US Soldiers of the Sikh Faith

July 24, 2009

During this week of meetings with various Congressional offices and staff in DC, one of the questions we heard over and over again was “Won’t allowing their turbans and beards affect the performance of these men?” Our answer was simple: absolutely not. How could we be so sure? Not only because of the thousands of Sikhs serving with armies overseas, but because of the dozens who have already served the United States here at home.

Watch this video for a brief look at the legacy of Sikh service in the US military. These brave men have paved the way and given us the evidence to support the battle that Captains Kalsi and Rattan are waging for the Sikh American community today.

May God Bless them all!


Knock! Knock! Who’s There?

July 22, 2009

The Sikh Coalition. The Sikh Coalition Who? The Sikh Coalition is a civil rights advocacy and educational non-profit group currently representing, in partner with McDermott WIll and Emory LLP, Captains Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi and Tejdeep Singh Rattan…

Not a very funny joke, I’ll admit, but I gave this speech an innumerable amount of times as I meandered the halls of Congress this week in Washington, DC. My goal – alongside a dozen colleagues from the Coalition and volunteers who defiantly braved the unbearable DC heat – to lobby in support of a general congressional sign-on letter. To date, approximately 10 Congressional representatives have taken a firm stance and exclaimed, through their commitment to civil rights, that those Americans who wish to heroically serve their country while simultaneously keeping in accord with their faith need not chose between the two. Rather, this letter and those representatives who sign-on stand for a cause which will effect not only Sikhs, but Muslims, Jews, and any other individual or group who wish to adhere to the tenets of their faith and honorably protect the freedoms that we, as an American community, enjoy daily.

The exercise of browsing the House office buildings, making connections with legislative staffers and the interns who serve as the media through which we gain those meetings and phone calls, is no easy task. It’s a lot of leg work. And let me tell you, my legs are tired. However, as one of the few individuals participating in a grassroots effort to effectuate change for my community and beyond, it’s quite exhilarating. The thought of leaving my impression on history through the direct actions I take today requires a few moments to grasp, but when this concept does take hold, it fervently invigorates my legs to push on to the next door and advocate for a cause I know is worthwhile.

In all honesty, if I take a mental step back from this exercise, I realize that what I’m doing is not so difficult after all. All that is required is dedication. Dedication to civil rights, dedication to community, and dedication to Seva (selfless service). If a few individuals can wander the halls of Congress and make a paramount change, just think of what 50, or 100, or 1000 bodies could accomplish. The possibilites are limitless. However, as each community must, the Sikh community is currently in the process of growing pains. Without those bodies to help lobby for the causes which affect us, both directly and indirectly, those growing pains will remain present and we cannot mature into the community of leaders we were born to become. It is through dedication to campaigns such as this where the Sikh community can flourish and blaze a trail for our future generations to follow and to continue on their own.

Overall, this experience was great. Our efforts are not without reward. But most importantly, our efforts are not without a lesson: only through dedication to the cause can our community mature and meet its goals.

This post was authored by Aman Singh, a Sikh Coalition legal intern this summer.

It’s So Unfortunate

July 22, 2009

As we hit Capitol Hill for our second full day of lobbying for the Army Campaign, we were ready. With 9 volunteers and dozens of lobbying materials, we set out to convince over 50 lawmakers to sign on to the Congressional letter to Secretary Robert Gates, asking that he reconsider the policy that excludes Sikh Americans from our Armed Forces.

But we weren’t necessarily expecting some of the responses we got from some of our meetings. Of course, we thought we’d have some opposition. But we didn’t anticipate the depth of visceral anti-Sikh responses we’d get from some of the same people in charge of running our country. In one case, a military legislative aide from one of the lawmakers’ offices told our representatives that there was “no way” he’d recommend to his boss that soldiers be allowed to “wear 6 yards of cloth on their heads” while they fight with him. In another representative’s office, we were told that while the lawmaker supported religious minorities, it was indeed “unfortunate” that the Sikh religion requires unshorn hair to be considered a practicing Sikh.

While perhaps unsurprising, these reactions were indeed disappointing. Despite placing the Sikh struggle for inclusion into the same frame as the larger civil rights movement, we continue to hear these sentiments from well meaning, educated fellow Americans. The experiences showed us what an uphill battle we have when it comes to the army campaign. Our armed forces are such a powerful symbol for the nation that even an attempt to join them can be met with anger.

In the long run, what can we do to win over the hearts and minds of our neighbors and elected officials? You can start by introducing yourself to those who represent you. Take action this week, by meeting or calling your local Congressperson’s office. Check out our Community Advocacy Toolkit for a step-by-step guide.

Slideshow & Video: NYC Youth Demand an End to Bigotry in Schools

July 1, 2009

Yesterday was an inspiring day. A bus load of Sikh youth came to lower Manhattan from Richmond Hill, Queens to send a clear message to the NYC Department of Education (DOE) and Mayor: End bias-based harassment in schools. At a press conference and rally outside of DOE headquarters, we released a Report Card grading how the DOE has done in the last school year in addressing bias-based harassment.

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The young activists from Richmond Hill were truly an inspiration as they lead chants and fearlessly shared their experiences with the media and public. They joined with youth and advocates from many other organizations and communities in what hopefully was another step forward to creating schools where all students feel safe and respected.