An Interview with Gurleen Kaur: “I started to understand the impact that laypersons make and can make…”

Gurleen Kaur

Gurleen Kaur

Gurleen Kaur is a soul and body in one, like the rest of us. She is a fourth-year student deeply interested in the intersectionalities of health, the environmental and building community resilience, hope to eventually pursue a joint Masters Degree in City Planning and Public Health. She spends most of her days trying to make sense of the chaos and contradiction of her world and the various worlds she involves herself in. She is currently taking a Medical Anthropology course in which she is learning about the making of meaning in the body. Gurleen concerns herself with how disparate structural realities are embodied and hopes to one day happen upon her dream job in which she is able to draw strength from narratives to alleviate such structural inadequacies. Her greatest wish is to be a Listener, in hopes of becoming an better story-teller. She also has recently discovered she is lactose-intolerant, but has found solace in Lactaid.

What inspired your involvement with the Bhagat Puran Singh Health Initiative?
I joined BPSHI as a wee sophomore with a knack for creating more efficient forms of leadership organizing. At the time, I was struggling with finding meaning within the Society and Environment major I had chosen to pursue at UC Berkeley. While I was learning about the relevance of conserving our natural environment, I could not help but feel that conversations about people, especially People of Color who bear disproportionate burdens of environmental and health tragedies, were missing. In the process of helping structure the Berkeley chapter of the Initiative, I began to learn about the challenges to health and accessing health resources faced by members of my Punjabi-Sikh community. I started to understand the impact that laypersons make and can make on the health of their community by bridging the connection between people and health to the environment.

Gurleen Kaur snowboarding with friends

Gurleen Kaur snowboarding with friends

Why is this form of seva important to the Sikh American community and to you?
I believe that as a society we have given up our voice and autonomy in many ways to the experts of science, medicine, technology, and politicians. While these experts play substantial and incredibly relevant roles in our lives, I think our own power as individuals and a community has subsequently been lost. While on the surface level, BPSHI makes health accessible to its community by holding mobile clinics at Gurdwaras, on a paradigmatic level, we are starting a conversation by reminiscing and returning to Punjabi traditions of food and diet of the pre-Green Revolution age. In encouraging individuals to avoid sugar-high atta for their rotiya, we are building the capacity of our community to address their own health using the power of traditional knowledge. This is a type of seva inspired by the selflessness of Bhagat Puran Singh and the refusal to accept the status quo in any aspect of our lives inspired the politicism of our Gurus.

What role does Sikhism play in your leadership in BPSHI? How has it reaffirmed/changed your views?
Among any leadership role, the greatest lesson to be learned is one of humility. I constantly remind myself of the necessity of teamwork and the essential roles that we all play in completing even the simplest of tasks. While I can provide somewhat of an organizational skillset, my role would have no value without the medical knowledge base of our other volunteers.

How do you hope to inspire the Sikh community, particularly young Sikh women, through your role within BPSHI?
I can’t say that I hope to inspire anyone other than through discourse and Being.

Gurleen Kaur and friends

Gurleen Kaur and friends

How are you implementing this project across campuses and throughout the Sikh community?
BPSHI currently operates through 7 different chapters throughout California. Our general model is to work with undergraduate volunteers organized through an academic institution and volunteer health care professionals local to the area. Our currently chapters are: Davis, Berkeley, Merced, Stanislaus, Fresno, Los Angeles, and Irvine. These undergraduate volunteers are trained on how to take blood pressure and blood sugar as well as how to communicate simple phrases and medical terminology in Punjabi. Volunteers then self-organize clinics at their local Gurdwaras. With an average of 10 clinics held per chapter, we see an estimated 3,500 individuals per year.

If you are interested in starting a chapter, contributing financially (we run solely off of donations :)) or helping out in any other way, I would love to hear from you! Check out our website at or email us at I will be presenting about some of the topics covered here at Sikholars on February 14 at Stanford University.

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