Friday, July 10, 2009

Sikh Students Conference sets a new paradigm of activism

Berkeley, CA June 24, 2009 – Sikh Students Conference UC Berkeley hosted upwards of 80 Sikh students from across North America to engage Sikh students on the topic of 1984. The event, organized by Center for Sikh Studies and Sikh Students Federation, engaged the philosophical underpinnings and foundations behind the event leading up to 1984 and the contemporary perception of 1984 by way of Sikh scholars including Professor Balbinder Singh Bhogal (Hofstra Univerity, Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies). Participants, consisting mostly of college students and young professionals, were hosted at UC Berkeley dormitories and were provided room and board. In addition to lecture and discussion with scholars, participants explored the bay area including Muir Woods, Ocean Beach, and wider Berkeley.

Lectures were followed by discussion, in which participants were afforded opportunity to present questions and comments. Scholars were Randeep Singh (UC Berkeley), Amandeep Singh (SUNY Stony Brook), Harjeet Grewal (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Prabhsharandeep Singh (Center for Sikh Studies), and Professor Balbinder Singh Bhogal (Hofstra University).

The conference began on the afternoon Thursday, June 18 with Rehraas Sahib. After Rehraas Sahib, there was Kirtan and Ardaas. Afterwards, Prabhsharandeep Singh explained the detailed purpose of the conference. Prabhsharandeep Singh said that any nation’s autonomy is connected with its ideological commitments and philosophical depth. For this reason, awakening the Sikh students’ appreciation for deeper thought was the purpose of this conference.

During Friday’s first session was Randeep Singh’s (student of philosophy at UC Berkeley) lecture. Exploring the roots of western secularism, Randeep Singh showed that colonized nations have tended to be influenced to this ideology. In India, Sikhs are also under this influence. Randeep Singh presented the trend towards secularism in Kantian philosophy and its implication for the modern nation state including India and India’s attack on the Sikhs in 1984 in particular. This effort traced back India’s constitutional secularism to its philosophical grounds and thereby demonstrated the force of India’s violence.

Amandeep Singh’s (Stony Brook University New York) lecture followed during the evening session. Amandeep Singh spoke about the attacks of 1984 from the perspective of theology of the event. He expressed his views in dialogue with John Caputo and Deleuze. He said that the event as the 1984 attacks are of sometimes of such a magnitude that they make some fundamental changes between human existence and time while transcending history. Professor Bhogal initiated discussion on this lecture and students participated in discussion. At the evening, students went to Meir Woods.

On Saturday, the first session began with Prabhsharandeep Singh’s lecture in which the major events since 1849 were narrated in a philosophical context and he explained the present-day situation of the Sikhs by centering his lecture around violence and metaphysics. Prabhsharandeep Singh explored the Sikh experience through the most significant events that are 1849 (British occupation of the Punjab) and 1984 (Indian army invasion on Sri Darbar Sahib Amritsar and several other Gurdwaras). The violence of 1984, as argued, is not mere political or military violence against the Sikhs, but a violence of metaphysics that was there long before 1984. Saturday Morning also marked Jaspreet Singh’s speech on United Sikhs’ humanitarian work and the scope of legal activism.

In the second session, Harjit Singh Grewal (University of Michigan) demonstrated that during the state oppression, the resistance shifts from violence to artistic expressions. Harjeet Singh uses the contemporary desire for autonomy as a lens to understand what is now memorialized as the Khalistan demand. Thus, Harjeet Grewal aimed to explore how the violent resistance of the Khalistan movement turned into the contemporary “fantasy of violent resistance”. Harjit Grewal’s speech was preceded by Gurvinder Singh’s speech on the impetus for dialoguing with the events of 1984.

On Sunday, Professor Balbinder Singh Bhogal (Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies, Hofstra University) discussed the difference between Sikh sovereignty and the rule of government. Professor Bhogal drew the difference between the coercive nature of government and the spiritual sanction of the Sikhs, showing that governance of the nation-state demands a silence of obedience whereas the Sikh’s strength invokes a silence of expectation.