Faculty, Students Lead Sikh and Punjabi Studies on Campus

October 26, 2011

Sikh and Punjabi Studies: Chair Celebration, March 2011

By Laurel Fujii

Economics professor Nirvikar Singh, is the epitome of the interdisciplinary facets of Humanities’ newest program Sikh and Punjabi Studies. Singh doubles as Sikh and Punjabi Studies’ recently appointed Sarbjit Singh Aurora Chair and is teaching the program’s first class, Introduction to the Sikhs, this fall. 

Singh’s December 2011 appointment marked the beginning of UCSC’s new field of study and is endowed by the Sikh Foundation and Hardit and Harbhajan Kaur Singh in memory of their son, Sarbjit Singh Aurora.

Singh said UCSC is a prime location for Sikh and Punjabi Studies, considering the rich Sikh history in California and the fact that the largest North American Gurdwara is located in San Jose.

“The local Sikh community is excited with what we can do with this program,” Singh said.

Singh and Dr. Inderjit Kaur, who is a research associate in music at UCSC, are already expanding the reach of the program beyond UCSC with a conference in November titled “Sikh and Punjabi Studies: Achievements and New Directions.”

At the conference Singh will include an exploration of the economics of Punjab, the region in which Sikhism was founded.

“Sikh and Punjabi Studies has been an understudied topic in general, and it has heavily focused on religion and comparatively less on the economy,” Singh said.

When Prof. Singh was appointed to the chair, he reached out to students for their expectations of the program.  

“If Punjabi classes could start I’d do anything and everything to get people to take them,” fourth-year Ishajeet Karkar said. “You don’t see Punjabi anywhere. Very few schools have it.”

In addition to the two-unit course this quarter, student initiative is fostering Sikh and Punjabi Studies both on campus and in the Sikh community.

As a part of her Global Information Internship Program (GIIP), third-year Harbir Mahal is creating a website for the program.

“It’s not just another UCSC website,” Mahal said. “It’s going to be for the Sikh and Punjabi community in the Bay Area.”

Like Mahal, more students are creating their own resources. The debut of the student organization Sikh Student Association (SSA) coincides with the creation of Sikh and Punjabi Studies.

“SSA is not the idea of one person,” second-year and SSA co-founder Damanjit Gill said. “Quite a few of the Sikh students at Santa Cruz had the idea, we just needed a stimulus to make it happen, and the inauguration of the Sikh and Punjabi Studies chair did just that.”

Laurel Fujii is a UCSC Humanities Development student intern, a second-year American Studies major, and she writes for the school newspaper, City on a Hill Press.

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