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Penn Sikh Organization hosting a food event in 2012.

Credit: Lu Shu , Samaira Sirajee

Students leading Penn Sikh Organization, a club that fosters greater awareness of Sikh values and traditions, are working to revive the organization after years of little activity.

Founded almost 20 years ago, PSO has a mission to broaden the understanding and awareness of the Sikh religion and heritage in the Penn community through cultural, social, and religious activities, according to its leaders. In recent years, however — due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic — the organization has held one or two events per year celebrating holidays together, and other significant events.

College juniors and PSO co-leaders Jasleen Gill and Rhea Bakshi hope to expand the organization's presence on campus, including getting it registered on Penn Clubs and receiving official recognition and funding from the University. 

Gill and Bakshi said taking Punjabi courses with lecturer Amrit Gahunia, who serves as the faculty advisor for PSO, helped inspire them to undertake the goal of reviving PSO. 

“I want [the] Penn community to [be] aware of Sikh religion and heritage,” said Gahunia, who has been working with PSO since its inception nearly two decades ago. “That [has been] our goal from the beginning.” 

“We want to be able to hold at least one or two events every semester to keep things going,” Gill said. 

This fall, PSO hopes to once again host its annual Langar on Locust event. Gill said that langar, a free community meal served by the gurdwara — the Sikh place of worship — is an important part of Sikhism where gurdwara members and non-members serve each other and sit on the floor as equals to partake in a meal together.

“The basic idea is that food should be available to everyone,” Wharton junior and PSO member Harjap Singh said. 

In previous years, PSO members invited the Penn community to participate in Langar on Locust, in which PSO students brought meals to campus from the local gurdwara and hosted a langar on Locust Walk where students sat on the ground and ate their meals together. While Langar on Locust has not happened for a few years due to the pandemic, Gill and Bakshi are planning to host one before the end of this semester. 

Singh hopes that holding more events through PSO will increase the group’s exposure to other Sikh, and even non-Sikh, students at Penn who may not know about it. 

Gahunia said that in addition to Langar on Locust, PSO has previously hosted events such as turban-tying demonstrations, film screenings, and trips to a nearby gurdwara in Upper Darby, Pa.

PSO has already held several meetings within the organization this semester, Bakshi said.

“[At our meetings], I saw this connection that warmed my heart and made me incredibly proud to be a Sikh woman,” she added. 

Such community connections are an integral facet of PSO. Gill, Bakshi, Singh, and Gahunia all mentioned PSO’s role in bringing together the Sikh community at Penn.

“My religious identity is a very important part of who I am,” Singh said. “[PSO is] a space for Sikh people to meet others in the community.” 

Bakshi echoed this sentiment, also explaining that she has grown more in touch with her religious identity since coming to college. 

“We all had Sikh friends here and there, but bringing them all together was really important to us because it’s not really a community that can connect as one unless you bring everyone together in one space,” Bakshi said. “It’s been easier to connect to my own religion and my own identity at Penn. I found a lot more people like me.”