Tag Archive | "Colleen McKown"

City Comptroller Urges NYPD, Mayor to Lift Turban Ban

New York City officials are urging Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Police Department to lift the ban on the wearing of turbans by members of the police force, Comptroller John Liu said at a Sikh temple in Queens on a recent Sunday. Comptroller Liu and other politicians are circulating a petition against the ban at Sikh temples and community centers.

Speaking to worshippers at Gurdwara Sant Sagar, a Sikh temple in Bellerose, Queens, Liu said that the ban forces Sikhs to choose between their profession and observing their faith.

“That’s a choice no New Yorker and no American should ever have to make,” said Liu.

Sikhs are excluded from society in many ways, Liu said. He spoke of the importance of changing this, especially in the wake of the August shootings at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. On August 5, a white supremacist shot six and wounded four others at the temple.

“It’s only a matter of time” before the rules change, he said, citing a recent lifting of the turban ban in the Washington, DC Metro Police force.

“It’s our job to hasten that change,” he added.

From the NYPD’s perspective, the turban does not fit within the parameters of their rules for the police uniform. The NYPD has made some accommodations, such as allowing Sikhs to wear a smaller head garment normally worn by children called the “patka” under the police hat.

Assemblyman David Weprin of Queens said he has a bill in the New York State government that would, if passed, protect the rights of municipal and state employees to wear religious articles and grow facial hair for religious reasons.

The bill would apply not only to Sikhs, but to Hasidic Jews and Muslims, Weprin said.

“We are the most diverse city in the world, and Queens County is the most diverse county in the world,” Weprin said, calling it “unconscionable” that someone would have to face a conflict between their occupation and their faith.

While there is no official census count, United Sikhs estimated in 2010 that 80,000 Sikhs live in New York City. Of those Sikhs, around 60,000 live in Richmond Hill, Queens.

A similar battle involving turbans and MTA drivers took place earlier this year. Transit workers had been required to affix the MTA logo to religious headwear. In May, New York City Transit announced they could wear headwear without the logo, provided it matched the transit uniform’s blue color. The decision came after several Sikh and Muslim drivers filed employment discrimination claims.

Liu said the petition has received strong support from the Sikh community. Those who don’t support the petition are often unaware of what the turban and beard mean, and Liu said the petition is trying to change this by educating people and gathering support.

People are reluctant to change, Liu said. He said the main problem is “institutional inertia.”

Pritpal “Pali” Singh Walia, a trustee of the temple, is hopeful that the NYPD rules will be amended. “It will happen, you will see,” he said, saying similar measures have already taken place around the world in places like Australia, Canada, Malaysia and England.

Ali Najmi, who is Muslim but is active in his support for the Sikh community, said the decision was ultimately up to the mayor, because he could direct the commissioner to change the rules.

He said the temple can be very instrumental and serve as a big lobbying force in this initiative.

New York City Comptroller John Liu stands with members of Gurdwara Sant Sagar a Sikh temple in Bellerose, Queens. Liu is advocating for Sikh police officers to be permitted to wear their turbans while on duty.The turban represents equality, serves as a marker of Sikh identity and symbolizes commitment to the Sikh faith. The reason Sikhs wear turbans goes back to the late 16th century in India. At that time, the turban signified nobility. Only Mughal aristocrats or Hindu Rajputs could wear turbans, grow long beards, and carry weapons. Making a statement against this class system, Guru Gobind Sing, the tenth Sikh guru, told his followers to wear turbans, grow beards, and carry swords.

Walia said Sikhs are following in the footsteps of their saints and masters by wearing the turban.

“It has to be there—it’s part of a Sikh’s body,” he explained.

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Nations United Through Sport

by Colleen McKown, Indian Beat Reporter —

On the international cricket stage, rivalries between national teams can be intense. The India-Pakistan rivalry is among the greatest in sports. Games between the two teams have incited riots, flag burning and fights in the stands. In the New York-based Commonwealth Cricket League, however, Indians and Pakistanis play side-by-side with handshakes, smiles and only friendly teasing. Tensions are minimal in the league.

The Commonwealth League, the oldest in New York City, has 72 teams. Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Trinidadians, Guyanese, and Sri Lankans, all rivals back home, are often teammates here. They are carrying on a favorite pastime from home.

“We are all like brothers. We treat each other like brothers. We’re good here. No probs, never ever,” said Mohit, a player from Punjab, India as he excitedly cheers his team on at Kissena Park in Flushing. The league will continue playing most Sundays in parks throughout the city as long as weather permits.

Badsha Chowdhury, from Bangladesh, said the sport serves to unite rather than divide.
“The good thing about Commonwealth Cricket League is that when you build a team you really don’t see who’s Pakistani, who’s Indian, we build a team according to the players, so we have a group of guys, 12 guys playing together. So when they come together we don’t care about your race, your religion, nothing. It’s just one team,” Chowdhury said.

Mohit said that cricket is a more lighthearted game here in New York than back home in India.

“Over there we play with more passion, and cricket is like a religion to us. Over here it is okay, it’s like for fun, and we guys are playing but that’s a good thing. Because over there we never get the chance to play with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, this and that,” he said.

Manish Sharma, a Punjabi taxi driver and the captain of the Commonwealth team Elite, said the mix of nationalities helps players with their game.

“When you are playing domestic it’s completely different because you understand their language, you understand many things, what are they talking about, you see what sort of game planning they’re having. Here you may have to figure it out,” he said.

Manish enjoys navigating these challenges. “That makes me feel like I’m playing international or something,” he added.

Mustafa Diwan, the team captain of Commonwealth team Rajput, also enjoys playing with a variety of nationalities and likes how that changes the game.

He said there are, however, some challenges to playing cricket in New York.

In his native India, he said, there are grounds everywhere made specifically for cricket.

“Here, the grounds are not well-maintained,” he said. “We don’t have good facilities.”

Because cricket fields in New York are used for a variety of sports, the grass is not properly cut for cricket, Diwan said.

One of the regular umpires, Christian Singh of Trinidad, said this is because cricket is not a big sport in America.

“Not many Americans play. In baseball fields, they usually cut the grass more often,” he said.

Diwan said that although the Commonwealth Cricket League is open to any nationality, it’s unusual to see anyone who isn’t South Asian or West Indian. One may think that British players would join, given Britain’s historic connection to cricket.

Not the case, said Diwan. “It’s rare to see a player from Europe.”

Even so, the players stressed that anyone is always welcome. This particular Sunday, an English player happened to be on the field.

Daniel Melamud, hoping to get back into a sport from his childhood, recently visited a cricket store and met Mohit. Mohit invited him to come play.

“Today I’m meeting all these guys for the first time, and they’re people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and everyone is incredibly welcoming and friendly. It’s nice to hear different stories and to see everyone’s passion for the game,” he said after running off the field.

Sharma said that while there is goodwill between nationalities, the true rivalry comes out when friends play each other.

“When your friends are playing, you really want to win that game, you know. You eventually try to get them aggravated one way or another, by talking or by doing anything else.”

After the game, Sharma said, teams put any competition aside to enjoy each other’s company.

“But then, it’s always happy ending, we get together, have barbeque, have a couple of drinks, that’s how we finish it up.”

Members of the Commonwealth Cricket League play on Sundays in Kissena Park in Flushing.

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Slideshow: Hindus Celebrate Lord Ganesha

by Colleen McKown, Indian Beat Reporter –

Color, music and dance filled the streets of Flushing in late September as Hindus gathered to celebrate the festival of Ganesha Chaturthi. The festival is dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god worshipped for auspicious beginnings.

The Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapti Devasthanam, also called the Hindu Temple Society of North America, has put on a major Ganesha Chaturthi Celebration in Flushing annually since 1977.  The festival lasts nine days and culminates with a grand procession.

A devotee who identified himself as Padmanabhan explained the significance of Lord Ganesha.  “This particular god Ganesha, anything you would like to do in your life, like a marriage, or finding a job, or getting anything at all, he removes all the obstacles, that is the belief.”

Maadhuri Shankar, a student at Stony Brook University who lives in Flushing, has been coming to the temple for as long as she can remember.  She said the event always sees a huge turnout.“Basically the whole community comes out.  A lot of people from the tri-state area if not further, come out for this auspicious event.  There’s like thousands of people here right now,” Shakar said.

Devotees in traditional Indian clothing paraded Ganesha through the streets on a chariot as they chanted, drummed, trumpeted and danced.  Everyone gathered for food at the temple following the three-hour parade.In India,  thousands of clay images of Ganesha are processed through streets before being immersed in the ocean.  The ritual symbolizes Ganesha’s energy flowing out to bless the universe.  In Flushing, devotees emulate this ritual by immersing a clay Ganesha into a small pool and dancing around it during the procession.

Shankar has a packed schedule as a student, but is glad to be spending her Sunday at the temple.   “We really like to come and take time out of our busy days and give our offerings for Ganesha,” she said.

Photographs: Colleen McKown and Dhiya Kuriakose


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