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Sikh Conference puts focus on women's topics

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Sikh conference puts focus on women's topics

Fresno gathering discusses double standards, violence.

By Vanessa Colón / The Fresno Bee

(Updated Monday, June 26, 2006, 5:34 AM)

Sikh women who went public on gender inequality in their community left the 7th Jakara conference in Fresno on Sunday feeling hopeful.

This year's conference focused on the issues of women from domestic violence to double standards in the household.

"It's really hard being a girl but it's even harder being a Sikh Punjabi girl. There are a lot of double standards in my family," said 20-year-old Sanjeeta Shergill of Fresno.

The cultural and religious dialogue sought to tackle gender inequality and remind each other that the holy book of the Sikh religion describes women as equal to men.

The four-day conference, which began Thursday, creates a grass-roots forum for young people to address social and religious concerns. The conference concluded Sunday with a banquet.

Tens of thousands of Sikhs live in the Central Valley. The Sikh religion, a monotheistic faith, was founded by Guru Nanak, born in 1469 in what is now Pakistan.

About 225 men and women of the Sikh faith attended the conference, which targets 18- to 35-year-olds and attracts people from all over the nation and Canada.

Nikkie Ranu of Fresno said some of the issues discussed, such as domestic abuse, are considered taboo, especially for the older generation.

"Domestic violence is prevalent in all communities but it's huge in our community," Ranu said.

More than 60% of respondents in a June 2006 survey of Sikh women said they either experienced or had seen domestic abuse. About 25% of women surveyed said they experienced sexual abuse. The survey, based on 280 people, was conducted online.

Deep Sandhu of Vancouver, British Columbia, was struck by the emotional and personal experiences he learned about in the conference.

"They [women] have rights, too. Women are not below class or subservient to me. ... I hope a lot people take this stuff into consideration and implement it," Sandhu said.

Several young Sikh women described growing up in households where their brothers don't have a curfew but they do. Many of them said women have more pressure to uphold certain values.

"She's way more strict with me," Shergill said of her mother. "She doesn't really approve of clubbing."

In some Sikh families, parents allow their daughters to go out at night with friends.

"My parents are a lot more liberal," said 19-year-old Karmjot Grewal of Fresno.

Many of the Sikh women are against the practice of selective abortion in India and want it to end. They said females are aborted more often because their sex is considered inferior.

"It's more praised to have a son. Sadly, this is still happening now," said 18-year-old Shanpreet Gill of Caruthers.

Sukhjeet Batth of Fresno said some men were concerned that the conference would turn into a male-bashing event. He said it was an educational experience for men and women.

"There are wrongs in our community and we need to address it," Batth said. "It's important for our youth to get together and discuss these problems.

"We are the ones in the best position to start changing the views in our community."

The reporter can be reached at vcolon@fresnobee.com or(559) 441-6313.

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