Manpreet “Singh is Queer” Virk

Manpreet “Singh is Queer” Virk Oral History Interview

Summary of the Interview

            In this interview, Manpreet Singh covers his experiences living as a racialized brown man in America. He was born on September 24, 1994 in the city of Turlock, California. His family moved to Hayward when he was 2 years old, and he has attended school in Hayward ever since. Singh explains how his intersections have influenced his day-to-day interactions and overall lifestyle. He was a college drop-out, but he decided to pursue a college degree after being constantly exposed to racism and homophobia in the security industry. He grew tired of being compared to ISIS, and he was not a fan of the sexual harassment he experienced because of his Queer identity. When searching for a job outside of the security industry, Manpreet experienced the same bigotry in the form of transphobia. He decided that the only way for him to feel safe at a job is if he found a career that catered to his identity.

Singh is now graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies, genders and sexualities in communities of color. He self-published his poetry book on April 20, 2018 through Amazon. He would be considered a terrorist in India for speaking up about Khalistan. He is currently working on his second poetry book, and he has started writing songs for a mixtape that covers more controversial topics, such as police brutality, racism, xenophobia, systematic violence, rape culture, the Punjabi Diaspora, Sikh identity, etc. Manpreet hopes that more Panjabi Sikhs will become more in tune with their gender(s) and sexuality. Usually alone in his battle as a Queer Sikh, his existence has inspired other south Asians to come out to their parents and live their lives as the most authentic version of themselves. His life is centered around creating a safe space for all humans because he is tired of the constant bigotry he experiences from different communities. In the Punjabi community, he experiences homophobia and transphobia. In the LGBTQ+ community, he experiences racism. Manpreet Singh will continue taking up space and talking about topics that are taboo for the remainder of his life on Earth.

 

 

Key Words and Definitions

  1. Caste: Caste is how one is defined in the social hierarchy. Usually determined by ritual purity and how much one is “polluted;” the more “polluted” an individual is, the more they are associated with untouchability. Last names categorize people into their separate castes, giving more authority (land, power, wealth, religious rights, marriage rights, overall access to resources) to certain individuals on the pinnacle of this social structure compared to others.
  2. Race: In India, one’s race is determined by the state that they live in. Somebody from Punjab is Punjabi, while somebody from Gujarat is Gujarati. Both are still considered “Indian,” although some citizens in India find difficulty in identifying as “Indian” because of India’s long problematic history of oppressing it’s minorities.
  3. Gurdwara: a Sikh temple. Gurdwara translates to “Doorway to God,” to emphasize that anybody, regardless of their religion, can enter a Sikh temple to worship too.
  4. Discrimination: Prejudice that takes the shape of physical form. It is the unfair treatment against people who do not conform to society’s norms.
  5. Oppression: Mental, physical, spiritual, and/or emotional distress. The act of “othering” and abusing an individual in order to take all of their power/control away. Oppression can come in the form of homophobia, racism, transphobia, cissexism, casteism, etc.
  6. Genocide: The massacre of a large group of people based off of the group’s background. This group of people can be targeted due to their gender, race, religion, sexuality, and/or ethnicity.
  7. Sikhi: Around the 15th century, Guru Nanak Dev Ji (the first of the ten living Gurus) founded the religion Sikhi. Sikhi believes in oneness (one God/one youniverse/one creator). Oneness is emphasized through meditation, prayer, and doing selfless service (seva) for the community. Sikhi believes in an egalitarian society, so all Sikhs are taught how to read, write, pray, do seva, and perform Ghatka (a form of fighting) for their community.
  8. Singh/Kaur: Singh means male lion. Kaur means female lion. Both names emphasize that one is royalty. The 10th living Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, created Singh and Kaur when he established how Sikhs became baptized through taking Amrit. Sikh men were given the last name Singh, and Sikh women were given the last name Kaur. If one does not identify as male/female, one can choose either Singh or Kaur, although it is more common to choose Singh in this instance. Additionally, some people choose to take the last name Khalsa as well, which emphasizes that they are baptized Sikhs. Singh and Kaur were given to the Sikhs as a way to destroy the caste system, since last names decided caste. In this scenario, caste would no longer apply to people’s lives because these Sikh names replaced the caste system.
  9. Langar: Roughly translates to Free Kitchen. Started with Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Langar was served to all who visited the Gurdwara. Comprising of Vegetarian food only, there is a section in every Gurdwara that has a Langar Hall. Visitors can do seva (selfless service) and eat Langar whenever they wish to at anytime of the day. Nobody is ever turned away.
  10. Khalistan: a Sikh nation free of any “Indian” rule, comprised of all of the lands that the 10 Gurus lived on and visited. Khalistan would be all of the Sikh holy lands in Panjab merged into one nation. This Sikh nation was promised to the Sikhs in Panjab before the Panjab partition in 1947. Sikhs were promised a Khalistan, Muslims were promised a Pakistan, and Indians were promised their Hindustan (aka India). Sikhs were backstabbed instead. India took Panjab, broke it into pieces, and essentially stole land from the Sikhs. India gave Pakistan a huge portion of Panjab, killing over a million Sikhs in the process, and denying that they made an agreement over Khalistan in the first place. Sikhs continue to fight for their justice.
  11. Panjab: a state in India, Panjab translates to “The Five Rivers.” Sikhi was founded within Panjab’s borders. Guru Nanak Dev Ji spread the message of Sikhi by walking all throughout Asia and Africa for over 30 years.

 

Annotated Bibliography

Behl, Natasha. Understanding Difference Blindness: Minimization of Casteism in the Sikh Community.    APSA Annual Meeting Paper, Occidental College, 2011. Available at SSRN:     https://ssrn.com/abstract=1902291

According to the abstract, the paper explains the different discourses of caste in Sikh society. Panjabi Sikhs define casteism, caste-based inequality, and caste relations in their everyday lives. Interviews were conducted in Panjab, India in order to analyze how Panjabi Sikhs utilize caste daily, including how they use caste vocabularies, caste-based narratives, and their personal definitions of casteism. The abstract states: “At the center of this discussion is the question of how definition – the power to name – determines perception, and ultimately, prescription.” Through this study, one can understand how Sikhs simultaneously acknowledge and deny caste differences among themselves. Caste is defined based off of “ritual purity” and “pollution associated with untouchability.” This concept helps perpetuate discrimination against members of a certain caste.

 

Gurharpal Singh (2010) EDITORIAL NOTE CASTE AND CASTE RELATIONS IN       CONTEMPORARY SIKH SOCIETY, Sikh Formations, 6:1, 1-2, DOI: 10.1080/17448727.2010.486220

In Sikh studies, caste is often ignored or overlooked. Sikh communities utilize caste for a sundry of concepts, including marriage and friendships. Those who are of different castes are denied marriage to certain members of a caste because one’s caste determines one’s “pollution.” According to caste ideology, the more “polluted” one is, the less access they have to God. Caste ideology allows institutions to commit discriminatory practices. This article explores the issue of Sikh formations and how caste influences the daily life of Sikhs.

 

Virk, Manpreet Singh. Singh is Queer. Hayward: Self-Published on Amazon, 2018. Print.
The first poetry book in human history that covers a sundry of political concepts by a QTPoC Sikh. This poetry book captures the story of a Queer/Transgender Punjabi man who was born and raised in America. Singh explores controversial topics from a Sikh lens. He includes the history of different oppressed groups, including the Indigenous peoples of America, African Americans, and Mexican Americans. His topics are very relevant worldwide. He writes about colonialism, capitalism, rape culture, racism, Queerphobia, poverty, familial relationships, and so on. He documents his most tragic life events, using his Sikh religion as a way to cope with all of the oppression that he has faced in his life.