Pope Welcomes Sikh Community with Open Arms

UNITED SIKHS was honored to represent the Sikh community at Ground Zero during Pope Francis’ interfaith prayer service on September 25, 2015.

The 266th Catholic pope is the fourth incumbent pope to visit the United States, and further made history by conducting an interfaith prayer service at the former site of the World Trade Center. As part of his 6-day visit to the United States, Pope Francis has also spoken at the White House, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, and became the first pope to address the U.S. Congress.

During his speeches, the Pope emphasized the collective social responsibility every citizen has to ensure the safety and acceptance of oppressed and underrepresented communities. Pope Francis has advocated for minority and immigrant rights and representation in the past, and continues to do so during his time in the United States.

 

Pope Francis stands in unity with religious minorities.

 

At Ground Zero, Pope Francis shared the stage with representatives from 10 world religions, including Dr. Satpal Singh and Dr. Gunisha Kaur, who read from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, or the Sikh holy text during the prayer.

 

“Know that we attain God when we love, and only that victory endures.” Dr. Satpal Singh and Dr. Gunisha Kaur read a shabad, or Sikh prayer.

 

In a memo released by the Office of the Moderator of the Curia, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, members of the Sikh community were assured that those wearing a Kirpan would not be prevented from attending the interfaith ceremony. This was not the case previously. UNITED SIKHS worked with other interfaith organizations and directly with the Diocese of Brooklyn to ensure that the Sikh community would not be prevented from entering the ceremony on the basis of wearing a Kirpan, which was initially listed as a prohibited item. Accordingly, the United States Secret Service in conjunction with the Papal Visit Office was briefed on the Kirpan as being an article of faith. Great respect was shown to members of the Sikh community wearing a Kirpan, while passing through customary security procedures at the interfaith ceremony.

Four senior members of UNTIED SIKHS attended the event, including Chief Operations Officer Amrita Kaur, who remarks “UNITED SIKHS’ invitation to join the Pope in an interfaith prayer service at the 9/11 memorial is symbolic of the struggle the Sikh community has faced since the attacks of 9/11. The interfaith prayer service helps advance our goals of promoting peace and prosperity between minority religions all over the world.”

Indeed, the representation of Sikh Americans at the Ground Zero event holds a poignant significance to a community who has faced appalling acts of hate and violence in a post-9/11 world. The inclusion of minority faiths such as Sikh Americans on this groundbreaking day gave us the platform and visibility needed to gain the acceptance and understanding of our fellow Americans. Even after the unthinkable tragedies witnessed on and after September 11, 2001, we may still unite under the banner of religion and recognize the human race as one. In the words of Pope Francis,

“This is the time to live together with love and peace with different religions and differences. This is the time to embrace our differences and we should voice against those who stop us from being together. We should throw away our feelings of hate.”

With your support, UNITED SIKHS pledges to continue advocating for minority faiths around the world, and working towards shaping a more tolerant society.

Honoring 9/11’s Unheeded Victims

UPDATE: September 15, 2015– A hate crime charge has been added in the case of Inderjit Singh.

On the heels of the most recent anti-Sikh hate crime in the United States, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) has introduced a resolution to honor victims of post 9/11 hate crimes. Johnson states:

“September 11, 2001 changed the course of our country’s history forever. Many Americans lost their lives and loved ones in those senseless acts of terrorism. In the aftermath of 9/11, we saw a marked increase of violence misdirected at individuals within the Arab, South Asian, Sikh, and Muslim communities. In the first nine weeks following 9/11, there were over 700 documented cases of violent incidents targeting Arab-Americans. On this day, I want to recognize the individuals who were unfairly targeted in post-9/11 violence. This resolution reaffirms the positive contributions that Arabs, South Asian, Sikh, and Muslims make to the United States and recognizes the rights of religious freedom upheld in the Constitution.”

 

Joining Congresswoman Johnson in cosponsoring this resolution are Representatives Andre Carson ( IN-7), Mike Honda (CA-17), and Paul Tonko (NY-20). On behalf of the Sikh community, who has endured untold amounts of violence after 9/11, we are moved and grateful to see such a resolution introduced, and the severe impact that 9/11 on communities such as that of Sikh Americans validated.

Unfortunately, the journey towards a safe and tolerant society is far from over. A prime example of the horrifying post-9/11 violence that our community lives in fear of occurred only last week, as Inderjit Singh, 53, of Chicago, Illinois was driving when another driver cut him off, preventing him from moving his car. The driver then approached Singh and punched him repeatedly, calling him “Bin Laden,” and telling him to go back to his country. Singh, a U.S. citizen, was hospitalized and treated for a fractured cheek bone, a laceration requiring stitches, a black eye, bruising, and swelling.

Inderjit Singh

 

Inderjit Singh after the attack.

 

Instead of labeling this incident as a hate crime, law enforcement is categorizing it as a result of the attacker’s road rage, despite his use of racial slurs. Last year, UNITED SIKHS took on a similar case of hate-based violence, where a Sikh American in New York alleged a perpetrator damaged his vehicle, spit in his direction, and referred to him using a racial slur. The most challenging hurdle in this case was upgrading the charge, after police reported it as a simple traffic accident. Read more about the case here: http://unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-25-07-14-01.html.

As we remember the innocent lives lost on Septempber 11th, 2001, as well as the lives lost due to post-9/11 ignorance, we are reminded that our work as a civil rights organization is now more important than ever. Support our fight against hate and ignorance—donate today.

If you have been victim to hate-based violence, contact law-usa@unitedsikhs.org.

“I continue to nurture the passion that I have to help others.”: California Sikh Man Gives Back to Community

By day, LA-based #UNITEDSIKHS volunteer Harbakshish Singh  is the Assistant Vice President Corporate Treasury at MUFG Union Bank. In his free time, however, he works with 826LA–a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.
Harbakshish Singh (Photo Credit: 826LA)

Nominated as best mentor/volunteer at 826LA, Harbakshish began volunteering in 2014, and commonly works with students seeking help with math. Read his interview with the organization here: http://826la.org/WP/2015/08/21/iwanttohelp-nurture-the-passion-that-i-have-to-help-others/

“I want to help because I realized when I was still relatively young that I had many passions, and also that I would need to work hard in order to keep these passions alive. In order to live fully, to have a meaningful existence, I would need to keep my important passions alive. I have always enjoyed solving problems, and as I matured I realized that the common theme among all my passions was my ability to solve complex problems and to serve others in a leadership role. I continue to nurture the passion that I have to help others, as a leader and as an engaged member of an academic community.”

UNITED SIKHS salutes community members like Harbakshish Singh, who find new and innovative ways to practice the core values of seva, and improve the lives of others.

Satwinder Singh, Bapu Surat Singh’s Son-in-Law, Murdered

Satwinder Singh, son-in-law of fasting protester Bapu Surat Singh has been stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances in Chicago, USA. On Monday, August 17th, 2015, Satwinder Singh was returning home from his gas station when he was attacked by unidentified killers in a parking lot near his home. The cause of the murder was likely not related to robbery.

Satwinder Singh

Satwinder Singh

 

Bapu Surat Singh

Bapu Surat Singh

UNITED SIKHS is actively searching for answers whilst working with the authorities to get to the bottom of this murder. We are in touch with the Community Relations Service of the United States Department of Justice, and will continue to post updates as more information is revealed. We urge the community to remain calm in this time of despair and stand in solidarity with the family.

Bapu Surat Singh has been on a hunger strike in Punjab, India since January 16th, 2015, calling for the release of Sikh political prisoners who have completed their sentences.

The Punjab administration has previously made several attempts to force Bapu Surat Singh into submission, and to end his peaceful hunger strike, including arresting him with no charges, and detaining his son Ravinder Jeet Singh under “preventative charges.”

Harman Kaur, daughter of Satwinder Singh, expresses her grief at her father’s passing:

 

Harman Kaur 1 Harman Kaur

 

Sikh Family Seeks Justice

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21 year old student Jagtaranjeet Singh committed suicide by hanging himself with his turban.

Details are still emerging about an incident that occurred on August 7th, 2015, involving the death of Academy of Maritime Education and Training University  student and Merchant Navy selectee Jagtaranjeet Singh. Singh left a suicide note in which he attributed his suicide to unjust treatment he received by college dean A. Venugopal, who had told Singh that he must repeat a semester he had already completed.

After news of Singh’s death broke, thousands gathered to demand justice for Singh. Among the demonstrations was a peaceful march and candlelight vigil in Jalandhar, Panjab, attended by UNITED SIKHS activists.

 

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UNITED SIKHS hopes to see this incident thoroughly investigated, and justice brought to the victim’s family. Updates to follow as more details emerge.

Hate Crimes: Its History and Society’s Role Against It

Opinion piece by: Amanpreet Singh, UNITED SIKHS volunteer

An Opinion piece by Amanpreet Singh, 22-year-old UNITED SIKHS volunteer. Amanpreet aspires to become a family/immigration lawyer.

                Hate crimes have been a problem throughout America’s history and still remains a problem for this great nation. A hate crime occurs when the perpetrator attacks the victim due to their ethnicity, physical appearance, religion, or sexual orientation. As a kid I learned about attacks against African Americans in the 1800s by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other white supremacists. They believed African Americans were inferior to them and did not deserve the same rights, such as the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 was passed to help stop violence perpetrated by the KKK. One of the most brutal cases we were taught about was the Emmet Till murder that took place in 1951 in Mississippi. A fourteen-year-old African American boy was savagely beaten and then shot dead for looking at a white woman. The jury found the two white men that committed the crime not guilty. This trial highlighted how bad racial prejudice was in the south during that time period. A few years later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law which aimed to put an end to racial segregation in the public, work, and schools. For the first time whites and minorities were to be given equal rights in a country who’s founding principles were based on freedom and equality. These stories of hate and racially motivated attacks are in books across the U.S. and taught to every child. Something these history books fail to mention and is not taught in the classroom are the hate crimes committed against Sikhs. Continue reading ‘Hate Crimes: Its History and Society’s Role Against It’ »

Support for NYC’s IDNYC Program

UNITED SIKHS welcomes and supports the IDNYC municipal identification program for residents of all New York City boroughs. This will provide a sense of community for undocumented individuals to open the bank account or get any financial aid and benefits.

The IDNYC card is our light to unification, integration, and equality. The impact that this will have on our immigrant and undocumented communities is key to providing a support system long overdue. Newly immigrated families will have the opportunity to enroll their children in school and take advantage of libraries and bank accounts, something undocumented immigrants could not have done before.

The IDNYC will allow the homeless, youth, the elderly, undocumented immigrants, the formerly incarcerated and others who may have difficulty obtaining other government-issued ID, to come out from the shadows and finally initiate themselves into the community, making New York a more integrated society, one that will be inclusive and connect all residents from all boroughs to the programs and benefits the state provides.

“IDNYC is not only a card for all New Yorkers, it is the gateway to City services, the key to opening a bank account or getting a library card, and the ticket to many of our city’sfinest cultural institutions. More than that, this card represents who we are: New Yorkers who value equality, opportunity and diversity,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

UNITED SIKHS supports this step towards providing vital assistance to all families.

Read more about the program here: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/idnyc/index.page

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Reforms to Federal Racial Profiling Guidance Continue to Negatively Impact Sikh Community

 UNITED SIKHS is disappointed by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) revisions to the federal racial profiling guidance. We are specifically concerned by the exemption allowing law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to continue profiling our communities behind a veil of national security investigations. With their exemption from the new changes, profiling will continue to be permitted at our borders and in our airports on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, and national origin.

In 2003, DOJ had released their racial profiling guidance containing several loopholes which in turn allowed law enforcement officials free reign to profile without consequence. As stands, almost all Sikhs with turbans are subject to secondary screening at airports, an issue UNITED SIKHS and other civil rights groups have been bringing to the attention of lawmakers, the administration, and government officials for years. Major efforts have been taken to push DOJ to remove such profiling from their federal guidance and a lot more work needs to be done.

We do commend the DOJ for including the ban of racial profiling from national security cases and expanding the definition of profiling to prevent FBI agents from considering factors such as religion and national origin when opening cases. It adds national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity to the categories of individuals protected from profiling.

We join other civil rights groups in our disappointment with the loopholes remaining in the guidance and implore Attorney General Eric Holder and DOJ to stand against such profiling.  Particularly, the guidance must apply to state and local law enforcement, must apply to TSA and CBP, and must ban the surveillance of our communities through mapping efforts.

We stand by our stance against the use of any kind of profiling by law enforcement agencies. UNITED SIKHS will continue to advocate for the international Sikh community until turbans DO NOT equal secondary screening. We are committed to working towards a fair government no longer reliant on profiling measures as a means for national security.

Unity Strengthens for Eric Garner

Before our communities have had a chance to wrap our minds around what is happening in Ferguson, we find ourselves once again stunned by a grand jury decision not to indict a police officer who used excessive force against an unarmed man. This time it was Eric Garner, father of six in New York City. UNITED SIKHS stands in solidarity with Eric Garner’s family in seeking reform for the continuous lack of police accountability and justice in police brutality cases.

Disguised behind the veil of “Stop-and-Frisk” and phrases like “potential threat to national security” we have seen the New York Police Department disproportionately profile and harass the Sikh and Muslim communities for over a decade. As an international Sikh civil and human rights advocacy organization, UNITED SIKHS has continuously advocated for better treatment for our respective communities.

Today is no different.

We join our brothers and sisters in the civil rights community nationwide to continue the fight for police accountability and reform. This issue directly affects each and every one of us: It is not just a black issue, nor is it just a minority issue. It became a humanity issue when an unarmed man was choked to death despite repeatedly pleading, “I Can’t Breathe” eleven times, all without any consequence.

We commend the Department of Justice’s decision to further investigate Eric Garner’s death and hope these efforts, coupled with the awareness and unity on streets across the nation, will lead to the structural reform of policing practices and accountability penalties that are vital for the just America we all strive to live in equally.

A nation unites in protest with Eric Garner’s final words: “I Can’t Breathe.”

 

Unity for Ferguson

As an international civil and human rights advocacy organization dedicated to representing minorities around the world, UNITED SIKHS stands united with the family of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who despite being unarmed, was shot six times by a police officer.

We join our partner communities around the United States in disappointment and sadness by the grand jury’s decision yesterday to not indict the police officer in question.

Sikh community members in the United States have been mistaken for terrorists ever since 9/11/2001 due to physical appearances. We, more than most, understand the feeling associated with being targeted and hated before given a chance. The increasing mistrust between law enforcement and minority communities needs to be addressed through education and sensitivity trainings, similar to those conducted by UNITED SIKHS in North Carolina, Mississippi, and New Jersey.

We stand with President Obama and the Brown family in hope that there will be peaceful and constructive protest and dialogue between the community and the government to address the bias and racial profiling issues still prevalent in our society.

UNITED SIKHS has engaged with civil rights partners and the White House for updates on what the Administration is doing to help Ferguson, and how we can assist. We also join hands with other advocacy groups in urging the Department of Justice to do everything in their power to investigate Brown’s death and the policing practices by the Ferguson Police Department, and bring justice to light.