Religious discrimination and hate crime against the Sikh community in the United States has increased in recent years, an eminent human rights expert has told the lawmakers urging the administration and the US Congress to take steps to end this.
Congress must take action, Amrith Kaur Aakre told members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties during a recent Congressional hearing on Discrimination and Civil Right.
Aakre is legal director of the Sikh Coalition.
Workplace discrimination harms Sikhs in a range of public and private sector jobs including transportation, entertainment, health care, the military and law enforcement by allowing for the biased interpretation and application of government policies and laws.
“We’ve seen Sikhs willing to put their lives on the line in defence of their cities and country, only to be told that uniform and grooming policies prohibit their articles of faith, she said.
We have seen Sikhs ordered to cut their hair for work-related drug testing even when alternative means are readily available.
And we’ve seen Sikh first responders in the fight against COVID-19 pressured to shave their religiously mandated beards instead of being given appropriate, safe personal protective equipment that doesn’t interfere with their faith, Aakre said.
Regardless of the details, time and again these policies are interpreted in a way which disproportionately impacts minority communities and our system allows it to keep happening, she said.
We also receive Sikh travellers’ reports of inappropriate demands to remove articles of faith, discriminatory comments by TSA agents and other profiling in our airports, she told the lawmakers.
This is a humiliating hindrance for Sikhs and other religious and racial minorities, members of the transgender community and others. And additional discriminatory practices like no-fly list and the lingering effects of the previous administration’s Muslim ban continue to perpetuate profiling against too many people, she said.
Responding to a question, Aakre said TSA profiling for Sikh Americans and other minority groups has always been a problem.
Bias against travellers is prevalent at every stage of the travelling process and it starts with the fact that the TSA agents do not receive adequate training on TSA policies or cultural competencies, which is evident from the moment many stigmatized groups arrive at the airport and have to go through behavioural detection before reaching security.
In response to another question from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, she said Sikh American students experience high rates of bullying and harassment in our nation’s public schools and they continue receiving and documenting nationwide reports of school bullying.
Sikh boys who wear turbans are called terrorists and girls are teased for having long hair. And many of these children are subjected to violence.
Our research shows that the majority of Sikh children, over 50 per cent, have endured school bullying. Over two-thirds or 67 per cent reported that they were bullied in school and turban Sikh children experienced bullying at more than double the national rate, Jackson Lee said.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who is the first and only South Asian American woman elected to the House of Representatives, said 9/11 forever changed what it means to be Muslim, Arab, or South Asian American in America.
In the days and weeks after, I received fearful calls from individuals in the Sikh, Muslim and Arab-American community who were being attacked for wearing turbans or hijabs. I heard from moms and dads who were afraid to send their kids to school, a fear that I shared for my own child, she said.
Jayapal said her resolution, H Res. 629, recognises the climate of hate that Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian and Sikh communities have experienced since September 11 and calls for action to address the event’s lasting impacts.
I hope this hearing becomes one step of many to examine and ultimately dismantle 9/11 era policies that have perpetuated and exacerbated discrimination against these communities, she said.