Spiritual Sikh community in America

The Sikh community in American faces unique problems

In this story, Supreet Kaur Singh conveys the uncomfortable feeling of isolation that many people feel when they are part of smaller religious groups. This is especially poignant for Sikhs because their sacred traditions require them to dress in ways that make them visual targets whenever they travel in America.

I grew up in India, she writes, and at that time, I had friends who were Hindu, Christian and Muslim. I was brought up around people of different backgrounds and different religions. But in India, Sikhs are a minority. And, often, minorities aren’t considered as important as the majority. People would make jokes about Sikhs—would make fun of us—and we couldn’t do much or say much because we were the minority. Later, we lived through a few years when attacks were made on Sikhs. In 1984, Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, was attacked and murdered by some people who were Sikhs. After that, there was turbulence throughout India and a lot of innocent Sikhs were killed. The Sikhs were not prepared for these brutal attacks. Many died.

We Sikhs need to tell the story of our faith more widely. Most people have heard the word “Sikh” and know that it is the name of a person of our faith, but they don’t know more than that. Most people don’t know the significance of men wearing a turban (a turban is supposed to give the look of a saint, or of a holy person). They don’t know that we believe in eating jhatka meat, meat from an animal that was killed in our traditional way with no pain.

The word “ jhatka ” is like the word Jewish people use for properly prepared food: kosher. Or Muslims say: halal. Everyone has an idea what it means when he or she hears someone use the word “kosher.” But, when I am at a restaurant, it is hard to find someone to ask about whether any of the meat is jhatka. No one even knows the word, in most cases.

Of course, some Sikhs don’t eat meat at all.

Living in a minority community is difficult enough, but the media add to the problem by portraying Sikhs on TV and in movies in stereotypical roles. Sikh men and women have few opportunities in the entertainment business, so it becomes easier for people who write and produce TV shows and movies to feel they can make fun of Sikhs. I have lived with this difficult challenge all my life. Now, when my sons go to a mall, they get noticed, too. We do try to explain who we are, if people ask, but many people don’t really want to learn much.

A lot of people I come across in daily life think I’m a Hindu. I tell them I’m a Sikh, and they say, “Okay.” That doesn’t mean anything to them.

Now, I do have some American friends who are not Sikhs. We Sikhs believe in hospitality and welcoming people who are not a part of our faith. We welcome people to visit our
gurdwaras , our houses of worship. Anyone can go, not just Sikhs.

Read the stories from the Women of WISDOM:

This story about the Sikh community is part of a collection of personal stories from Friendship & Faith, a book that delves into the decisions and experiences about faith and friendship shared by a group of Detroit-area women. This particular story about the Sikh community is by Supreet Kaur Singh, a woman of WISDOM.

Want more? Read another story or check out Friendship & Faith.

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