A few years ago when I published my first collection of poetry, Diva Bale Samundron Paar, I also had the opportunity to work with some wonderful musicians and a recording studio in Chandigarh. On my upcoming trip to India, I am going to take some of my poems and collaborate with more traditional musicians, like tabla and dilruba players. I will post that on here when it is ready in February! In the meantime, check out both versions of my previous album – with musical accompaniment and without. Let me know what you think!
Awaaz te Parvaaz (a cappella – my voice only, without musical accompaniment)
Awaaz te Parvaaz (with musical accompaniment)
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As many of you know, I usually sing my poems a-cappella (without musical accompaniment). My son, Navdeep, helped to setup a recording studio in my home so that I can do more a-cappella recordings, which is more familiar and comfortable to me, but I am interested in experimenting!
Have a listen to my latest album and let me know what you think:
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Welcome address by Col. Hardev Singh Gill – Gen. Sec. SCCC
The Sikh council of Central California celebrated Sikh Awareness month November ACR 25 (Wieckowski) dedicated to Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav at Kerman Unified School District, Kerman, California on November 16, 2013. The conversational type seminar was attended by Superintendents of Kerman and Selma Unified School District, Superintendent Fresno County Office of Education, State Superintend Office of Public Instruction, President Fresno City Council, Chairperson Fresno Council of Governments, Sikh Research Institute, Sikh Coalition and Jakara amongst others. The multi functional school hall was almost filled with School going children, parents and teachers and principals from various schools. The introductory speech given by me as the Sikh Council of Central California(SCCC) Coordinator Education and Awareness Program explaining the relevance of education and awareness month of November to Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav follows:
Me giving introduction re: relevance of Education & Awareness to GNPU
Good morning ladies and gentlemen!
We are celebrating some historic milestone achievements today. The Governor has signed the Curriculum Revision bill last year requiring public schools to teach about Sikhism in California. California law now shares with the Sikh American community the belief and necessity to ensure that California represents the diverse cultures of the world in our textbooks accurately. We at the SCCC strongly believe that is the only way to ensure California’s children may develop an appreciation and understanding of contributions made by groups integral to the rich fabric of California’ culture.
Also November has been signed into law as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation month since 2010. We couldn’t be more pleased and happier to dedicate this month of Assembly Concurrent Resolution, in short ACR 25 on education and awareness to GNPU, as we have been doing it for the past 3 years since 2010. On behalf of the Sikh Council of Central California, whose members have been working very hard along with other like minded organizations and activists to achieve all this, a warm welcome to all in attendance! We greatly value your presence and appreciate your priceless time to join us on this occasion.
The youngest attendee beneficiary trying to make sense of my written speech
November is an auspicious month for Indians of many faiths, including Hindus, Jains and particularly for Sikhs. The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, was born in November 1469. Being a great teacher and a keen learner himself, he compared knowledge with light and life and likened ignorance with darkness and death. He travelled extensively, with many stories of his travels compiled in the Janamsakhis. One of my favorite stories is a story illustrating that there is always room for wisdom. One of the places Guru Nanak travelled to was Multan, a city in west Punjab now in Pakistan. It was known for having a disproportionate number of ascetics and holy men, which is why the famous saying about Multan is so popular even today:
ਚਾਰ ਚੀਜ਼ੇਂ ਤੋਹਫ਼ਾ ਏ ਮੁਲਤਾਨ ਅਸਤ,
ਗਰਦ-ਓ-ਗਰਮਾ, ਗਦਾ, ਗੋਰਿਸਤਾਨ, ਅਸਤ| meaning There are four things Multan is known for: Dust, Heat, Ascetics and Graveyards.
When Guru Nanak visited Multan, the holy men felt threatened that he was encroaching upon their territory. They felt there were already enough Holy men in Multan and that they didn’t need any more, so they sent him a non-threatening message by offering him a bowl of milk filled up to its brim, without any room for more milk. Guru Nanak immediately understood the message and instead of feeling threatened, he sensed their concern. He didn’t drink from the bowl; instead he took a jasmine flower from his pocket and placed it on top of the milk. It floated onto the surface. He returned the milk to the Holy Men, who understood the message and respected the method of delivery. The message is still as apt today as it was back then: there is always room for more wisdom and having more information can only serve to make things more diverse and interesting. And that is how the curriculum revision, and education and awareness month November is relevant to Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav .
Another reason November is so important to Sikhs is also rooted in history. We celebrate Bandi Shodh Divas in November when in 1619, the sixth Guru Har Gobind Sahab was released from jail along with 52 other political prisoners who had been imprisoned by the Moughal Emperor Jehangir. We celebrate Guru HarGobind’s actions to the Sikh commitment towards human rights.
Interestingly and in the same vein the City Council and the Mayor of Astoria-Oregon, issued a अproclamation last month commemorating the centennial celebration of the Founding of the Ghadar party, when the Punjabi Sikh pioneers in the early 20th century, along with other fellow Indians working in the Columbia River Basin, met at the Finnish Socialist Hall in Astoria in 1913 and formed the Ghadar party. Thousands of its supporters living in America and Canada at that time returned to India and inspired the countrymen to fight for the independence from Britain which was achieved in 1947. The Astoria proclamation recognizes the Ghadrites, who fought and died not only for the freedom of their home country India, but also for the innate rights of the immigrant worker to lead a dignified and discrimination free life here in America. So this year 2013 was also the 100 year anniversary of this historic meeting which recognizes the universal right of sovereign nations to independence and self rule. The Astoria City Council and Mayor Willis Van Dusen organized a seminar for two days on 4-5 October last month that included panel discussion, film screening and walking tours and concluded with the dedication of a plaque installed in the name of the Ghadrites at the Columbia Riverside walk in a park situated right in front of the historic Finnish Socialist Hall site in Astoria, where the Ghadar party was born in 1913.
The spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s speech as reaffirmed in his famous Gettysburg Address of 1863 that inspired the modern world and the Ghadrites at that time said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These American ideals then inspired the Ghadrites who were predominantly Punjabi Sikhs, as these are not far removed from the Sikh ideals which incidentally, are the fundamentals of human rights anywhere in the world.
Brief history for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with these Assembly Concurrent Resolutions in short called (ACR’s): How did they come about?
In the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, those perceived to look like the enemy, included South Asians, Arabs, Muslims of all nationalities, with the brunt of the attacks placed on the Sikhs with turbans and beards. It has become a normal part of a Sikh boy’s school experience to be called “Osama,” or “terrorist,” along with other religious based bullying. Several Sikh men have been murdered or attacked in hate crimes, starting just a few days after September 11th, and continuing even today. California has signed the curriculum revision into law and proclaimed November Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month in a valiant effort to educate people about who the Sikhs are, and to introduce some of our core beliefs.
This year ACR 25 (Wieckowski) was authored and presented on the Assembly floor by Assembly member Bob Wieckowski from the Bay Area with Assembly member Dan Logue as its principal Coauthor. Our local Assembly members from the Central Valley Henry Perea, Jim Patterson, Frank Biglow and several other Assembly members supported the Resolution with powerful speeches on the Assembly floor and became its Coauthors when asked by the Speaker of the House. With a powerful support from the Senate Majority leader Ellen Corbett, it sailed through the senate the next day. So the ACR 25 was passed with a unanimous vote across the party lines as members from both parties became its Coauthors and strongly spoke in its support. It is worth mentioning here that the pre-runner of ACR 25 was also the Resolution passed by your own Sikh Council of Central California last year in its annual celebration of the Sikh Awareness Month November 2012 which was celebrated at the Lincoln High School in Selma.
Question now is how to take this law on to a next level:
While we greatly appreciate this initiative that the State of California has begun, an area of improvement is to create more of an impact through education in public schools and city administrations for the general public. The big question is:
1. Who should take the responsibility for implementation?
2. Most importantly, what more is expected from the community?
On the other hand, one of the strengths of these ACRs is that it is linked to the politics of post-9/11 America: notably the targeting of those who vaguely look like the enemy, and ironically none of the hijackers look like bearded or turbaned Sikhs, who are victims of hate crimes as a matter of routine.
Finally, awareness efforts through events such as this one in Kerman or last year in Selma and in Caruthers the year before, cannot in and of themselves change the continuing mindset and offset harm of designating its minorities as outside the American nation or as suspect or foreign, and thus dangerous. But it starts with a platform to be heard and for the conversation
to deepen and be ongoing, to educate not just others about who we are, but to educate ourselves, our children, and others. Whenever tragedy strikes, we often scramble to find ways of telling the world who we are not, rather than who we are. And that is a good place to start. And this is the best venue to meet.
On this note, I ask the first speaker to please take the floor and make the presentation.
The conversational type seminar including power point presentations lasted with a pin drop silence for almost three hours. Paraphrasing Fresno County Curriculum Advisor Dr. Catania, representing the Fresno County Office of Education, ” I am going back with a lot of valuable information from the enlightening presentations and I commend the SCCC for organizing such events.” Dr. Catania had attended a similar event organized by the SCCC last year at the Lincoln Elementary Middle School in Selma. If you are still reading this and are interested to read more, a full report of the event will be posted in due course with more pictures.
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Finnish Socialist Hall Astoria
Yugantar Ashram San Francisco
2013 is the year of the Centennial Celebration of the Ghadar Movement. This is the Finnish Socialist Hall in Astoria, Oregon State in America where it all started in 1913. In a distant land 100 years ago Sohan Singh Bhakna along with his coworkers working as mill workers, laborers in the River Columbia basin and around Portland, Oregon organized a meeting on April 30,1913 in the Finish Socialist Hall seen at the left hand corner here. Lala Hardyal from Stanford University was the keynote speaker invited. Hindi Association was formed with Sohan Singh Bhakna as President, Lala Hardyal General Secretary and Kanshi Ram Maroli Treasurer. It moved its Headquarters to Yugantar Ashram in San Francisco, California shown here right hand side the same year and began publishing a weekly newspaper called’ Ghadar’. Shown below is the Press that was hand operated by Shahid Kartar Singh. The first issue of “Ghadar” Akhbar was ready to roll on November 1913 . The members, who came from all parts of undivided India, came together to fight injustice not only in their homeland India, but also in their adopted home: the United States of America. In the true spirit of the American Revolution, the Ghadrites sacrificed their lives for India’s struggle for freedom, as well as for the innate rights of the immigrant worker to lead a dignified and discrimination free life here in America. Indian-Americans from across the country are celebrating the Ghadar Movement’s 100th Birth anniversary in every town and city they happen to live in America.
Printing Press That printed “Ghadar”
As Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India put it succinctly in Kochi, South India in a recent public address that the Ghadar Movement of 1913, created a “luminous spark” that awoke India, which had been a sleeping giant. The heat thus generated ignited the fire needed for the struggle for Indian Independence that was achieved later in 1947. But the irony is that the light produced by the same spark machine has yet to reach all four corners of the Indian nation!
As Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, the Founder President of the Ghadar Party pointed out to the first Prime Minister of India Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru in one of the Ghadrites’ meetings with him when he said something like this; Pundit Ji you are thinking about the independence of India, we are talking about the Independence of Indians! That is the difference which still remains only it has become even wider since as the powerful became more powerful and the poor more disenfranchised!
Best Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna Courtesy Sita Ram Madhopuri
In order to fulfill the Ghadrites dream, the process of reawakening the giant may again have started in Astoria, Oregon by the seemingly small act of Dr.Johanna Ogden and Prof. Bruce La Brack. Dr.Ogden wrote, “ Ghadar, Historical Silences, and Notions of Belonging: Early 1900s Punjabis of the Columbia River.” In the article, she writes about the historical significance of the Ghadar Movement and its place in Oregon’s history for the Oregon Historical Quarterly in the summer of 2012. And after reading it, Dr. La Brack, and Dr. Ogden teamed up and collaborated with the Astoria’s City Council and the Mayor of Astoria to bring about a Proclamation and celebrate a 2-day event on October 4-5, 2013. This has already had a ripple effect with Indian-Americans around the country collaborating with their local governments to commemorate this footnote in India’s freedom movement and American history. In the central valley California, for example, a similar Proclamation recognizing the Centenary of the Founding of the Ghadar Party has been passed by the City Council and the Mayor of Fresno. Other cities may follow suit.
It takes a century but it may very well be the beginning for the Light generated by that spark to shine not just on India but on all Indians big and small as contemplated by the Ghadrites a century ago! Astoria may have done it again. Time will tell as it did in the case of the Ghadar Movement!
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The Ghadar Party
One hundred years ago, in 1913, a handful of Indians were inspired by the American Revolution and started a revolutionary movement of their own in Stockton, California, to reclaim their country (undivided India) from the British. This largely unknown aspect of American history and Indian history is being recognized in the United States for the Ghadrite Centenary 2013! The members of the Ghadar movement first met in Astoria, Oregon in 1913 and established their headquarters in San Francisco, California. They published and circulated a newspaper with revolutionary poetry from 5 Wood Street, San Francisco, where the first flag for total Independence of India was flown in 1913 for the first time. This October, through various organizations, Indian-Americans will be celebrating the 100 year Ghadar movement all over North America and Canada.
A few months ago, I attended a seminar organized by Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) to commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Ghadar Movement, in Newark Fremont Hilton. It was a wonderful gathering and nice to see that it was being acknowledged by not just a Sikh organization. While the Ghadar movement was started and was largely represented by the Sikhs, it was a very diverse membership with Indians of all backgrounds, regions, and who spoke various languages involved with the goal of getting the British to quit India the same way the American Revolution caused the British to quit America. It was during a conversation I had with GOPIO Chairman, Inder Singh, who brought up a suggestion of dedicating a day on a yearly basis for all Indian-American organizations to unite and preserve the memory of the brave Ghadrites. Unfortunately, this wonderful suggestion became drowned out with unconstructive, hypothetical petty logistical issues that halted the conversation.
Logistical issues should of course be discussed, but first we should agree on the easy things before we bring up things we disagree with. I will borrow an acronym my son, Navdeep Singh Dhillon, uses to remind me not to start dwelling on the details from the start: KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid. People in the military are known for being blunt and it is not implying anyone is stupid, but it means we should start with the simple things and then delve into the more complex. So the first question, which I hope the answer would be yes is; in America should we for the future preserve the memory of the Ghadarites one day a year?
Assuming we are all in agreement (one aspect done!), let us move on to the next item, which is a little more complicated. When?
To backtrack a little: after I returned from GOPIO event, I discussed the idea with the Sikh Council of Central California (SCCC) Education Committee, of which I am the coordinator (the SCCC is a nonprofit organization representing 13 main Sikh Temples in the Fresno and Madera Counties with a combined congregation of approximately 15-20,000 members). After a full discussion where the members fully expressed their views and weighed all the pros and cons in the long run, a resolution in support was passed with a unanimous vote dated July 1, 2013.
(A copy of the resolution is included here if anyone is interested in reading the details) at:
SCCC Ghadrites Memo Resolution July 01, 2013
Having been raised in Bhakna at the household of the founder of the movement, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, it gives me great hope that many of the organizations, both Sikh and other Indian-American ones, are celebrating. Even Nirupama Rao, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. is fully supportive of preserving their memory in the freedom struggle. As reported in the Tribune India July 30, 2013, the Greater Washington Area organized an event to honor the contribution of the Ghadar movement in India’s freedom struggle that other Indian-Americans from across the US attended and called for remembering their sacrifices annually on Memorial Day. http://www.tribuneindia.com/2013/20130730/main6.htm.
Returning to my second question of “When?” I second the idea to dedicate Memorial Day – the last Monday of May, for all organizations in North America to come under one banner and preserve the memory of the Ghadrites forever!
What do you think?
Share your thoughts by posting a comment here, or replying on my Facebook Fan Page, or on twitter (@pashaura) with the hashtag #ghadarmemorial
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Happy Celebration at the Centenary of Founding of the Ghadar Party !
The Ghadar Party was founded in a distant land from India in San Francisco a century ago in 1913. The centenary celebration was held at the ‘Yugantar Ashram’ the original headquarters of the Ghadar Party at 5 Wood Street in San Francisco on July 13, 2013!
I was invited to attend, along with two other community members from the Central Valley of California – Charanjit Singh Batth, affectionately known as the ‘Raisin King’ being the most successful grape grower in America, and Bharpoor Singh Dhaliwal, the former Mayor of the City of San Joaquin.
It was a momentus occasion for all of us and especially for me as I stood in the place where history was being made for a second time. A close relation, I spent my formative years under the guidance of Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, one of the founding members of the Ghadar Movement in the village of Bhakna in India. He introduced me to Ghadar Poets and other revolutionary poetry, published in the progressive literary magazine, Preet Lahri.
When we arrived at the tiny hall at the Yugantar Ashram, it was jam packed with approximately 200 men, women and some university students who travelled far and wide to be a part of history. There were many prominent people in attendance, such as guest of honor, Sita Ram Yechury, a member of the Rajya Sabha, as well as main speakers Dr. Johanna Ogden, a historian from Astoria , Oregon, Dr. Mark Juergens Meyer, Dr. Harish Puri from GND University Amritsar, Dr. Jaspal Singh, Vice Chancellor and Drs. Jaswinder Singh, Dhanwant Kaur of Punjabi University, Patiala, Hardam Singh Azad from Houstan – Texas, Harsev Singh Bains IWA, Great Britain and Dr. Mohinder Singh Member Bhai Veer Singh Sahit Sadan from Delhi , India. The Indian Consul General’s office was in attendance and a handful of young students from the Universities of Stanford and Berkley also paid their tributes.
The program was well organized and concentrated to highlight and revisit the Ghadrites unique contribution they made towards the Indian freedom struggle. The line I liked best and that said it all, was by Dr. Mark Juergens Meyer. Dr. Meyers looked genuinely excited when he said that he was very proud to be a Californian knowing that the first flag of Indian Independence was flown from this very place, the Yugantar Ashram at 5 Wood Street, San Francisco in California in 1913. I said to myself what a shame! How come the successive Indian governments and people who came in power and ruled India since they got freedom from the British subjugation of 200 years, did not realize this proud fact before Dr. Meyer did? Or were they not genuinely proud as Dr. Meyers was? I found no answer. But that reminded me the age old Punjabi phrase,” ਸ਼ੇਰਾਂ ਦੀਆਂ ਮਾਰਾਂ ਗਿਦੜ ਖਾਂਦੇ ਆਏ |” – Sheran dian maraan Giddarh khande aiey’ meaning the kills made by brave lions are always eaten to the bone by the cowardly jackals.
The aspect I found totally missing however, was the mention of the Ghadrite poetry at the centenary celebration. The commemoration was only for the Ghadrites as warriors and nothing much about their poetry which equally if not more significantly inspired their countrymen. The charge of the handful of Ghadrites against the British Empire where the Sun never set was no less an act of patriotism than the well recorded ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ during the battle of Balaclava, when the 700 rode to the valley of death. But very few people know Ghadrites were poets at heart also. After all it was the poetic lines which Shahid Kartar Singh Sarabha kept singing while hand operating that rackety printing press at the Yugantar Ashram to print the Ghadar newspaper:
“ਸੇਵਾ ਦੇਸ ਦੀ ਜਿੰਦੜੀਏ ਬੜੀ ਔਖੀ, ਗੱਲਾਂ ਕਰਨੀਆਂ ਢੇਰ ਸੁੱਖਲੀਆਂ ਨੇ।
ਜਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਦੇਸ ਸੇਵਾ ਵਿਚ ਪੈਰ ਪਾਇਆ ਓਹਨਾਂ ਲੱਖ ਮੁਸੀਬਤਾਂ ਝੱਲੀਆਂ ਨੇ।“
Seva Des di Jindrie badi aukhi, gallan krnian dher Sokhlian ne,
Jinhan Des –Seva vich pair paya, Ohna lakh Musibtan Jhallian ne.
(Meaning it is easy to talk big about it but serving the country is very difficult. That those who served had to bear countless hardships.)
These lines associated with Shaheed Kartar Singh were also said to be the favorites of Shaheed Bhagat Singh that were found in his pocket before he was hanged. The Ghadrites wrote poetry in other languages too but what attracted me most was the poetry in Punjabi in the most prevalent and popular folksy tunes such as: Heer Waris named after the most popular and tragic love story. I paid a tribute by presenting a Punjabi poem in the same metering mode called behr of baint in which most of these poems were usually written for the Ghadar newspaper. The Ghadrites also sang these poems in the battlefield, in the trial courts, on the gallows and during hunger strikes in jails. I also sang in the same tune as these are usually sung, which I will upload as a free audio download if you would like (just ask!).
I have transliterated my poem into romanized Punjabi for the benefit of those who can’t read Gurmukhi, and there is a rough English translation below as well at the gracious request of the historian, Dr. Johanna Ogden of Astoria, who listened to me sing my poem in San Francisco and wanted to know what it was about! Here is my Punjabi poem:
Ghadri Babeo prt ke vekheo je, Waris Tusan de Jehre Mukam pahunche
Ohi Juh te Shehar , Gran Ohi, Pairhan Napde kadm - nishan Pahunche
Goonj Ghadr di Goonjdi Rhi Jitthon, ohna rahan nu krn salam Pahunche
Va nje Tusan de Os Vipar vichon, Vekhn apna Nafa – Nuksan Pahunche
Akhnn tusan Azadi de ghol ander, Kame Bharti ’Kattean kre keekun
Sohn Singh te Lala Hardyal verge, Heere Chalk-daman ander jareh keekun
Aeya Parrhn Sarabha te Berkley si, Sabk Ghadr Vale Ohne Parrhe Keekun
Barkatullah di Kabr te baitth Roe, Etthe Sutean Beet Gai Vareh Keekun
Charrhe Des – Azadi lai jnj lai ke, Sehre siran te Kistran dhre ‘ Katthe
Zat-Pat te Dharm nu rkkh pase, Ghdri Babeo Larhe te Mre ‘Katthe
Dhatthe pian di Kistran pai Himmat, Rsse Fansian te Charh ke Fareh ‘Katthe
Chashm-deed Itihas Gwah Sanhven,Kabrin pai ‘Katthe, Sivean Sareh ‘Katthe
Asin ho ke vi nhin Azad Hoe, Lokin Puchhde Firn Swal ohi
Ucha hor ucha nivan hor nivan, Sochi tusan kujh hor di hor hoi
Bdle Ghorh-Swar e Ghorhean de, Chabak Rhi Lugam te Dore Ohi
Daie dosh hunn Dharhvi kehrean nu, jdon Doli Kaharan ne aap Khohi
Babe Akhde Humbla maar Uttho, Supna Suttean Nahin Sakar Hove
Turde Desvasi jdon ho ‘Katthe, Tan eh Karvan na Khalihar Hove
Hook dilan di Ghadr tad Goonj bndi, aam Admi jdon Dushwar Hove
Os Goonj Sanhven Bhora Tthehrdi nhin Nili, Pili jan Lal Sarkar Hove!
Rough English Translation:
Ghadrites come and watch how far they have come. It is the same place, farms and factories you once worked; the paths you treaded. It is the same hilltop whence your call for freedom resonated around the world. As your heir apparent they have come to figure out what to make of the investment you had made!
They ask how you organized ordinary Indian laborers in to the struggle for total Independence. How did you set the jewels like Sohan Singh and Lala Hardyal into your torn down garment? Sarabha came here only to seek higher education; how he received lessons to become a mutineer? They stopped and wept at the grave of Barkatullah; how come you have slept here for so long?
Riding for the wedding of bride freedom from a distant land; how you tied the ceremonial garlands on all heads together? How you kept the cast, creed and religion out and aside and fought against the oppressor as one people? Lying low as underdogs for so long; how you mustered the courage to stand up to the oppressor and fought to the finish? History bears witness; how you all shared the grave and the cremation ground hand in hand?
Having got freedom we are still not free; how come people are asking the same question again? The rich got richer and the poor poorer; you thought of something but something else happened. Only the horse riders changed; the whip, the bridle and the hunting rope stayed the same. How can they blame the outside marauders, when the palanquin is robbed by the palanquin bearers themselves?
Ghadrites say! Rise again for a second Ghadar; the dreams never come alive sleeping. When all countrymen unite as one people to move forward; the caravan fighting injustice and inequality becomes unstoppable. The heart ache stemming from hopelessness brings out a rebellion that turns to an echo resonating louder and louder as common man’s life becomes more difficult. Confronted with such a resonating echo; no oppression of any kind or color stands its ground.
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Yesterday, President Barack Obama gave an incredibly powerful address on drastically reducing our very heavy carbon footprint through a series of very serious policies and laws. Al Gore commented that it is the “best presidential address on climate change ever.” Sikhism has a very deeply rooted history in environmental issues, and many of our Gurus, starting with Baba Nanak were not only revolutonaries in their own right, but also environmentalists, calling for environmental change, in addition to societal change. It is not easy to force people to change the way they live, in a world that normalizes things like our dependence on products with a devastating impact on the environment. As a horticulturist and landscape architect by trade, it is something that I have felt deeply saddened by during my long career, spanning several countries, continents, and decades. In my home State of Punjab, the government and its policies on the environment or there lack of it have actively destroyed the indigenous trees such as tahli, kikar,bohr and pipal etc. in the name of development and modernization and has allowed the industry to pollute rivers and rivulets resulting in the pollution of the aquifer beneath that would require a miracle to put it right. They continue to destroy these centuries old road corridors under road widening schemes without properly thought ought replanting plans.
Returning to Obama’s speech it comes just a few months before a decision will be made on the controversial Keystone pipeline, which Obama has said will only be approved if it doesn’t significantly exacerbate problems of carbon pollution. And not too long ago, James Hansen, a climate scientist, who used to work as a researcher for NASA told the New York Times that if it is approved, it would be “game over for the climate.” As a poet, I have written poems on these issues to make people think about the damage that is being inflicted, such as “Sun Umber shehzadie’ about the damage human beings are inflicting on Earth, and rather than trying to fix anything, we are off seeking other planets, so we can do the same thing there:
So it was immensely gratifying to hear Obama’s speech yesterday in a place I have very fond memories of: Georgetown University’s auditorium. The only time I sat amongst the audience who were all there listening to Obama was in 1999 when my daughter graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Medicine. I could imagine the feeling of hope and excitement of a bright future these students must have felt. In the same hall that welcomed the U.S. Presidents since George Washington, the world watched President Obama addressing the university students delivering an historic speech on the environment. In no unclear terms, he took the most decisive action on climate change any president has ever taken and laid out a plan to drastically limit the damage being inflicted on the environment. But rather than only focusing on what we as individuals should do, he also took corporations to task, and outlined a plan to do the unthinkable: hold corporations accountable and make green technology affordable and a for-profit enterprise. Rarely do political leaders take such bold decisions committing their nations in this ‘profits before people’ era, to political causes which are vital in the long run but are not that popular at home and serve a bigger cause for the welfare of all mankind where everyone wins. Protecting the environment is one such issue which has vehemently been opposed by the vested interests and big donors in every country and has always faced immense opposition, which I am sure Obama has encountered, and will continue to encounter, but it is a good fight and one that at over 70 years old, I am very hopeful about the outcome.
It happened yesterday in that speech with a definite plan which will go a long way in paving the road not only to protect the environment and help save our planet Earth for the future, but will also create more jobs in America and will put this nation back on track as a progressive one, and one whose ideas and examples other nations should emulate as they always do or dream to follow when for example the leaders in Punjab proudly say they will convert Punjab in to California.
With such a determination, detailed plan and a commitment he has challenged the nation to lead by example. By doing so he appears to have put a stop to the debate going on since the 1800s, when great thinkers, scientists, and philosophers first found that the green house gasses are accelerating warming the planet Earth and others refused to believe it was anything to do with science. The controversy between the science and the orthodoxy in fact did not diminish with the house arrest of Galileo in 1633, when he was convicted of grave suspicion of heresy for “following the position of Copernicus,” in what was seen as being in direct opposition to Biblical Scripture for defending heliocentrism – that the sun does not rise and set in the exact same position all over the world, with the earth at the center of the universe.
When he first ran for office in 2008 and I heard him speak during the primaries, I was impressed at what I thought was a breath of fresh air in the stale state of politics. I wrote and sang a poem set to my voice, Ohi hai Eh Sitara, meaning It is that same Star:
During his speech, he talked about facts that go against the view that climate change is simply a natural occurrence that cannot be changed. The 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15 years, and 2012 was the hottest one that was ever recorded. Based on the scenario unfolding before our eyes that due to this global warming apparently caused by manmade activities 2/3 of the sea is determined to swallow the remaining 1/3 of the land mass through Sea Tsunamis, Hill Tsunamis and everything in between. Now that the address is over, let’s talk about his two major points:
- Enforcing the Clean Air Act rules. A central part of his plan is to enforce rules already in place that are largely ignored by corporations, so there will be strict emission rules and a plan to cut pollution from existing and new power plants, boost clean energy, and revamp transportation sector for the 21st century.
- Business Model. Obama isn’t satisfied with catchphrases and empty words, but with a real plan of action, and that means he wants this to be a financial decision so corporations can fight on the good side. The percentage of electricity coming from wind and sun has already doubled in his first four years and he is hoping to double that again. This means careers, jobs, and a huge boost to the economy.
Read his full plan online and as usual let me know your thoughts on it. Just the fact we are talking about it, is a historic occasion, no less as momentus as the Christmas Eve that Apollo Eight Mission landed a man on the Moon.
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