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Women dressed in colourful salwar kameez in a Sikh prayer, called the Ardaas.

Vancouver Sikh activists go green

By Lara Howsam Vancouver Sikhs have a long history as activists. Rallies and events have been held at the Ross…

By Lara Howsam , in Feature story , on October 29, 2009 Tags: ,

Women dressed in colourful salwar kameez in a Sikh prayer, called the Ardaas.
Women dressed in colourful salwar kameez in a Sikh prayer, called the Ardaas.

By Lara Howsam

Vancouver Sikhs have a long history as activists.

Rallies and events have been held at the Ross Street Temple in South Vancouver for years. Violence against women, gangs, refugee and immigration issues and political rallies are regular events.

“We have to wake the people up,” said Kashmir Dhaliwal, who is active at the temple.

Until now there has never been an event that focused on the environment.

The green message was localized within the Sikh community because of the visit of a Bollywood star.

Rahul Bose was just in Vancouver. He works with an organization called 350.

The significance of 350 is that NASA has said that any concentration of carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet. The levels are currently at 390ppm.

The rally was organized for the International Day of Climate Action on October 24. The aim was to have 350 people gather at the Gurudawara Sahib Khalsa Diwan Society temple at 3:50pm to be educated about the effects of climate change.

Drought, famine and floods

“I think global warming is pretty important because it is a fact of our everyday life,” student Rubin Minhas said.

“Whether we embrace it or reject it it’s still there. If we put it off it’s still going to be there.”

“And that’s why I think it is important that we embrace it.”

The event focused on the situation that is unfolding in the Punjab region of India, where most temple members have family.

Because of global warming the farmers there are being hit hard by drought, famine and floods.

There has been a significant rise in farmer suicide in the region and this is being attributed to the affects of climate change.

From global to local

The Verma's pass out pamphlets at the environmental rally.
The Vermas pass out pamphlets at the environmental rally.

Organizer Dr. Pradeep Kumar Verma stood in the foyer of the Ross Street temple wearing a bright green vest with the numbers 350 hand-stitched in white felt numbers.

His mother, Tripta Verma stood across from him.  “I am worried. Why isn’t every person thinking about that?” she said.

As people bowed before entering the worship hall the Vermas’ handed-out pamphlets on climate change.

In the hall, most people had their heads bowed down. Not all of them were in prayer – many were reading the pamphlets.

The Vermas’ are working through the small organization Cuddlendance.

Dr. Verma tweets as one way for getting his message across. His Twitter bio reads “As a retired physician (MD) I feel it a high moral obligation to insure I keep working to help people become healthier, happier and always smiling.”

His mother is worried about the influence that climate change will have on women, especially for those from developing nations.

“It has more effect on the ladies than men,” Tripta Verma said. “If there is no food for the child, the mother will be more upset in respect to the father. The father is going out and the mother is staying home with no water, no light, no food. So it is very hard for her. Due to the kids the mother is more and more upset.”

Prayers for climate change

Mrs. Verma sits in on the prayers.
Mrs. Verma sits in on the prayers.

Here at the temple, the scientific reality of climate change has been melded with spiritual practice.

Worshippers chanted a prayer, known as Ardaas. It pleas to God to support and help the devotee with whatever he or she is about to undertake.

The prayers were guided by a Sikh elder. He spoke through a microphone in Punjabi. As he spoke a baby, just learning to walk, kept toddling and staring up at him.

The attendees replied to his prayers together. They stood up and bowed down, with the woman on one side and the men on the other.

The numbers at the temple were much lower than expected. Fifty people attended. Most were there to attend regular Gurudawara.

“In the end the few who did attend did feel that it laid a founding stone for the movement,” Dr. Verma said.

“With our intended monthly meetings and weekly reminders through brief prayers we would build upon it fairly quickly. So I remain optimistic despite dismal attendance.”

This is where global meets local. People here know the impact that global warming had on their families in India.

“They’re Indians, we’re Indians,” Minhas said, “I mean it is one country, and more than that it is the human race. I mean we are all in this together, it’s not like I’m on my own, or you’re on your own – it is everyone in one bucket.”

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