Opinion Pieces

Sikh American Caucus

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The Fresno Bee, May 21, 2013 | comments
The American identity is made up of the diversity of our people. We are a nation of immigrants, united by our commitment to freedom, tolerance, and opportunity. We respect our neighbors and our differences. It is those differences in culture, religion, and ethnicity that contribute to the national identity we share.
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The American identity is made up of the diversity of our people. We are a nation of immigrants, united by our commitment to freedom, tolerance, and opportunity. We respect our neighbors and our differences. It is those differences in culture, religion, and ethnicity that contribute to the national identity we share.

Despite our best intentions, instances of discrimination still arise. American Sikhs are often singled out because of their religion. American Sikhs have served in our armed forces with honor and distinction for generations. While exceptions have been made, current military regulations prohibit the wearing of beards and turbans while in uniform. Codifying military regulation exceptions for religious beliefs would allow American Sikhs to continue to serve our country with their valor, commitment, and sacrifice we are all grateful for.

Additionally, American Sikhs have endured high levels of stereotyping, bullying, and violence. These events became more common following the attacks on September 11. Days after the attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi became the first victim of misplaced retaliation. While at his gas station he had worked his entire life to own, Mr. Sodhi was shot by a gunman.

Unfortunately, the Associated Press has reported that more 700 incidents against American Sikhs have taken place over the last decade. These incidents have even become common in our schools. In fact, three out of every four young Sikh boys face bullying or harassment by their classmates because of the way they look.

Last August, the struggles that American Sikhs face gained national attention as a gunman attacked a Sikh Gurdwara (Sikh House of Worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin taking the lives of six innocent people.

In an effort to address this continued violence and discrimination toward the Sikh community, we joined forces to create the American Sikh Congressional Caucus. The Caucus will focus on five areas that deeply affect the American Sikh community in the United States including violence against American Sikhs, bullying in schools, military regulations regarding beards and turbans, racial profiling, and employment discrimination.

The need for a Caucus focused on these issues was underscored just last week here in the Central Valley. An elderly Sikh man was beaten in an unprovoked attack as he left his Gurdawara in Fresno. When the assailant was arrested, he reportedly made hateful remarks against the Sikh community to police.

The 33-member Caucus will give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of American Sikhs living across our country, and will educate Members of Congress and the general public, about the unique issues this community faces. In response to the brutal beating in Fresno, the Caucus's first act will be to send a letter to the Department of Justice calling for the FBI to finally begin tracking hate crimes against American Sikhs. This will add to efforts by Congressman Joe Crowley and other Members who have also worked towards this goal. Tracking these crimes will help law enforcement officers to do everything they can to prevent violence against the Sikh community.

American Sikhs have contributed to the strength and diversity of the United States for 130 years, starting businesses and becoming active leaders in our local communities. It is time that the U.S. Congress recognizes their many contributions to society, and work to protect the diversity and mutual acceptance that is key to our national identity. We cannot wait any longer.
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