Sikhs in America: Often, we stand alone …

HARMANDIR SAHIB, meaning Temple of God or Golden Temple, is located in Amritsar, India, and is the holiest Sikh shrine.The stories in our book are about friendship and Supreet Kaur Singh, as a lifelong Sikh, has found important friendships through the interfaith women’s group WISDOM. In Supreet’s story, she 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.


Here is Supreet’s story …

I grew up in India, 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. “The Widow Colony: India’s Unsettled Settlement” is a 2006 documentary film that shows what happened in 1984 and afterward.

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. Our process of preparing the meat follows principles similar to kosher or halal preparation—but our traditions are different and the process is different. Imagine the difficulty we face at restaurants, if we want to eat meat. 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. The WISDOM women understand this. In WISDOM, we welcome everyone of every faith, too. We talk about the meaning of our beliefs and traditions.

I am hopeful that people will want to learn more and will want to make friends from other faiths—if we give them opportunities like this. In my own life, I find that if someone is willing to tell me about their religion, I think it is amazing. I think others will find all of the world’s different faiths amazing, too.

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