Jakara began as an idea, a thought, a vision. It was the hope that the Sikh youth could have an opportunity to come together and openly discuss the issues that they face as individuals and as a part of a greater Sikh community. Now over a decade later, we still strive to hold true to our original mission and have improved in our methodology of creating a forum and delivering the message of Panth first. The following is a walk down memory lane from Jakara-pasts.
JAKARA 2000: “The Awakening”
Jakara 2000 was Jakara’s inauguration. We bravely put forth our mission statement announcing “A call to the next generation of Sikhs from all places, backgrounds, and points of view to reflect on our past and prepare for our future.” The originators of Jakara felt that Sikh conferences and camps in the past had only focused on theological matters, without taking into account the actual experiences of the Sikh youth living in America. Our topics ranged from “Changing of the Guard: How Will the New Leadership Rise in our Gurdwaras and Institutions”, “Dating and Relationships: Gender Double-Standards, Gossiping, and Beyond”, “Self Hatred: What is the Problem of Denial of Identity and Self-Depreciation Amongst the Sikh Youth?”, “What’s Goin’ On: Domestic Violence, Drugs, and Gangs”, and many other topics. While being hailed with abuses and criticisms from our detractors, we gained a following with those that understood our mission. While there were bumps along the way and a definite learning process for the entire staff, the conference culminated in the keynote addresses by Ravi Singh, a congressional candidate from Illinois, and Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, the then partial owner of MirCorp and currently a senatorial candidate in Illinois.
JAKARA 2001: “Our Story and Realization”
Following the success of Jakara 2000, Jakara came back with its return appearance. Identifying the problem that too often our Sikh youth are more knowledgeable about the heritage of Europe than our own ‘land of five rivers, we sought to redress this issue. Trying to incorporate the need for theological, historical, and social background of the faith, the conference saw the need to increase the content knowledge so that the youth will be armed with the tools to make the decisions that will affect our future. From Guru Nanak’s Revelation, to the Sikhs’ Rising from the East, Project Gurdwara the Jakara team worked to find a harmonious balance between theological understandings and social problems. With a booklet of important articles, newspaper clippings, and printings of note, the participants received a thorough collage with important tools to ‘realize our identity.’ Jakara 2001 also saw the introduction of our ever popular Saturday Evening Banquet, our still highly sought-after original black Jakara T-shirts, and ended with the stirring keynote address by Parminder Singh, CEO of Ethnicgrocer and 2000 Ernest & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year.”
JAKARA 2002: “Sarbat Khalsa: Harmony in Discord”
The aftermath of September 11, 2001 provided the Sikhs a glimpse into their decision-making processes. As Sikhs braced themselves for the aftermath, the community appeared leaderless and unsure. The community continues to rely upon our cultural ethnic leadership models, instead of understanding the vision of our Gurus. The third Jakara was the first part in a 3-part installation seeking to understand Sikh theological application from the global to the local, from the Guru Panth to the Guru Granth. In the third Jakara conference, we sought to understand our own ‘authentic’ Sikh institutions and decision-making processes. The Sarbat Khalsa was the religio-political congregation that represented the Khalsa Panth, during the years following the death of Guru Gobind Singh. It was this democratic system, based on consensus, egalitarianism, and group-loyalty rather than simple majority rule that aided the Sikhs in their victory against imperialist forces. The attendees joined in an interactive exercise that sought to look at how a Sarbat Khalsa could be formed today. Using examples of dominant groups and institutions that fall under the Sikh umbrella, the exercise sought to help individuals learn about the diversity within the Qaum, but also emphasize the need for intra-group and inter-group cooperation and consensus building. Attendees left with a greater understanding of Sikh democratic models and had the opportunity to meet and talk to Gurumustak Singh Khalsa, the popular web-design sevadar for Sikhnet, and Monita Rajpal, the anchor for CNN International’s signature “World News” program.
JAKARA 2003: “Gurdwara: Empowering Local Democracy”
Jakara 2003 marked the completion of the 2nd part of our 3-part series seeking to understand Sikh theological application. Moving from Jakara 2002’s attempt to understand global issues, we sought to move it closer to home in understanding the role of the Gurdwara. While for many the Gurdwara has become nothing more than the site of ego-battlegrounds, the aim of Jakara 2003 was to look at the roots of the Gurdwara: Sangat, Seva, and Guru. The Gurdwara is the grassroots organizational structure of the Qaum. However for a myriad of reasons, the Sikh youth have become alienated from the Gurdwara. After being presented the Gurdwara’s historical precedence and significance, the Jakara participants sought to understand the Gurdwara’s theological and social necessity. By delving into the contemporary literature and Gurbani, we hoped to understand the Gurdwara’s place and importance. Finally, participants formulated ideas and strategies to rejuvenate the importance and life of the Gurdwara. This is not an institution that can be discarded; it must be reclaimed. Many attendees left inspired and some even organized a ‘mini-Jakara’ in their local sangats. Jakara 2003 saw the integration of the latest teaching models, including lesson planning, and greater interactive media and computer technology. Jakara 2003 also saw the introduction of the “Jakademy Awards” and culminated in reflections on the conference by Pardeep Singh Nagra, the noted amateur Sikh Canadian boxer, Malton Police Officer, and Sikh activist.
The year 2004 presented an opportunity to remember, reflect, and respond to the events affecting the Sikh nation in 1984. While many in the community wish to forget the events that befell and have shaped the Sikh Nation, at Jakara we felt that it was vital for the ‘next generation of Sikhs’ to be aware of their history and understand how it shapes our present and our future. While twenty years have passed since the attack on our sacred home, much has changed and much has remained the same. Through a “What If” video giving a contemporary contextualization of the attack, we hoped to draw the attendees to the magnitude of the Sikh experience. Following, they heard case-studies and unheard voices that were silenced by the state carnage. A panel of various individuals gave their eyewitness testimonials of their experience in post-Bluestar Punjab. In the evening, the Jakara participants bandied together in a candlelight vigil to celebrate those that made the ultimate sacrifice for the Qaum’s honor. The following day, attendees listened to a PowerPoint presentation on the significance of the event and came together to form their own “Jakara 1984 Charter.” Finally, the day concluded with a new exercise. The Jakara Movement was born. Participants were grouped by their local regions and urged to create a project to commemorate the events of 1984. Groups from Central California screened various videos and made presentations relating to 1984 throughout the Central Valley, while the Bay Area group led and concurrently held an international – Remember84 day with great success. The conference culminated in the reflections of Raj and Pops of Tigerstyle, discussing their Immortal Shaheedi project and the continued place of music within the Sikh Resistance struggle. Also presenting were Jaskaran Kaur and Sukhman Dhami of ENSAAF, discussing their human-rights work, and Michael Singh, who is currently working on documentary about the Delhi Pogroms.
JAKARA 2005: “The Guru Granth Sahib: The History of the Sikh Soul”
Jakara 2005 was the third installation of the three-part series begun in 2002. From the Sarbat Khalsa, to the local Gurdwara, to finally the individual’s relationship with the Guru, Jakara 2005 sought to experience “The Guru Granth Sahib: The History of the Sikh Soul.” All too often many Sikh youth bow down to the Guru without ever experiencing the rich heritage and Divine found within. Through workshops allowing for youth to ask questions regarding the regalia of the Darbar (‘Royal Court’), to understanding the Guru Granth Sahib through the ‘Mundavni’ of the 5th Nanak, to understanding the rich musical raag tradition of our Gurus, the first day concluded with attendees having the opportunity to discuss how Panjabi cultural traditions were re-interpreted and given new shape by our Gurus. On Saturday, the focus broadened from understanding the poetic, musical, and cultural of the Guru Granth Sahib to realizing how we can make the message of Gurbani a reality. Attendees reflected on the shabad Kartarpur Karta Vase Santan Ke Paas and through a consensus building-exercise created a ‘Contract with the Guru’ to formulate ways that we will remain committed to our Guru and work together to improve our Qaum. Regional groups were created to further the message of the Guru Granth Sahib in their local communities to be conducted in October 2005. The conference concluded on Sunday with a presentation by Harpreet Kaur and Manmeet Singh [www.sachproductions.org] regarding the stringed musical tradition of Panjab and its resurgence as well as with attendees affirming their commitment to Creating Kartarpur with their ‘Contract with the Guru.’ Jakara 2005 sought to have the ‘People of the Shabad’ and the ‘next generation’ of Sikhs to explore, understand, know, and love our Guru.
JAKARA 2006: “Kaur Voices: Exalt, Express, Empower”
Jakara 2006 sought to create a forum to engage and question gender inequalities in our community. Too often violence against women is swept under the rug and the community makes no efforts to engage with these critical issues. The silence can be deafening. To begin the process of finding solutions, the Jakara Movement inaugurated a quantitative study seeking input from over 285 women in a web-based survey. The results were alarming, but unfortunately not too surprising. As perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual abuse, sex-selective abortion, and internet pedophiles run rampant in our community, we all suffer. The conference began on Friday by engaging in case-studies highlighting these problems. Participants created videos of these case studies and ended the day exploring the Guru’s message about how we should be forming relationships with one another. At times conversations became heated; at times some participants felt the issues had not received the importance they required; at times some participants felt the critical analysis required to discuss these issues was lacking. Some were hurt; some were upset; some were relieved; some were excited. The first day was the first awkward steps to begin a conversation long overdue in our community. After identifying and realizing the tragedies, on Saturday, the conference moved towards proposing solutions. Organizations that were suggested included “Ladoos: Pink and Blue” that would include a community-pooled fund that would distribute ladoos in celebration of both boys and girls. Also on Saturday, regional groups were created to celebrate the first annual Mata Khivi Day in the local communities to open these issues to a larger forum amongst the youth. Jakara 2006 sought to create a space for “Kaur Voices” to be exalted, expressed, and empowered.
JAKARA 2007: “Sarbat Khalsa: Discord in Harmony”
Jakara 2007 revisited the earlier topic of Sarbat Khalsa, but focused on the labels that continue to tear apart our Qaum, our Gurdwaras, and even our Pariwars. Although our Gurus unequivocally denounced caste practices, too many Sikhs still use it to discriminate against fellow brothers and sisters. To begin the process of tearing down these walls, the participants began the conference by “deconstructing the divisions.” Participants looked at their own stereotypes about caste, how often even through silence we collude with its perpetuation, and finally reading passages from Sardar Jagjit Singh’s The Sikh Revolution sought to understand how the Sikh Gurus supported intercaste marriages. Next participants tried to understand caste in its contemporary context by looking at the data Jakara compiled through an online survey in terms of understanding caste. In the afternoon workshops, participants discussed the repercussions of casteist websites and Facebook groups. Many made promises to delink themselves and all wrote letters to the Jathedar calling upon the Jathedar to renew the struggle of our Gurus to end casteism within the community. Finally participants ended the day translating Gurbani and understanding how Gurbani gives us a perspective to eliminate casteism. Participants began envisioning how we can come together as a community to ‘Build Begampura’. Finally participants considered how a Sarbat Khalsa could be convened today to try to tackle the issue of the casteism. Not content with leaving the conference’s content at the conference, eleven cities across California came together to push the agenda to end casteism by honoring Bhagat Ravidas through the Jakara Juniors children Camps to celebrate “One Nishan Sahib, One Sikh Nation.”
JAKARA 2008: “Growing with Our Gurdwara”
Too few young Sikhs are found at their local Gurdwaras. While young children play outside after Khalsa/Punjabi School and our parents congregate in the langar hall, too many Sikh youth decide not to go to Gurdwara at all. However, this does not mean our spiritual thirst has been quenched. It is time for a change. It is time to stop blaming others. It is time for the next generation of Sikhs to empower ourselves and engage with our Gurdwaras. It is time to turn the “they” and “them” into “we” and “us”. The Gurdwara is OUR institution; it will always be the center of Sikh life. It is OUR ‘door to the Guru’. The conference began with a workshop, titled ‘Samajna’, where participants discussed some of the existing problems that impede youth involvement in the Gurdwara. Not content with only discussing the problems, participants moved on to ‘Sikhna’ where participants learned about the Gurus’ vision of the Gurdwara through Gurbani and the writings of Sardar Jagjit Singh’s The Sikh Revolution to understand how the Gurdwara represents the coming together of Guru, Sangat, and Seva. The participants applied their knowledge in the ‘Samjauna’ workshop to case-studies and dreaming the ideal Gurdwara. Finally, the participants created ‘five ideas for the future’, including the Green Gurdwara initiative to make our Gurdwara more environmentally-conscious, just as our Gurus intended. The Jakara Juniors children Camps were planned at the conference and implemented throughout the state.
JAKARA 2009: “Remember 1984: Reflect. Respond. React.”
This year was the 10th annual Jakara Movement conference. This year we Remember 1984. From remembering the past, reflecting on Gurbani, reconnecting with the voices of the people, rethinking the role of the media, and revering our heroes and sheroes – it was an eventful Friday! Saturday included recognizing the lessons of 1984, reaffirming our commitment to the Sarbat Khalsa and Gurmata tradition of consensus building, recollecting with our brothers and sisters, reacting to their personal histories, responding to the past, and finally realizing a new reality is possible. From evenings of recreation to days of reflection, the Jakara Movement Conference 2009 aimed to be inspirational, not only for those participating, but for the greater Sikh Qaum as well. However, merely increasing one’s knowledge about 1984 is not enough. The Jakara Movement is spearheading regional events throughout California. We hope all remember the lesson of 1984 – divided we fell; united we’ll stand.
JAKARA 2010: “The Guru Granth Sahib: History of the Sikh Soul.”
All too often, many Sikh youth bow down to the Guru without ever exploring the rich heritage and Divine found within. Through workshops that allowed the youth to ask questions regarding the regalia of the Darbar (‘Royal Court’), focus on understanding the Guru Granth Sahib through the ‘Mundavni’ of the 5th Guru, and understand the rich musical raag tradition of our Gurus, the first day concluded with attendees having the opportunity to discuss how Panjabi cultural traditions were re-interpreted and given new shape by our Gurus. The focus broadened from understanding the poetic, musical, and cultural aspects of Guru Granth Sahib, to discussions focusing on how we may make the message of Gurbani a reality. Through a consensus building-exercise, participants created a ‘Contract with the Guru’ to outline the means by which we will remain committed to our Guru, and work together to improve our Qaum.
LALKAAR 2011: “Kaur Voices: Exalt. Express. Empower.”
2011 witnessed many changes occur to the Jakara Conference. A new city, a new name. 150 revolutionaries answered the Lalkaar, gathering for our 12th conference. Sikh men and women alike assembled in an effort to eradicate sexism, genderism, racism, casteism, and other divides endemic to our Qaum. Similarly, the conference, adjusted from its 2006 iteration, changed to convey the fact through activism, we can confront and overcome these divides through both individual and collective action. Participants, exploring real-life case studies, reflected on injustices afflicting members of our community that are all too frequently confined to the private sphere. Participants then examined and translated Gurbani to understand the obligations that the Guru has laid out for us in the conduct of our relationships. Saturday began with an effort to resolve these issues: through consensus, women and men settled on Kaur and Singh codes that outlined our individual responsibilities in the struggle to strengthen our Qaum; secondly, group projects aimed to address inequality through collective action. Subsequent to the conference, fifteen regional camps, spanning from Fresno, to Toronto, to New York allowed the youth to celebrate the achievements of our sheroes and continue the dialogues presented at the conference. It is only as a “collective” that we will build a brighter future; it is only as a united Qaum that we have the power to change tomorrow; together, we are the movement.
LALKAAR 2012: “Building Begampura: Confronting Caste”
Bhagat Ravidas’ vision for a town with no divisions, free of pain, fear and strife, formed the inspiration for the 2012 Lalkaar conference. In its second year at UC Davis, the conference began with the premise that caste functions as a social construct in mind. Reflecting on the forms of caste discrimination that occur, including enforced endogamy, purity-based divisions in spheres such as food, worship, and employment, participants examined sources ranging from the Rehatnama of Chaupa Singh to the works of Sardar Jagjit Singh to explore the institutional innovations that the Gurus armed Sikhs with to defeat caste discrimination. Participants then looked to a more recent period, the period of the Singh Sabha Movement, to evaluate the response of Sikh activists in the early 20th century to liberate the Sikh Panth from the sicknesses that had infiltrated the community, and left it reeling. Participants paid special attention to the work of Giani Ditt Singh, himself a Sikh who was prevented from entering Darbar Sahib because of his caste background. After submitting project proposals, participants pledged their commitment to “Build Begampura”, and enact a series of micro-revolutions that would combat discrimination in their homes, Gurdwaras, and communities.
LALKAAR 2013: “The Revolution will be Localized”
With youth engagement in Sikh institutions under threat, the Lalkaar conference turned its focus on a pertinent issue. Driven away by perceptions of corruption, greed, and politics, young Sikhs were invited to discuss and explore their notions of Seva and Sangat in the 2013 conference. The first day saw participants harness their artistic, and often comedic skills in a series of recorded skits that depicted their dissatisfaction with the state of Sikh institutions, both inside and outside of the Gurdwara. Participants read and debated new definitions of Seva and Sangat, most re-defining the former as a form of worship and training for Sikhs, and the latter as a concept that transcended mere equality and tolerance, and extended to notions of brotherhood and sisterhood, and responsibilities that exist at both the personal and corporate levels of existence as a Sikh. Participants were treated to two presentations, which examined the historical understanding of community organization in Sikh society, and presented groundbreaking data on Sikh attitudes towards engagement. Finally, participants drew inspiration from a rich history in their effort to better engage with their local sangat: the Misl system of the Jakara Movement was born. Volunteers, empowered with this innovation both old and new, organized themselves regionally to shape the contours of their relationship with their local Sangat.
LALKAAR 2014: “Let Them Come”: The Battle of Amritsar and Beyond
In 2014, the Lalkaar conference aimed at a radical re-writing of the narrative around what is popularly termed in the Sikh community as “1984.” Instead of re-telling a victim’s narrative that seeks to apologize for Sikh sovereignty or up-play the tyranny of the Government, the conference explored the voices and perspectives of the combatants. The title “Let Them Come” came from the mouth of Santa Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale just says before the imminent invasion of Darbar Sahib. He understood that his duty was to be a witness to the miracle of Shaheedi, no matter what may be the personal price. Those around him felt the same. Along with the conference, the Jakara Movement released a version of a book that provided this new narrative. Authored by Jasdeep Singh, the book of the same title brings together existing literature and more recent research to provide a Sikh perspective on the events of June 1984. The conference included interactive, inspiring, and educational workshops that touched on various experiences. One unique perspective was that of guest-speaker Norman Kreisman (formerly Baba Nam Singh Khalsa) who lived at Darbar Sahib in 1984 and had a number of first-hand experiences with Sant Jarnail Singh, Bhai Amrik Singh, and others. The conference also called for a decoupling of the events in June and November 1984 in order for Sikhs to better receive international recognition. While the events of June should be inspirational for all Sikhs; the events of November should be seen as a genocide and should be the basis of future recognition. All that attended left inspired and armed with additional resources and perspectives to connect themselves with this most recent chapter in Sikh history.
LALKAAR 2015: “Guru Granth Sahib: History of the Sikh Soul”
The tagline comes from the famed chemist and father of modern Punjabi poetry, Puran Singh (1881-1931). After having been initiated as a Zen Buddhist monk by a Japanese order, later becoming a sanyasi under a Hindu ascetic, he turned towards Sikhi in the second part of his life, becoming a member of the Khalsa. In his English-language Spirit of the Sikh, he writes, “The Guru Granth is the history of the Sikh soul, and its translation is to come through the great figure of the social reconstruction of human society as the Khalsa, where shall reign love, and not hatred.” In a world with structural oppressions, hierarchies of race, caste, class, gender, and a neo-liberal order that seeks the commodification of all, alternate ways of life from the past and present need to be explored. For a Sikh, this begins with the Guru Granth Sahib. If a world where love can reign is possible, then it is for us to explore that most magnificent expression of love – the Guru Granth Sahib. Lalkaar 2015 was an exploration of this possibility that sought to increase access, understanding, and facilitate building a personal relationship with the Guru among second-generation Sikhs. As Professor Puran Singh writes: “No other book is so single in its suggestion and practice. All is love. And the love lyrics of the whole world will echo the holy passion for God, as in the Guru Granth.” 2015 also saw the introduction of the Lalkaar conference in the midwest, inaugurated in the windy city of Chicago.