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Great 8 Sikhs Global Sikh Trailblazers Who Are Shining Bright

Naina Grewal Darpan, 13 Apr, 2023
  • Great 8 Sikhs Global Sikh Trailblazers Who Are Shining Bright

Vaisakhi is a significant festival for Sikhs all over the world. It is a time for reflection, renewal, and celebration of the Sikh community's values and accomplishments. In this special Vaisakhi issue of Darpan magazine, we highlight eight Sikhs who have achieved remarkable success in their respective fields, and who serve as role models for the community and beyond.

Every person has a unique light that they bring to the world, and we celebrate these eight individuals who are shining particularly bright in their professions and beyond. These individuals have overcome obstacles, pursued their passions, and made significant contributions to their communities. Their stories serve as a reminder that each of us has the potential to make a positive impact in our own way.

Amardeep Singh

Singapore

Amardeep Singh is a Singapore-based Punjabi researcher, writer, photographer, and documentary filmmaker. Educated at The Doon School (Dehradun, India), Manipal Institute of Technology (India), Singh pursued a Masters in Business Administration at the University of Chicago, USA. Before becoming an Independent Visual Ethnographic Researcher, Amardeep worked in the Financial Services sector for 25 years and was the Head of the Asia Pacific Region at American Express for Revenue Management. 

In 2014, the keen historian started researching on the visual ethnography of Sikh history and legacy, visiting Pakistan to document the tangible and intangible remnants of Sikh legacy in the country. Two years later, he published his first book Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy In Pakistan. The book, based on his travels to 36 towns and villages of Pakistan, encapsulates and shines light on the magnificence of hundreds of Sikh gurdwaras, architectures, forts, arts, and culture. The text was followed by another unique publication, The Quest Continues: Lost Heritage, The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan. Singh’s wife, Vininder Kaur, is the editor of both books.

Singh has produced and directed two short documentary films on the Sikh legacy remnants in the Indus region, named ‘Peering Soul’ and ‘Peering Warrior’. His latest work is the 24-episode docuseries on Guru Nanak in four languages. “The docuseries is guided by Guru Nanak’s philosophy and inspired by historical texts, which was produced by filming at over 150 multifaith sites in 9 countries. It is the first comprehensive sequential presentation of the life of Guru Nanak.”, reveals Singh. What makes the endeavor even more beautiful is that the theme artwork of the Guru Nanak docuseries is done by Datti Kaur, Singh’s younger daughter, who has done an exceptional job presenting events and places associated with Guru Nanak, without personifying him. Vininder Kaur, his wife, is the Director, Script Writer, and Music Coordinator of the docuseries. The 24-episode documentary series in different languages can be seen at no cost on the website TheGuruNanak.com.

Undoubtedly, Singh is wholeheartedly preserving history and creating a legacy through his visual media production house, Lost Heritage Productions, passionately focused on the research and documentation of forgotten legacies.

Aekash Singh, Jaskirat Singh and Milaap Singh Chahal

United States of America

Aekash Singh, Jaskirat Singh, and Milaap Singh Chahal wanted to serve their country since they were very young, inspired both by their Sikh belief in serving others and by their own families' history of military service. However, the three Singhs were told by the Marine Corps to shave their beard and hair before joining the boot camp. They then moved court, following which a federal appeals court ruled that the three should be allowed to proceed with Marine Corps recruit training while maintaining their turbans and beards.

Aekash Singh, Jaskirat Singh, and Milaap Singh were always more than sure that they wanted to become Marines after graduating. All three have a deep respect for the Marine Corps' warrior ethos, and feel that it aligns most with their Sikh values of discipline, self-sacrifice, and service before self. When they were told they would not be allowed to wear turbans and keep unshorn hair and beards at boot camp, they felt they were being forced to choose between their Sikh faith and their chosen career of military service — even though they knew they could meet the Marine Corps' need for discipline and unit cohesion, as Sikhs have done for over a decade in other branches of the U.S. military. 

The spirited young men believed that they could be Sikhs and they could be Marines, which pushed them not to give up. They were also inspired by the Sikhs who came before them and showed that it was possible to serve successfully and honorably while wearing turbans and beards, like in the Army and Air Force. They didn't want the next generation of young Sikhs to face the same barriers they did and believed they had to stand up for their right to practice their faith. 

The Singhs started this process before they turned 18 and are all 21 now! Although accented by extreme delay and lost career opportunities, the path has borne fruit. Aekash Singh, Jaskirat Singh, and Milaap Singh have emerged victorious in more ways than one, becoming beacons of hope, inspiration, and Chardi Kala for all!

Dr. Gurtej Singh Sandhu

United States of America

Recognized for being the all-time seventh most prolific inventor, with more than 1,300 U.S. utility patents, meet Dr. Gurtej Sandhu. Senior Fellow and Vice President at a top chip manufacturer in the world, Micron Technology, Inc. with its headquarter in Boise, Idaho, United States of America, Dr. Sandhu’s expertise lies in the areas of thin film processes and materials, VLSI, and semiconductor device fabrication. Although his interests may sound specialized, Dr. Sandhu’s inventions impact the general public more than apparent at first and are at the heart of memory chips used in electronic applications from smartphones to computers and servers used to conduct businesses in the world. 

One of Dr. Sandhu’s early and celebrated inventions include his achievement in developing a method of coating microchips with titanium without exposing the metal to oxygen, which would otherwise oxidize the chips instantly and ruin them. Although the genius inventor himself initially did not think too much of his invention, most memory-chip makers use Dr. Sandhu’s process today. 

During his time at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi, Dr. Sandhu completed a degree in Electrical Engineering and found himself interested in how computer chips are made. He proceeded to continue in the field of physics during his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, United States of America, which he finished in 1990. 

Upon completion, the gifted physicist chose to work at the highly sought-after Micron Technology Inc., which is now one of the largest memory chip suppliers in the world. Fast-forward to 2018, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) awarded Dr. Sandhu the IEEE Andrew S. Grove Award for outstanding contributions to solid-state devices and technology. 

Dr. Sandhu describes his motivation and brainwork behind achieving several patents, “My main passion is to solve complex problems and help my company stay at the forefront of chip technology. I like to take a big picture view of the problem, drill down into fundamentals, and encourage out of the box thinking to come up with solutions. The patents are simply a byproduct of that work.”

Harinder Singh

United States of America

Harinder Singh serves as the Senior Fellow, Research & Policy at the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI). He is a widely respected educator, activist, author, and thinker. His current focus is on developing critical thinking for Sikh institutions via the State of the Panth report series and developing open-source decoding of Guru Granth Sahib in contemporary Panjabi and English for a global audience.

The legendary visionary is known for co-founding the Sikh Research Institute and the Panjab Digital Library, organizing the Free Akal Takht movement, and envisioning the Kaur and Singh Academy. Further, he has authored Emperor-Prophet: Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, Guru Granth Sahib: Its Language & Grammar, and Sikhi: Faith & Followers. As an editor, he has worked on Guru Gobind Singh Sahib & Sikhs in Bihar, The Khalsa Raj: Banda, Battles & Body-Politic, and translated Love Harp (Prit Vina). A prolific writer, his essays appear regularly in the media. 

On strategic matters, the driven activist has addressed the Australian Parliament, the US Congress, The White House, the US Departments of State, Homeland Security, Education, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, The Smithsonian Institute, the UK’s Parliament, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Ministry of Defence Chaplaincy Program, among others.

A much sought-after public speaker, Singh has spoken at various universities, forums, and companies. Besides consulting various organizations on curriculums, exhibitions, and films, he regularly appears globally on radio and television. Singh has served on the boards of the National Conference on Community and Justice, The Fellowship of Activists to Embrace Humanity, and The Nanakshahi Trust, among others.

Currently, he resides in the US with his family. The impressive academic holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering, MS in Engineering Management, MPhil in Guru Granth Sahib, and a Diploma in Persian Language. Today, Singh has a remarkable vision for the future of the Sikh diaspora, “I long for a life immersed in incessant identification with IkOankar-1Force; a lifestyle devoid of any calculation or cleverness. I long for the Sikhs to become as vast as humanly possible to accept all beings as divine; the Guru Khalsa Panth to be led by skilled and passionate lovers whose allegiance is only to the Guru.”

Karanjee Singh Gaba

United Kingdom

Model Karanjee Singh Gaba is making waves as the first-ever Sikh to be featured in a campaign showcasing the late great Virgil Abloah’s Spring/Summer 2022 men’s collection, highlighted in stores worldwide and online, including Louis Vuitton’s Instagram. Having grown up with a keen interest in the fashion industry, Gaba is motivated to educate others about Sikhi, drawing parallels with how Guru Nanak Dev Ji traveled far and wide to preach Sikhi during his traveling years. 

Gaba elaborates, “I think fashion is one place where everyone has their eyes on regardless of religion, class, or gender. In many countries, people don't even know there are Sikhs and those who do know about Sikhs, do not know that there are Sikhs from Afghanistan, too. Hence, fashion is one place which is close to me because it allows me to share Sikhi and my Afghan heritage and culture.”

Gaba’s experiences also include some setbacks. The resilient superstar has actually faced over a thousand rejections, has always chosen to keep moving forward, remembering that rejection is normal. Eventually, he landed in the right places. “I think a turban is a distinct identity for myself in the fashion industry, but I also don't cut my hair. This can be an obstacle in the industry as you do become restricted, but it allows me to stay true to my identity.”, says the proud Sikh. 

For aspiring models, Gaba’s advice is to stay true to yourself and to learn to say no for uncomfortable asks. In addition, he reminds the fashion industry’s newcomers that despite the abundance of exposure, practicing humility is of utmost importance. Overall, one’s values should never be forgotten and carried on every path. 

Given his success, Gaba is grateful to have become one of the firsts in the industry to make many marks, such as signing to be the one of the first turbaned Sikhs to shoot for major magazines and brands in Paris, Milan, and Germany. Ready to shine, Gaba is a testament to the fact that we are a step closer for the world now to showcase Sikhi and to open doors for future generations. 

Manpreet (Monica) Singh 

United States of America

Manpreet (Monica) Singh is the first elected female Sikh judge in the US, having been sworn in as a judge of the Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 4 in Texas, earlier this year. Filled with utmost gratefulness, she considers this a win for the entire community.

Born and raised in Houston, Singh now lives in Houston with her husband and two children. Growing up, Singh’s family was one of the first Sikh families in the Houston area. She grew up around a Sikh communal circle and remembers getting together on Fridays and doing Kirtan on Sundays with the diaspora. Of course, the community’s parents did whatever they could to ensure that their kids excelled and connected with Sikhi. Reflecting, Singh realizes that most of her connections from the time grew up to become engineers and doctors. Although Singh herself also did well in Math and Science at school, it was really History that intrigued her. 

“I started realizing how revolutionary our religion was as compared to American history. I was quite interested in exploring the concept of “othering” and how it impacts minorities.”, shares Singh. As such, Singh was always super interested in debate during her school days, confident that she’d want to pursue the field of law as a profession. 

At the time she got admitted to the bar, Singh became the first Sikh to practice law in Houston. When first practicing in 2001, most of the faces she’d see among her colleagues were predominantly that of white men. Singh recalls, “You’d think law would be progressive, but it was very backwards. People would often ask me where I’m from, probably looking for India as the answer, but I got myself into the habit of saying ‘North Houston’.” Fast forward to today, Singh says that the profession has become quite diverse, with more female law school graduates than males. 

Embarking words of wisdom, Singh reminds young professionals that money isn’t enough of a driver for a career, “Whatever profession you choose, it has to be that you can’t see yourself doing anything else. If you’re truly passionate about it, you’ll find success.”

Navjot Sawhney

United Kingdom

Navjot Sawhney is the Founder of The Washing Machine Project (TWMP), a grassroots social enterprise dedicated to empowering women in displaced and low-income communities by alleviating the burden of handwashing clothes, a crucial form of unpaid labor, through an accessible, off-grid washing solution. 

Having lost his father at a young age, Sawhney was single-handedly raised by his mother and sisters, becoming privy to the sacrifices of women. Upon graduating as an engineer, Sawhney joined Dyson, which at the time was nothing short of a dream come true. Yet, he felt unfulfilled, leading him to quit. Tapping into his instilled values of sewa, Sawhney then decided to go work for free in South India, where he helped make clean, efficient cooking stoves. 

There, Sawhney became friends with his next door neighbor, Divya. Divya’s life was an everyday struggle; she would wake up super early for unpaid labor, including cooking, cleaning, and fetching wood, spending upwards of 20 hours each week washing clothes and exposing herself to health risks like infections and water-borne diseases. The passionate volunteer promised he’d find a way to help. Eventually, the Divya 1.5 was born, a manual, off-the-grid washer-dryer machine that can help save up to 50% of water and 75% of the time compared to hand-washing clothes.

By partnering with NGOs and distributing free machines, Sawhney has positively impacted close to 30,000 people around the world. Given that 70% of the world’s population does not have access to an electric washing machine and infrequent electricity and water supplies mean they are often not a sustainable option, TWMP is a lifesaver. Sawhney shares a story, “At a Ugandan primary school and orphanage, we met 14-year old Patricia, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. She hand-washed clothes so much that she’d faint. With only two uniforms, she had to choose between lunch, homework, and washing clothes. Thanks to TWMP, she now saves 90 minutes a day, avoids backaches, and, most importantly, focuses on her education.”

Undoubtedly, TWMP is empowering women across the globe with the time to truly take charge of their lives. To support TWMP, visit www.thewashingmachineproject.org. 

Pritpal Singh 

United Kingdom

Pritpal Singh is lovingly known as The Dutch Sikh for a reason! Although Singh now stays in the UK with his family, his journey traces back to his acceptance in the Netherlands as a refugee from Afghanistan. Longing for a sense of community in Southall, Singh created for himself a distinct, unique online identity, The Dutch Sikh.

His most popular project entails a documentary called Mission Afghanistan, boasting almost million views on YouTube. Singh documented the suffering of fellow Afghan Sikhs and Hindu communities in Afghanistan, portraying the life and hardships of minorities in the war-torn region. Fluent in Farsi and Hindko, the once local filmmaker was able to merge and mix with communities, all while keeping a low profile in a highly dangerous environment. 

Singh returned from the dangerous mission with, in his words, the unprecedented treasure of well over 1500 photographs and films of key historical gurdwaras, mandirs, and mosques of Afghanistan! Singh brought out the truth about the desperate condition of his fellow Sikhs in a country where their forefathers lived for thousands of years. In his second documentary, Singh spent over a year putting together a depiction of the struggling lives of Sikhs as an embattled minority in Afghanistan, despite being one of the oldest communities of the country. Today, the plight of his beloved Afghanistan gravely disheartens him. “There were about 100,000 Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan at the time of my birth. When I went about a decade ago, there were approximately 3,000. Now, there are close to none.”, disappointingly details Singh. 

To highlight the accomplishments of the global Sikh community around the world, Singh still continues to provide direction and mentorship to passionate Sikh journalists and activists. As a message, Singh urges youth leaders to include the martyrs and Sikhs of Afghanistan in their prayers and future accounts of history, vowing not to forget the Sikhs who have sacrificed their lives protecting the Gurdwaras of Kabul and beyond. He reminds the world that even though our community doesn’t survive in Afghanistan currently, we must remember that at one point in time in Afghanistan, Sikhs truly flourished.

True role models, these eight Sikhs are a testament to the resilience, talent, and diversity of the Sikh community. From studying law to fighting legal battles, from academia to activism, from filmmaking to modeling, they have excelled in their chosen fields and inspired others along the way. Their stories demonstrate that with hard work, dedication, and a positive mindset, anything is possible. Navigating our own journeys in life, let us remember the importance of following our hearts, pursuing our dreams, and bringing our own unique light to the world. As we celebrate Vaisakhi this year, let us reflect on the values that unite us as Sikhs and as human beings, and let us continue to strive for excellence in all that we do.

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