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HURRICANE JOAQUIN: U.S. East Coast Braces for Heavy Rain, High Winds

 Photo: The Weather Channel

“Extremely dangerous” Category 4 Hurricane Joaquin is moving through the Bahamas, where warnings are in effect for wind, storm surges, rainfall, and surf swells. As of this morning, forecasters do not deem it likely that the storm will make landfall in the United States. However, the U.S. East Coast including New York City is bracing for high winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding, as well as other potential hazards currently being assessed by state officials as the weekend progresses.

 

 Photo: The Weather Channel

In a statement yesterday evening, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “While it is still early to predict the path and impact of Hurricane Joaquin, New York City is ready to weather the storm. Our emergency preparedness and resiliency plans are much stronger today than they were during Sandy. More than 30 city agencies are working together and at a high state of alert and readiness (…) Now is the time for New Yorkers to review their emergency plans with their families. We want people to find out whether they live or work in a hurricane evacuation zone and stay informed by signing up for Notify NYC.”

The New York City evacuation map can be viewed here.

South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey have declared states of emergencies in preparation for the effects of the storm. While this information includes the most recent updates on Hurricane Joaquin, UNITED SIKHS urges all East Coast residents to be attentive to their local news updates and aware of extreme weather warnings and watches in their areas.

To track Hurricane Joaquin’s location, visit the National Hurricane Center website. Like UNITED SIKHS on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and follow our Disaster Watch blog page to stay updated on the progress of Hurricane Joaquin.

USA: URGENT ACTION NEEDED! Say NO To New Hair Sampling Bill Posing Threat To Sikh Operators!

Remember last year we called on you to take a stand against religious discrimination? We are once again in need of your support. The Drug Free Commercial Driver Act is back in the House of Representatives as well as in the Senate, and poses as serious threat to Sikh truck drivers who are unwilling to cut their hair.

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If enacted, this bill will allow employers to force a Sikh operator to provide a hair sample without offering an alternate form of testing such as urinalysis, thereby preventing Sikhs from seeking employment as operators due to their inability to cut their hair for any purpose. Once again, Sikhs would have to choose between employment, and their faith. We urge our USA supporters to sign a petition to their senators and inform them of the detrimental effect of this bill on the Sikh community, and that overall, it stands in stark contrast to the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

 

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On the heels of the introduction of this new bill, UNITED SIKHS drafted amendment language that would require motor carriers to offer an alternate form of testing to employees who cannot cut their hair due to established religious requirements. We have reached out to every Congressperson and Senator on the bills’ sponsoring committees to educate them about the bills, and proposed the inclusion of a religious exemption amendment. We know that there is a dire need for such a clause. In 2013, UNITED SIKHS wrote a legal demand letter to a trucking company in Arizona, which refused to hire an elderly Sikh unless he submitted a freshly cut sample of his hair for drug testing, and the company ignored the letter. If bill S. 806 goes through, it will unfold disastrous consequences for Sikh truck drivers. UNITED SIKHS is now emailing, calling, and meeting every one of eighty five Congresspersons and Senators who are on the bills’ sponsoring committees, asking them to support UNITED SIKHS’ effort to include religious accommodations. Furthermore, 15 Congressmen’s and Senators’ offices met with UNITED SIKHS advocates during the 2015 Youth Summit on Capitol Hill, and were informed about this issue.

Our message: While accommodation language just has to be one sentence, neglecting to include it will essentially give the trucking industry a free hand to impetuously reject Sikh applicants on their refusal to cut their hair. Devout Sikhs should not be forced to choose between employment and their faith. We cannot allow incidents like the one in Arizona to be repeated. For this, we need your support.

Click here to read more about this issue.

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.

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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.

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Satwinder Singh

 

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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:

 

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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.