Gurpreet Singh: Punjabi photographer risked his life trying to save Ravinder Kaur Bhangu

The Indo Canadian community came under the microscope once again following the July 28 brutal murder of a woman in Surrey. But what hasn't gotten nearly as much recognition is how a Punjabi press photographer—in a daredevil act—risked his life by trying to save the victim from the fatal stabbing.

Narinder Nayar also got injured while attempting to overpower the assailant, who walked into the office of Sach Di Awaaz, a Punjabi news weekly, and stabbed Ravinder Kaur Bhangu to death.

Her estranged husband, Manmeet Singh, has been charged in connection with the incident. Since the setting of the murder was inside the predominantly Punjabi community and both the victim and the suspect were of Punjabi descent, the latest act of violence has brought the community under the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

A spate of murders of Punjabi women in the Greater Vancouver area in the past has created a sensation on several occasions. This has left many outside the Indo Canadian community wondering whether violence against women is too common in the male-dominated Punjabi society.

However, Nayar—who received injuries while trying to grapple with an attacker reportedly armed with sharp-edged weapons—has set a good example.

The publishers of Sach Di Awaaz have not been very forthcoming about the details of the event because of legal reasons. But they have revealed that Nayar tried to save the deceased. The photographer is not returning calls or talking to the media at this time.

A short and an average-looking man, Nayer not only deserves appreciation for his bravery, but can also become a role model for others to stand up instead of being mute spectators.

His action has shamed those within the Indo Canadian community who not only mistreat women, but often try to rationalize violence against females. They include a handful of Punjabi media commentators, who have tried to find fault with the women following such incidents.

In fact, a Punjabi radio commentary following Bhangu's murder that tried to put the blame on women for provoking males stirred an angry reaction from Sach Di Awaaz.

The mainstream should also take into consideration the positive role played by progressive and open-minded males within the Indo Canadian community, instead of painting all Indo Canadian men with one brush.

Liberal males in Punjabi society strongly denounce violence against women and respect gender equality. Their activities generally evoke little interest in the mainstream media because bloody stories sell more than the positive stories.

Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.

Comments (16) Add New Comment
kaur
I'm saddened about yet another gruesome murder and another sister lost.

I often read posts here from commenters bragging about the fighting spirit of the Sikhs and I feel that there’s too much violence ingrained and glorified within the Sikh religion. It’s hard to escape it. For example, the Sikh symbol is three swords crossed and a baptised Sikh must always wear a dagger/sword. I think there are consequences of this glorification of violence in various forms today within the Sikh community - such as gang membership of young Sikh men, Sikh terrorist group activity and domestic violence.

Furthermore, I’m appalled with the male dominance inherent within our culture. The Sikh religion is supposed to promote gender equality, however the problems within our community that continue to persist indicate that this hasn’t been effective. Sikh religious leaders should be doing much, much more to help and protect women.
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monty/that's me
Mr. Singh, the mainstream TV commentators interviewed persons praising this man's actions. However, the police felt it necessary to
warn others not to pursue this course of action as it is too dangerous.
The attack by that Punjabi radio station was duly reported in the mainstream media. The recent exchage of purple bracelets got good coverage,too.

Have you read Kim Bolan's book: Loss of Faith: How The Air-India Bombers Got Away With Murder? She seems to have covered the subject very well. (She is a member of the main stream media.)
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monty/that's me
Why did you release this man's name when no one else did?
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GOT
Mr Singh, the story IS about yet another pre-meditated murder of an Indo-Canadian woman by her husband, NOT about the heroics of a man who happened to be there and who did the right thing by trying to intercede. What I find curious in your article is the absence of the word 'Sikh'. Unless everybody in the Punjabi community is Sikh, then I think you need to be more specific about the source of the violence that is appallingly commonplace in your community. The Canadian community at large will never accept a culture which promotes and glorifies violence to the extent that the Sikh community appears to do so. Is it possible that this violence is deliberately intended to prevent members of the community, especially but not only the women, from broader assimilation with the non-Sikh community, and vice versa? In other words, is it periodic random violence against community members that has all the earmarks of a form of domestic terrorism for the purposes of community control? I think a national inquiry into Sikhism and violence might be in order, preferably sooner rather than later. I know there are Sikhs who are as appalled at the violence as most non-Sikhs are, but as long as the violent component remains in control, nothing will change - or if it appears that it might, another 'example' murder will reinforce the message to those contemplating change. And that, unfortunately, is the bigger story here.
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Jay Singh
Hi Kaur

I hope you're not saying you're getting your education about Sikhism from the comment section of a desi paper.  Anyone who boasts about Sikh fighting pride is about as educated as anyone who gets their education from TV.

My mother was in an abusive marriage.  She was sent to Canada with a return ticket to meet a fellow and some mean people tore her ticket up and forced her to marry a jerk.  In the 70's.  She found a way to get away, divorced and remarried with no direct family in Canada.  I'm her oldest son.  I'm sure it wasn't easy but doing the right thing always isnt easy, nor is there one explanation to explain it all.

I'm Curious.  I'm not sure if you know there is a big difference between Punjabi Culture and Sikh Teachings.  They don't agree in many, many ways.

There are many, many things in Punjabi Culture that are not supported by Sikh teachings.  

Punjabi culture has been dragged into glorifying violence, drinking, drug abuse, laughing about spousal abuse, greed, and more.

If you take a moment to read the Guru Granth sahib in English you will see it all there yourself in plain writing.  Basing your belief on hearsay and what others have taught you to believe about Sikhism is no different than what happened 100 years ago, blind following based on what someone told you.  Otherwise we're no different than our pindu forefathers. When people didnt know how to read and write, they went by the word of one of the few people in the village who could read and write (the gyani at the gurdwaras).  Now that you can read and write, how are you learning differently?  

It's up to our generation to get informed first, ourselves before we take positions blindly to spread poison and misinformation.  You're totally welcome to have your beliefs how you decide to, all I ask is you read and learn for yourself first.

About "weapons" in Sikhism.  Sikhs are only on a path of service and compassion to all of humanity. Sikhs don't believe in violence, if you read and learn for yourself.

If there's any mindless punjabi or anything looking for any justification, they will find it in anything, including religion.  They are  not Sikh, just a fuelled up Punjabi.

There are no Sikh gangs, only punjabi bravado from punjabi music. There is no sikh prayers that praise being violent. It's totally the opposite.  Why don't people follow it?  Why don't people keep a diet or exercise?  Self-Discipline.  

As I'm learning, Sikhism is about understanding myself, and punjabi culture often distracts me from myself.

Sikhs were born in a time where a person in India was not allowed to learn to read or write.  They were not allowed to learn how to protect their families from the conquerors of India. They could not work in any trade or own land easily.  Over 90% of humanity was in slavery or untouchables.

In this time the Sikh Gurus told everyone to learn to read and write to improve their lives, learn self defense to be caretakers of the weak and poor anywhere, and see everyone as their full equal as a brother or sister.  

Sadly our religion and way of life in Punjabi Culture is like we do most things.  Its like exercise, only a few actually do it. All sikhism and all great religions teach is, to improve yourself. I doubt any loser who attacks a woman, or anyone has any great self-education.

If a Sikh had been near by they might have used what you called weapons to defend someone who was defenseless.  If someone had a kirpan and used it to defend this poor woman what would you have said?

I'm kind of sad you're using this incident to smear a religion or group of any kind. I doubt the guy who did this was religious, let alone a good man.  Maybe if he took the time to learn for himself.. Like you..  You seem well spoken enough to know better.
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kaur
Sadly there are commenters here who regularly pounce on Gurpreet whenever he writes about something troublesome within the Sikh community. This is how Sikh leaders and most Sikhs seem to deal with the varied internal problems within our community - blame the person who reports about it. Equality was one the founding tenets of the Sikh religion and it must be reinforced by Sikh religious leaders. In fact I think helping and protecting women should be their number one priority. Too much energy is spent on matters of dissension.

I am very grateful to Gurpreet for telling us about the bravery of this man and shining a light on the fact that there are men out there who are decent, humble and compassionate. We so rarely get this message and it’s a very important part of this story that needs to be told. I’m sad that the other commenters here are trying to draw attn away from it.

Personally, I think @GOT’s assertion/question of periodic random violence against community members being a form of domestic terrorism for the purposes of community control - is out to lunch. My father was a perpetrator of domestic violence and so I have a lifetime of experience about this. It’s a very complex cultural problem and change needs to begin within our community – especially at the leadership level. Acceptance is the first step towards change.
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kaur
@Jay Singh, fyi I was born as a Sikh in Punjab so I’ve been immersed in the culture and the religion and I’m well aware of the difference between the two. I have also read parts of the holy scripture (Guru Granth Sahib) at the temple (Gurudwara). The many references to violence has at times been too much for me to handle. My brother feels the same way.

You state that Sikhs don't believe in violence. Please tell the Sikh terrorist groups this. Are leaders such as Malik setting a fine example for the predominantly Sikh youth gang members? Sorry, I don’t buy your propagandist commentary.

It's up to our generation to get informed first ourselves before we take positions blindly. I stand by my statements made above. Covering up problems and not taking accountability doesn’t lead to solutions.
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GOT
@ kaur- I'd be quite happy to be 'out to lunch' with the idea of random violence against community members being a form of social control, but there are well-known tactics of social control in both religious and secular communities. Ostracizing and shunning those who don't toe the line are well-documented societal controls. In a community that regularly experiences domestic violence as a form of control within the family, it's quite plausible that a public version could be used as a way of 'broadcasting' fear within the female part of the society, a sort of 'ultimate shunning' of an individual for the 'education' of others. However, I am more interested in your observation that ...'change needs to begin...at the leadership level'. This has been obvious to the non-Sikh community for decades - why is it not happening, or not possible? Even if there are women, and supposedly men, in the community advocating for change, how does the very public murder of Ravinder Kaur Bhangu affect them? This needs to be discussed at a higher level than a comments page - perhaps Gurpreet Singh could follow up his recent observations with something addressing how Punjabi/Sikh women feel about this tragic incident, and the cultural climate that seems to encourage it. I have great sympathy for all Sikhs who find themselves caught between religion and culture, but those who do or say nothing in the face of this on-going violence are complicit in it by default.
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william
The story should be about Ravinder, a victim
of senseless violence perpetrated by a loser
in any7 community. I knew her, she was my student in Newton. She was the sweetest,
kindest, most peaceful woman. But she was
also very intelligent, and determined to make a bright future for herself. Sadly, she was trapped in a bad marriage, and now the tragic victim of abuse. The world has
been robbed of a bright star. I will miss her
sweet smile, and her sharp wit greatly.
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kaur
I think that one of Gurpreet’s recent wonderful columns http://www.straight.com/article-403444/vancouver/gurpreet-singh-communit... is revealing in regards to why the Sikh community has not been able to make more progress with social reforms and remains dysfunctional.

Sikh fundamentalists are taking over with their bullying, propagandist tactics. These groups are more interested in creating dissension with issues like whether one should use tables and chairs in the temple over the overwhelming need for changes like promoting equality for women and keeping them safe from abuse. The people who follow these fundamentalists do so blindly without critical engagement (case in point @Jay Singh).

Moderate Sikhs need to step it up if they want to salvage this religion and help their community but this is no easy task when the fundamentalists act like the mafia. Although culture and religion are deeply intertwined in shaping the Indo-Canadian community (which locally is predominately Punjabi Sikhs), religion is an enormously powerful force.
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Katharina Heitzmann
the main issue is control. many men still think that a woman needs to be controlled by a man or she deserves her fate. this is pretty obvious in the indo-canadian community where violence is often used over women.

unfortunately violence is also used too easily by the indo-canadian community to solve other problems.
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kaur
@Katharina, this is a very complex problem and when you dig deeper, there are other issues regarding control that an outsider may not be able to see...
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GOT
@kaur...'a very complex problem' is sometimes more easily solved by breaking it down into smaller problems...you sound like you have some ideas and/or suggestions. Why don't you write an article about 'other issues regarding control' and submit it to The Straight?
Your use of the word 'outsider' is revealing. I may not be a member of your community, but I am no 'outsider'. I am a Canadian, and I presume you are too. That makes both of us equal under Canadian law, and in the eyes of all Canadians who understand and respect our Charter of Rights . If there are any 'outsiders' in this discussion, they are the men in your community - and probably some women as well - who do not accept that you, as a woman, are equal to a man and have all the same rights that Canadians should enjoy by the mere good fortune of living here. The fact that those men will use violence to maintain their control makes them absolute outsiders as far as Canadian social values are concerned - and this needs to change, preferably from within your community but in a public way which allows other Canadians the opportunity to offer the support that is clearly needed. Encouraging you to see us, define us, and keep us as 'outsiders' is what allows your 'leadership' to keep YOU 'under control'. Is that the future that you want for your children?
I remember the violence in Ireland, particularly during the 70's and 80's. In the end, it was the Irish women on both sides who said 'Enough!' - and the whole situation changed. My point is: your men won't make the necessary changes. Most of them like things the way they are, or tacitly accept that they can't change and still be part of the 'male' community, or are simply bullied into compliance. You, the women, need to initiate massive change, and whether you realize it or not, collectively you have the power to do so - if you really want it. Millions of other Canadians would gladly support you.
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kaur
@GOT, clearly you are writing with a Feminist perspective. Since you don’t consider yourself an outsider and have gone to lengths to discuss this, I would like to ask you what mainstream Feminists have done to help Indo-Canadian women? (pls don't use this as an answer or you won't like my response http://www.hindustantimes.com/Dear-SlutWalk-I-Want-My-Money-Back/Article... ) . How much of the resources of taxpayer funded organizations like Battered Women’s Support Group and Women Against Violence Against Women are allocated in helping and protecting women in the Indo-Canadian Community? The allocation should be considerable since this community has such a high rate of abuse and problems compared to the overall population.

At the very least all Feminists in the Lower Mainland should have a very strong understanding of the problems facing these very vulnerable ethnic women. I have not seen much in the way of comments from Feminists here about this so far. The issue of control I mention is actually one that any worthy Feminist should be able to figure out. So I would like to put the question out there to you @GOT and to any mainstream Feminist out there.

Sadly, I see many similarities between Sikh Fundamentalists and Radical Feminists. Both groups are too busy focusing on issues of dissension instead of working towards solutions in keeping women safe. Both have questionable leaders with questionable motives and both groups do lots of deceptive propaganda talk at the expense of proactive, solution orientated measures to protect women. http://www.straight.com/article-403042/vancouver/just-because-shes-drunk... And both have a loyal following who blindly support them without questioning their problematic and harmful decisions.

When the sacred institutions that Indo-Canadian women like Ravinder depend on have gone astray, I wonder how the people within these organizations feel when there is news about yet another tragedy ”¦or if they have the capacity to understand their own complicity.


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GOT
@kaur...I'd be more likely to call myself a humanist, if I need to have a label. The original feminist agenda might have been necessary back in the 70's, but it was soon co-opted by women who liked belonging to a club that could freely hate men - and indeed were encouraged by history versus herstory to do so. This is getting off the topic, however. Your questions are valid regarding 'where is the support from feminist organizations?' In truth, they have plenty to handle in Vancouver, with limited funds, and I would imagine very little incentive to try to initiate change in an ethnic community which considers them to be outsiders, and where they would almost certainly meet a wall of silence. It is very true that blood is thicker than water. It is also very true that women who are victimized by men in their communities are often only too eager to deny that there is any victimization at all, if they are willing to say anything. Again, the initiative has to come from the women in the community itself, even if it means leaving the community (leaving 'control') to regain control. Women who do this are inevitably shunned and dispossessed by their families and others they care about, which is one of the issues of control you may be referring to - or, as in the case of Ravinder, murdered for having attempted to escape. Preventing access to education is another form of control - how do you leave your community with a grade ten education - or less - and no employable skills? I think these issues are well beyond the 'helpfulness' of feminist groups, although I'm sure they are aware of them. If you had known Ravinder, what could you have done to support her - and protect her? What is needed within the Punjabi/Sikh community is a place for women to go, where other women - and hopefully men - would offer the support and protection needed. Is there such a place? Or maybe this place needs to be outside the community, and protection offered by the police. If the situation can't be changed within the community, take it 'outside', and leave the men who won't change behind. There are people in governments at all levels who can offer assistance, but you can bet they won't go wading into this without being invited very publicly - we already know how quickly the word 'racist' would enter the conversation. You're right - it's a complex problem. But Ravinder and the many others like her deserve a solution.
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sarah_b
which radio station??!!! i'd like to give them a piece of my mind.
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