Milestone Day: First American Sikh Caucus

Article by: Sharon Persaud, Media and Communications Manager, UNITED SIKHS

Washington D.C.- April 24th, 2013 is now a significant day in the history of Sikh Americans. From day one of migration to the America from India some 130 years ago, Sikhs have not only been successful and making positive impact in society, but also feeling the backlash that comes from the ridiculation of sacred practices and beliefs. How best to tackle these issues that going straight to the ones in charge, in the United States, that is Congress.

By forming a caucus, which by definition is the meeting of supporters and members of a political party or movement to listening and disseminate issues of a particular group. In the United States, the formation of a caucus provides a specific group with a direct voice to the lawmakers and changers. Why is this so important to Sikh Americans? Sikh Americans have faced racism and discrimination for many years and it only heightened after 9/11 and the Wisconsin shootings to name just two. As a result of September 11, some Sikh Americans have become subject to discrimination, often from individuals who under a mistaken identity have attacked people of color, be it Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims and Arabs. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner, was killed on September 15, 2001 due to being mistaken for a Muslim. In a 2011 report to the United States Senate, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported several assaults and incidents of arson at Sikh temples after September 11. All were labeled as hate crimes that resulted from the perpetrators’ misconceptions that their targets were Muslim.[1]

Although the majority of anti-Sikh hostility and hate crimes occurred in the wake of the September 11th attacks, Sikhs continue to be the target of racially motivated violence. As recent as March 7, 2011, a Sikh family in Virginia received death threats in an anonymous letter, charging the family with ties to the Taliban.[2] Referred to as the Turban Family, the family was told to either leave the country or face serious consequences. There was also a tragic occurrence on March 8, 2011 where two elderly Sikh gentlemen, Surinder Singh, age 67, and Gurmej Atwal, age 78 were gunned down from a moving truck in West Sacramento California.

Many civil-rights organizations such as UNITED SIKHS, SALDEF and SIKH COALITION have dedicated their work to empowering, educating and protecting individuals facing such backlash. Two determined individuals took the honest upon themselves to propose this caucus to Congress members: Harpreet Singh Sandhu, a California-based political activist, and Dr. Pritpal Singh, American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (AGPC) Coordinator, for their role in spearheading the formation of the Caucus.   “The Sikh dream of a direct voice to Congress about Sikh related issues has come true. The Caucus’ purpose is to educate and allow Members to strategize on how to support the American Sikh community and attack the many issues we face today including bullying, Armed Forces, and homeland security. I am so happy to have civil rights groups such as the UNITED SIKHS as a supporter and this Caucus can only get bigger and bigger as days to come,” said Mr. Sandhu.

Representatives from California, Congresswoman Judy Chu (D) and Congressman David Valadao (R) currently the co-chairs of the caucus, launched the First American Sikh Caucus. They also received the backing of 28 other members of Congress. While this caucus has the potential to grow and grow, we are looking forward to them listening to the trials and tribulations facing the Sikh communities nationwide. From bullying in schools to ridicule by TDA, amendments need to be made allowing Sikhs to practice their religious beliefs freely in this country of freedom.

Sikhs express only excitement and enthusiasm on this so long awaited formation of this caucus. Many Sikh groups have come formed to support the caucus and their numbers are increasing.  Its time to be a witness to the change and to see the collective impact this will have on the issues and concerns that the Sikh communities are facing.   The Latino- Jewish Caucus, launched in 2011, has brought change and voice to the concerns faced by these two groups jointly. The model is to make sure that the Sikhs who with the other color minorities who have faced the brunt of discrimination/attacks based on their identity hope to make sure that the caucus will address their issues and concerns.

  1. ^ “Anti-Muslim Incidents Since Sept. 11, 2001”. Southern Poverty Law Center. March 29, 2011. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  2. ^ Sikh family receives death threats in us. (2012, March 07). Press Trust of India. Retrieved from http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/sikh-family-receives-death-threats-in-us-183543

8 Comments

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