Sikh-American Community Building Resilience Against Rise in Hate Crimes

Singh pointed out that hate crimes against the community have increased during the pandemic.

Within a week, “these abusers found it so comfortable to come to the same place at around the same time,” Singh said.

“They took off their dastars (turbans), pulled their beards – so those are telltale signs (that) it had to do with our appearance,” he said. “For this to happen just two blocks from the gurdwara (shrine) has raised fears among many, and as young people in this community it alerts us that we need to do a better job of protecting our elders and protect ourselves. ”

Depending on whether one is initiated or not, Sikhs are either “amritdhari” or “sahejdhari”. Amritdhari Sikhs are required to wear the Five Articles of Faith, also known as the Five Ks, while the majority of the uninitiated population wear certain Articles of Faith as part of their religious expression. The five articles of faith are ‘kesh’ (uncut hair), ‘kanga’ (wooden comb), ‘kachera’ (cotton underpants), ‘kirpan’ (a steel blade) and ‘kara’ (a steel bracelet).

Each of them carries a symbolic meaning. For example, the kirpan symbolizes his commitment to protecting the defenseless and defending their faith.

The community is on guard, Singh added:

“We have advised seniors to be careful, and if you don’t need to, don’t walk alone, especially at odd hours. If you have a younger relative at home, walk with them or walk in front of your property.

Community support as a coping mechanism played a vital role.

During the FedEx shooting in Indianapolis last year, authorities’ failure to acknowledge bias as a possible motive left the community in distress.

“The fact that the whole community has come together – there is comfort in the fact that you are not alone,” said Inni Kaur. “In events like these, there is not much to say. But your presence matters as this community thrives and prospers, mourns and celebrates together.

“We have no control over the events unfolding around us,” she added. “We have control over how we handle and deal with them.”

But one of the main causes of the targeted community is a severe lack of awareness.

Kiran Kaur said SALDEF conducted a study called “Turban Myths” with Stanford University following the August 2012 mass shooting of gurudwara in Oakcreek, Wisconsin, in which six people were shot dead. The study found that “a large majority of Americans don’t know who Sikhs are.”

“It’s quite shocking, and there’s so much work to do as a community,” Kaur said. “The starting point is to get people to know who you are. And do they understand our unfortunate history of being targeted because of our religion and our religious articles of faith? I think there’s so much to unpack, and that’s where sometimes the work can feel daunting, but it’s extremely necessary.

Following the FedEx shooting in Indianapolis last year, Kaur said SALDEF held briefing training as part of its liaison efforts between government agencies — like the local law enforcement agency. law, the FBI and community members – to raise awareness and help the community feel safer.

“The first thing we did (was) to hear the stories of community members and understand what they were going through and what they were seeing,” she said.

“We focused on Sikh outreach, how to interact with the American Sikh community and build relationships, and our experiences over the years, especially post-9/11. … Part of that is for law enforcement officers to understand the American Sikh experience, because much of what we know intuitively – the hatred the community has experienced – may not be so obvious to people. law enforcement or the FBI if they are unaware of our experiences.

Under-reporting as hate crimes increased

Kiran Kaur said there was likely a significant undercount in the number of anti-Sikh hate crimes.

“Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in hate crimes through the pandemic and under-reporting,” she said. “People are often not necessarily comfortable coming forward.”

In 2020, SALDEF conducted a national survey. The main findings were that most American Sikhs had experienced hatred and discrimination, with 60% of children being bullied in school.

“And we know the number of reported cases is far from that,” Kaur said. “Often, hate crimes are reported by police departments across the country, but reporting is not mandatory. So when you have reports that aren’t mandatory, a lot of times they don’t get reported just because people don’t fill out the paperwork. »

And even though the Biden administration passed the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act last year as part of the COVID-19 hate crimes law, it’s not enough, she said.

“I think it’s a good step to fix a problem, but it’s not a perfect solution,” Kaur said. “It puts systems in place that make it easier to report, and in some cases it emphasizes those requirements. It goes further than any other law on the issue of potential undercoverage.

“SALDEF has invested in community outreach to ensure people feel comfortable reporting,” Kiran noted.

The path to follow

The community is mobilizing and creating spaces to address these issues.

“These incidents are traumatic,” said Kiran Kaur, but the next generation is stepping up and getting involved. “We’ve seen organizers coming together, in Queens and even across the country.”

Japneet Singh pointed out this generational difference. “When our elders came to this country, it was about surviving, being accepted, and working hard so their children could go to good schools,” Singh said. “But now it’s about empowering people of our generation.

“If you come to our community and ask for our votes, our donations, what are you going to do for us?”

Community members try to build towards better representation and seek a seat at the table.

“We need to demand better from our city and state governments,” Singh said.

“For the first time, we have five Sikh men standing as candidates,” he explained, “because if we don’t take care of the community, nobody will.

Manmeet Sahni is a freelance journalist from New Delhi based in New York. She writes about politics, human rights, inequality and social movements. Her bylines have appeared in Documented, The Article and others, and she is an alumnus of Syracuse University’s SI Newhouse School of Public Communications.


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