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Lawmakers and Sikh Leaders Seek Meaningful Solutions to Sikh American Community Issues at the 2010 Sikh Summit

Washington, DC, May 12, 2010
 Jaspreet Singh

In a week long series of meetings with lawmakers, Sikh organizations and community leaders engaged United States Senators and Members of Congress in a dialogue about issues that most affect Sikhs in the country. The 2010 Sikh Summit was organized by UNITED SIKHS as part of their ongoing advocacy projects to protect Sikh civil and human rights. Issues presented to legislators included Hate and Bias Crimes, Verbal Harassment, and General Xenophobia, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection: Misidentification and Watch-list Issues, Employment Discrimination, TSA and Photo-Identification Issues, a Separate Count of Sikhs in Census, the safety of Sikhs in Pakistan, and the Right to Turban in France and Belgium.

2010 Sikh Summit Delegation

The Sikh Summit was a way for leaders of the Sikh community and Sikh organizations across the United States to gather on Capitol Hill and express issues of the Sikh community to Senators, Congress persons and members of government think-tanks. Sikh delegations were warmly received by representatives who lent an attentive ear to the concerns of the Sikh American community, and offered their support for issues such as discriminatory practices during air travel, injustices faced in form of xenophobia like hate crimes, bullying in schools etc, and procuring a separate code for Sikhs in future Census and American Community Surveys.

Issues related to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) like Sikhs being singled out for additional screening or incorrectly detained due to mistaken identity, watch list issues and lack of follow up on redress procedures gained considerable support among lawmakers.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren sympathized with the plight of Sikhs discriminated at airports and detained during international travel. Congressman John Garamendi agreed that there is a training issue, and lack of consistency in how these concerns are handled across airports. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office and Senator Joe Lieberman shared the concern about arbitrary targeting for Sikhs in airports and lack of due process on TRIP complaints, and have offered assistance in furthering dialogue with TSA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Another issue that garnered encouragement was counting of Sikhs in Census. UNITED SIKHS is part of a nationwide campaign to receive a separate code to count Sikhs in national surveys. As of now, Sikhs who self-identify on the census form under “Some other Race” are automatically coded as Asian Indians with no way to disaggregate data, and therefore no substantial numbers on the number of Sikhs in the country.

Congressman Xavier Becerra agrees that having a disaggregated number is important to be able to provide adequate services to the population, and Congresswoman Judy Chu’s office offered immediate assistance to get a separate code for Sikhs in upcoming American Community Surveys. Congresswoman Yvette Clark remarked she was “100% supportive of the issue.”

Sikhs with US DOJ CRS Officials

Congressman Steve Rothman meets with the delegation


Among delegates were representatives from California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington DC and Washington (State) who brought their own viewpoints and concerns from their respective communities to discussions with lawmakers from their own particular regions. Sahib Kaur, a college student from Virginia, said, “Growing up in this country as an American, I would like to be part of the norm, than be the exception to the rule.” Charanjit Kaur Chanana, an educator from Connecticut, stressed the importance of education and awareness to decrease bullying in schools and increase cultural diversity.

The Sikh Summit was innovative in the way it brought together law-makers, advocates, and most importantly, community members. Kuldip Singh, UNITED SIKHS President particularly emphasized the role of the community in advocating for issues that affect them the most. He said, “It is now crucial for us to be our own advocates. Community members have an important say in policy-making as constituents and as Americans, and more Sikhs should give voice to specific matters that impact their community.”

Delegates alluded to the long term impact of a multi-lateral effort like the Sikh Summit on future generations. Narinder Singh Malik of Georgia remarked, “We are an integral part of the American society, and we collectively presented our Sikh issues for the benefit of our youth.” Jasmeet Singh Jaspal from California echoed a similar sentiment and said, “It was a humbling sight to see Sikh Americans speaking out for the concern of the community, vocalizing local/national issues to government leaders and taking action for ensuring a better future for generations to come.”

UNITED SIKHS Director Kashmir Singh is looking forward to working with lawmakers and implementing solutions to Sikh civil rights concerns. “Each lawmaker received a memorandum on Sikh issues, and we have made some recommendations on how to address these issues. We are hoping to be able to continue our work with policymakers and community members on how to translate these thoughts into action and be part of the decision making process that affects our community.”

Dialogue generated from the Summit and the support from lawmakers on Capitol Hill will form the foundation for proactively seeking and implementing resolutions to Sikh concerns at a policy level, and will be compiled in the 2010 Sikh Summit Report, which will be released shortly.