When Lions Tremble: Sikhs Bullied in America
Being bullied is Hell. It’s hoping the night passes more slowly so you can enjoy potential nightmares instead of the guaranteed monsters at school. It’s feeling as if every stare, gaze, and giggle from students in the hall and class is toward you; another finger around your neck. It’s being beat up on the playground almost every day simply because you can’t (or won’t) fight back. It’s choking on tears as you approach each and every day for years on end. Being bullied is being utterly alone. It’s the seed of hatred toward your others and yourself.
Being bullied is sometimes–many times–regreting who you are. I know, because I was bullied.
There are about 500,000 Sikhs in the United States. Of those numbers, there are Sikh children–many of which attend public/private schools. Because Sikhs are a vast minority in America, there’s often a good chance that a Sikh student is one of only a hand-full, if not the only, Sikh in his/her school. Of these children, the Sikh Coalition, a legal organization which helps monitor and safeguard Sikh civil liberties, found these statistics in a 2006 study:
–More than 50% of Sikh students are ridiculed by classmates
–About 30% of Sikhs students reporting cases of harassment are ignored
–3/4 of all Sikh bullying victims are boys
Sikhs are often bullied because of their appearance. The dastaar (turban) is a highly visual piece of religious garb which covers the Kesh (unshorn hair) incumbent upon every baptized Sikh. Due to ignorance and often just pure malice and discrimination, Sikh children are picked on for simply looking different. There are some reports of classmates cutting the hair of Sikhs, pulling off the patka (a smaller turban) and setting it on fire, and other atrocities.
Chills ran down my spine when I heard about these events. This became more than an exploration into a different faith, but a connection on a deep and personal level. Every month, I look for a way to give back to those who give so much toward my learning. Now, I know what to do.
After I made my appeal to Sikhs to proudly wear the Five K’s, a young man from California contacted me. 16-year-old Rajitmeet Singh was inspired by what I said about wearing the Five K’s and introduced me to a movement called Sikhi Chronicles. As part of Sikhi Chronicles, he tours elementary and middle schools in the Los Angeles area teaching children about Sikhi and answering questions about the faith. Why is he doing this? Well, I asked him to tell you about it in his own words…
“My name is Rajitmeet Singh and I am a Sikh. I live in Los Angeles, and I’m an 11th grade student at Van Nuys High School with plans for college. I am very into my religion, and I play the tabla. I go to Khalsa Care Foundation Gurdwara every Friday, and Sunday. I am always learning something new about my religion, and I try my best to attend Camp Gian every year. Camp Gian is a gurmat camp that teaches about youth about Sikhi. Camp Gian has inspired me to create Sikhi Chronicles.
Sikhi Chronicles is about one thing: Improving Sikhi life for the younger generation. Sometimes some of ushave gone through hate, and we have been hurt. I am trying to teach other people more about Sikhs so
that our children and grandchildren don’t have to go through what we did. I know we won’t be able to get rid of all of the hatred or ignorance but it’s okay, at least we’re trying our best. This might seem impossible but I’ll tell you this: At one point only Guru Nanak Dev Ji was the ONLY Sikh, now look at us; we are more than 20 million!
We are a Pro-Sikhi/Awareness/FUN group. We just want kids to know that they’re not alone out there and if they have problems they can post questions anonymously or of course you can inbox me personally (on facebook). So please, please spread the word. We will be putting up daily shabads, issues, and concerns we see happening to Sikh people. Of course this page is not only for Sikhs but for others as well. One day my little cousin came up to me and said that he was having issues at school, so the initial step I took that I learned at Camp Gian was to give a presentation at his school, Harding Elementary, and we had a lot of fun. The kids were really getting into it. They were all in third grade. After I gave my little presentation on what a Sikh is and why we do what we do, I took off my paag just in case some of the kids were curious what was under it. It was an important factor that I showed them how my hair was tied and what not. Then I re-tied my paag back on, and I brought some extra small paags with me and I let the kids tie it on themselves. They said that they had a lot of fun. Teacher: “Thank you so much for doing this presentation the kids learned a lot more and so did I. I always knew about Sikhism, but I never knew it within depth.” Student: “That was a cool slide show that you did. I had fun tying on the turban, thank you very much!” These were the reactions I got from the class and it was great.
When you get feedback like that it just makes you want to do more, so at the first Sikhi Chronicles meeting on September 16, 2011, I gave them the same presentation that I took from the Sikh Coalition and told them to go do it at schools where they believed Sikh kids were being bullied. A lot of people came from different Gurdwaras, such as Buena Park Gurdwara, Lankershim Gurdwara, and Riverside Gurdwara. Over all in the group we have about 180+ Sikhs and non-sikhs within the Facebook group. This also inspired me to do more and more. We always have a lot of active people online, which are always debating on Sikh questions that we wouldn’t think of. I always try to answer each question the best way I can.
Our first event as a group is going to be the Los Angeles “AIDS Walk” on Oct. 16th. As a Sikh, 10% of our time is dedicated to our community and our community to me is other human beings. I’m also working with “Hope for Japan” foundation, and “Help Uganda” to see if we can work as a partnership. How this relates to Project Conversion is it’s improving on the Sikhi life in a small way, of course we’re just working locally, but I see Sikhi Chronicles working globally. It’s also teaching people things that they did not know. I see Sikhi Chronicles being a big group around 500+ people. I also hope that it could work globally, so we’re making a difference everywhere and not only here in California.”
Is that not incredible? Rajitmeet Singh and many others like him are taking matters into their own hands. They understand that education is the key to ending bigotry and violence. He is living my dream for Project Conversion.
You know what I see? I see this kind of thing nation-wide. I see groups of young Sikhs taking charge and going school-to-school educating kids about who the Sikhs are. I see Sikhi Chronicles chapters sprouting up everywhere and thumbing their noses at ignorance and bullying. It is my prayer that this trend catches on and sweeps the nation–no–the world.
If you’re Sikhi youth, I encourage you seek out support. Find fellow youth like Rajitmeet at your school or gurdwara. I know it’s tough being bullied. I was there, but bullying must stop and that might as well start with you today. Parents: Listen to your kids. They may not always use words to express their fears. Pay attention to behaviors, as those often ring clearer than words. Here is also a wonderful website about bullying with the Sikhi condition in mind.
Do not give up. Do not be ashamed of who you are. Do not give fear a place to grow. Indeed, you are lions, but sometimes even lions tremble when they are alone. Stand together as the Pride Guru Gobind Singh and the other Gurus envisioned, and nothing can stand against you.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa!
Waheguru ji ki Fateh!