By Nachhattar Singh Chohan
The massacre of six innocents at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin on Sunday shows that the Sikhs in the US are still mistaken for other groups. Shocking and unfortunate as this tragedy is, it reminds me that the community has failed to educate the mainstream American community about itself, though some initiatives were mounted after post-9/11 attacks on turbaned Sikhs.
What the Sikhs of America need to do immediately is launch awareness and educational programs at the local level to reach out to the mainstream. I strongly feel that every Sikh institution – be it a gurdwara or a school – should form committees of educated people to join in the activities of the mainstream and explain to them who they are.
Mere interaction with the white people will educate them about the Sikhs. If the Sikhs in America don’t do this thing, they are in trouble.
Most people still equate the Sikhs with Taliban because of a lack of awareness. That’s a worrying factor because these tragedies are the result of ignorance.
Though the number of Sikhs in the US and Canada is the same – about 500,000, the Canadian Sikhs are much more integrated with the mainstream than the American Sikhs.
One factor is that the Canadian Sikhs are dominant in some areas while the American Sikhs are spread all over.
Secondly, we have lots of Canadian Sikhs in politics who are ministers, MPs and MLAs while there is hardly any Sikh in politics in the US. I strongly feel that unless American Sikhs involve themselves in politics, they cannot explain themselves to others or others won’t understand them.
Take the case of Gurbax Malhi – the first Sikh MP in Canada. When this guy used to sit in parliament with a turban, everybody knew who Sikhs are and why they wear turbans. Malhi became an advertiser for the Sikh community, and he helped break barriers of misunderstanding. Even more importantly, he started Vaisakhi celebrations, and more and more Canadians came to know a lot more about the Sikhs. That’s the way to go forward for the Sikhs in America.
Thirdly, most Sikhs in Canada are into small businesses. It means they have a lot more interaction with the wider community. Which also means more opportunities to build bridges of understanding with others.
But the case in America is the opposite. Most American Sikhs are professionals who probably think it below their standard to interact with every Tom, Dick and Harry. And it is these Toms, Dicks and Harrys who are turning against them.
Fourthly, the Sikhs in the US must follow their counterparts in this country in celebrating their religious and important days with the mainstream community. Look how white Canadian join our Diwali or Vaisakhi or other festivals. This has created bonds between us and the mainstream. White Canadians know a lot about us than do the white Americans because we reached out to the Canadians.
Sikhs in the US should lose no time in mounting initiatives to reach out to the mainstream to avert such tragedies as the one witnessed on Sunday.