Ranjit Singh Sabharwal Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies: An Update & Appeal

Mr. Paul Sabharwal, Prof. Jaideep Singh, Dr.  Mohammad H. Qayoumi, Dr. Narinder S Kapany at the meetingAmong the numerous wonderful things that Dr. Ranjit Singh Sabharwal cherished during his lifetime, one was his plan for the Chair of Sikh Studies to be established at CSU East Bay. Unfortunately it was left undone. It was with this mind that I suggested that our community as a whole should try and pick up the project by raising the required funding.

More than 300 Sikhs collected $500 K and with the assistance of Dr. Mohammad H. Qayoumi, president of CSU EBay and his colleagues we set up the chair. Soon thereafter Dr. Jaideep Singh, an ex-student of UC Berkeley was nominated as the Chair of the Ranjit Singh Sabharwal Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies.
Now I need to make two very important points:

Firstly the Sikhs have four Chairs of Sikh Studies in California and the first was installed 10 years ago at UC Santa Barbara. A few months ago they had an international conference with over 150 scholars from all over the world. While the presentations were impressive but more so was the fact that there were 8-10 graduate students finishing their PhD’s on Sikh Studies at Harvard, Columbia and other prestigious universities. This is very encouraging but we must understand that it takes ten years to reach that point and both Sikhs & non- Sikhs must learn to continue to help the universities, the professors, scholars and the students to achieve that.

Secondly, universities all over USA but particularly in California, have been under dire financial pressure for the last few years and this is likely to continue for the coming years. The budgets are cut severely, tuitions have been raised, number of students going to universities is curtailed, classes with less students cancelled, new hiring is curtailed and raises reduced or eliminated. This is not so just in the CSU campuses but also at the UC campuses and even abroad e.g. Britain. So we as a community must continue to assist the CSU East Bay in every possible way to continue these programs and also add Punjabi teaching to the courses offered. We should also encourage our friends of other religions to help this university become the center of religious studies and language programs.

Speech delivered by Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany
On 21st May,2010
Cal State University East Bay Campus


Prof. Jaideep SinghDear Sikh Studies Chair Supporters and Community Members,

As the new holder of the Dr. Ranjit Singh Sabharwal Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies at CSU East Bay, let me begin by thanking you for your generous support for the endowed chair, which will benefit the Sikh American community for generations to come. I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself, explain how you can help achieve our common goals of promoting and developing Sikh and Punjabi Studies in the Bay Area, and offering Sikh American youth an opportunity to see themselves in the curriculum for the first time at this University.

As the Dean mentioned, I received my formal educational training at UC Berkeley, where for over a decade, I organized actively among Sikh Americans in the Bay Area. Above all, the welfare and advancement of the Sikh American community has been a consistent theme in my research and scholarship. My first book, currently under review by Oxford University Press, examines three case studies of grassroots political activity in Sikh American communities in San Jose, suburban Chicago, and New York City—all pre-9/11. These cases demonstrate that the explosion in Sikh American political activity after the cataclysm of 9/11 could have been predicted if one looked carefully at the grass roots political activity emanating from the community years earlier. My first book leads quite naturally to the topic of next book, which will examine and document the trauma afflicting Sikh Americans after 9/11, and equally importantly, their concerted and organized responses on both a social and political level.

Now that you know a little about my training and work, I want to discuss the exciting developments in Sikh and Punjabi Studies at CSUEB. While it has been something of a struggle putting my ideas into motion because of the severe financial constraints the entire public education system is now bearing, we are moving forward with Sikh and Punjabi Studies at CSUEB.

In the coming years, I will develop the Sabharwal Chair at CSUEB to offer students both courses about Sikh Americans, as well as Punjabi language instruction. In addition, I plan to develop scholarships for students interested in Sikh and Punjabi studies, to support their study and add value to the curriculum. This long term goal will make the program in Sikh Studies here a model for others across the nation.

In addition, the chair will support various cultural programs. These programs will not only engage the local Sikh and South Asian American communities, but the broader local community, so they can learn about the beauty and warmth of our culture and heritage. The instructor we have identified to teach Punjabi has not only taught at Stanford University, but also has a long history of organizing Punjabi cultural programs to showcase and educate about Punjabi culture and society.

I am happy to announce that in the less than one year in which I have been in the chair, CSUEB now has, for the first time, a Sikh Students Association. The group is expanding rapidly, and developing its on campus presence and activities. The students in the Sikh Students Association were very helpful in ensuring I had enough students in my current course entitled: “The Contemporary South Asian American Experience.” This course is the first course CSUEB has ever offered in South Asian American Studies. It introduces students to such topics as the early history of South Asian Americans in the U.S. (the majority of whom were Sikhs), the role of religion in South Asian America, ethnicity and the retention of culture across generations, where South Asian Americans fit within the racial structure of the U.S., how they experience both religious and racial discrimination, the role and reality of the rapidly increasing South Asian American working class within the broader community, the commodification of South Asian American culture in the West, gender roles and relations within South Asian America, the struggles South Asian Americans continue to endure to achieve religious freedom in the U.S., and how the tragedy of 9/11 unleashed a hate crime epidemic of historic proportions upon South Asian America. After teaching this course one more time next year, I will then attempt to offer the University’s first Sikh American Studies course the following fall— a huge achievement for the entire Bay Area Sikh American community.

The one piece of bad news I have to report is that the endowment for the Chair has dipped due to the nation-wide financial struggles of the past few years. All such academic endowments have been affected by the economic downturn. Consequently, the University is asking the Sikh American community to help . The decline is due largely to the sharp fall in the value of the investments where the money was placed.

In addition, we are attempting to raise the funding necessary to begin teaching Punjabi next year, so that we can fill the urgent need of our students to learn their mother tongue.Students at the University are eager to begin learning Punjabi, and this is major priority for me personally.

Since the endowment from which we had planned to fund the Punjabi teacher has declined in value, we are appealing to the community to help cover this temporary shortfall in a time of economic distress. Please consider making a generous tax-deductible donation to the endowment before the end of this year, so that we can move forward rapidly with the development of Sikh and Punjabi Studies CSUEB. This type of capital outlay will not be necessary in the future, when the economy improves, and the endowment begins to generate interest.

Thank you.

For more information on ways you can support the program please contact Prof. Jaideep Singh


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