Being a Sikh – Ravinder Dhillon
by Misha Kapany Schwarz.
Ravinder Dhillon is an practicing educator based in Palo Alto, CA. She has taught Punjabi and Sikhism at Stanford University and regularly takes on the challenge of coaching children in Sikhism – its practices and traditions; learning of the Punjabi language; and the culture and traditions of the Sikhs. She organizes a number of cultural festivities in the Bay Area e.g Lohri & annual Kirtan at Stanford university, theatre performances etc. etc.
WWhere were you born and raised?
I was born in Mahil Pur and raised in Punjab.
What made you become a Sikh?
I was born as a Sikh.
What are the core ideals of the religion or what do you like about Sikhism?
I cherish the Oneness of God, truth, compassion, and contentment, which I believe are the three pillars of Sikhism.
How does being Sikh affect your everyday life?
I am able to share education and knowledge, as well as participating in healthy activities as much as possible. For example this week, on Saturday, I was in a play in Hayward and 1300 people came to see the play. Participating in this event made me feel like I was contributing something to society. This play is about female fetuses who are being aborted (the baby girls) and it is a curse on the Punjabi society which breaks my heart, and I wanted to do something to help. My heart breaks when I see a person of Sikh religion smoking or on drugs. Alcohol doesn’t bother me that much compared to drugs but I am still devastated by their actions.
What does it mean to you to be a Sikh?
I am very proud of my religion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t go to mosques, temples, and churches. I go whenever I am available and whenever I have time, I just go and sit there. According to Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism accepts other religions, so I follow my Gurus teachings.
Have you ever had to deal with racial profiling and/or prejudice?
No I have never experienced this or had to deal with it. Coming to America was actually something that has made me a better citizen and made me think more about myself. In Punjab, it was granted that I was Sikh since I was born into a Sikh family. Here, you have to establish yourself as a Sikh and a Punjabi, you have to excel, work harder, and get more prominence, and I am confident in saying that I have successfully accomplished this.
Is it difficult being a Sikh and living in America?
For a women it is not very difficult because we blend in, whether we have long hair or short hair we just blend in. For men, it was something that was not very common, but now since we have more migrants and since we see more turbans, Sikhs, and Punjabi language in high school, its getting better every year.
After 9/11 have there been any mistaken accusations of Sikhs?
can’t answer this question because I haven’t experienced anybody who has really had a problem being a Sikh. Sometimes at the airport the Sikhs are watched and treated differently. Do I blame them? No. They are doing something for a reason, and I appreciate it.
How do you practice Sikhism in America?
Sikh practices are a way of living, and I try my best to be a good Sikh. Others are formalities, because going to a gurudwara doesn’t mean you are a Sikh. Its good, but it doesn’t make you a Sikh. The gurus never asked us to go to a gurudwara. Sikhism asks us to remember god anywhere, you go outside for a morning walk, you are blessed to be in the city, you look at the moon, stars and remember god, this is how I remember god in a way that Guru Nanak did. He was intoxicated with nature, and so am I. I see a flower, and I thank god for giving us such a beautiful world. We can’t thank god enough. I just want to thank him over and over again for putting me in a world that is so beautiful.
Are there many events in the Sikh community in America? Can you tell us about these events and/or festivals?
Lori at Stanford, every year for the last 15 years I do it with my students and local community. Another event is Vaisakhi, which is when Guru Gobind Singh formed the Khalsa. I also participate once a year in a Punjabi play, with a different theme each year. Even if one Sikh changed his mind about aborting a baby girl, my effort in the play was worth it.
Do you visit gurudwaras often? Why or why not?
Whenever I can, whenever I pass by, I just go there. It’s not in my schedule. Another reason is for the free food. Which is really a blessing, I enjoy that. You get blessings from the holy book as well.
How can Sikhs educate Americans about Sikhism, and/or prevent discrimination against Sikhs?
Children have to be educated about Sikhism, because I see our children and they don’t know anything about Sikhism, all they know is going to the gurudwara, eating there, and coming back home.
How can we educate the youth about Sikhism?
Seminars, Sikh camps, Sikh religion classes, I teach to the small children here at the Sikh Foundation, and at Stanford, one of the syllabus was to know about Sikhism, and we did study about Sikhism
How does Sikhism affect your profession?
When I came from India I was a professor of history there, then I changed my career and went for any course available in communications. I began to attend computer classes because in the early 80s that was what was hot in the market. I learned some computer science languages and became a data operator. Then I came to California and was lucky to get a job at Stanford working in student administration, and then I was given the opportunity to work at a job of my liking, teaching Punjabi students and the history of the Sikhs, history of Punjab, drama, language, and Lohri-something every year they do on a big scale. Now I’m retired, and I just participate in social activities, I took some parents and students to Punjab and went through the religious places, I took them to the village and stayed there and they were exposed to the Sikh practices in my village. This is one of the ways I practice in my retired life, because I still want to do something.
Do you think the dress code is still prevalent here in America compared to Punjab?
With the modern media, the dress codes are universal now. In Punjab I see girls wearing jeans, tops, not so much skirts or dresses. And over here it is the same, salwar kameez I see that a lot over here. It really depends what event you go to. Going shopping, you want to dress easy. I don’t see any dress code that is a night suit/sleeping suit, it used to look like that but not anymore.