by Guneet Singh and Justine Josue
A man in all white sits on the floor with his legs crossed, singing and playing a raga on his harmonium. Welcome to Hicksville’s “Guru Nanak Darbar,” a gurdwara, or place of worship, for people of the Sikh faith.
Past the main hall, behind the prayer area, Satbir Singh and his son who’s still in fourth grade, are getting ready to launch “I Am A Sikh,” a website geared towards raising representation and awareness of their religion in the United States. Sikhism emphasizes peaceful meditation and self-control, but many followers must live in fear of violent discrimination, and Singh thinks the information is needed.
“We’re going to get more Sikh young adults elected to create change,” Singh says. Sikhs around the country will be able to login and register to “I Am A Sikh,” which is scheduled to launch on April 15 at Turban Day, an event in New York City that raises awareness of the Sikh religion.
“The first part of this [religion is] unity,” Satbir Singh, the creator of the website, said. “We can do this by first figuring out the demographics of Sikhs in every area in the U.S.” Singh hopes that they can use this to get more Sikhs into public office to boost representation and understanding.
Singh and five of his colleagues who are local businessmen will be putting 40% of their net profits into running the website.
“Sikhs are hundreds of times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than the average American [based on hate crime reports],” Mark Reading-Smith of the Sikh Coalition said. “But it is difficult to to get accurate numbers because for every hate crime reported, how many go unreported?”
This may be attributed to a common misinterpretation of Sikh men as being Muslim men. Thus, they often face the same hate Islam has faced since 9/11, while not being of the same faith.
While the discrimination may not always be violent, it is felt constantly by Kulwant Singh Deol, a Sikh Long Islander and a regular at the gurdwara.
“I face racism on a daily basis,” Deol said. “They say that we don’t know anything because of this turban look and the accent.” He said that he doesn’t understand the hate they experience and that the basic concept of the religion is, “love, love, love, no hate.”
“I am extremely saddened by the recent events in Washington and London,” Jasmin Parmar, a member of Stony Brook’s Sikh Student Association said. “The only way for tensions to be relieved is when everyone steps up.”
Sikhism was founded in the 1400s in the Punjab region with roots in Hinduism and Islam. The word ‘Sikh’ means disciple in the Punjabi language. They believe in equality for all and their core principles include meditation, earning an honest living and sharing with others.
According to the Sikh Coalition, there are 25 million Sikhs worldwide making it the fifth largest religion. Despite this, the religion is still misunderstood and misrepresented.
On March 6, an innocent Sikh man was shot in Washington. His turban and beard marked him as a target to the suspect that yelled out, “Go back to your country,” before shooting him in the arm.