Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Multi-cultural pangs

I am back in Canada again from the US. In New York, while walking the stretch towards Madison Street and then towards the Union Square where there is a statue of Gandhi ji (picture) I noticed that a group of Sikh families in their traditional attire donning orange and navy blue turbans. I thought they were coming from a wedding or some other function. After walking about a kilometre I saw a huge gathering of Sikh community members (picture) amid hundreds of empty chairs, electronic media persons, NYPD cars, big artificial barriers marked in the middle of the road and an empty dais at the end of the road near Madison Square Park.
As always, the activities of non-resident Indians attracted me and I asked one of the Television reporters what was it all about. The reporter told me that it was the Sikh Day Parade. I spoke with some of the families who were doing kar seva and realised that it was a part of their religious ritual. The Sikh Day Parade has been on for the past 22 years in New York in which thousands of Sikhs participate in a walk and each year it keeps getting bigger with more people joining in.
Canada too has a large Sikh community. Last year in Ottawa, I was discussing about the strong presence and strength of the Sikh community in this country with the Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Mr Gavai. Much to the community’s resentment, a recent court order had banned the Sikhs from carrying kirpans in schools by sikh students. Another burning issue on similar lines is the wearing of niqab, hijab or the face veil. Hajera Khaza, who is a research assistant, in an article in one of dailies in Canada wrote, “We should all be equal in the eyes of the state. If the government has no business banning abortion because a segment of Punjabi community in Toronto selectively aborts female foetuses, then it has no business banning veils on the false assumptions that they promote inequality among the sexes.”
There was a huge protest by women in niqabs last week against the Quebec Bill 94 which proposes a ban on the niqab for public employees and those seeking services from the government or government-funded institutions. The argument `equality of sexes’ should dictate that a woman wearing a veil be treated the same way as a Sikh man wearing a turban or a Jewish man wearing a skull cap or for that matter anyone wearing a baseball cap.
The women who were opposing the Bill were given a line of logic that this is Canada and not Saudi Arabia where women are told what to wear and what to do. However, it is a very different situation here and the Canadian government wants to impose the law because it thinks that the women are forced by their fundamentalist husbands to wear the hijab, niqab or burkha. Most of the local Canadian society feels so. But now, after the strong protests, it seems there is a degree of willingness among the women too who want it to be a matter of personal and free choice.
Whether it is the kirpan or the burkha, it is undeniable that America and Europe have accepted and granted full respect to the different religions and cultural identities something which Asia, especially West Asian/Gulf states have failed to reciprocate.
 There was a spell of non-stop snow fall for the last 16 hours out here. It was like cotton balls pouring from the sky and the mercury dropped suddenly. This was not expected in this season as the people had changed their winter wardrobe and car tyres as well.
ess bee

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