Sikhs launch campaign to combat racism, hate crimes

Sikhs campaign against racism

Members of the Sacramento region's Sikh community join in the Sikh Global Campaign for Identity to combat racism and hate crimes.
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Members of the Sacramento region's Sikh community join in the Sikh Global Campaign for Identity to combat racism and hate crimes.

A campaign to educate Americans about the Sikh community and the peaceful nature of the faith came to Roseville on Friday.

Baba Ji Singh, executive director of the Sikh Temple in Rockford, Ill., said he launched the Sikh Global Campaign for Identity after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Sikh men, who wear beards and turbans, suddenly found themselves targeted for attack in the United States by people who mistakenly identified them with Middle East terrorists.

Singh, who typically goes by the name Baba-Ji, said attacks on Sikhs have peaked again since the presidential election. Donald Trump’s campaign attacks on Muslims again stoked fears among Americans of terrorists in their midst.

Although media reports of Middle East terrorists often show bearded men wearing turbans and pointing guns, most men wearing beards and turbans in the United States likely are neither Muslims nor terrorists, but Sikhs, said Baba-Ji.

“The message from us is, if you see some person in a public place, on streets of the United States, with beards and turbans, they are Sikhs,” he said. “We love the United States. We are citizens of United States.”

He said it is particularly important to reach teenagers and people who are less educated.

Baba-Ji, who serves as a chaplain with the Rockford Police Department, said anyone who observes activity they think is suspicious should call police and not take the law into their own hands.

Narinder Pal Singh Hundal, a member of the Sikh Temple in West Sacramento and editor of the local Punjabi Times, said approximately 1 million Sikhs live in the United States and 50 percent of them live in California. Between 10,000 and 11,000 Sikh families call the greater Sacramento area home.

Although Sacramento-area residents may be better acquainted with the Sikh culture and religion than people in other parts of the United States, that has not prevented attacks.

Hundal cited the slaying of two Sikh men, Surinder Singh, 65, and Gurmej Singh Atwal, 78, who were shot March 4, 2011, while taking an afternoon walk on East Stockton Boulevard in Elk Grove. According to witness accounts, a full-sized gold or tan raised pickup drove alongside the two men and an occupant fired shots from a semi-automatic handgun.

Although no arrests have been made in the shooting, Hundal praised Elk Grove police and city officials for their handling of the case and their efforts on behalf of the Sikh community. The city in July announced that a new 5-acre park would be named Singh and Kaur Park. Baba-Ji noted that all Sikh men bear the name “Singh,” which means “lion,” and all Sikh women have the name “Kaur,” which means “princess.” The Elk Grove park is believed to be among the first in the nation honoring sacrifices by the Sikh community since Sikhs first came to California in the late 19th century.

Baba-Ji said he is working through his congressman, Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., to schedule a meeting with Trump after the presidential inauguration to urge the new president to respect the rights of the nation’s ethnic and religious minorities.

“We are not feeling safe now in our country, on streets, on sidewalks, in public places,” he said.

Americans are proud of the nation’s constitutional guarantees of civil rights, Baba-Ji said, and when those civil rights are violated, it undermines the United States’ credibility with other nations.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy