2001-Present: Renewed Struggle for Justice

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The White House Hosts Sikh Americans to Honor the 400th Anniversary of the Sikh Holy Book, 2004. Courtesy of the Kang Family.

2001-PRESENT: RENEWED STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, Sikh Americans have fought a renewed struggle for justice and recognition of their faith and identity.  Few Americans are aware that a Sikh American was the first victim of a hate crime in the aftermath of 9/11.  Mr. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner in Arizona, was murdered in a case of mistaken identity in retaliation for 9/11.  Moreover, in 2012, six Sikh Americans were murdered in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek in Wisconsin.  It was the worst case of domestic terrorism in a place of worship since the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.  There have been hate crimes against Sikh Americans in California as well, including the murder of two Sikh American men, Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal, in Sacramento in 2011.  On December 26, 2015, an elderly Punjabi Sikh man wearing a turban was severely beaten by two white men in Fresno, California who yelled at him accusingly, “Why are you here?”  In the wake of the recent tragedies in Paris and San Bernadino, Punjabi Sikhs in California have been subjected to numerous acts of discrimination, racial and religious profiling, and violence. The Sikh Coalition has received over 1,000 reports of hate crimes, violence, school bullying, workplace discrimination, and racial and religious profiling against Punjabi Sikh Americans since 9/11.  The recent hate crimes against have prompted a new conversation on Twitter in which Sikh Americans have shared their values and experiences via #WhyWeAreHere.

Meanwhile Punjabi Americans have also continued to act as trailblazers in every aspect of professional life, including medicine, technology, and engineering.  Punjabi Americans have been innovators in technology-related fields.  Mr. Vinod Khosla and Mr. Saber Bhatia co-founded Sun Microsystems and Hotmail respectively.

In an important recognition of Sikh Americans and their faith, the White House hosted prominent members of the community to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the holy scriptures (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) in 2004.  Dr Jasbir Singh Kang from Yuba City highlighted the symbolism and historical importance of this event: “This occasion will go down in the history of Sikhs in this country as a milestone. It makes us proud and it will reinforce a positive feeling in our younger generation that we are an important part of the American mainstream.”

SOURCES:

Maira, Sunaina.  “Targeting Arab/Muslim/South Asian Americans: Criminalization and Cultural Citizenship.” Amerasia Journal 2004 31:3: 1-27. Co-authored with Louise Cainkar.

To learn more about the White House Hosting Sikh Americans in 2004, visit: http://fateh.sikhnet.com/s/AdiGranthWhiteHouse

To read about the powerful story of Mr Sodhi act of forgiving his brother’s murderer, visit: http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-09-23/his-brother-was-murdered-wearing-turban-after-911-last-week-he-spoke-killer