A call for tracking hate crimes against Sikhs

In response to the Aug. 5 mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday called for specific tracking and counting of incidents of violence and intimidation against Sikhs.

At press conference Tuesday morning at the state Capitol, Blumenthal said acts of bigotry and hatred directed against religious groups are tracked by the Department of Justice for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and other religions, but not Sikhs.

“That gap must be corrected,” he said, adding that his office has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to track and count such incidents against Sikhs in order to identify trends and direct resources more effectively.

“The more these incidents are counted and tracked, the more they will be reported,” Blumenthal said.

Sikh press conference

Davinder Cheema, manager of a Sikh foundation in Norwalk, speaks Tuesday at a press conference in Hartford about hate crimes against Sikhs. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman (third from left) and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (second from right) also attended.

The press conference was organized by the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission to discuss the impact of the Wisconsin shooting within the Sikh community in Connecticut and hate crimes against Sikhs in general since 9/11. In addition to Blumenthal, other Connecticut officials, members of the state’s Sikh community, and  Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik spoke at the press conference.

Several Sikhs who addressed the approximately 40 people attending the conference said they fear that their ethnic background makes them a prime target.

They said they are often mistaken to be Muslims because of their beards, traditional turbans and dark skin color.

Manmohan Singh Bharara of Southington, co-founder of one of the five Sikh temples in Connecticut, said the Sikh Coalition has registered more than 700 cases of hate crimes against Sikh youths at schools around the nation since 9/11.

According to Darshan Bajwa, former president of Bharara’s temple in Southington, there are approximately 500,000 Sikh Americans, with about 1,500 Sikh families in Connecticut.

In memorializing the six victims killed in Wisconsin, Bharara read aloud a letter written by a young Sikh girl from Connecticut, Avneet Dhillon:

“I have never met any of the Sikh victims of the Wisconsin shooting, but when I read their names … I felt that I knew them. I see them every time I walk into a Gurdwara (Sikh temple) – the man who offers me saag (cooked Spinach) during the religious service, the woman who teaches her child how to receive Prashad (blessed pudding) … to me these are familiar names and faces, yet these individuals were targeted because they were unfamiliar,” read the letter.

Bajwa suggested that the “senseless slaughter” in Wisconsin should compel Sikhs and members of other faiths to rededicate themselves to inter-religious understanding.

“We need to pursue even more vigorously the essential values and ethics of our religious tradition; that is, to love strangers and care for every human being within and outside the Sikh faith,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman called for Aug. 28 to be marked as Sikh Solidarity Day.

“I find it very disturbing that attacks like this are motivated purely by hatred and prejudice,” Wyman said. “It reminds us that terror and hatred are very much alive.”

State Rep. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury said it was “unfortunate that law and order, which is the foundation of this civilized society, is beginning to rot.”

“Terrorism in every form — within and outside the nation — grips us day in and day out,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s regional office in Hartford is working to achieve cultural competence and sensitivity among law enforcement communities and public safety officials in the state, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Ikari.

“This [Wisconsin] incident reminds us that hate matters, hate has consequences and hate cannot be ignored,” added Gary Jones, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.