An Interview with Manpreet Singh: “Being an activist…became a part of who I was.”

Manpreet K Singh

Manpreet K Singh

 

Manpreet K Singh is a Houston native dedicated to the causes of diversity and women’s empowerment. She is a practicing attorney and an advocate with the Sikh Coalition. Manpreet has also been a very active member of a variety of Houston and South Asian community organizations, including testifying for the inclusion of Sikhism in school textbooks and lobbying for passage of the Safe Schools Act. Manpreet has also frequently appeared in media to educate about diversity, including being interviewed by several news affiliates and writing op/ed pieces in print media about the effects of the 2012 shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh Gurdwara. In her free time, Manpreet enjoys traveling with her husband and playing goalie for her two budding soccer stars.

 

What community activities do you engage in and why?
My Houstonian Sangat community was gracious in including me as a speaker for our major events because they always saw me as “their daughter.” I was meant to be involved in all the new and groundbreaking relationships that our Sikh community was making in Houston.  And, like every American, 9/11 affected us. As I loaded news outlets on the Internet and I saw pictures of Osama Bin Laden, my world changed in an instant. I was constantly having to defend why my Sikh brethren should not be target’s of hate crimes across America, and for the first time I did not feel “American.” I began to randomly email media outlets so that we could educate the American public as to who Sikhs were. All of the sudden I was on all the major outlets talking about Sikhism.  I loved the idea of being able to get the word out there and making a difference.  Soon, I met people who were eager to learn more about the 5th largest religion in the world and began to include me in their interfaith events like Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, Rice University’s Boniak Center, and other organizations throughout Houston.  The Sikh Coalition’s existence catapulted my involvement – I was lucky enough to be on their radar for them to include me in their education campaign in 2009.

Manpreet and her husband in their early years of dating

Manpreet and her husband in their early years of dating

What inspires you to engage in so much community work above and beyond professional and family responsibilities and duties?
Actually, I do not know that I can say that I’m inspired to do community work; I think I just innately love it. My parents raised me in a home in which they were heavily engaged in community work. It was not one of those things where my parents sat us down and talked to us about how to be great citizens. They lived a life of community work and my siblings and I learned by their example. My father was the first feminist I met and my mother was at the forefront of our Sangat. Naturally, as their child, I followed in their footsteps – being an activist and being open and speaking out loud for the things I believed in became a part of who I was. I had already felt an attachment to the civil rights movement within our American history, and this reminded me of us as Sikhs on a smaller scale.  I love the idea that you can write an email, make a phone call, and walk the halls of US Congress to have your voice heard, just like that.  This accessibility to these resources showed me that it’s easy to make the things you love become relevant to others.

What role do you want to see Sikh women and girls take on in these spaces?
I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, in which she stated that no one will come and tap you on the shoulder and tell you there is an opportunity waiting for you. I related this philosophy to Sikhi.  Here we are, born into a religion that had the foresight to give women equal rights as an integral part of our belief system.  In a perfect world, our women would have the support from other women and men to blossom and become active voices.  We are meant to be strong, outspoken, steadfast partners in this world.  The role we should all play is an active one, one that is courageous and teaches people through action.

What are the most pressing issues for our community across the country?  Inside the community?  Outside of the community?
Inside the community, I think the biggest obstacle is the patriarchal and egotistical shadows of our peers and the elderly generation.  Most of our gurdwaras echo the words of our Gurus, yet the practices don’t always translate.  I would love to see our fathers and mothers encourage all young girls and women to take their place as the Gurus envisioned for us.
Outside of the community, our counterparts lack education about our religion and who we are as a people.  I think the more we get out into the greater community to educate people, we will build coalitions and achieve a place of mutual love and respect.

How can Sikh activists organize to be a stronger collective, to mobilize in a way that is energizing across groups without being fractured?

Manpreet and her two sons

Manpreet and her two sons

This isn’t a Sikh activist problem, but a problem amongst any group of people.   I believe that we will only be a stronger collective once we become individual activists.  The problem is that most individuals are not moved enough to make change. In fact, this article alone should show you how apathetic most of the world is.  I am being asked to write what makes me do the things I do, to help others understand why I do it.  We just have to look into our collective belief system and know that activism is required of us by our Gurus and rehet.

What we can do when we do become apathetic, cynical, and losing faith in the people and the systems around us?
This question begs me to answer saying I look to my faith, bani, and the teachings of our Gurus to push me through our community’s apathy. I would be disingenuous if I told you that my reflective periods all start and end with the one thing I have the most faith in. They don’t. The real answer is, while this makes me reflect on what we can do to avoid the heads of apathy and cynics coming to the forefront, I do not know what the answer is.

What can both engaged Singhs and Kaurs do to ensure Kaurs are successful and productive in national community organizing to bring energy and focus to the greater community vision here in the U.S.?  What do you want to see in relationship building for community activities?
I think we should all realize “sabna jeea ka ek data, so mah viser nah jaee,” which means, “there is only one God for all, may I never forget.” Most other communities are in the same position that we are in and they are doing what we are doing – trying to educate the broader community.  We should build relationships outside of our community in order to build our own community.

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