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Sikh discrimination increase requires action

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Sikh discrimination increase requires action

City hall renaming Victoria Park after Jaswant Singh Khalra

City hall renaming Victoria Park after Jaswant Singh Khalra

Photo By TJ Nijhar

City hall renaming Victoria Park after Jaswant Singh Khalra

Photo By TJ Nijhar

Photo By TJ Nijhar

City hall renaming Victoria Park after Jaswant Singh Khalra

TJ Nijhar, Staff Writer

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Amrik Singh Bal, a  68 year old man, was waiting near Shields Avenue, just West of the 99 freeway for his friends to pick him up on the way to work.  However, while Bal was waiting, a Fresno City College student and Central High School graduate named Daniel Wilson and his friend Alexis Mendoza decided to physically assault him.  They later said they thought Bal was a terrorist because of his turban. Daniel Wilson admitted that he was on drugs when he punched Mr. Bal several times before getting back into his vehicle in order to run Mr. Bal over with his car, but tragically, this brutal attack is not an isolated incident.

According to numerous members of Fresno’s Sikh community, discrimination and violence are a common experience for them. Even Sikhs who don’t keep their beard and turban are still attacked because of their skin color. This problem isn’t limited to the Central Valley. It occurs all over the world. There have been numerous hate crimes committed against Sikhs globally, but what’s most disturbing is that violent attacks seem to be increasing in America since 9/11, despite our cherished values of racial and cultural equality. News outlets like the L.A. Times and the New York post report the animosity is rising. Considering that about 500,000 to 700,000 Sikhs live in America, their persecution is not only unjust, it is significant in terms of it’s impact on our society.

Recently, there was a case where  a Sikh man washing his car Washington and a 6 foot white man wearing a mask yelled to the Sikh man to go back to your own country and then shot the man in the arm. In California, a 41 year old Sikh man from the Bay Area, Maan S. Khalsa, was punched several times by by his attacker Chase B. Little and Colton T. Leblanc before they proceeded to cut off Mr.Khalsa hair with a knife. With a brief online search, similar cases crop up repeatedly. Though all people of South Asian descent may face challenges due to their race, Sikhs face a more complex and severe brand of discrimination due to their religious dress.

Sikh discrimination began to appear globally as early as the 1800’s,  but after 9/11 people started attacking Sikhs in America more frequently due to confusing them with Middle Eastern Muslims whom they they also inaccurately assumed to be terrorists. After 9/11 Sikhs became targets primarily because of the turbans. Fresno resident and past high school student Manpreet Kaur said, “After 9/11, I remember students would ask if I’m Arab. Sikh were not only seen as un-American, they were victims of the same terrorist stereotypes that Muslim Americans were facing due to cultural ignorance and fear.”

Sikh are targeted because of their appearance, but also due to their religious practice. In a predominantly Christian country, Sikh citizens are still marginalized as outsiders. Yet, Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, much like Christianity and the basic Sikh belief is represented by the phrase Ik Onkar meaning “One supreme thing.”  Sikhism was founded in the Punjab region in India in the 15th century by Guru Nanak . There is simply no reason for the average American to fear or hate Sikh Americans other than different skin color or dress. Ironically, the main reason Sikhs wear turbans is to  promote equality, while preserving the Sikh identity. A core teaching of the Sikh faith is that all people are equal and that there are no “high or low” among us.

In response to a steadily increasing rise in hate crime and intolerance towards the South Asian and Sikh population, the community decided they would no longer tolerate injustice and make every effort to bring awareness to this cause.  A number organizations have taken hold in reaction to Sikh discrimination. More closely, a chapter of the non-profit organization called Jakara Movement has become a leading non-profit organization for Sikhs in Fresno. They welcome student and adult volunteers alike in furthering their cause of ending discrimination. Jakara has started numerous campaigns to contribute to community welfare, combat misconceptions about Sikhs and end the violence they are susceptible to in Fresno.

Certain members of Fresno’s governing body and other local organizations have stepped up to support the Fresno Sikh community. Council member Oliver Baines and  groups like Ensaaf have collaborated with organizations like Jakara to facilitate various projects within the community. People of all cultural backgrounds and religions must to align in their commitment to stop ethic and religious intolerance. As we have seen with the Sikh and Muslim communities, when one group is targeted, no one is safe.

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Sikh discrimination increase requires action