Ten months after six worshippers died in the gurdwara shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will begin formally tracking hate crimes against Sikhs, Hindus and Arabs.
An FBI advisory board meeting in Portsmouth, Virginia, voted on Wednesday to expand standard hate-crime incident reports used by police departments across the US to include crimes motivated by bias against the two religious groups as well as Arabs.
The changes, which go into effect by 2015, follow years of pressure from civil rights groups and lawmakers.
Sikh, Hindu and Arab advocates have praised the FBI decision, saying it would avoid underreporting of hate crimes and increase awareness among law enforcement personnel of their religions and cultures.
"The new changes will strengthen diagnostic and deterrence efforts; increase awareness about Sikhs among law enforcement officials nationwide; and encourage Sikhs to begin reporting hate crimes to local, state, and federal authorities," said Rajdeep Singh, director of Law and Policy for the Sikh Coalition.
"While this is a monumental step forward, our work cannot end here," said Democrat representative Joe Crowley who had, in April 2012, led a signature campaign that saw 93 members of Congress sign a letter urging the FBI to update the Hate Crime Incident Report Form to include crimes committed against Sikh-Americans.
After the ruling, Crowley, along with the lone Indian American House member Ami Bera, the first Hindu-American legislator Tulsi Gabbard and five other lawmakers, circulated a letter to FBI director Robert Mueller among their House colleagues urging the FBI to urgently enact the Board's recommendation.
According to Sikh Coalition surveys in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, approximately 10% of Sikh adults claim they have experienced physical violence or property damage because of their religion.