Bigotry and Ignorance, Sikhs Face A Rising Wave of Hate Crimes Around the Globe
Sep 29, 2022
In the city of Liecester in England, three schoolboys followed, punched & pulled off the turban of few people. In another incident of hate crime, The Atlantic in the United States, a Sikh man waited outside a burger shop to wish his cousin on his Birthday. But a stranger came up against him shouting profanities. He threw a drink at his face and threatened to kill him. Up North in Canada, a road leading up to a Gurudwara in Calgary— the fourth largest city in the country— was spray painted with words “diaper heads”; with the local Sikh community being the clear target of bigotry. These incidents make an uncomfortable read but they are not isolated. They are a part of bulging statistics of hate crimes against Sikhs in the West. In England and Wales, the two nations that are part of the larger United Kingdom, it was found that from 2019-2020, there were 202 reported offences against Sikhs, a rise of 7% compared to the previous one-year period. But the numbers may not be representative of the true scale of the problem. According to the Chair of Sikh Federation of United Kingdom, Bhai Amrik Singh, a lot of the crimes being reported to the police are not registered as crimes against Sikhs. They are either clubbed together with racism-related offenses or are simply lost in the system. The picture becomes even direr if we compare the data to the figures from 2017- 18. The rise would then be 70%. The situation is no different in Australia where Sikhs face “double the risk of victimisation” when it comes to discrimination and hate crimes, found a research.
Canada and the United States— the two countries combined form the largest chunk of Sikh diaspora. The assumption would be that a larger, more visible presence would raise awareness and shield the community against prejudice & discrimination, but it does not appear to be the case. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. The community vividly remembers the attack in Wisconsin 10 years ago where a white supremacist opened fire in a Gurudwara, killing 10 people. At the time, even some journalists covering the incident did not know who the place of worship belonged to. The ignorance and miseducation runs deep.
During the pandemic, anti-Sikhs crimes rose 37% compared to 2019, found FBI. The reasons are not new. It is cultural ignorance, prejudice and bigotry. Ever since 9/11, antiimmigration views have been on the rise in the West. Further, Sikh men are a clearly visible minority and with the turbans, they are often confused with adherents of Islam. Despite Sikhism being the 5th largest religion in the world, there is very little awareness in the West about Sikhism itself and what the religion stands for.
Considering all this, one would imagine that the community would be safer in South Asia, the region where Sikhism originated about five hundred years ago. But much has changed since then. In Pakistan, there are frequent reports of forced conversions to Islam, with the police often failing to provide aid to the victims. Forced marriages are a reality for Sikh women and many other minorities. In 2020, a US media report found that close to 1000 girls, many of them underage, are abducted every year in Pakistan and subjected to forced marriages, religious conversion and rape. The government refutes the report, but whatever the numbers may be, the ground reality is evident.
The most recent case made global headlines when the Sikh Community in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province staged a protest against police inaction in a case of alleged forced marriage of a Sikh woman to a Muslim man. The incident occurred on August 20 this year when Dina Kaur, a Sikh teacher, was abducted, raped and forcefully married to a Muslim man. The family of the victim also alleges that she was tortured, and yet the police refused to even register the case. The incident was only reported in the media about videos of protest went viral. The incident highlighted the plights of Sikhs there.
Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee estimates that there only about 20,000 – 30,000 left in Pakistan. They also say that attacks on the community have become a regular affair. In May this year, two Sikh traders were murdered on the outskirts of Peshawar and in the same city, a Sikh Unani medicine practitioner was shot dead last year. The responsibility for the recent attack was taken by Islamic State Khorasan. Over the last two decades, forced conversions have dwindled the numbers of the community and the killings only add to the feeling of vulnerability. The Indian government repeatedly raises the plight of Sikhs on international platforms. The proposed amendment of Citizenship (Amendment) Act would provide a path to citizenship for Sikhs and all other prosecuted religious minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. In Afghanistan, Sikhs face an existential crisis unlike any other.
When Taliban swiftly took over the country, the situation become untenable for the small minority of Sikhs in Afghanistan. In June this year, a gurdwara was attacked in Kabul, killing a community member. The community faced a constant threat and the Indian government, in coordination with some civil society members, evacuated thirty Afghan Sikhs, including children, this year. Those who remain continue to face terrorist attacks. In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is an unprecedented rise of religious intolerance against minorities which has led to hatred and violence against Sikhs.
A few days ago, an effort was coordinated to evacuate a group of 60 Afghan Sikhs to Delhi, alongside three Sri Guru Granth Sahib saroops. But Taliban’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to facilitate the departure. The Indian Government had arranged a similar operation in December last year when India booked a flight for the evacuees and brought back saroops of Guru Granth Sahib. They were received by Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, at the Delhi Airport. It is indeed hard to read and listen to the stories of senseless violence and nepotism, but nonetheless essential. Awareness and education is the first step to cure what appears to be a pandemic of hate.
If the past is any indication, we can rest easy in knowing that the community is resilient and will continue to persevere, come what may.