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An Event Report and Reflections
Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh

Nearly one hundred people representing many diverse areas and leadership of the central Indiana community - educators, civic and community leaders, international organizations, and members of the Sikh American community gathered recently at the India Garden Restaurant in Downtown Indianapolis for a program sponsored by the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF). The CICF Forum: Uncommon Common Ground III spotlighted the faith and fabric of the growing Sikh American community in the Hoosier Land. The Sikh Educational & Cultural Society of Indianapolis co-sponsored the Forum.

A section of the audience

Program included a panel format, discussion, question-answer period, and time to visit and connect with one another during the refreshments and see a mini display. The underlying spirit that guided the program was education and information; sharing about a faith, culture, and community that is unfamiliar to most Hoosiers. The highlights of the presentation included: A brief introduction by Ralph Taylor, Program Officer, CICF.

A power-point slide presentation by Harpreet Sandhu, President of the Sikh Educational & Cultural Society, provided a comprehensive overview in visual images and text: WHO ARE THE SIKHS. Some in the audience were surprised to learn that Sikhism, the fifth largest faith has over 750,000 Sikh Americans in the U.S.A. and 25 million worldwide.

Jaswinder tying a turban on Ralph Taylor, KP Singh un the background

Maninder Walia, Trustee of the Sikh Educational & Cultural Society, offered a brief COMMUNITY PROFILE of the Sikh Americans in the Hoosier Land: over one thousand families scattered throughout Marion, Johnson, and Hendricks counties alone, pursuing diverse occupations, professions, and owning 100 businesses. Two Sikh Temples serve the area. An estimated 200 students attend central Indiana schools and at least 50 students attend Indiana colleges. The metropolitan area has seen major growth in Asian population in recent years and we can anticipate continued growth in Sikh population and their increasing contribution to the Central Indiana economy and opportunities.

The beautiful DVD, “The Sikh Next Door,” introduced, to many for the very first time, the major faith-related concerns of young students to maintain the sacred articles of their Sikh faith including turbans and beards. The DVD highlighted the many problems of mistaken

identity, harassment, and unfair association with the terrorists faced by students in schools, neighborhoods, and on the streets of America.

Navdeep Singh with Ralph Taylor

The STUDENT CONCERNS were further elaborated by Navdeep Singh, a senior at a local high school, who until recently attended school without his turban, uncut hair and beard because it was a problem for him at his school. He and others are indignant that in this age of communication and talk of sacred and human rights that one has to violate one’s faith tenants because of the ignorance, prejudice, and personal attacks by students or society. Navdeep proudly add that recently he decided to keep his hair and wear his turban as an honor to his Sikh faith and that his fellow students and friends accept his turban and beard as no threat and cause for undue concern or attention.

Maninder Walia, June Kiyomoto, and Ralph Taylor

That should be our goal to strive toward as a society. Janice Singh, a School Teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, while highlighting the EDUCATIONAL & CULTURAL PROFILE passionately reminded the audience that in an interdependent and increasingly multi-cultural world, we must not allow assault on anyone’s cultural and ethnic origin or prejudice against someone’s faith-mandated appearance and dignity in the classroom or in society. She strongly advocated and challenged the audience to learn about, and from each other, reminding, “Every bigot was once a child free of prejudice,” adding we must create that environment at home and in school to make learning a pleasant and safe experience for every child. Each of us can and must contribute toward dispelling ignorance and reach out to the person next to us in a spirit of equality, justice, all-important basic dignity, and mutual respect. The teacher in her was giving each of us a lesson that respect for diversity must be a sacred commitment.

Juana Watson, Office of Indiana Governor

KP Singh served as the Forum Moderator. KP is an architectural artist, author, a passionate advocate of historic architecture and cultural preservation. KP is an active participant in multi-cultural, interfaith, and international dialogues and activities. While highlighting MAJOR CONCERNS SINCE 9/11 that have, and continue to cause many untoward incidents in job discrimination, racial profiling, unprovoked violence, and hate crimes. KP continued to stress that our ignorance, indifference, and disinterest to fully engage with people of other faiths, traditions, and cultures that live among us and integral part of our society, remains an unconscionable challenge that we must together confront and address. When entire communities unfairly, and without sufficient cause, become targets of unfounded

Ralph Taylor with turban, CICF Forum organizer

suspicion and association with terrorism or despicable characters like Osama bin Laden, the hateful Taliban or radical Muslims advocating murder or mayhem, it is not just up to the Sikh Americans, Middle Eastern Muslims, and Arab Americans to correct this unfortunate situation and formidable burden. Governments, educators, business and civic leadership, faith communities, and every citizen has a responsibility to contribute to an environment that is safe for all citizens engaged in shaping their dreams and helping us in building peace and prosperity at home and abroad.

The SIKH AMERICANS IN THE HOOSIER LAND Forum was organized and guided by Ralph Taylor of Central Indiana Community Foundation. The Forum Planning Committee members included: Harpreet Sandhu, Maninder Walia, Narvinder Bhola, Ravi Chaudhary, Avtar Singh, Sonya Gill, Sukhdip Singh, Jaswinder Singh, Daisy Shaunki, Navdeep Singh, KP Singh, and several volunteers


The process of knowing our neighbor and fellow Hoosier needs to go much further. We must explore special cultural needs and faith-related concerns as they apply to healthcare, death and cremation issues, caring for their elderly, and matters that surround the mainstreaming of resources, energy, culture, and investments of the new pioneer among us. We should look to a future and envision a time when we will span new innovative bridges of incredible promise and walk towards each other in friendship and trust; fully recognize and integrate the light and wisdom of transcending and converging cultures and people into the existing founding principles and enlightened ideals. We can take this country to even greater strengths and achievements and build upon the foundations laid by generations before us. We can create a shining humanitarian model, a universal edifice of hope, where, not the shocking and awesome, but basic human dignity and promise is a solemn commitment and common denominator; where no fellow Americans is treated as a stranger or as an alien without a just cause.

Each forum, dialogue, and presentation that brings people together is another step in the right direction to know our community and its changing cultural and ethnic texture. We are certain that at the CICF Forum we defined the Sikh American challenge before some thoughtful and caring participants and Indianapolis community leaders. We made some strides towards the

objective of creating awareness about the Hoosier Sikh as they strive and struggle, especially since 9/11, to mainstream their talents, pioneer energy, and diverse investments in central Indiana. Major work of acceptance, dispelling stereotype unfounded perceptions, continued racial profiling, job discrimination based on faith-mandated physical appearance, outrageous and unfair connection with terrorists, and challenges of children with distinct physical appearance in Indiana school lie ahead and remain among major hurdles that we must overcome.

As Sikh Americans, we have to carry our share of burdens. We have a responsibility to interface our interests with the community-at-large and spotlight our story of service to this nation for over one hundred years. We have to learn about great Sikh Americans: Congressman Dalip Singh Saund and Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany (Father of Fiber Optics) and countless innovative Sikh men and women making landmark contribution in arts, agriculture, education, internet technology, medicine, science, service industry, and a host of other fields, and to the life and spirit in America and around the world.

To anticipate a tangible outcome, we must be on the frontline of promising initiatives that benefit all Americans. We must be a part of the community and let the community see us as partners and builders, as Hoosiers and fellow Americans. We must proudly place our collective well-being ahead of our personal dreams and expectations. We must learn about the society: basic laws, civic freedoms and responsibilities, and leadership skills in effecting peaceful change. We must make our culture and traditions a part of a national cultural tapestry. We must be a part of the solutions to problems that we face as a nation and as people. In the exercise our individual rights and freedoms, let us make certain that we threaten no one else’s and earn our rightful place in our communities the old fashioned way - through hard work, sacrifice, daring, imagination, and dedication, as all the generations before us.

In this journey, each event and milestone is another beginning and deserves yet another effort. We thank our many Hoosier friends who daily help us to make Indiana a home away from home as we set down our heart, hopes, and spirit here in search of our destiny.

Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA