Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Urgent Need to Address Anti-Sikh Sentiment in North America

by Dr. Vaishali Sharma

The Sikh community has faced discrimination in various parts of the world, including in the United States and Canada. A recent report titled “Go Home, Terrorist!” reveals the bullying and harassment of Sikh American school children in the U.S.The report highlights the persistent anti-Sikh sentiment in the country and its negative impact on the community.

The Sikh faith is the fifth-largest religion worldwide, but it remains unknown to many Americans. Sikhism can be identified by the turban worn by Sikh men and women, which is an integral part of their religious identity. However, many Americans associate turbans with terrorism or danger, which leads to the misidentification and subsequent mistreatment of Sikh Americans.

The report showcased multiple instances of bullying, harassment, and discrimination against Sikh American school children. These incidents are a symptom of a broader issue of anti-Sikh sentiment in the U.S. For example, in 2012, a mass shooting occurred in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, where six people were killed. This incident was a reminder of the ongoing danger and discrimination experienced by Sikhs in the U.S.

The Sikh American community’s bullying experiences are supported by Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, showing that Sikh Americans are increasingly targeted in hate crime incidents. In 2016, the F.B.I.’s Hate Crime Statistics Act report found that anti-Sikh hate crimes rose by 17% that year. As recently as March 2021, the city of Fresno filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, which had accused the department of violating the guidelines of the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act by preventing them from establishing a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) on their land. This instance highlights the persistence of discrimination and the obstacles that the Sikh community faces in North America.

It is against this backdrop that action is necessary. A starting point would be dedicating time and resources to educate and raise awareness about the Sikh faith and culture. This includes increasing cultural competency training for teachers and school staff and promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding through school programs, community seminars, and interfaith initiatives.

Furthermore, the Sikh community also faces discrimination and harassment in Canada. In 2019, the National Sikh Awareness and Security Week was established to raise awareness about the challenges faced by Sikhs in Canada. As with the U.S. severe incidents of hate crimes have also occurred in Canada. In January 2020, a Sikh man was attacked in a racist and violent assault outside a Toronto subway station.

Anti-Sikh sentiment in the U.S. and Canada has profound implications. It causes mental and emotional distress for a community that has contributed significantly to these countries and erodes their sense of belonging and safety. The U.S. and Canada are diverse and multicultural countries, and discrimination against any community challenges the very values upon which they were built.

To combat anti-Sikh sentiment, it is vital to promote education and awareness about the Sikh faith. As the report suggests, anti-bullying programs, cultural education, teacher training, safe spaces, and support systems are paramount to creating a more inclusive and equitable society. Moreover, the Sikh community is raising its voice and demanding accountability from governmental and communal organisations.

In addition to educational efforts, concrete legal measures must be in place to protect Sikh communities. The passing of legislation challenging hate crimes, primarily online, and incorporating Sikh concerns into the mandates of government departments would create a fertile ground for Sikh cultural inclusivity and respect. The Sikh community leadership should also continue to build bridges with religious and non-profit organisations to develop a cohesive front against hate crimes and to promote outreach efforts.

The issue of anti-Sikh sentiment in the U.S. and Canada challenges these countries’ diversity, inclusivity, and sense of fairness. Persistent discrimination, hate crimes, and bullying against Sikh Americans have caused immense harm to the community. Nevertheless, continued dialogue, education, and action can transform these countries into more equitable and accepting places for all citizens.

Dr. Vaishali Sharma

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