New – I’m a Sikh, a Jerseyan and a target of bias. Let’s get to know each other

Rucha Kaur

Op/Ed, 21 April 2018. Last month, the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly passed a joint resolution designating April as “Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month,” making it one of just a few states in the country to ever take this step.

The joint resolution comes on the heels of several firsts for Sikhs in the state: In 2009, New Jersey became the first state to adopt a statewide curriculum standard that includes Sikhism.

In November 2017, Hoboken elected the first-ever turbaned Sikh mayor of a major city, Ravi Singh Bhalla. Early this year, Governer Phil Murphy appointed Gurbir Singh Grewal as the first-ever Sikh attorney general in USA history.

At a time when the national political rhetoric is divisive and some elected officials choose to attack minorities, it is deeply meaningful to see local political leaders lift up Sikh Americans and their contributions. The joint resolution, which was passed unanimously, is a welcome beacon of hope in a climate rife with xenophobia and racism.

For many years, Sikhs have consistently been targets of hate and violence, and have continued to experience discrimination in schools, workplaces and airports. According to the Sikh Coalition, Sikhs in the USA are experiencing an average of at least one hate crime per week since the start of 2018.

Despite the gains made by Sikhs in New Jersey and the diverse communities that live here, there is still a lot of work to be done. Last November, Bhalla’s election campaign was targeted by racist fliers, and in February, Bhalla opened up about death threats against him and his family.

The distribution of racist fliers in our state in recent weeks is yet another reminder that we need to continue working together to combat hate.

Other Asian American candidates in Edison, also saw racist fliers targeting their campaigns during the November elections. And just last month, a Sikh gas station attendant in Parsippany reported that he was called a terrorist and told to “Go home!”

We are home

However, for Sikh families nationwide, these stories of discrimination are not unique. I have personally seen the subtle, distrustful glances people give my husband, a turban-wearing Sikh.

I have also witnessed people confront him out of prejudice. In 2013, a stranger accosted him in our South Jersey apartment parking lot to question his citizenship status, just a few feet away from our front door.

Sikhs first came to the United States over 100 years ago, and we are the fifth largest religious group in the world. Our faith teaches us to treat everyone equally and to serve our communities wholeheartedly. We are your gas station attendants, soldiers, students, and now your elected officials.

Now that we are in New Jersey’s first-ever Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month, we have one request of our neighbors: Please get to know us.

You are all invited to our gurdwaras (places of worship), of which we have several around the state. You are also invited to our monthly seva (selfless service) projects that feed those in need in Camden, Trenton, and Jersey City. These meals follow the Sikh tradition of langar (free community kitchen).

Finally, there is the Sikh Day Parade in the heart of New York City on April 28. Thousands of Sikhs gather in Manhattan to celebrate our tradition and be with community. We march down Fifth Avenue, serve one another langar and eat together in Madison Square Park.

We would love for you to attend this joyous celebration with your friends and family.

At the end of the day, this is what we really need in New Jersey: more awareness and understanding. Yes, we have made major strides together, from political leadership to school education standards, but we clearly still have a long ways to go.

The first step is a willingness to participate, but once you do we will build a more tolerant and inclusive New Jersey for all of us.

Rucha Kaur is a practicing Sikh and a New Jersey resident. She is the community development director at the Sikh Coalition, where she works on building and empowering a national network of grassroots leaders to promote interfaith solidarity, defend civil rights and raise Sikh awareness.


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