Singh’s life which has potential of (un)settling important controversies generated by contentious interpretations of Sikh tradition. Emanating from close quarters of guru-ghar, it wields the ring of proximity and authenticity to the central events to the Sikh tradition. It emerges as the first source to talk explicitly about the 5Ks (panj kakkars), a detailed description of ‘amrit bidhi’ (khande di pahul) and ‘rahit’ as enunciated by the Tenth Master. Being the closest witness, it does not mention about ‘Durga puja’ while narrating the Khalsa event. Coming from a dalit Sikh (rechristened by Guru Gobind Singh as Jeevan Singh) in the lifetime of the Guru, it offers an unpolluted version of the central concerns of the Sikh tradition in general and the Khalsa tradition in particular as compared to the later brahmanical or brahmanised-Sikh interpolations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Written in the prevalent old Punjabi (sadh bhasha) of the Sikh tradition, ‘Sri Gur Katha’ is a testimony of Bhai Jaita as a master poet besides an accomplished warrior. The paper proposes to analyze Sri Gur Katha in the broader context of Sikhi and historiographical praxis.
One way that Puran Singh resolves this tension in his writing is by renouncing the individual’s own will or effort in favor of dedicating him or herself to an Enlightened master, or a Sant. The notion of human agency in the form of a Sant becomes a medium for resolving the tension. Throughout the course of Puran Singh’s own intellectual and spiritual journey, human agencies have played a significant role in his life, have given shape to Puran Singh’s own spiritual trajectory and, as a result, have influenced the impetus and motivation of his writing. While the figure of the Sant, or spiritual master, is prominent in Puran Singh’s writings, it is often accompanied by ambiguity. His writing often prompts one to ask: ‘What is the status of the Sant in this work? Is the Sant an abstract entity that the individual evokes from within? Does the Sant actually exist in the form of a human agency? Through a reading Puran Singh’s poetry, I will suggest that the writing does not proffer a definitive answer, and it argues for the very ambiguity itself.
Panel 2: Diaspora & Politics
Chair Dr. Hans, Respondent: Dr. Nijhawan
The history of the Sikh community in India is dotted with some of the most brutal episodes in contemporary times. These events remain well documented and extensively commented upon. As a student of literature I am interested to see how historical moments inform and shape fictional narratives about the Sikh community. I want to explore the confluence of history and memory in the writings of Shauna Singh Baldwin. Focusing on some of Singh Baldwin’s short- stories in English Lessons and other Stories and We are not in Pakistan I intend to see how she intertwines reminiscences of crucial historical events like the Partition, the 1984 Delhi riots in framing her narratives, set in contemporary times in locales ranging across the globe. Through close reading of stories like ‘Montreal 1962’, ‘This Distance Between Us’, ‘Family Ties’ among others I wish to analyze how multiple time frames are juxtaposed within these fictional canvasses in order to delineate a sense of Sikh identity both within India and in the diaspora. What ramifications do these events have in consolidating a certain manner of performing a Sikh identity? Do they acquire any added significance in the context of the diaspora? Laterally, it will be fruitful to examine how notions of gender inform this construction. Taking cognizance of Baldwin’s female characters would help put into perspective the way Sikh women have responded to these crucial historical events and the manner in which they have responded to the exigencies of ‘performing’ their ethno-religious identities.
The creative representations of Sikhs through fiction and other literary arts reveal a complex framework of strategic reflections, recognition, even misrecognition at times, and sheer obscurantism at other. In many works from the last century, Sikhs have been either objectified merely as the most exotic form of an Indian devoid of any agency, or in other cases, Sikh men have been drawn as hyper masculine, demonic, violent dark men. The discursive limits of Sikh representation, presence and absence, recall the cultural analyses offered by Edward Said, Stuart Hall, Frantz Fanon, Foucault and Homi Bhabha, among many others and enable us to understand a neo-Orientalist rhetoric whereby Sikhs are displaced or assimilated, if not betrayed through creative representations. At times when Sikh subjects, both male and female, are offered tangible representations, they are portrayed as an ethnicity on margins struggling with identity conflicts, and burdened by history, violence, trauma and memory. This paper will examine critical nuances and strategies for representing Sikhs by contemporary writers of the Indian/Asian diaspora including, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, Gautam Malkani, Bharati Mukherjee, Chitra Divakurni, and Shauna Singh Baldwin and unveil the implications of Sikh ethnicity on margins in selected works.
The Punjabi language literary environment of British Columbia is vibrant, and stories written here uniquely express both interests in South Asia (particularly in India) and local concerns. This paper will address how diaspora is configured as subject, both in the sense of topic and as a form of subjectivity, in new narrative writing from the Punjabi-Canadian diaspora. We address several works by Sikh authors, but not exclusively, as a means to appreciate what is both Sikh and non-Sikh about such writing, to excavate an ethos of the diasporic subject as expressed in these works. We start with the stories in the landmark collection “kathā kaneḍa,” and then briefly examine two new novels by two prominent Sikh authors from greater Vancouver—Vigocā, by Jarnail Singh Sekha and Spaunsarship (or, Sponsorship) by Kalwant Parmar “Nadim”—as well as the novel Skeena, by Pakistani-Punjabi author Fauzia Rafique (also from the Vancouver area), which has been published in three mutually created (rather than translated) versions: Gurmukhi Punjabi, Shahmukhi Punjabi, and English. We examine these works to discern their temporal, spacial, and linguistic dimensions: the dynamics of the negotiation of “non-English” (within a larger politics of vernacular-ity in South Asia and beyond) with reference to space and time, and the continuing presence of the past in the present, a sensibility of both loss and gain, presence and absence. The way in which personal and community history are articulated in the novels suggests new ways of thinking about the diasporic subject as a topic and choice, and how the past impinges on the present-making project. We also explore the degree to which such engagements with the past and present reflect a particular preserve of Punjabi language material, as compared to comparable literary production in English.
Panel 3: Dastar & Fine Arts
Chair: Dr. Chanda, Respondent: Dr. Murphy
In this presentation, I explore the shifting meanings of the turban among young Sikh men living in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab. The majority of them migrate from rural villages seeking education and employment opportunities. Either before or upon migrating, these young men cut off their hair, though they continue wearing the turban intermediately. Where as these men regard uncut hair (traditionally an essential element of Sikhism) as antiquated and as inconvenience, they also recognize that the turban distinguishes them as macho, and as belonging to the land-owning castes. Hence, in contemporary discourse, the turban attains a flexible quality. By wearing the turban, they can adhere to cultural traditions when required, as well as claim the power and privilege associated with it. Yet not having to wear the turban all the time allows them to assimilate into the urban landscapes of rapidly globalizing India. Using interview I conducted making a documentary on the topic of hair and turban in Sikhism (titled Roots of Love), I unpack the complexities of gender, representation and how it is influenced by migration.
Punjabi theatre which started with the encouragement of Norah Richards, has traversed various genres and styles which have been dominated by iconic theatre personalities such as Gursharan Singh, Atamjit Singh, Balwant Gargi, Neelam Mansingh etc. The themes have been varied ranging from the trauma of the Partition, the folk legends and stories, the social reality and the rural scape of Punjab. My paper focuses on Punjabi theatre and its growth and presence in the socio-cultural space of modern Punjab through a study of the different aspects and directions in contemporary Punjabi theatre. Apart from the thematic concern, there is the overarching question of ‘spaces’ for theatre in the Indian cultural sphere where despite the rich diversity of folk theatre which is thriving in smaller towns and rural centres, the urban/metropolitan Indian theatre is often caught up in its lament for the lack of space for theatre and the lack of audience mostly because of the 'other' theatre i.e. the movie theatre. In Punjab, University campuses, Tagore theatre in Chandigarh have often been the hubs of theatre productions, which points to the lack of actual theatre spaces in Punjab. However the success of Manch Rangmanch in Amritsar which has successfully been able to create a space for socially relevant theatre in Punjab points to a possible model for the creation of new theatre spaces. My paper will therefore also deal with the issue of performance and performance spaces in order to situate Punjabi theatre, within the broader theoretical field of performance/theatre studies.
This paper discusses the development of the Sikh Heritage Museum and the mediums decided upon for heritage access to the Sikh community and the larger community. One of only three museums dedicated to Sikh heritage in Canada, this museum is housed in a National Historic Site (and the oldest Sikh temple in the Americas – 100 years old) in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. The development of the Museum has been a true cross-cultural community encounter and collaborative effort. This paper outlines the unique and multi-faceted approach to its development of replacing and repositioning it as a public cultural, historical, heritage, and religious space. Ronald Barthes famous work Mythologies, exposes the parallel between the brain’s private memory and cultural history and the public memory and cultural history of the museum. “It parodies the Cartesian disembodiment by exposing the absurdity of disconnecting the brain’s and museums intellectual operations from the larger contexts of the human body and body politic”. This Sikh Heritage Museum introduces the community to archival materials that include pioneer voices/digital recordings, archival documents/recordings/film and artefacts, as well as photos and exhibits, stories that have been previously untold, unheard or unseen. The archive is positioned as a site of renewal and rebirth…the tension is in its initial expression as a project of retrievalism – as Foucault makes explicit ‘to write was to return’. To attend to the hybridity of historical consciousness for immigrant groups also raises questions about the relationships amongst history, memory, myth and fantasy. Questions also abound about what is collective about collective memory? As Olick asks “Can we have an aggregation of socially framed individual memories as we refer to the collective phenomena sui generis”?
Panel 4: Film & Cinema
Chair: Dr. Aurora, Respondent: Dr. Hans
Understanding literature as the exteriorization of imaginative and fantasmatic layers of being in the form of words, I would argue that the advent of Cinematic rendering of man’s creative impulses is a mutational step in the fundamental structures of the materialization of literary impulse whereby this impulse is brought to its peak as well as transformed beyond recognition. I would argue that the movement of literary impulse towards its own exteriorization and materialization is blasphemous in nature. Blasphemous not in the context of a particular religious tradition but in violating ‘the sacred law of life’ (hukam). Gurbani is not literature as it does not exteriorize and materialize the imaginative and fantasmatic layer of being but an experiential one. Its status as a living Guru also adds a unique dimension which is entirely missing in literature.
Cinema as an industrial temporal object, Bernard Stiegler argues, is one of ‘the new century’s determining elements’. It has conjured up a massive temporal co-incidence (whereby millions and sometimes billions of people watch something on their screens unfold simultaneously) which not only gives rise to ‘event’s new structure’ but also commands ‘new forms of consciousness and collective unconsciousness’ which correspond to it. He further argues that this interruption of collective consciousness and unconsciousness have resulted in a state of malaised-being (mal-être). Mass production of industrial temporal objects and its control by the ruthless market forces is causing a fundamental disorientation and decadence of not only our modern socio-political organization, but also of our subjective states in the form of mal-être. Taking my clues from these insights, I would argue that Sikhs’ lack of literary canon and especially cinema (presuming that Sikhs do lack a proper literary or cinematic tradition or possess only a nascent literary/cinematic tradition which is not as developed as for example Persian, European or Hindu traditions) is positive. Positive in the sense that due to this lack, Sikhs did not contributed or contributed far less in perpetuating the processes which are resulting in ‘the malaise of being’. But tragically, they are the ones who are suffering most from these processes. With the advent of British colonialism and the rise of the Indian nation-state, collective consciousness and historical memory of Sikhs have been brutally disfigured. Sangat, and institutions such as Akal Takht, which were crucial in the development of Sikhs’ collective psycho-spiritual individuation, have been rendered utterly dysfunctional due to political oppression. I would argue that live performance of Kirtan in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, has a totally unique structure as an event and a reinvention of the tradition of Sangat can contribute towards collective psycho-spiritual individuation of Sikhs. Kirtan is the site where ‘malaised-beings’ get cured and a new being gets minted.
Two pivotal moments in Indian history continue to shape the Sikh identity. The trauma, of partition in 1947 and the riots of 1984, resonate with Sikh communities across generations. The partition of India and Pakistan led to the displacement of huge populations and brutal communal violence. Later, in 1984 Delhi erupted in anti-Sikh riots following the killing of prime minister Indira Gandhi. Both events forced Sikhs to recognize - and then negotiate - their religious-cultural identities. In some cases, this led to an outright rejection of religion by some Sikhs while in others it encouraged a process of self discovery. Questions of what it means to be a Sikh, especially at such critical junctures of national, community and personal trauma become particularly poignant. Indian popular cinema has chronicled the wrenching Partition story, however, the Sikh story has been largely elided. In most accounts, it is the experiences of male Sikhs, the most readily identifiable members of their community, that have dominated subsequent artistic narratives. By contrast, the perspectives of women have been less prominent. Due, in no small measure, to patriarchal society and to their lack of distinguishing identity markers as signaled by the beards and turbans of their male counterparts. Women, both during partition and the 1984 riots, sought the safety of community promised by religious identity, but often found themselves silenced and marginalized. Oral histories like Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence and Ritu Menon’s Borders and Boundaries revealed, enriched and problematized the discourse surrounding modern India’s origins and ideology of secularism from a gendered perspective. Similarly a number of recent independent films, particularly ‘Khamosh Paani’ and ‘Amu’ among others, provide an entry point into understanding this important but underrepresented female viewpoint in the world of cinema.
Like other ethnic minorities, Sikhs have been conventionally represented in popular Hindi cinema either as brave warriors or as uncouth rustics. In the nationalist text in which the imagined subject was an urban North Indian, Hindu male, Sikh characters were displaced and made to provide comic relief. Since the mid-1990s, Hindi filmmakers have genuflected to the rising economic and political power of the Sikh diaspora through token inclusions of Sikhs. Although 1990s films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai(1998) included attractive images of Sikhs, Hindi cinema could introduce a Sikh protagonist only in the new millennium in Ghadar: Ek Prem Katha(2001) and feature a turbaned Sikh as a protagonist only two decades later in the film Singh is Kingg(2009). Ever since the film became a superfit, top Bollywood stars such as Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and even Rani Mukherjee have played Sikh characters in films like Love Aaj Kal(2009), Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year(2009)and Dil Bole Hadippa(2009). Even though Bollywood stars have donned the turban to turn Sikh cool, Sikhs view the representation of the community in Hindi cinema as demeaning and have attempted to revive the Punjabi film industry as an attempt at authentic self-representation. This paper examines images of Sikhs in new Bollywood films to inquire if the romanticization of Sikhs as representing rustic authenticity makes good business sense given the increasing power of the Sikh diaspora or is an indulgence in diasporic technonostalgia through which the Sikh body becomes the site for non-.technologized rusticity. It argues that despite the exoticization of Sikhs in the new Bollywood film, the Sikh subject continues to be displaced in the Indian nation.
Panel 5: Internet & Rap
Chair: Dr. Nijhawan, Respondent: Dr. Roy
My paper explores some emerging themes from my interviews with Sikh immigrants in their role as ‘memory-workers,’ and initiators of transnational social movements around minority identity and justice. I am focusing on Internet websites that diasporic Sikhs are using as a medium to revisit two ‘cultural traumas’ in particular: the partition of 1947 and the anti-Sikh violence of 1984. There are several discontinuities between the events of 1947 and 1984, but the common thread binding the two events is the official denial of the extent and nature of violence, loss, and trauma. Sikh immigrants are actively and deliberately engaged in addressing the official disengagement and neglect around these events through several ways including the construction of websites. I am conducting 45-50 interviews with members of the Sikh diaspora across generations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In my paper, I will discuss findings from 20-25 interviews with Sikhs across generations and gender and discuss their role in initiating and furthering processes of commemoration. I will use the case study of Sikhs to understand how immigrant contexts contain conditions to revisit painful pasts and redress past wrongs. I will also discuss the role of emotions in creating commemorative websites, a theme that has hitherto been neglected in the sociology of commemoration.
Taking a widely-received, winning entry in a televised Indian talent show as its point of departure, my paper is organized around discussions of the body, pain, and pleasure as it aims to raise questions around the subject/objectification of the Sikh male body. In November 2011, a video entitled Warriors of Goja went viral, quickly acquiring over 1,600,000 hits on Youtube. Originally aired as part of an episode of Adhurs: The Ultimate Talent Show, produced by a major Indian satellite network, this video showcases an item comprised of 15 Sikh men, dressed in black muscle shirts and camouflage pants, performing a wide variety of masochistic acts, sometimes chewing glass, running each other over with cars, smashing one another with sledge hammers, and breaking boards over bodies, all to the upbeat tune of bhangra music and against the projection of a Khanda in the background. In a final act of assertion, these men raise an Indian flag as the audience bursts into applause. The pretty female judge announces that the Warriors of Goja are also the Warriors of India and have won our hearts, the show's title, and 300,000 Indian Rupees.
Generating over 2000 comments and provoking coverage across several prominent media outlets, the Warriors of Goja offer us a productive space to consider popular performances and representations of Sikh masculinity and their range of reception both within and outside of the Sikh community. How is Sikh masculinity constructed around and through ideas of pain and pleasure? Are these men heroes? Comics? Sell-outs? How does the variation in reception, as evinced by a diverse array of readings, confound the staticity of "Sikh community" and "Sikhism" as analytics? Given the doctrinal material expression of Sikh identity, how does any act by a visually marked Sikh person have the potential to be read as religious?
Some responses to the video describe the performance as an expression of a martial arts practice, known as gatka or shastar vidya. Interestingly, the virality of this video coincides with recent initiatives from within the Sikh community to revive gatka as a Sikh martial art. How might the contestation around this video correspond to a lack of consensus as to the revival and recreation of this practice?
Examining dialogues around the Warriors of Goja, and the performance itself, my paper aims to further develop and explore the questions raised above. I hope to situate this project within larger inquiries on the circulation of Sikh religious images in transnational, global media networks.
Punjab and Punjabi music have always been associated with the robust energy of Bhangra or ‘balle-balle’. However it might be erroneous today to term Punjab and Punjabi music as being synonymous with each other because with the passage of time, the global appeal of Punjab music has opened itself to fusion with various other genres of music and has also been experimental enough to incorporate and assimilate more aggressive counter-cultural music forms within itself. Added to this is the explosion in the number of Punjabi channels which have provided the impetus for the growth of different kinds of musical infusions like Hip-Hop, Rap, Reggae etc in Punjabi music. Punjabi music and videos embed many elements of popular culture which have crept in youth culture ranging from social networking sites to techno- gadgets to an inordinate amount of emphasis on aggression, violence, gun-culture, religion and identity. Interestingly while Black rap emerged as a counter-culture with a certain history of violence, race conflict and identity struggle behind it, the same cannot be said for the rise of Punjabi rap which depicts an equal amount of violence and aggression. My paper looks at these themes and issues which render contemporary Punjabi music open to popular culture analysis. It also contrasts the present popular Punjabi music with the traditional and more conventional popular folk music of Punjab vis-a vis the content, the musical forms, the production and presentation aspect of the music by focusing and showcasing the works of artists such as Kuldeep Manak, Chamkila, Yamla Jatt, Gurdas Mann etc and contemporary artists like Yo Yo Honey Singh, Gippy Grewal, Satinder Sartaj.
This paper engages with recent uses of hip-hop music in conjunction with Dhadi Vaars. It will use two recent discussions by Brian Keith Axel as well as an essay by Kalra & Nijhawan to explore some of the implications of this recent deployment of musicality by Sikhs. I would like to leap into a discussion of how the presencing found in the audio recordings and YouTube Videos is best understood through the armoire of psychoanalytic clashes as represented by Freud’s primal horde and putative narratives of resistance to such clashes. Recent uses of violence and suppression of liberty in multicultural societies involves a project of creating a modern subject which can be seen to be described in the notions of neurosis and psychosis in Freud’s Totem and Taboo. What I will attempt to show is how events of suppression become sublimated and condensed with nuanced meanings through the hybridization of form and historicity in the combination of hip-hop and the dhadi vaar. This is an excessive outpouring which exceeds anything which resembles a motive by those who create or circulate the music. It stands as against the state’s epistemic drive which seeks to domesticate resistance by creating a kind of permanent virulent form of sublimation. Ultimately, the creation of a tolerant society through the mitigation and then erasure of distinctions between groups is desired. This ideal melds with modern understandings of Sikh history in interpretations of the Khalsa ideal. However, I will argue for the possibilities in interpreting this musical form as one which speaks against phenomenon of Freud’s mass psychology. Such moments then also offer an opportunity to reflect upon the vitality of the Khalsa ideal for expressions of radical sovereignty and human potential. In order to show this, I will also attempt to demonstrate that the two apparently distinct paradigms of traditional dhadi music as expressions of religious fundamentalism and Diasporic urban licentious hip-hop culture are perhaps not as dissonant as they may at first appear; they are perhaps linked by a mutual framing of resistance to dominance and domestication –a mutual struggle to survive, to have sustenance, while balancing a logic of equivalence with a logic of alterity. This stance allows for their mutual deployment in videos that seek to memorialize shaheeds. This desire to project the body of the shaheed is itself commensurate with the mode of storytelling and historicity that seeks to preserve the name and the actions of a formulative event in the creation of a subjugated Sikh object. This radical object is haunted by lost sovereignty but through a kind of psychosis participates in the equivocating logic of mass formation of which can be seen as a European harbinger.
The paper discusses the key role of media in promoting the image of female Gurbānī performers during the span of the last 3 decades. It is a phenomenon that started at the beginning of the eighties with dedicated shows broadcasted by All India Radio, Doordarshan (television), and more recently by Punjabi TV channels, social networks and web sites. The author analyzes the context that encouraged women into an active participation in the shadab kīrtan practice, and the social meaning of their performance. On the other hand, important questions about musical education and aesthetics are posed. Based on an ethnographic research among the community of contemporary Gurbānī singers, the paper explores various points of view in this regard. The variety of opinions as well as the heterogeneity of kīrtan performances broadcasted on TV and posted to internet reflects the image of a fragmented tradition in transition. The methodology of research is based on observation and participation as borrowed from the anthropology of music, while the analysis is primarily conducted from the standpoint of Indian and Western musicology, with particular focus on musical genres, aesthetics and strategies adopted by female kīrtaniya-s to compose and perform Gurbānī hymns in the contemporary setting.
Research Assistant (Dept of Religion)
Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal
Associate Professor in Religion
S.K.K. Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies
104D Heger Hall
115 Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY 11549
Tel: (516) 463-7136
Fax: (516) 463-2201
Bios of Participants
Dr. Gunjeet Aurora
Gunjeet Aurora is an Assistant Professor in English at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi. She did her PhD from the Centre for English Studies, JNU on the literature based and emerging out of the Indian Emergency of 1975-77. Her areas of interest are Drama, Performance Studies, Contemporary Indian history and politics and Popular Culture.
Satwinder Kaur Bains
Satwinder Bains is a Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley and the Director of the Centre for Indo Canadian Studies. Her research interests and expertise include Sikh Cultural Studies, migration and settlement, diaspora family studies and cross-cultural education. Satwinder has twenty six years of work experience in community development and has worked extensively with women, youth and families from the South Asian community. She is a consummate community advocate and volunteer and has assisted numerous community organizations develop and grow.
Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal
Balbinder Bhogal is an associate professor in the department of Religion and the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies. He has previously, held positions at University of Derby, England, James Madison University, Virginia and York University, Toronto. His primary research interests are South Asian religions and cultures specializing in the Sikh tradition, particularly the Guru Granth Sahib, its philosophy and exegesis. Secondary research interests include: hermeneutic theory and its radicalization through deconstruction; Indian Philosophy and its relation to Continental Philosophy, Mysticism, Translation and Postcolonial Studies, and the Religion-Secular and Animal-Human divides. Recent Publications: “The Animal Sublime: Rethinking the Sikh Mystical Body” (Journal of the American Academy of Religion 2012); “Decolonizations: Cleaving Gestures that Refuse the Alien Call for Identity Politics” (Religions of South Asia 2011); “The Hermeneutics of Sikh Music (Rag) and Word (Shabad)”, (Sikh Formations, 2011); “Radicalizing Hermes: Philosophical Messengers and Poetic Reticence in Sikh Textuality” (SOPHIA, 2011); “Monopolizing Violence before and after 1984: Governmental Law and the People’s Passion” (Sikh Formations: 2011).
Dr. Francesca Cassio
Francesca Cassio is the holder of the Sardarni Harbans Kaur Chair in Sikh Musicology and Associate Professor of Music at Hofstra University, New York. Prior to joining the Hofstra faculty, she served as a visiting professor in musicology at Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan, India; lecturer of ethnomusicology at the University of Trento, Italy; lecturer of anthropology of music at the Conservatory of Adria, Italy; and lecturer of ethnomusicology and Indian music at the Vicenza Conservatory of Music, Italy. Since 1991, Dr. Cassio has conducted extensive research in India, where she lived and has been professionally trained in classical vocal music and in the Sikh repertoire, according to the Guru-Shishya Parampara (“teacher-student”) tradition. Dr. Cassio is disciple of legendary masters of the 20th century: Padma Bhushan Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Khan Dagar, Padma Bhushan Vidushi. Girija Devi, and the Hazoori Ragi Bhai Gurcharan Singh. Dr. Cassio also received extensive training in vocal and percussion tradition by Bhai Baldeep Singh, the 13th generation exponent of Gurbānī kirtanyas. Author a book on dhrupad (medieval genre of Indian classical music), Dr. Cassio, in more than twenty years of research, has worked extensively and written about Indian music (Gurbānī sangīt, dhrupad, Rabindra sangīt, thumrī, semi-classical, folk and devotional repertoires), Gender Studies, intercultural education, ethnomusicology and music pedagogy.
Dr. Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Geetanjali Chanda is a senior lecturer in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Yale University. She is also affiliated with the South Asian Studies Program and the Departments of Ethnicity, Race and Migration and American Studies. She has taught courses on autobiographies, family, cultural identity, popular culture, international feminisms and postcolonial India since 2001. Previously she taught at Hong Kong University and Gettysburg College. Professor Chanda received her PhD in English Literature from Hong Kong University, where she also taught courses in the Programme in American Studies. She received her Master's degree from George Washington University. She has spoken at international fora and published widely on notions of home, family, and gender in Indian English literature in US and international publications. Her research interests include popular culture and feminist and transcultural pedagogy, masculinities and religion. Professor Chanda has been published in many professional journals, magazines, and newspapers, as well as having written a book: Indian Women in the House of Fiction (Zuban Books, Delhi, 2008), which is in its second edition. Her most recent journal articles include: “Sikh Masculinity, Religion, and Diaspora in Shauna Singh Baldwin’s English Lessons and Other Stories (co-authored with Staci Ford) and Men and Masculinities (Month 2009 1-21, #2009 Sage Publications). The Urban Apartment as “Womanspace”: Negotiation Class and Gender in Indian English Novels (South Asian Review, Special Issue, 2009) and “Home Abroad: Shauna Singh Baldwin’s Feminine Journey” (in Literature of The Indian Diaspora, Delhi, 2011).
Dr. Harjant Singh Gill
Harjant Gill is an assistant professor of anthropology at Towson University, Maryland. He received his PhD from American University in Washington DC. His research examines the intersections of masculinity, modernity and migration in South Asia. Gill is also an award-winning filmmaker and has made several films that have screened at film festivals worldwide. His latest documentary, Roots of Love explores the changing significance of hair and turban among Sikhs and is being screened on BBC World News, PBS and Doordarshan (Indian National TV). His website is www.TilotamaProductions.com
Harjeet Singh Grewal
Harjeet Grewal is a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. Harjeet continues to write on aspects of Sikhi as they pertain to Diasporic communities in North America, especially the intellectual form they may take. However, at the moment, he is working on a comparative project analyzing Sikh hagiographical texts from the Early Modern Period in order to better understand the early Sikh intellectual and discursive project. Harjeet's interests include interrogating the limits of Western discursive forms of religiosity as they apply to non-dual Oriental tradition as well as exploring the possibilities that arise from an intellectual engagement with the various interpretive traditions that Sikhs have inherited.
Dr. Raj Kumar Hans
Raj Kumar Hans was born in a Punjabi village of Amritsar/Gurdaspur districts and graduated from Guru Nanak Dev University in 1977. An award of a UGC research fellowship for doctoral studies moved him to the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Gujarat. He had been teaching history there since 1983. He shifted his field of research from economic history of western India to broader social and cultural history. Taking a comparative view of the regional cultural formations of the Indic civilization, he has been studying Gujarat and Punjab. For last few years he has focused attention on the study of Sikhism and Punjabi dalit literature. Some of his articles and papers on Gujarat and Punjab history have been published in journals and edited books. He was awarded a Fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (2009-11) to write his monograph on ‘history of Punjabi dalit literature’ which is now being finalised for the press. He has travelled abroad on Fellowships and to participate in conferences. Currently he is working on history of dalits in the Sikh religion.
Najnin did her B.A and M.A in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. In a bid to expand her horizons she enrolled into the MPhil program in Social Sciences at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. Her stint at the CSSSC allowed her the opportunity to go beyond traditional literary studies and explore the terrains of several other disciplines and how they can be made to engage in fruitful dialogues with one another. Her MPhil dissertation was an ethnographic study of the Sikh community in Kolkata and was awarded the Jayoti Gupta Memorial Prize for the Best MPhil Dissertation at the CSSSC. Ms. Islam will be joining the University of Pennsylvania this Fall as a graduate student in the Department of English where she hopes to specialize in South Asian diasporic literature.
Punnu Jaitla is a doctoral student in linguistic anthropology at the University of Michigan. His dissertation involves looking at comparative ideologies at the intersection of history, translation, interpretation, and language.
Dr. Arvind Mandair
Arvind Mandair is an Associate Professor and S.B.S.C. Chair of Sikh Studies at the University of Michigan. His recent publications include: Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Translation(Columbia University Press, 2009); Secularism and Religion-Making (co-edited, Oxford University Press, 2011). Teachings of the Sikh Gurus(Routledge, 2005) co-authored and translated with Christopher Shackle; He is a founding editor of the journal Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture and Theory and is Assistant Editor of the journal Culture and Religion, both published by Routledge.
Bijay Mehta is currently pursuing his PhD from the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, University of Calcutta. His research is broadly focussed on the concept of heritage and its socio-political implications through an interpretation of key Indian monuments. He holds a Masters degree in Arts and Aesthetics from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU. His areas of specialisation are the Visual Arts, Indian Culture, Popular Culture Studies and Music.
Dr. Parvinder Kaur Metha
Parvinder Mehta’s research and teaching interests include Anglophone, Postcolonial Literature and Film, Multi-Ethnic American Literature as well as Comparative Literature. She earned her PhD in English from Wayne State University. Her publications include articles in Journal of South Asian Diaspora, Journal of South Asian Popular Culture, South Asian Review and Sikh Formations. She is currently completing her book manuscript on Asian American women writers, titled, Mimic Women: Cultural Camouflage and Global Modernity. She also enjoys writing poetry in English, mostly about Sikhs, and hopes to publish a book of poems in the near future.
Dr. Anne Murphy
Anne Murphy is Assistant Professor and Chair of Punjabi Language, Literature, and Sikh Studies at the University of British Columbia. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University’s Department of Religion and her Master’s degree in Asian Languages and Literature from the University of Washington. She previously taught in the Religious Studies and Historical Studies Concentrations at The New School in New York City. Her research interests focus on the historical formation of religious communities in Punjab and northern South Asia, with particular but not exclusive attention to the Sikh tradition. Her monograph, The Materiality of the Past: History and Representation in Sikh Tradition, will be published by Oxford University Press in September 2012. The book explores the construction of Sikh memory and historical consciousness around material representations and religious sites from the eighteenth century to the present. Other research interests concern the formations of modern Punjabi literature, and particularly the articulation of the secular within it, and the historical formations of social service or “seva” as an expression of ethical life within Sikh tradition. She conducted research on the latter topic as a Senior Fellow with the American Institute of Indian Studies in 2009-2010, and received a grant for the project from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada in 2010. Dr. Murphy has recently instituted a new oral history program in her third-year Punjabi class, and teaches classes on the history of Sikh and other religious traditions in South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora, Punjabi language and literature, and South Asian cultural history. She is from New York City.
Dr. Michael Nijhawan
Michael Nijhawan is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at York University. His research interests include transnational religion, immigration and identity formation as well as violence and suffering and its translatability in cultural practices. He is the author of Dhadi Darbar. Religion, Violence, and the Performance of Sikh History (2006), a number of refereed and non refereed articles as well as book chapters, in both English and German. He is the co-editor of Shared Idioms, Sacred Symbols, and the Articulation of Identities in South Asia(2009). He is also co-producer of the documentary “Musafer-Sikhi is Travelling” (2008).
Natasha Raheja is a 2nd year PhD Student of Sociocultural Anthropology at New York University. Her research interests are in the areas of performance, cultural production, belonging, migrant labor, and border identities. She also co-directs the Sindhi Voices Project, an oral history and participatory media initiative that documents the partition narratives of Sindhi elders.
Dr. Anjali Gera Roy
Anjali Roy is a Professor in the Department of Humanities of Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. She has published several essays in literary, film and cultural studies. Her publications include a co-edited volume(with Nandi Bhatia) Partitioned Lives: Narratives of Home, Displacement and Resettlement (Delhi: Pearson Longman 2008) and a monograph Bhangra Moves: From Ludhiana to London and Beyond (Aldersgate: Ashgate 2010). She has recently co-edited with Chua Beng Huat an anthology The Travels of Indian Cinema: From Bombay to LA (Delhi: OUP 2012) and
edited Bollywood’s Soft Power: Across Five Continents (Delhi: Sage 2012)
Dr. Amritjit Singh
Amritjit Singh is the Langston Hughes Professor of English and African American Studies at Ohio University in Athens, OH. Amrit Singh’s research and teaching interests include African American Studies, Modernism (esp. the Harlem Renaissance), 20th Century American and Postcolonial Fiction, Richard Wright, South Asian cultures and literatures, and Migration Studies. Currently he is working on a documentary history of South Asians in North America. He is committed to exploring inter-ethnic paradigms, especially in relation to the parallels between the patterns of internal migrations within the Americas and immigration to the U.S and Canada from Europe and Asia. He is a series editor of MELA (Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the Americas) from Rutgers University Press. Recent Books: Co-editor (with Bruce G. Johnson), Interviews with Edward W. Said. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004 (Public Intellectuals Series); Co-editor (with Daniel M. Scott III), The Collected Writings of Wallace Thurman: A Harlem Renaissance Reader. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003; Co-editor (with Peter Schmidt), Postcolonial Theory and the United States: Race, Ethnicity and Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000; Co-editor (with Maryemma Graham), Conversations with Ralph Ellison. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995; (Author, Afterword) The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995; (Author, Afterword) Conversations with Ishmael Reed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.
Dr. Nikhil Pal Singh
Nikhil Pal Singh is Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History and Director of Graduate Studies in Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. A historian of race, empire, and culture in the 20th-century United States, Singh is the author of Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2004), winner of the Liberty Legacy Foundation Award from the Organization of American Historians, the Norris and Carol Hundley Prize from the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and the Washington State book award from the Seattle Public Library. Singh has published extensively on topics ranging from US liberalism to the role of race in US foreign policy. The University of California Press recently published his edited collection of the writings of legendary civil rights activist Jack O’Dell, Climin’ Jacob’s Ladder; The Black Freedom Movement Writing of Jack O’Dell. His new book Exceptional Empire: Race and War in US Globalism is in-progress and forthcoming from Harvard University Press. Singh is member of the National Council and Executive Committee of the American Studies Association (ASA), and co-editor of the American Crossroads book series at the University of California Press.
Simran Jeet Singh
Simranjeet Sing is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, focusing on devotional traditions and literatures of early modern South Asia. He earned an M.A. from the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures of Columbia University (2009), an M.T.S. in South Asian Religious Traditions from Harvard University (2008), and a B.A. in English Literature and Religious Studies from Trinity University (2006). His dissertation research focuses on hagiographical writings produced in early modern South Asia and pays particular attention to the earliest, most authoritative, and most widely circulated source on the life and times of Guru Nanak (d. 1539 CE) - the Puratan Janamsakhi. His project aims to situate this particular text within its larger literary context, explore its role in facilitating the development of distinctive literary cultures, provide a narrative for the life of this text, and consider the diverse ways in which it continues to be re-interpreted and re-imagined through a variety of media in the modern period. While his research interests fall primarily within the domains of Punjab & Sikh Studies, Simran's language and academic training have prepared him to teach religion more broadly. He has served as a Teaching Assistant for courses on Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, and Simran has recently been selected as a finalist for Columbia University's Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching.
Safina Uberoi is an Indian-Australian filmmaker. Her best-known work is My Mother India (SBS), an autobiographical documentary about her multicultural family which was one of the first to examine the impact of the anti-Sikh pogroms of 1984 on Indian society. My Mother India won 11 major awards including the Best Documentary from the Film Critics Circle of Australia. Safina wrote and directed a film on British-Asian writer Meera Syal as part of the high profile BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? The film followed Meera as she explored her family’s roots in Punjab and discovered a subaltern history of the Indian independence movement. The series won an Indie award and was nominated for a BAFTA and a Grierson Award. Safina Uberoi’s most recent documentary A Good Man (ABC) revolves around the complex relationship between an Australian farmer and his quadriplegic wife. A Good Man won 8 international awards and was voted in the top ten films at IDFA, the world largest documentary festival in Amsterdam. Safina has directed other award-winning prime-time documentaries for television including 1800 India (PBS/ Wide Angle), Unstoppable (ESPN/ABC) and The Brides of Khan (SBS).