Sikh Coalition in the US appeals for accountability after recent hate crimes
An Indian was killed in Kansas, and another shot last week in Washington
Editor’s Note: Sapreet Kaur is the Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition – the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States. The opinions expressed in this piece are hers.
Over a century ago, in a Washington town called Bellingham, a xenophobic mob attacked a community of recent immigrants from India. Most of the victims were Sikhs.
The incident occurred in 1907 at the height of the nativist movement in the United States and is remembered in history as the Bellingham Riot.
Last Friday, about 100 miles south of Bellingham, a gunman reportedly walked up to a Sikh man, told him to “go back to your own country,” and pulled the trigger.
The victim will survive his physical injuries, but the shooting was the latest in a string of crimes targeting religious minorities in recent months.
Jewish communities have been subjected to bomb threats. Muslim mosques have been targeted in arson attacks. Late last month, a gunman in Kansas took the life of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a Hindu engineer from India, after reportedly telling him to “get out of my country.”
In America, when a person’s religion, color, or national origin invites hatred and the risk of death, this points to an absence of accountability.
Hate violence is woven into the fabric of our nation’s history, but it does not augur well for our future generations if they read that 2017 marked the start of a new nativist movement. In this context, all of us – including the Trump Administration – have to ask ourselves whether we are doing everything in our power to create a more peaceful society.
Sikh Americans have faced threats and deadly attacks for more than 100 years – often because of our articles of faith, including turbans and unshorn hair – but we are an integral part of the American fabric, and our faith tradition offers guidance for confronting the hate that Americans grapple with today.
The Sikh religion was founded in the Punjab region of South Asia over 500 years ago. Guru Nanak, the founder of our faith, preached the oneness of God and humanity, emphasizing that all human beings are equal in dignity and divinity, regardless of their race, caste, religion, and gender.
One of his legacies is the practice of providing free meals (langar) to anyone who visits a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship), without regard for their background or social status. Every day, Sikhs throughout the world – including America – feed thousands of people and provide shelter to those in need. Just last month, Sikhs in California opened their doors to help their fellow Americans during the Oroville dam evacuation.
Equality and community service are core Sikh teachings, and these values foreshadowed the highest ideals of America. Sikhs feel at home in the United States, and that is why it is disappointing when bigots make it feel inhospitable and political leaders do nothing to intervene.
In the context of rising hate crime and metastasizing hate groups, my organization has asked the White House to use its convening power to create a national task force to prevent hate violence.
Drawing on input from law enforcement, corporate leaders, educators, interfaith groups, and grassroots advocates, a national task force will signal that bias prevention is a top priority for the Trump administration.
Such a task force can work with schools to prevent bias-based bullying; work with law enforcement to build trust with the communities they serve; and work with faith leaders to secure houses of worship from attack.
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Another goal should be to encourage grassroots community service projects across religious, racial, and political lines to solve common challenges.
When Americans of diverse backgrounds recognize their common humanity and shared commitment to the well-being of this nation, it will bring communities together instead of tearing them apart. It is hard to hate people you know.
But in order to sustain and scale initiatives such as these, we need the Trump administration to take ownership of this issue. That is the essence of leadership and accountability. And so far, the administration has not done everything in its power to prevent hate from taking another life.
While we wait for our national leaders to act, the Sikh community will continue to focus on serving and strengthening American society. And if someone tells us to “get out of this country,” please rest assured – America is our home and we are here to stay.
Editor’s note: Sapreet Kaur is the Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition – the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States. The opinions expressed in this piece are hers.