American Lawmakers vow to fight racial profiling of Sikhs
Washington - Several influential US lawmakers from the Senate and House praised the Sikh community and pledged to fight racial profiling of them in the aftermath of 9/11 at the fourth Sikh American Dinner Reception on Capitol Hill, June 12.
US Congresswoman Diane Watson, California Democrat, and a former ambassador in the Clinton administration said "We must be tolerant of all religions."
Congresswoman Diane Watson representing the Hollywood area of Southern California
Then, addressing her colleagues in Congress, she said "There's one thing I would encourage us here – in the United States Congress – and that is to encourage more people to learn and understand the religions of the world, and to encourage us to learn foreign languages."
Watson slammed the "English-only" campaign that has been picking up steam, particularly among conservative Republicans across the country, especially in California, as "a dumb concept."
She argued that "when we have become a global economy and we can travel from the end of the globe to the other within 24 hours, we ought to know about the people who inhabit this earth and their languages, their cultures, their religions,
and their beliefs. So I welcome you here as Sikhs to help us to understand and to learn," she told about 200 Sikhs who had come from across the country.
Watson said she was cognizant “of the hassles that you have and you are going through – from security at the airport to being profiled.
"The more we know and respect, and the more tolerant – and you know, I really don't like that word, 'tolerant' because it means just standing and going along for a while. No, understanding is the word. We must understand each other, respect each other's beliefs and each other's morals and mores, each other principles, and each other's values."
Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, and the ranking minority member on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was presented with the Bhagat Singh Thind Award for Human Values, Justice, and Harmony, declared, "I admire the values that you exemplify and you advocate – the quality of all persons, the equality especially for women and to leadership, and to all that you are doing and the conversation of the basic resources of our earth."
He said he had begun to recognize the "profound significance of the Sikh community" through one of his longtime supporters and constituents, KP Singh.
Lugar recalled that when he was first elected mayor of Indianapolis in 1967, K P Singh told him of the many citizens from India. Going by Singh's suggestion that he ought to know them, Lugar began to have regular meetings with community members.
Senator Lugar being honored by Dr. Hardam Singh Azad of Houston, TX, and Dr. Amritjit Singh of OH
While acknowledging that not all of them were Sikhs, the lawmakers said that "a good number of them were," with Singh exemplifying the Sikh community.
"So, he’s been my mentor throughout the years as there have been developments in the Sikh community abroad, but here, importantly, in the United States," Lugar said.
Senator Lugar with Isher Singh Bindra and Dr. Darshan Singh Saluja of MD
He hailed the Sikh community in the US "for the goodness that you have for values that we share," and said that "it's important at this particular point of time for all of the reasons," mentioned by Congresswoman Watson, "we are a nation that could become more fractious in our debates on immigration, or our debates on trade or when one talks about international relations."
"We cannot in any way retreat back into isolationism, protectionism, nativism, in a very dangerous," Lugar warned. Senator Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, decrying the anti–immigrant fervor that has been permeating the debate as comprehensive immigration reform is being discussed in Congress, said, "We all know one thing – without immigrants, America would be so much the less.
"And, every immigrant is special, and their progeny – their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren is special and that's what makes America special," he said.
Schumer said all immigrants had something special from their ancestors who came to the United States and said, "I'm going to make my life better. I am going to take a risk, I am going to leave the place where I come from to make a better life for me and my family and my children."
"That takes a special drive, a special fortitude, a special gumption, that makes all us Americans special," he said.
Schumer said one reason "America is not like Western Europe, is that we are constantly reinvigorated by immigrants. One of the reasons America is not like Europe is that we say to any immigrant, 'Work hard and you will benefit yourself, you will benefit your family and you benefit America.
"We say to immigrants, unlike any other country, set no limit on what you can become – you can dream high, far, and wide. And, it makes us, who have in good part contributed, to why we are the greatest country in the world."
Schumer said he was there both to express his appreciation to the Sikh Council on Religion and Education that has organized the Capitol Hill reception and dinner for the past four years, and to congratulate his good friend, hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal of New York, who was being bestowed the Outstanding Community Leadership Award.
Chatwal could not attend the event because inclement weather stopped him from flying to Washington in time for the reception. A close friend from New York, TJ Bindra, accepted the award on Chatwal's behalf. Bindra's father Ishar Singh Bindra was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his decades–long humanitarian service to the hungry and homeless of New York.
At Hofstra University, I S Bindra also endowed a chair of Sikh Studies in 2000, named after his wife Kujit Kaur Bindra, and endowed an annual prize, the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize.
Schumer said the Sikh community in New York, made up of people like Chatwal and the Bindras, was one of the most vital communities living in his home state.
"I hope we have many more Sikhs come to New York and come to America," he said, and added, "Any of you who live in other states, you are welcome to move to New York where you will find a hospitable environment – you can ask your fellow Sikhs who live there." US Congressman Mike Honda, California Democrat, accepted the Guru Teg Bahadur Award for Civil Liberty, Religious Freedom, and Equality on behalf of civil rights icon US Congressman John Lewis, Georgia Democrat. Lewis also could not attend the function because of a family emergency. Honda said the award embodied "all of the characteristics that really describe John Lewis' history.
Honda spoke of how Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King and is a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi’s passive resistance and satyagraha, always admonished people who never “got in the way."
He said Lewis would always lecture that "one of the things that we have to learn to do in democracies, is that sometimes, we have to learn to get in the way in order for something to happen."
Honda praised SCORE and Sikh- American activists for fighting racial profiling and hate crimes against the communities, saying that Sikhs, having been in the US for over 100 years, were not strangers to the country.
He recalled that the first Asian American Congressman from California was "not Chinese, not Korean, but a Sikh American, Dalip Singh Saund."
Honorable Honda being honored by Dr. Surinder Singh Chauhan of Cleveland, OH, Dr. Darshan Singh Sehbi of Dayton, OH, and Kavelle Bajaj of MD
Honda spoke of how Saund and others fought draconian anti-immigrant citizenship laws and said while these activists were successful in getting discriminatory laws overturned, "there are still many laws in the books that need to be rescinded."
He recalled the internment of Japanese Americans in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor where "we were sent to camps solely because we looked like the enemy," which was fueled by "racial prejudice, war hysteria and a lack of political leadership." Honda said "we want to make sure that these things don't happen again," in the aftermath of the paranoia that still persists after 9/11." That is going to be a promise on our part, but it can only be avoided when we, as citizens are vigilant – that there is no racial profiling, no racial prejudice, and no discrimination."
Congressman Jim Costa, also a California Democrat, with a significant number of Sikh constituents in his district, spoke of the "contributions the Sikh community have made for over 100 years. It's an incredible story."
"We all know about the immigrants who came here in the 19th century, originally from the state of Punjab, and California was the first beachhead."
Congressman Jim Costa of Fresno area showing the newspaper with a picture of Sikh on the front page published in Fresno
Costa said they brought so much "value-add" to California with their "energy and dynamism," and "it's a great success story."
Congressman Costa being honored by Harry Gill, Amarjit Kaur of NM, Gurdial Sing of Los Angeles, Gurbax Singh Bhasin, and Dr. Rajwant Singh
He noted that "we have over 200,000 Sikh in California, and we have over 40,000 Sikhs living in Central Valley that I represent. From Bakersfield to Fresno – we have large influences of the Sikh community, with over a hundred doctors in Bakersfield and over two hundred doctors in Fresno." He pointed out that there were seven Sikh temples in Fresno County alone.
Costa reiterated that Sikhs were an integral part of California’s success story.
US Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, recalled how, in the aftermath of 9/11, "I called together a Unity Walk along Devon Avenue (in Chicago) and people from all over – Indians, Sikh, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Jewish, Croatians – walked arm in arm."
Honorable Jan Schakowsky of the Chicago area
She said that 9/11 had not divided the community but united it.
Schakowsky acknowledge that she was aware of "the pressure on the Sikh community" when it came to racial profiling and hate crimes and spoke of how she had to intervene on behalf of Sikhs who are regularly stopped at airports.
"I know it is a time of difficulty for your community," she said, "But you need to know that there are many members of Congress – in the House and Senate – who stand with you because you are part of the fabric of America."
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky being honored by Balwinder Singh of Chicago and Bhai Gurdarshan Singh of MD and others
Schakowsky said she was happy to see "more involvement" by the Sikh community "in the political process. I see more of you on Capital Hill and this is a good thing," she said.
US Congressman Joe Crowley, New York Democrat and former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, also attended the event towards the end to congratulate Chatwal on his award.
Honorable Joe Crowley of NY
Finding that Chatwal had not been able to make it, Crowley, who hinted that Chatwal was a major contributor to his campaigns, said, "I want to congratulate him in absentia, and I hope you all make sure he knows I said nice things about him."
Left to right: Mohinder Singh Taneja, Rajwant Singh, Surender Singh Dhal. Inderjit Singh Rekhi, Mohinder Singh Gilzian, Harry Gill, Congressman Crowley, MLA Sangat Singh Gilzian. and Baljinder Singh of Baltimore.
Congressman Radanovich being honored by Phula Singh of MD, Inderjit Singh, and Surinder Singh of MD
Congressman Crowley with Mohinder Taneja and Baldev Singh, Editor of Sher-e-Punjab Newspaper
Among others who were presented with awards were Dr. Anmol Singh Mahal, president of the 35,000 – member California Medical Association; Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa, the founder of SikhNet.com, a popular website; writer and filmmaker Valerie Kaur; writer-director, and filmmaker Sharat Raju; Ish Amitoj Kaur, director of Noore Nishan Films; and Ajitpal Singh Raina, president, Indian Students Association at Virginia Tech University.
Also attending was Karan Singh Grewal, also of Virginia Tech, and a suite-mate of the mentally disturbed student Seung-Hui Cho, who went on a murderous rampage on April 16.