Sikh advocacy groups feel charity can help curb racial abuse

Hindustan Times | ByNeetika Walter and Harvinder Kaur, Chandigarh
Mar 22, 2015 05:04 PM IST

Post 9/11, there have been incidents of shooting; stabbing and other form of abuses reported against the Sikhs across the globe, every now and then.

Post 9/11, there have been incidents of shooting; stabbing and other form of abuses reported against the Sikhs across the globe, every now and then. On August 6, 2012 six people of the Sikh community were killed in a racist attack at Wisconsin, United States of America. Recently, a video of young Sikh boy being racially abused went viral.

And this problem is not only limited to US, it’s global.

Talking about the problem on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which falls on march 21, Amar Singh of Turban4Australia, an Australia-based organization, said, "Since the Sydney Siege, turban wearing Sikhs are often confronted with comments like go back terrorists. Are you carrying any bombs."

"Hate related crimes have become increasingly prominent after the September 11 terrorist attacks. However, racist crimes have been a problem in United States for a while. For example, not until the 1950s were African Americans in the United States given equal rights," said Rana Sodhi, whose brother Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed post 9/11 due to his Sikh identity.

So why are Sikhs discriminated?

"Sikhs have been the target of discrimination primarily because of their unique identity. Males wear a turban and have a full beard that gives them a distinctive look in society. After the multiple attacks of terrorism, many Americans confused Sikh individuals as terrorists because of their attire. Sikh Americans were threatened to remove their turban or even leave the country," explains Sodhi.

"Sikhs are impacted by four different categories of discrimination - employment discrimination, bias-based bullying, racial profiling, and hate crimes," said Jasjit Singh, executive director of SALDEF, a US based Sikh American media, policy, and education organisation.


"Our experience is that most such cases arise due to lack of awareness of the rights of Sikhs to freely practice their faith in the UK, according to the law. There is anecdotal evidence that practicing Sikhs are wrongly identified and associated with extremist Islamists. Once again this is likely due to lack of awareness of Sikhs and their customs and practices," adds Sikh Council UK spokesperson Gurinder Singh Josan.

According to a Department of Justice, US report: ""In the first six years after 9/11, the department investigated more than 800 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism, and arson against persons perceived to be Muslim or Sikh, or of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South-Asian origin."

Since then many organisations have been set up to create awareness about the Sikhs.

"Every community has to lobby to be heard as an American voice. Sikh Americans, like other religious groups in the United States, have dedicated resources towards advocacy as well as community service for several decades, and have done these types of activities through gurdwaras. The Sikh American community and Sikh American advocacy organisations are becoming more vocal about how they too are American and must be perceived as such. Americans have misunderstood or "other-ized" the Sikh community and other minorities as "foreign"or un-American. Our message is simple - we’re Americans too," said Jasjit Singh.

The Australia-based organisation, Turban4Australia, thinks humanitarian aid, community work and spreading the message of unity, brotherhood and love can break all barriers. "The approach I have taken is to educate people about who Sikhs are through charity work," said Amar Singh.

Khalsa Aid trustee Indy Hothi share similar opinion.

"Khalsa Aid has carried out humanitarian projects in some of the most remote places in the world where individuals and whole communities have never heard of Sikhs let alone met one. All this has helped in its small way to ensure the world is a better place through selfless giving (Sewa) and increased understanding across the global community."

Having faced discrimination himself, 43-year-old Vishvajit Singh, a software engineer, came up with a unique idea of dressing up as Capt Sikh America and moving on the streets of US to create awareness.

"I have been subjected to what I call people's fear, anxieties and ignorance all coming out in a very vile way. People who don't know me at all have created distorted realities in their heads all based on images of turbans and beards. Rather than getting to know me, they have built imaginary walls between their and my existence preventing the realization that we have a lot more in common than meets the eye. From here things go south and find violent outlets on the streets of our communities, real and virtual. I have been a target of this not only on facebook but on streets of New York City and beyond. I try my best to engage people and have a conversation. But the best language in my opinion is the language of art, cartoons and images," said Vishvajit.


"The most important step in avoiding incidents caused by racism is education. The community must make it an obligation to educate and create awareness to their citizens. Ignorance is the primary cause of racism, "reiterates Rani Sodhi.

"I believe that our work as a Sikh community has not gone unnoticed. We have made many important connections with members of different faiths who have shared similar stories. The United States government leaders now recognize Sikhs as a crucial member of American society. Unfortunately, we still have much to do. Education does not stop because we constantly need to provide information about Sikhism and cultural awareness to new generations. Before the attacks on September 11th 2001 in New York, many Sikhs were not the targets of hate crimes. However, as terrorism is increasing exponentially we need to create awareness for Sikhs." he added.

"Legal strategies are certainly important in tackling racial abuse, but they are only one piece of the puzzle. We have to find ways to become aware of the problem in all its myriad contexts and manifestations. We have to address the root cause by realising that at a level we are all susceptible to stereotyping that serves as a stepping stone to racial abuse. From this common ground observation we have to sit down and have an honest meditative conversation rather than pointing fingers on entire cultures, ethnic groups, professions, communities etc. We might not be able to eradicate racial abuse but we can create conditions maximising intolerance to intolerant attitudes," said Vishavjit.?
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