Sikh hate crimes raise questions about equality

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Sukhmani Kaur

On October 12, a series of protests erupted after a torn-up copy of the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holy scripture, was found in the village of Bargari, in Punjab, India. The desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib sparked the tempers of many protesters which led police to open fire and kill many innocent Sikhs.

The Sikh community protested by blocking highways and bridges, demanding action against those who destroyed the holy book. As Sikhs continue to fight for their freedom of religion, this unfortunate event establishes how society still remains intolerant of one another’s differences. In addition, it represents society’s refusal to accept people’s true identities, which has constantly been exemplified throughout history via hate crimes around the world.

For instance, in 1984, Indian security forces killed many Sikhs when the Indian government seized the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhism’s most important site. Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister at the time, ordered all Sikhs to be killed and any representation of the faith to be destroyed. This gruesome act threatened the lives of many Sikhs and forced them to go into hiding for the sole reason that their beliefs and values were different.

Even so, not much has changed. People’s perception of Sikhs remains because the desire to eliminate the faith and its people still prominently exists. The fact that Sikhs still have to hide their identity in order to stay alive everyday further illuminates society’s belief in conformity, forcing everyone to fit into a single ideology.

However, India is not solely responsible for all the hate crimes against Sikhs, as these types of crimes are prominent around the world. For example, on September 11, 2001, the fall of the Twin Towers led many people to blame innocent Sikhs for one reason alone: they wear turbans. Despite it being 14 years since the devastating event took place, Sikhs are still prime targets of hate crimes. In September 2015, Inderjit Singh Mukker, a Chicago native Sikh, was the victim of a life-threatening attack because he was mistaken as a Taliban terrorist.

Society has failed to learn from the past and move forward simply because of people’s inability to truly acknowledge the concept of equality and accept different belief systems. Because of the inequality that is directed towards followers of Sikhism, many Sikhs feel obligated to change their identity and abandon their faith in order to avoid being targets of hate crimes. Despite living in the 21st century, in which broader mindsets constantly challenge societal norms, we are still unable to allow certain individuals the freedom to be themselves.

Sikhs are not the only victims of hate crimes;  these crimes are prominent throughout the world whether it be directed towards the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community or towards Muslims who are also constantly labeled as “terrorists.” This discrimination needs to come to an end immediately. Along with better laws and policies that promote equality, there needs to be a change within people’s attitudes and mindsets.

As a society, it is important to educate ourselves about different beliefs and empathize with different opinions so we can become more knowledgeable and open-minded individuals. People must realize that every person wearing a turban is not a terrorist.

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