American Sikh Congressional Caucus Launched on Capitol Hill !

0
236

April 29, 2013

Lawmakers Pledge to Protect the Community

By Geeta Goindi

Leaders of the Sikh community in America and Congressional staffers at a reception on Capitol Hill celebrating the launch of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus

April 29, 2013

Lawmakers Pledge to Protect the Community

By Geeta Goindi

Leaders of the Sikh community in America and Congressional staffers at a reception on Capitol Hill celebrating the launch of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus

WASHINGTON – April 24, 2013 was a momentous day for Sikhs in America.  On a pristine Wednesday morning, the American Sikh Congressional Caucus was launched on Capitol Hill and announced at a Press Conference by co-chairs Congresswoman Judy Chu (Democrat-California) and Congressman David Valadao (Republican-California).  By evening, 30 influential lawmakers had joined the Caucus pledging to address the unique challenges faced by members of the Sikh community, to stand by their side and fight for them.

Congresswoman Chu was upbeat!  “Today marks the day when Sikh Americans will finally have a unified voice to advocate for them in the United States House of Representatives”, she said.  “This bipartisan caucus – made up of members from California to Virginia, from New Jersey to Arizona – will stand by your side and fight for you”, she told leaders of the Sikh community.  “Together, we will preserve religious freedom, protect the safety of all people, and celebrate America’s diversity”.

Every person, every community, has a tipping point.  For the Sikh community here, it was Oak Creek!

Congresswoman Judy Chu, of California, Democratic Co-Chair of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, with Dr. Rajwant Singh (right), Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE) and Secretary of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, at a reception on Capitol Hill celebrating the launch of the Caucus

Calling it a “shocking hate crime”, Congresswoman Chu recounted that “the Sikh community was peacefully preparing meals for Sunday prayer inside their Gurudwara.  But that peace was shattered at the hands of a gunman filled with hate and rage.  He fired indiscriminately and without cause, and when the smoke cleared, six innocent people lay dead.  This cannot happen”, she made it categorically clear.

“Although it has been more than a decade since 9/11, this is a tragic reminder of why it is absolutely crucial that Congress intensifies its focus on American Sikh issues”, the lawmaker underscored.

 She was elated that the Sikh Caucus has had such a “tremendous start” and warmly commended community activists Harpreet Singh Sandhu and Dr. Pritpal Singh for their tireless efforts in ensuring it’s launch.  She acknowledged, “It couldn’t have happened without the effort of the national Sikh American groups.  They joined together to push for this to happen”.  Among the key organizations who put their weight behind the creation of the caucus are The Sikh Coalition, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), United Sikhs and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).

It is, indeed, imperative for Sikhs in the US to work closely with elected officials.  A corollary is the American Sikh Congressional Caucus which will educate members of Congress and the general public about Sikh issues and support the Sikh community.

Addressing a jam-packed gathering of Sikh leaders on Capitol Hill, Wednesday evening, at a reception heralding the creation of the caucus, Congresswoman Chu stressed, “We have so many issues to address.  We have to address the issue of racial profiling at our nation’s airports.  We know that far too many of you have been pulled over, put in glass cages, interrogated for hours, even had your turbans unfurled and these are things that should not happen.  We have to have better treatment at the airports”.

The lawmaker lamented that “too many” Sikhs “have experienced employment discrimination.  There are Sikh Americans who have been told that they cannot work at a particular workplace because of the way that they dress”, she noted.  Driving home this point, she cited the experience of a Sikh who was turned down for a job at a car dealership because he refused to cut his beard.  “This is not right”, Congresswoman Chu asserted.  “We have to change this”.

While a lot remains to be done, some progress, small strides, have been made to rectify the wrongs!  Congresswoman Chu told the gathering: “One thing we have already done in the US Congress is to ask Attorney General Eric Holder to at least categorize Sikh American hate crimes so that we know what the accurate count is of these hate crimes.  They (officials at the Justice Department) used to lump them all together.  I do have to tell you that finally he did say ‘yes’.  He is going to separate them.  But, there is so much more work that needs to be done to make sure that we educate everybody about Sikh Americans, about what is going on with Sikh Americans.  We will work on these issues and also the military and against bullying”, she assured.

It is noteworthy that military discrimination is preventing Sikhs from enlisting in the US armed forces due to restrictive appearance regulations that ban turbans.  Regarding bullying in schools, as many as three in every four Sikh boys have experienced this form of intimidation and harassment – a very telling statistic!

Congressman David Valadao, of California, Republican Co-Chair of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, with Harpreet Singh Sandhu (right), a prominent community activist based in California

At the reception on Capitol Hill, the Republican co-chair of the Sikh Caucus, Congressman Valadao, underlined the immense contributions of Sikhs to American society and said it is imperative “to give them the same opportunities and the same respect that we expect for ourselves”.

He told the gathering that it is “a huge honor” for him, a newly elected Representative, to be a co-founder of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus.  “Not many people get to experience it”, he said.  “So, I am excited”.

Congressman Jerry McNerney (Democrat-California) pointed out that the Sikh community is prosperous in his state which he believed is very important.  “That hard work and that community involvement brings political power”, he said.  “This caucus shows that is what is happening, that this community is aware and moving into the position of being able to influence policy in this country.  I think that is a tremendous achievement.  The Sikh community deserves a lot of respect for that”.

Congressman David Valadao, of California, Republican Co-Chair of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, is flanked by students Mandip Kaur (left) and Mankiran Kaur at a reception on Capitol Hill celebrating the launch of the Caucus

The lawmaker recalled visiting the oldest Sikh Gurudwara in the nation which is situated in his District and he marveled at “the depth of culture that Sikhism brings to the United States of America.  It is a culture that values hard work, family values … I just want to say how proud I am to be a part of the Sikh Caucus”, he told the gathering.

Calling it “an exciting day”, Congressman Doug LaMalfa (Republican-California) warmly congratulated the Sikh community on the launch of the Caucus.  “I will be happy to affix my name to the American Sikh Congressional Caucus if you will have me”, he said, to much applause.

Before coming to Capitol Hill, the lawmaker disclosed that he was a farmer, a rice grower, and knew many Sikhs working in orchards, trucking and agriculture, in general.  “There is so much that we have in common”, he stressed.  “And it is a tragedy when we hear what happens because of misunderstanding of culture or perception of culture”.

On his part, he felt blessed to learn about the Sikh culture early in his legislative career as he made a transition from farming to politics.  “It’s been very rewarding to me”, he told the gathering.  “Your community has opened itself up to me in my part of the state.  It has been a very warm friendship, relationship.  So, I would be happy to do my part to help continue to foster that understanding so that some of the tragedies or misunderstandings that go on (are a thing of the past)”, he said.

Much to the delight of the gathering, Congressman LaMalfa disclosed, “I have my own turban at home.  I have no idea how to re-tie it”, he added.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa (Republican-California) with Simran Kaur (center), Advocacy Manager at The Sikh Coalition, and Rajdeep Singh, Director of Law and Policy, The Sikh Coalition, at a reception on Capitol Hill celebrating the launch of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus

The reception on Capitol Hill began on an auspicious note with an invocation prayer by Bhai Gurdarshan Singh, Head Granthi (priest) of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation based in Rockville, MD.  The prayer was a plea to save the world from hatred, greed and ignorance, to promote greater understanding about Sikhs, and to instill virtues of love, compassion, service and humility in every heart!

Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE) and Secretary of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, cautioned “the journey has just begun.  We will have to reach out to many more members of Congress to join in this great ‘Karwan’ (Caravan)”, he said.  Dr. Singh is among the most renowned and revered Sikh leaders in America and always in the forefront when it comes to fostering greater understanding of issues concerning the community.

Simran Kaur, Advocacy Manager at The Sikh Coalition, noted that the founding of the Sikh Caucus marks a turning point for the community.  “It is extremely timely in light of Oak Creek and the mass tragedy there”, she said.  “These issues (of hate crimes and violence) are not going away; they continue to be in the forefront.  The Caucus, we hope, will provide an opportunity to discuss issues of civil rights including discrimination, profiling and violence.  As a representative of a Sikh civil rights organization, these are issues I continue to hear on a daily basis.  We get phone calls every day from parents and individuals who have been discriminated against”.

Simran commended lawmakers and Sikh leaders for creating the Caucus which, she noted, is a “meaningful platform for us to move forward, to include the Sikh voice on the agenda and to make sure that the Sikh community continues to be engaged”.

Jasjit Singh, Executive Director of SALDEF, pointed out that Sikh “values are something which are very common”.  He made it clear, “We are not victims.  That is not what our history and our scriptures teach us”, he said.

The reception ended on a delectable note with sumptuous Indian cuisine catered by Bombay Café which is located in Fairfax, VA.  Congressman LaMalfa quipped, “I’ve enjoyed the food in the past and look forward to eating a couple of samosas”.


Community Special by MYDOSTI.COM