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Submitted by dsgill on Thu, 2008-03-06 07:31.

Discrimination of Sikhs

by Dale Penn

"In Germany they first came for the Communists; I did not speak because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews; I did not speak because I was not a Jew. Then they came to fetch the workers, members of trade unions; I was not a trade unionist. Afterward, they came for the Catholics; I did not say anything because I was a Protestant. Eventually they came for me, and there was no one left to speak."

By Pastor Martin Niemoller

A Protestant Minister Imprisoned during Germany's Third Reich.

The layout above is not meant to be pretty or beautiful. The pictures and words are meant to express the truth, harsh as it may be. Discrimination is a plague on this world. No doctor can cure this disease, and no miracle cure is possible. Discrimination affects nearly every facet of our being, and yet we, as a people, have not come together to fight it. No matter who you are, or where you are, you have felt some type of discrimination at one point in your life or another. Religious discrimination, racism, nationality, height, weight, fashion, social status, health, the list is endless. No one is perfect, yet discrimination breeds on the assumption that one class of people are better in one way or another than any other class of people. The Sikh religion knows discrimination well. Since it's conception over 500 years ago, discrimination, hatred and anger have pitted themselves against the Sikhs and their communities. There are three main areas of discrimination where Sikh's have experienced their greatest battles; racial discrimination, religious discrimination, and stereotypes. This paper will try and discuss these three topics as well as relate the experiences of the Sikhs to other religions and ethnicities, and bring in the discussion of three main books regarding the Sikh religion; Making Ethnic Choices, Lions of the Punjab, and Fighting for Faith and Nation.

Most likely the most hated form of discrimination, racial discrimination is found almost everywhere. Ignorance, arrogance, or stupidity, describe the causes for the use of this form of discrimination. The United States of American has seen a constant stream of hate crimes since it's conception over 200 years ago. Originally with the slave trade, and more recently with Neo-Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan, racial discrimination has left its horrible mark all over this great nation. Even the beliefs written in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the beliefs we are based upon as a nation, prove false when used in conjunction with racial discrimination. One of the largest contradictions in the history of the US is the beginning line of the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.(Jefferson 1)" The underline was inserted to express the contradiction present. How can a nation say that "all men are created equal" when a large population of its people are discriminated against? One such group of people, the Sikh community, was discriminated against for many reasons when first introduced to the US in the early twentieth century. Initially considered of the Hindu faith, a stereotype we will discuss later, the Sikh men sought marriage with mainly Mexican or Mexican American women. This mixing of families of vastly different faiths led to religious discrimination we will also discuss later. Mainly, the marriages between Punjabi Sikhs and Mexican women resulted in race differences, which sometimes tore families apart. Both ethnic groups looked down upon each other as inferior. In Making Ethnic Choices, the author, Karen Leonard, does an excellent job at describing several situations where race plays an important role in different marriages as well as the everyday lifestyles of Sikh families. In the second paragraph on page 97, Leonard writes, "The all-male socializing and drinking groups that met in town parks, bars, and one another's homes featured conversations conducted in Punjabi and excluded all who could not speak or follow that language (Leonard 97)." This details the desire for fellow Sikh's to congregate together instead of with the Mexican or Mexican American families of their wives. Racism also bred from the fact that many Mexicans or Mexican-Americans were employed by Sikh men, which inevitably led to social class racism. This class racism was heavy during the first half of the twentieth century most noticeably in California. As stated in Leonard's book, "The Mexican community did not welcome the men from India, nor did most Mexicans approve of the women marrying these immigrants (Leonard 98)." Both classes were racist towards the other. This led to a very separatist community for both the Mexicans and Sikh men and women. One aspect I wish Leonard had gotten into a bit more is the racism faced by Sikh men. She does an excellent job detailing the hardships facing Sikh men and their culture, but a little more information on the racism, which was a dynamic force facing the men, would have made the book a little more informative to read. Other than California, Sikh individuals faced racism all over the world. After the British conquest of India, Sikh men were brought into service to the police forces, which often were used against the populace. Forcing Sikh men to pit themselves against other Indians must have incited racist behavior against the Sikh community from other factions, including Muslims and Hindus. Although I have found no documentation of this, the straight facts demand some form of harsh feelings toward Sikh men in the police force from other Indians. While searching the Internet for sources, I came upon a certain website that might be interesting to others searching for information regarding human rights violations against the Sikh culture. This website is:


This site details some of the more gruesome tales of Sikh discrimination. Most notably are the discrimination cases faced during the horrible Operation Blue Star in 1984. This is something we go into later on in the paper. This is an excellent site for another reason; during the course of our class concerning the Sikh Diaspora, we read a book my Cynthia Mahmood, and I have found a paper written by her and another individual concerning Sikh rights on this website. The paper can be found by clicking on its link on the main page. The site also describes numerous discrimination cases around the world where certain aspects of the Sikh religion are being contested. These include the right to wear swords (kirpan), the right to wear the turban some Sikh men and women choose to wear, and other items the Sikh community identifies themselves with. Racial discrimination will continue to plague the nation of the United States of America, as well as every other nation on this earth, as long as groups of people can not throw away past prejudices and work together to find a cure for this horrible plague.

While Sikhs do face horrible cases of racial discrimination, they also deal with issues regarding religious discrimination which pit them against individuals in their own homeland. The most notable occurrence of religious discrimination occurred only 15 years ago, and the memories will not fade as easily as the government's memory of the incident. Operation Blue Star began in early June 1984. Over the course of a few days, more than 1500 Sikhs, many innocent pilgrims, lay dead outside and inside the Golden Temple. The attack on the Golden Temple was spurred because the Indian government believed militants to be using the temple as a basis for organizing resistance to its Totalitarian government. Even though the 1500+ deaths were a tragic occurrence, the following several years were to prove even more taxing on the Sikh's and their faith. After the onslaught of the Golden Temple, three Sikh men assassinated the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, the person believed responsible for the assault on the Golden Temple. In retaliation for the assassination, the Indian government put into effect a plan labeled Operation Wood Rose, which targeted all Amritdhari Sikhs from age 15 to 30. These men, and even women who were raped and beaten, were taken to be tortured and on many cases murdered in cold blood because of the religion they chose to practice. Although the Indian government, to this day, states that Operation Wood Rose did not occur, the cold hard facts presented by numerous individuals in Cynthia Mahmood's book, Fighting for Faith and Nation, destroy the base for the government's arguments. One large problem facing the Sikh population was the large amount of Sikh men currently working for the police forces during Operation Wood Rose. These Sikh men, who were ordered to torture and brutalize their fellow Sikhs, were forced to comply, or force alienation and possibly being labeled traitors. The men were most likely not pleased to perform these deeds for a government who hated and despised their people, but I want to know did these men attempt to help at all? In Fighting for Faith and Nation, Cynthia Mahmood does not disclose if any of these Sikh policemen helped the tortured men and women. That one fact is something I truly wished was covered more in her book. The Hindu faith, which preaches tranquility, peace, and love, is so easily drawn to bloodshed in fighting for a faith, which abhors the acts committed in "defending" it. To be fair, not only Hindus have gone against religious doctrine. The crusades were a time period during the turn of the last century where Muslim and Christian spilled blood for faiths which preached peace. "Love thy fellow man" is a belief easily tossed to the wind in a world fighting over peace. A contradiction of terms if there ever was one. Religion has been called the single greatest asset to mankind, yet it is also, statistically, the greatest loss of life. Can we as a world continue to believe in religions which preach one thing and demand the opposite of their followers? Holy wars and Jihads continue to plague our world, and, like racism, they are something that cannot be easily dealt with. Cooperation and understanding will allow Christian and Muslim, Sikh and Hindu, Catholic and Protestant, to practice their respected faiths equally and faithfully.

Another case of discrimination faced by Sikhs deals with stereotypes. Stereotypes plague every one on this earth. Some are good, and they allow us to simplify categories, while others are bad, and they give us misinterpretations and false ideas concerning a people. In this case, we'll focus on some of the good and bad situations regarding Sikh stereotypes.

When I began this course, my only dealings or understanding of the Sikh religion were believing it was a small religion in India, with men who wore turbans and had long beards. That in no way encapsulates the Sikh religion. Besides being spread all over the world, the Sikh religion is divided into several smaller subdivisions, each with its own customs and beliefs, although the original doctrine of Guru Nanak still applies to each division. A decidedly large faction, labeled the Khalsa Sikhs, has arisen as a more outgoing and popularized faction. Stereotypes arise from radical behavior, attitudes and actions differing from the "norm" of any one society. Because of the Khalsa Sikh's decisions to wear turbans and swords, and have unshorn hair, I have associated all Sikh's with this one section of the Sikh community before the class cleared my definition of Sikhs. This initial case of stereotyping caused me to pause and appreciate the seriousness of this type of discrimination. Most individuals do not understand that a stereotype is not a correct assumption, due to the fact that stereotypes are made to understand things we have not experienced. My assumption that all Sikh's wear turbans and swords and have beards was a misconception because I had never known a Sikh person.
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