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.

The Times of India – Sikh mayor in US faces death threats

I P Singh

Jalandhar-Panjab-India, 19 February 2018. Indian American lawyer Ravinder Singh Bhalla, who was elected first Sikh mayor of Hoboken city in New Jersey some three months ago, has acknowledged he and his family are facing death threats after an unidentified man left a bag in his office in his office.

Days before his election, Bhalla was linked with “terrorism” in a slanderous flyer. Hoboken police department said it has taken the incident with incredible seriousness and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has also evaluated the City Hall.

A statement on the official website of the Hoboken City Council revealed that the police department was investigating the incident which occurred on Thursday night and this also quoted Bhalla disclosing death threats to him and his family.

“A male individual entered City Hall through the Newark Street entrance just before 8 pm on Thursday, February 15, 2018. The person went through metal detectors and told security officers that he was going to use the restroom. At the time, the only person in the mayor’s office was deputy chief of staff Jason Freeman.

Mayor Bhalla was on his way to the office following a community meeting. From his office, Mr Freeman observed that a bag with an object had been thrown in the direction of the administrative assistant’s desk and made eye contact with the individual.

The individual then ran out of the mayor’s office. Mr Freeman called the police, which are currently investigating the incident,” added the statement.

“This incident, along with death threats to me and my family, is an unfortunate reminder that we need to take security seriously,” said Bhalla.

“The Joint Terrorism Task Force has evaluated City Hall, and we have been working to implement their recommendations for physical and procedural changes to improve security for all employees in the building,” he added.

“We take incidents like these incredibly seriously and will continue working to ensure the security of the mayor and everyone who visits City Hall,” said Hoboken police chief Kenneth Ferrante.

Bhalla, an attorney and civil rights activist, had earlier served serving as a councilman on the city council.

However, during the run-up to the election, slanderous flyers were spotted on the car windshields on which “Don’t let terrorism take over our town” was printed above Bhalla’s photograph. “A potential conflict of interest that could cost Hoboken taxpayers millions” was printed along with the photograph, leading to a major controversy.