On the request of Charanjit Singh Batth and Pashaura Singh Dhillon of the Education and Sikh Awareness Committee for the Sikh Council of Central California (SCCC), Fresno County Sheriff organized a conversational seminar with law enforcement agencies relevant to ACR 37 (Gray) on October 19, 2015.
The Assembly Concurrent Resolution 37, ACR 37 for short, was authored by Assembly member Adam Gray and was passed unanimously by the California legislative Assembly and Senate this year, whereby the month of November has been designated as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month to coincide with the Guru Nanak Prakash Utsav.
The seminar was held in the Police Department headquarters in Clovis, California and the attendees included members from the office of the Fresno County Sheriff, the FBI, the Coroner’s office, the District Attorney’s office as well as half a dozen members of the Sikh Council of Central California.
Pashaura Singh Dhillon coordinator of the Education and Sikh Awareness Committee made the presentation coupled with display of two short videos namely ‘Cultural Safari’ produced by Kaur Foundation and ‘Sikhs in America’, a KVIE Classroom Version. Both these videos are approved by the California Department of Education (CDE). Conversation ensued and questions were answered.
The District Attorney’s office in a presentation laid down the criteria for hate crimes that is now in place statewide. It was followed by a spirited discussion, questions and answers.
Following is the excerpts of the introduction speech made by Pashaura Singh Dhillon:
“We are gathered here in relation to the Assembly Concurrent Resolution 37 passed by the California legislature this year. Relevant to ACR 37 as it is called in short, designating November as the Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month, I have brought with me a couple of short videos for you to watch. But before that I want to say a few words about the bit of an irony to this reality that our Sikh American community faces at this moment in time.
“Reality that Sikhs have been living in California for more than a century, under a million now live in America and approximately 300,000 in California. The Sikhs respect the constitution, all other religions and do not believe in conversions. The Sikh religion is the youngest and as distinct from Hinduism and Islam is the 5thlargest practicing religion of the world. The Sikh Americans have made and continue to make significant contributions to California and the United States economy and society in a variety of ways. They came to California driven from their lands in Punjab by excessive land taxes by the then colonial government, indebtedness and deep recession, Not lured by the Gold Rush, they came looking for work on railroads, lumber mills and farms. And now of course they make significant contribution through military service, as business owners, transportation professionals, doctors, engineers, teachers, attorneys, mayors, councilors, farmers and in many other capacities. The irony is that our fellow Americans in general, and law enforcement and national security personnel at the airports in particular, know very little about the Sikhs. Consequently, since the 9/11 tragedy, they are often mistaken for terrorists of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida, because of the commonality of beard and the turban. As such they are subjected to a disproportionately high rate of hate crimes, routine security searches at every level and Sikh kids suffer bullying at twice the national bullying rate for other kids.
The Sikh American community thoroughly believes in the constitution and continues however, to peacefully overcome attacks on its identity and practices whether it is in the form of school harassment, employment discrimination, intimidating security searches at the airports or fatal shootings. One of the latest incident as you know was the case in Fresno when Piara Singh an elderly man, was attacked and beaten up outside a Sikh Temple and there was a confusion deciding whether it was a hate crime or not!
Fortunately, the California Legislature recognizes the seriousness of the problem and acknowledges the significant contributions made by Californians of Sikh heritage to our state. By adoption of this resolution ACR 37, it seeks to afford all Californians the opportunity to better understand, recognize, and appreciate the rich history and shared principles of Sikh Americans.
Interestingly, at a time when we as Americans are worried about our crippling political divisions, it is pleasing to note that two social scientists, Robert Putnam of Harvard University, and David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame, have just written a book that examines a powerful source of American unity. Perhaps unexpectedly, the unifying force they focus on is religion and how Americans turn religious diversity into a source of unity. Coming back to the ACR 37, we at the SCCC have been working in collaboration with the California Department of Education (CDE) since 2010, when the first such ACR 181(Logue) was passed. Accordingly, CDE has included November 1-30 as Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month in its current Calendar of Events – as they have been doing it since 2010. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction has been writing to the Principals of all public schools and Administrators of all Chartered Schools to encourage appropriate events and activities aimed at implementing the spirit behind these ACRs.
Since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is also one of your working partners, we suggest that they should also be included in your training programs. As a Sikh American community, we would be more than willing to work with you and help you in any way we can in training and to help spread the awareness message about our community.
Finally, we would like to request the Fresno County Sheriff, Coroner’s office as well as the Fresno County District Attorney’s offices to designate Nov1-30 as Sikh Awareness month, when appropriate events, training and activities aimed at implementing the spirit behind these ACRs can be encouraged and made certain.”
Do you have a similar story for any other minority community anywhere near you? As usual leave a comment if you please!