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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Ravi Bhalla: Meet the first Sikh mayor of Hoboken who was called a ‘terrorist’

Anonymously distributed flyers in Hoboken featured a picture of Ravi Bhalla with the message “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!”.

world Updated: Nov 09, 2017 10:40 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Ravi Bhalla was elected the mayor of Hoboken earlier this week.
Ravi Bhalla was elected the mayor of Hoboken earlier this week. (Facebook/Ravi Bhalla official account )

Ravindra S Bhalla’s journey to become the first Sikh mayor of Hoboken, a city of 55,000 on the Hudson river, wasn’t easy.

The Sikh-American City Council member topped five other candidates on Tuesday and succeeded Dawn Zimmer, who decided not to seek a third term.

While campaigning for the mayoral race, the Indian-American born and raised in New Jersey was called a “terrorist” in targeted racist attacks. Anonymously distributed flyers featured a picture of Bhalla with the message “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!”

The 44-year-old politician responded to the flyers, saying last week they were troubling but “we won’t let hate win”. “I want to use this incident as an opportunity to affirm to each other and our children the value of living in a diverse community where we are judged by the content of our character -- not by the color of our skin or how we worship,” Bhalla wrote in a Facebook post.

But that wasn’t the first time the Democrat was attacked over his religion. He told The Huffington Post he was bullied and harassed at a public school because of his turban.

“At this point in my political career, I have a thick skin,” he said. “This is not something that is new to me,” Bhalla said.

On winning the election with a margin of about 600 votes, Bhalla feels exhilarated and “grateful to have the opportunity to serve Hoboken”, according to a New York Times report.

He hasn’t shied away from criticising US President Donald Trump either, whose election and divisive politics, he believes, have fuelled racist attacks in America. He claims he is “everything that Trump hates”.

“A brown man wearing a turban and a proud American with the know-how to stop his assaults on our country’s values,” Bhalla, told The Nation explaining his comment.

A lawyer who has studied from the University of California at Berkeley, the London School of Economics and Tulane Law School -- Bhalla said he plans on prioritising infrastructure, commuting and open space.

His win is a boost for representation of the Sikh community in American politics. Simran Jeet Singh of the Sikh Coalition tweeted after the Democrat’s victory: “I can’t tell you how much it means that my daughter will have civic heroes who look like her father. I’m crying right now.”

Sikhs have been at the receiving end of hate crimes, often because of the traditional turbans they wear. A segment by Hasan Minhaj in The Daily Show with Trevor Noah showed earlier this year that many in the US are unaware Sikhism is a monotheist religion separate from Hinduism and Islam.

According to the Sikh Coalition, since the 9/11 terror attacks, Sikhs are more likely to be targeted in cases of profiling, bigotry and backlash than the average American.

Still, Bhalla -- a father of two -- insists his candidature isn’t just because of votes from the Sikh community. “I didn’t run as the Sikh candidate... I ran as the candidate who happened to be Sikh.”

It’s perhaps telling that 2017 was an election of firsts. Apart from a turbaned Sikh being elected the mayor, a transgender Democrat won a seat in the Virginia state legislature against a Republican incumbent who openly boasted of being a “homophobe”.

“This is the America we know. This is the America we want,” summed up Simran Jeet Singh in a tweet.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Nov 09, 2017 10:38 IST

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