Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Sikh Truck Drivers and Canadian Pacific Railways Agree to Negotiate
Last week, a group of 500 Sikh truck drivers in Canada threatened to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission in an attempt to challenge a "hard hat" policy instituted by the Canadian Pacific Railways (CPR) . The policy, as described in a company memo:
Please be advised that as per CPR's Safety Policy, all drivers required to enter CPR property as well as customer locations are required to wear a hard hat. There are no exceptions to this policy.In objecting to this policy, a large group of Sikhs noted that there had been no injuries justifying the hart hat rule and that Sikhs even served in the British Army with turbans.
We understand that this might be a concern for some drivers who are required to wear turbans as part of their religious doctrine… There is zero tolerance at CPR with regards to this requirement.
A Canadian human rights commission found that a Sikh had been discriminated against in a similar situation, however the Supreme Court of Canada, in Bhinder v. Canadian National Railways, 1985 CarswellNat 144, 9 C.C.E.L. 135 (S.C.C.), overturned the decision, ruling that employers do not infringe upon human rights law when they ban Sikhs from wearing turbans on the job "for genuine business reasons." The court continued:
The hard hat rule did not lose its character as a bona fide occupational requirement solely because it had the effect of discriminating against (Bhinder) … once established as a bona fide occupational requirement for employees in (CN’s) coach yard, the hard hat rule was not a discriminatory practice within the meaning of the act, despite its affect on (Bhinder.)
Reports are now surfacing that CPR has "agreed to negotiate with the drivers over the wearing of turbans versus hard hats." Accordingly, the "Sikh truck drivers will not file a complaint." Hopefully an amicable settlement can be reached between the two sides.
Streets of San Francisco
On Saturday, we entered the streets of San Francisco. Our first interview of the day was SEAN FERNANDES (pictured). Sean, from Calcutta, India, was with his white Australian friend ROBIN CLARKE days after Sept. 11, 2001. After walking out of a bar, they were confronted by a group of men and women who started taunting Robin for being with an “Arab.” The confrontation escalated and Robin was stabbed with a screwdriver. “Why he had a screwdriver I have no idea,” Robin told me four years ago. He nearly died at the hospital, just for standing up for his brown-skinned friend.
Sean talked to us at the San Francisco intersection where it happened four years earlier. We learned how events became even more tragic. The man who was convicted killed his best friend, the man who started the fight, because he was afraid her would testify against him. Since then, Sean has decided to shift his life course and attend law school to advocate for civil rights.
After our interview, we decided to shoot b-roll, spending the day in the chilly streets of San Francisco, moving from one location to the next. Sharat, our director (pictured), continued to shoot with his 8mm camera, weaving yet another medium into our film.
We made our way to a hilltop in Marin County to film the Golden Gate Bridge. Here the crew looked especially stunning and wind-swept (Don Presley, our first camera, on the left, and our entire crew, Don, Matt, Sharat, and Tim, below):
We made our way to the intersection of Fourth and Market, where a stranger once asked whether I was Muslim and cursed me out while I was sitting in my car. As we were standing and filming at this very intersection, a woman walked up to us, and asked us what we were filming. We told her it was about hate crimes after 9/11. She responded into our microphone:
"Hate crimes? That's when you hurt someone for no reason. I can tell you about hate crimes. You know what I call a hate crime? A hate crime is when the police don't stop the shootings in black neighborhoods, because they've decided 'let them all kill each other.' You know what I call a hate crime? When politicians make promises to poor people and don't follow through. You know what else is a hate crime? When you are diagnosed with Hepititus C and need a kidney transplant, and Medicare puts you off just a month before, and you have a husband and two kids and... I don't know what I'm going to do. I need healthcare, and they're just going to let me die."
She began to cry, solid tears down her dark cheeks. And LATRICIA EVANS began to apologize for telling us about her life. I didn't know what to do. Except hug her. And tell her that we would post her story.
"God works in mysterious ways," Latricia said. "Maybe someone will help."
For the rest of the day, I thought about Latrcia's interpretation of the label "hate crime." We've debated the term on and on with police officers, legislators, and community members, trying to figure out what counts as a hate crime. But to this poor woman, 'hate crimes' are built into the very systems that exclude people from the resources that make a livable life-- resources that protect people from crime, deception, and denial of basic needs such as healthcare.
I tried to comprehend relations between different dimensions of violence. The stabbing of a brown man is different from the preventable death of a poor woman. But in both cases, when the faces of the persons affected appeared before me, I saw a common anguish. A common suffering. And a common cry- that it could be otherwise. We have the resources to build a society that does not attack minorities in times of war, that does not allow the poor to suffer. These stories make us ask: why not? what can we do in order to change this reality? what can we do right now?
I'm still discovering the answers in my own life path. But I have this faith that this film, however small, is part of the solution. Help us complete this film with your support.
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind," and was originally posted on August 13, 2005.]
To Wear a Hijab, or...
The Washington Post posted an interesting article on how several Muslim girls in the Washington, DC, area are able to, on one hand, remain faithful to the Koran's mandate that followers of Islam wear modest clothing, and on the other still feel attractive and beautiful in modern, American society. The author of the article, Sandhya Somashekhar, follows a few girls as they pick clothes in a mall, discussing how they balance their religion with the contemporary demands of Western fashion.
Perhaps most intriguing is Somashekhar's interview with Rika Prodhan, a 22 year-old Muslim who decided, after considerable thought, to trade her "form-fitting outfits" and exposed "cascading hair " for a hijab, or head scarf. The decision resulted from Prodhan's intrepretive understanding of the Koran, which she felt was unambiguous in its guidance that "the body, including the hair, should be well covered."
In addition, Prodhan realized that her actions would change how the world viewed her: adopting a hijab was a "big step that she knew would forever change the way she was perceived in public."
The implication is that the physical attire in itself may isolate a Muslim with a hijab (or by extension, a Sikh with a turban), regardless of the active participation of the Muslim in Western society. In other words, the question becomes whether a Muslim with a hijab or Sikh with a turban is per se isolated from mainstream society.
"I tried to find every reason not to wear it," she said. "But I came to the conclusion it was like listening to your parents. We may not know the wisdom behind it now, but we'll realize it later."
Her parents, she said, actually were troubled by the decision, fearful that she was becoming "too Muslim" and isolating herself from mainstream society.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Fear, the FBI, and Academia
When the FBI arrested two Pakistani-Americans as suspected terrorists in Lodi, CA this June, the small farming town became the center of national and international media attention. But news media has not shown the extent to which the FBI has followed, monitored, and intimidated the greater Muslim American community there, including families who have lived and farmed in Lodi for generations.
VEENA DUBAL, my classmate at Stanford, detailed the Lodi case in her article, The FBI Witch-Hunt in Lodi, California. Read her article for the entire story about misinformation, media hysteria, fear and the FBI.
We decided to travel to Sacramento Valley to find out more. We spent the afternoon hearing stories in the regional office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). We met DINA EL-NAKHAL (pictured above), communications director, who grew up in the area and went to UC Davis:
"Muslim Americans in Lodi feels terrorized. The FBI follows their children, questions them at night, and holds men for interrogations. I spoke at a "Know Your Rights" session for the community. Afterward, a woman came up to me, tears rolling down her cheek. With what little English she had, she said, 'I didn't know that the FBI interrogation was voluntary. If I had, I would have never told my son to go. He never came back that night. It's all my fault.'"
Dina herself became emotional. The fear experienced by this community comes to touch anyone who spends time with them. Including Executive Director of CAIR's Sacramento region, BASIM ELKARRA (pictured). In supporting the Lodi community, Basim himself has his own share of FBI stories.
These Lodi accounts came soon after our visit to Stanford University, where two Stanford professors shared with us reflections that cast light on these stories.
JAYASHRI SRIKANTIAH (pictured) is a professor and director of the Immigration Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. I first met Jayashri when she was a legal director at ACLU in San Francisco, where we worked together briefly on a project to document stories of those deported after INS special registration.
In our conversation, Jayashri detailed the state policies and programs since 9/11 that have targeted non-citizens, from detentions and deportations to the PATRIOT ACT.
“The administration has said that this is not a war against Islam, but actions speak louder than words. Its actions have consistently targeted Muslims, Arabs, and non-citizens. A war on terror is a war on immigrants.”
In response to two New York legislators who supported a bill to mandate racial profiling in NY subways after the London bombings, Jayashri said:
“Racial profiling has never prevented a terrorist attack. What’s more, it gives the green light for prejudice among the public. Instead law enforcement should build relationships with these very communities in order to fight terrorism effectively.”
After Jayashri’s legal analsyis, we heard from social psychology in an interview with JOSEPH BROWN (pictured), now Dean of Student Affairs at Stanford University. Joseph advised me on my honors thesis about post-9/11 prejudice, together with Linda Hess, when I was a senior at Stanford. We had experimented together in applying social psychology theories to the prejudice that took place after 9/11.
Two years had passed since my thesis was given an award at graduation— this is the last time I saw my advisor. So as soon as I walked through the door, Joseph and I (pictured) chatted endlessly about all that had passed—from current events to my academic plans to his new position as dean. And then when our conversation turned to America’s present climate from a social psychological perspective, we simply moved to our spot before the camera and began rolling.
Joseph described how widespread fear and anxiety cause the public to permit state policies and actions (like the Lodi case) that would not have been tolerable before. Even if those actions are ineffective.
Fear is at the center of the social psychology of prejudice, both in the motives for prejudice and its long-term impact on targeted communities. For example, one concept to explain prejudice is terror management theory: when people feel threatened, they are more likely to discriminate against anyone who is not ‘seen’ as part of their ‘group.’ One can imagine that terror management happened on a national scale after 9/11. Not only were Sikh, Muslim, and Arab Americans already not ‘seen’ as full-fledged American citizens, media images confirmed their faces as those of the ‘enemy.’ This made it easy for people to target them based on how they looked.
What about the impact of prejudice? In the short term, targeted groups respond by withdrawing from public spaces, both physically and mentally. In the long term, people experience stereotype threat: Every time targeted Americans enter a public space, like airports, they are aware of the stereotypes against them, now embedded into American culture, and this increases their own anxiety. In many cases, people experience attributional ambiguity: when others treat them poorly, they are left guessing whether the motive was prejudice or not. In the end, entire communities of people feel marked in public spaces in mainstream America.
In the end, both Joseph and Jayashri offered frameworks for understanding the stories of prejudice and profiling in Lodi and across the country. This confirmed my faith that academia may provide both theoretical and practical responses to social injustices. (This is why I am still in school and will be for a long time, now at Harvard Divinity, next fall at Yale Law School).
As the crew packed after the interview, I walked through Stanford’s Main Quad (pictured) and remembered all the hours I spent walking these halls, researching and reflecting on the stories gathered on my journey across the country after 9/11. Now I am back, this time with a film crew. I would have never imagined that a student project could have grown into a feature-length independent film production.
To add to the nostalgia, my dear friend JESSICA JENKINS (pictured) showed up to meet us. We had been dorm-mates together since freshman year all through college, both studied International Relations, and wrote our honors theses side by side. (She wrote about women in El Salvador and Catholic liberation theology). Now Jess is working for a Catholic social justice lobbying group in DC, but we still collaborate together. She is working on this film as Director of Research, for example.
Jess and I walked together and visited my favorite men at Stanford: the Burghars of Calle (pictured). They were my companions in despair and struggle and strength when I was a student here. The crew filmed them alongside Memorial Church and the Main Quad, in order to capture Stanford as the starting point of the journey.
Stanford University was the first to give me a small grant to make the trip across the country. I only needed a few thousand dollars then to make the four-month trip, taping interviews on a video camera. Now four years later, in order to complete this feature-length movie and aim for theatrical release, we need $40,000. Help us make it happen.
A big thank you to our friends: Mohammad Abdul-Carim, Kulwindor Dol, Amit Garg, Chris Metinko, Sonya P, and Vijay Myneni and Jagu (who just got engaged!). They joined us for dinner after our long production day, and gave us food, drink, music, and even donations for the project. Too much.
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind," and was originally posted on August 12, 2005.]
Monday, August 29, 2005
"Arab American gets credit card offer addressed to 'Palestinian Bomber'"
An Arab-American man received a credit card offer addressed to "Palestinian Bomber." The unsolicited offer came from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the number two bank in the United States, and arrived at the mailbox of Sami Habbas, a 54-year-old Arab-American from Corona, California. "Palestinian Bomber" was used "in both the address field and salutation, as well as on the envelope."
To its credit, J.P. Morgan Chase apologized and blamed the gaffe "on a list it purchased from an unidentified vendor." Spokesman David Chamberlin conducted damage control:
Although no Chase employee was involved in creating this information, we are embarrassed by this incident and regret that our automatic screening procedures did not catch this erroneous information.
As a company that is fully dedicated to respecting our card members, prospective customers and employees, we offer our sincere apologies to anyone who might have been offended by this matter.
Habbas, who "has lived in the United States for 51 years and served in the U.S. Army," said of the incident:
this is indicative of the growing rise of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in this country, where everyday peaceful and law-abiding citizens are being harassed based solely on their ethnicity or their religion.
Media Treatment of Asian-Americans
On Saturday, C-SPAN aired a town hall meeting in which the media's treatment of Asian-Americans, particularly during times of war, was discussed. One of the panelists was Jaideep Singh [pictured], co-founder of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. As part of his remarks, Singh identified several problems with the media's presentation of Sikhs and Sikh-Americans during the post-9/11 backlash. Singh noted, in part:
- The mainstream media failed to present an honest picture of the backlash in the days immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In fact, the media presented opinions, most notably from then-New York major Rudy Guiliani, that the backlash was minimal and being held in check. In other words, the mainstream media offered the public material that differed from what was actually happening to Sikhs.
- The mainstream media failed to explain to the public that 99.9% of turbaned individuals are Sikhs, not Muslims. The absence of explanatory information on Sikhs, which could help allay the ignorance fueling the backlash itself, is evidenced by fact that the words "Sikh" and "Sikh-American" remained missing from the headlines of news stories describing the backlash. In other words, the Sikh-American experience after 9/11 was marginalized to an article's fringe, even though they suffered the brunt of the post-9/11 backlash.
- Ironically and unfortunately, Sikhs were being targeted because of their disctinctive appearance and dark skin, however in those articles that did discuss instances relating to Sikhs, the maintream media failed to include pictures of the Sikh victims. For example, those stories covering the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi on September 15, 2001, who was killed because of his long beard, turban, and dark skin, generally failed to include his picture.
A description of the town hall can be found here.
Video of the program can be viewed here.
Samir and Saddam
We spent this afternoon with the AKHTER family, a Muslim American family in Gilroy, California, who I first visited in October 2001. I remember eight-year old SAMIR (pictured) the most:
"The kids call me bin Laden’s son, and all of their friends were putting their lunch pails on my face like this, and they called me bin Laden’s face. They smashed lunch pails on my face so that I couldn’t breathe. I said no, I’m not the bad guy, and I don’t want to be a bad guy. I want to be a good guy and I don’t want to go to jail. If I saw the bad guys, I would beat them up."
"How would you know the bad guys if you saw them on the street?"
"They would have turbans on their head."
At that moment, I realized the media's hold on the face of the enemy. I badly wished I could introduce Samir to Sikh children with turbans.
Samir was in third grade when we first talked with him. Now entering junior high school at eleven years old, Samir is taller than me. He opened the door for us and led us inside his new house. Very quiet and reflective, Samir soon opened up and told us about basketball camp and video games. I asked him to talk about school:
“After 9/11, the kids at school used to call me Saddam Hussein and bin Laden. They still call me that. They don't do it as much, because I'm bigger now.”
When we first interviewed Samir after 9/11, there was no mention of Saddam Hussein. But in the four years that have passed, the face of the villain has changed. The enemy bin Laden has been conflated into the enemy Saddam—even in the mind of a child targeted by schoolyard taunts.
“What do you want the kids at school to know?” I asked Samir.
“I want them to know I am just as different as they are. There are Hispanics and Irish and Italians. They don’t know that they we are all different.”
I saw a stroke of brilliance here. Most people wish to say that they are the same as everyone else. But Sameer turned this message on its head: everyone else is just as different as he is. We ought to respect each other for the one thing we hold in common: our difference as unique human beings.
After speaking with Samir, I talked with his father Sohail (pictured), who spoke eloquently about the need for education and understanding. He didn't want his children to grow up feeling marked by prejudice in this country.
We want to thank Sohail and his wife Nudrat, their children Samir, Zaki, and Maheen (pictured below between their parents) for opening their lives to us once again, and treating us with such kindness.
We also want to thank Jagi Auntie and the Goswamy family for donating their beautiful house (pictured below) for the stay of our film crew during our SF Bay Area production.
The donations of friends and family and good-hearted strangers keep us alive. We still have a long way to go and can use all the support we can get, in any form. Can you help us? Let us know!
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind," and was originally posted on August 11, 2005.]
Friday, August 26, 2005
The Sodhi Family
After a week-long break in production, we hit the road again. We spent five days in Phoenix, Arizona, to revisit THE SODHI FAMILY (below) whose story set this film in motion nearly four years ago.
On September 15, 2001, BALBIR SINGH SODHI (pictured) was standing in front of his gas station, preparing to plant flowers. A man in a black truck pulled around the corner and shot him five times. Balbir, 52 years old, was the first person to be killed in a post-9/11 hate crime. When arrested, the man yelled, “I am a patriot. Arrest me and let those terrorists run wild.”
Over the last four years, I have visited the Sodhi family several times, talking with them and filming their stories. The brothers and their wives and the children are all very close, and I am always moved by their togetherness and their spirit.
After the death of Balbir Singh, their private mourning was made public, and the brothers found themselves in the spotlight. They chose to speak out against hate crimes, so that “no more innocent people would be killed.”
One year later, one of Balbir’s brothers, SUKHPAL SINGH SODHI (pictured) was shot and killed while driving his cab in San Francisco, just when plans for the Iraq war were emerging. Over the next months, his murder was followed by the shootings of three other turbaned Sikh cab drivers in the San Francisco Bay Area alone. Although the police had no hard proof for the motives, the families and larger communities have felt the repercussions of hate crimes.
When I visited the Sodhi family after the second brother was killed, I spoke with DAMAN SODHI, their young nephew. When I asked him how he felt, he said that he didn’t cry as much when his second uncle was killed. “Crying is not going to do anything,” he said, “I already tried it. I guess I just cried enough.”
ON THURSDAY, when we visited their house, DAMAN (pictured) was the first one we interviewed. He was in fifth grade the first time we met, and now he’s starting high school. Always soulful, he shared memories of his uncle:
“He was killed because of the way he looked. It’s so stupid. They call that guy a criminal, but I call him a terrorist. Terrorists kill innocent Americans and that’s what he did… I used to call my uncle ‘fatty’ and chase him around the couch, laughing and stuff. For hours. We would just do that for hours…”
Daman began to cry. And I began to ache. How can I keep asking this family these difficult questions? How can I keep asking them to remember the darkest part of their lives and share it with me, over and over?
“I’m so sorry, Daman. I should just stop doing this.”
“No, I’m glad you ask me these questions,” he said. “Otherwise, how will anyone know what I’m feeling inside?”
I thought that on this visit, years after both murders, our interviews would show how things had improved in Phoenix. But when we talked with the brothers HARJIT and RANA SODHI (pictured), I realized that I was wrong.
“Just a week ago, after the London bombings, a man came to my gas station and yelled, ‘Go back to your country!’” said Rana (pictured). “I told him that I would call the police unless he left. This discrimination is still here.”
After the interview, the entire family gathered together for chai and biscuits in the living room—aunts and uncles and children spanning all ages, talking and joking and laughing. Then the WIDOW of Balbir Singh Sodhi, whom I call Auntie Ji out of respect, joined us. And she was wearing white, the color that widows wear. We embraced and sat together.
I didn’t want to interview her. Every interview about her husband had always brought tears, and so this time, we played with her grandchildren, who made her smile so much. It wasn't until we left that I realized it was August 4th, the 3-year annivesary of the murder of Sukhpal Sodhi.
ON FRIDAY, the next day, we visited the home of GARY GIETZ, President of the ARIZONA INTERFAITH MOVEMENT, an organization that has supported the Phoenix Sikh community through the epidemic of hate crimes. Only minutes into our conversation, it was clear that this man had felt and thought deeply about the exclusion and violence caused by fundamentalism and nationalism. He pursues interfaith work committed to the message of religious pluralism. In his genuine manner, Gary shared his memories of Sodhi’s murder:ON SATURDAY, we visited the gas station where Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed. As we approached, my body tightened. This place is like ground-zero to me. It is ground-zero for the epidemic of fear and hate against our communities. Inside the store, I look up to see a sign that has hung on the wall since the murder. It is the theme of our film
“Right after September 11, I was invited to speak at the Sikh gurdwara that Sunday, because the CHILDREN were scared, and I was supposed to tell them that it was alright. But then Mr. Sodhi was killed. And my message came too late. It was not alright. So instead, my wife and I spent all day at the gurdwara to help get their story to the media. What I remember most was the fear in the eyes of the children, the real fear…”
Tears began to well up in his eyes, and we stopped for a moment.
I have come to believe that real sadness is buried deep inside many people. One would never see it in daily interactions, but it only takes someone, even a complete stranger, to ask the right question: who are you? Suddenly, one touches that sadness in peoples’ hearts, and the tears spill easily. I wonder how many people walk around protecting this part of themselves, afraid of the question, never asking others this question, or worse, never having been asked.
SUKHWINDER (GOLDY) SODHI now runs his father’s gas station. The first time we met was soon after his father's death. What I remember most was his sadness when he said to me, "My dad will never know his grandchildren." Goldy now has two young children, a girl and a boy (pictured).
Goldy walked me to the street and showed me the memorial they placed where his father fell. The plaque reads:
In memory of all the souls who lost their lives on September 11, 2001 and all the backlash victims. “We don’t want any other innocent people hurt.” – The family of Balbir Singh Sodhi (1949-2001). On Saturday, September 15, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, was shot here at this corner while planting flowers in front of this shop. In the tradition of the Sikh faith, he wore a turban and beard. He was killed simply because of the way he looked. Sikhs believe: In one God. That all religious paths lead to God. That all people are equal in the eyes of God. In peace, and love for humankind.
We stood gazing at his father’s memorial until I broke the silence.
"Life is good these days?” It had been two years since we last met.
Goldy shrugged and kept his eyes on the plaque. “It’s alright… It could be better,” His voice was quiet. “It would be better with him. I still miss him a lot.”
I did all I could to keep the tears from welling up again. No one can measure the loss of those we love. And when the motive is hate, and the murder is public, the grieving process itself becomes amplified. I put my hand on his arm.
In the evening, I brought flowers to the gas station to place at the memorial. This is one of the few times the director decided to put the camera on me, and at first, I felt a deep discomfort.
But then I made a resolution: This camera will not capture a manufactured moment. I must never become one of those reporters who laugh right before they deliver some grave news into the camera. I must never misuse the power of this camera.
And so for the first time, I ignored my crew completely. I walked to the memorial and placed the flowers before it. “Balbir Uncle, I am trying.” I said in my mind. “I am trying to do my part.”
TODAY IS SUNDAY. We spent the morning filming the beautiful service at the Guru Nanak Dwara Ashram (Sikh house of worship), where the Sodhi family worships. The sangat (community) embraced us. We filmed the service and then shared langar (the community meal) before we drove back to Los Angeles.
Our time in Phoenix was very heavy for me, perhaps the most difficult part of our journey. So I am especially thankful for our crew for their hard work in filming these difficult interviews so well.
Our director Sharat Raju, cinematographer Matt Blute, and first camera Don Presley (pictured above) were joined in Phoenix by our new excellent sound mixer TIM FORREST (pictured left). They have endured 12-hour production days in the heat with little or no pay, simply because they believe in the message of this film. I do not know how to thank them.
What's more, Dolly Brar, my favorite mother, came with us to manage production madness. Her care and laughter keep sustaining me. Here is a picture of what my mom calls The Dream Team at work.
The Dream Team stayed at the home of Jaskanwal (Sweety) Sachdev, my long-time friend and sister. She and her husband cared for us, while their five-year old son Hargun provided the best entertainment in town. We felt so much love from the Sachdev family, the Sodhi family, and the greater Phoenix community. I can’t wait for the day we return to Phoenix to show them the final film.
A big thank you to JESSICA JENKINS, our Director of Reserach based in Washington, DC (left), and TRACY WELLS, our Communications Director based in Cambridge, MA (bottom right) and their teams for researching and scheduling all our interviews this summer.
They make a superb group, and without them, the final journey of this production would not be possible. They could always use more devoted volunteers, so contact us if interested.
Support our film, Divided We Fall.
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind," and was originally posted on August 8, 2005.]
Thursday, August 25, 2005
"Can NYC 'Profile' Young Muslim Males?"
In response to arguments that American law enforcement should racially profile young Muslim men [see e.g., here and here], sociologist Andrew Beveridge explains that "even if the New York Police Department wanted to do so -- and it has said clearly that it doesn’t -- profiling young Muslim males is virtually impossible.... They are not racially or physically distinct."
Consider, for example, this chart showing the countries with the highest Muslim population. "China ranks ninth. Russia ranks 18th.... [S]ome Chinese New Yorkers may be Muslim, while some Indonesians may not be." Moreover, "There are 231,000 New Yorkers who claim heritage from these 25 countries.... Some are black, some are Asian; more than 50 percent are white."
Based on his presented evidence, which is shown more dramatically in the article itself, Beveridge concludes:
Profiling by origin is the sort of policy that seems appealing during periods of stress and hysteria, but in hindsight is almost always seen as a mistake – such as the internment of Japanese-American during World War II. In this case, however, it wouldn’t even be possible.
Nanavati Report Updates
The DK Sankaran Committee, recently organized to provide relief to survivors of the 1984 pogroms of Sikhs, held its first meeting:
The issue of giving relief to the Sikhs, who left their homes in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh to go to Punjab, was raised by the representatives from Punjab who attended the first meeting of the committee chaired by Secretary in the Union Home Ministry D K Sankaran here on Friday...The Committee has two months to prepare its recommendations for submission to the central government. Again, the Committee discussed employment opportunities for survivors in Indian paramilitary organizations. Such paramilitary organizations, however, like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), participated in human rights abuses in Punjab during the mid-1980s and 1990s.
The Punjab representatives told the committee that 28,000 to 30,000 Sikhs had migrated to the state after the violence and were now living in one-room LIG flats and they needed to be given relief to allow them to lead a better life, the sources said.
Several reports have appeared supporting the claim that the Nanavati report failed to hold senior police officials accountable. ENSAAF's report Twenty Years of Impunity extensively discusses the role of police in instigating the violence and destroying evidence. In an article in the Indian Express, Manoj Mitta discusses how Justice Nanavati exonerated all of the police officers from the worst site of the carnage:
The largest Sikh massacre in a single locality in 1984 took place at Block Nos 32 and 36 of Trilokpuri in East Delhi, where, according to the Nanavati Commission, ‘‘almost all Sikh males of these two blocks were killed.’’ Out of the official death toll of 2,733 in the carnage, East Delhi alone accounted for 1,086 deaths.The former joint director of India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), NK Singh calls for further investigations by a task force, excluding Delhi policemen. He sites to the unanswered questions that remain about the role of senior government officials:
And yet, what got lost in the debate over Jagdish Tytler’s resignation and the Prime Minister’s evocative speech in Parliament, was one startling fact: none of the police officials Nanavati indicted was from this area or from anywhere in East Delhi—or even from West Delhi, the two worst-affected police districts in that order...
Sewa Dass, who was then in charge of East Delhi, is now special commissioner, the number two in the Delhi Police. He is due to retire next month.
The Nanavati Commission did not recommend any action against him even after recording the allegation made by ‘‘many witnesses’’ that Sewa Dass and his subordinates in East Delhi ‘‘had even encouraged the mobs while they were attacking Sikhs.’’
The commission glossed over one sensational discovery that was made about the Trilokpuri massacre in the course of the inquiry. That Sewa Dass knew about the mass killings in Block Nos 32 and 36 long before The Indian Express reporters Rahul Bedi and Joseph Maliakan—Bedi has since left the newspaper—brought it to the notice of the police headquarters in the evening of November 2.
The role of two top functionaries of the Congress government in 1984, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Home Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, as also of top functionaries of the PMO, cannot be brushed aside. They may have been absolved of the blame of instigating the killings, but what about the failure to act for two days or to call in the army promptly and to ensure firm and effective action by them and the police? Both the Nanavati Commission and the Rangnath Mishra Commission have observed that there was delay in calling the army. And then, that infamous statement by the PM that the earth was “bound to shake”, when a big tree fell.An article in Tehelka (subscription required) discusses in detail how senior officers who instigated and participated in the massacres were actually awarded with promotions.
Former MPs, senior lawyers, retired generals and a former prime minister have deposed how evasively Narasimha Rao behaved when they met him and requested him to call in the army. Then Lt. Governor P.G. Gavai has openly come out against him. We have had many other accounts in the public discussion in the past few days as well, including, notably, by former DG Punjab Police Julio Rebeiro. In the light of these, how far was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh justified in stating in Rajya Sabha on August 11, that “the lie which has been used for 21 years to poison the Sikhs mind has been nailed” by the commission?
[This entry is cross-posted on ENSAAF's blog]
Yellowstone, Lois Lane, and Me
This week, we take a break from production, but there is no rest for Sharat and me. We flew to Montana to fundraise for the film and spent the weekend in Livingston, MT, a small eclectic town at the mouth of Yellowstone Park. Our visit was organized by Penny Ronning, who hosted screenings of our work on Friday and Saturday nights at her art gallery, House of Fine Arts. We showed Sharat’s award-winning short film American Made and our film trailer for Divided We Fall, which was followed by an intimate conversation with our small audience.
As soon as the lights came up, the room was buzzing. People began to offer praise for “both the intention and execution” of American Made, and share excitement for the stories in our film. Soon people began to open up and share their own stories:
“My father was a guard at the camps where they interned Japanese Americans during World War II,” one woman said. “And he still expresses so much prejudice.”
“I’m Jewish and I have experienced this discrimination all my life,” another man said.
“So many groups in America have faced this kind of discrimination,” someone added. “Every person here descends from immigrants who had to face exclusion and hate at some point in this country. This story needs to be told, because it is so American.”
“My mother is glued to the television set,” another woman shared. “And she has so much hatred for Muslims and Arabs. It makes me crazy.”
“What do you think would change her?” I asked.
She thought for a moment and said, “This.” She pointed to the screen where we just showed our trailer. “Your stories. Your film.”
I later gave her a copy of the film trailer to show to her mother. “Maybe this will make her see that we are American too, we are people too, just like her.”
We were overwhelmed by the warmth and support of the people in this small town. Including one MARGOT KIDDER, the strong and beautiful woman who played Lois Lane in the original Superman movies. In the picture, Sharat and I stand next to Margot Kidder and John Ansotegui from the Montana Film Commission:
Margot now lives in Livingston, where she pours her energy into activism; her community loves her, and it’s easy to see why. After viewing our work, she took us under her wing and showed us Montana from the best possible view: inner-tubing down the cool waters of the Yellowstone River. Floating down the river, we could see everything: green fields sweeping up into dramatic rocky mountains and great billowing clouds erupting into endless blue skies (just like the picture below).
Margot is hysterically funny. She made us laugh very hard on that river – a much needed break after so many sleepless 12-hour production days. What’s more, she really believes in our film. She said that our message about fighting racism draws upon American history, speaks to the present situation, and will echo into the future.
We want to thank the Livingston community in Montana for supporting our film, and especially Penny Ronning whose friendship, mentorship, and vision made it all possible. Although the project has received donations in film and equipment from Panavision and Kodak, we still need $40,000 to finish production alone. We must rely on the support of grassroots communities like Livingston, which is why every single donation makes a real difference at this point.
[This entry is cross-posted at "Into the Whirlwind," and was originally posted on July 25, 2005]
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
"MPs call for Sikhs to be protected after terror attacks"
Rob Marris, Member of Parliament and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for UK Sikhs, argued why Sikhs should be protected after the terrorist attacks of 7/7:
I am very concerned that the Sikh community and other minority communities should not become the target for hate attacks following the dreadful bombings in London on the July 7.
The UK Sikh community have expressed their deep sadness and concerns along with others at the terrible atrocities perpetrated by the terrorists, both in London, New York and elsewhere in the world.
Since September 11, 2001 there have been several attacks suffered by the visible Sikh community including attacks on Sikh gurdwaras.
I roundly condemn such attacks, and attacks on other minority communities, and would ask the police to be vigilant and to treat any threats against minorities very
Interview with Nitasha Sawhney
We interviewed Nitasha Sawhney, a lawyer at Burke, Williams, and Sorenson, LLP in Los Angeles, who has focused her energy on civil rights cases on behalf of Sikh Americans since 9/11, including Swaran Bhullar. As a Sikh American lawyer and activist, she spoke with great passion about her community's experiences. She feared that many Sikhs have simply become accustomed the prejudice they face daily. And she hopes that with enough education and advocacy, people may begin to recognize one another as Americans:
"As long as there is a war on terror, there will be a war on immigrant communities. It’s going to take this country as a long time to remember that this country was built by immigrants. Every time we have a war, we look at who is going to be 'the Other', who is going to look like the Other-- the Japanese, the Sikhs, the Muslims. Sikhs are attacked because they are assumed to be Arab, but the deeper problem is that someone is always going to be attacked when we are at war. We need to change this. We need more legislation and education. We need the community to step out of its protective shell. And we need the government and media to change the climate of this country."
We want to thank Nitasha not only for sharing her experience and perspective, but also supporting our project in every way. Her friendship, and the generosity of people like her, has brought us this far.
[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind," and was originally posted on July 19, 2005.]
Tuesday, August 23, 2005