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New book chronicles Sikhs' fight for justice in US

Last updated on: May 12, 2010 03:18 IST
Like many other immigrants in the United States, the Sikhs have endured decades of prejudice. In the post-9/11 backlash, they were mistaken for Muslims, beaten up, threatened, robbed and discriminated against in hundreds. Some times, they were attacked just because they looked different.

'The Sikh American experience can teach us a great deal, not only about how far we have come as a nation,' writes Amy Chua, a Yale University law professor, 'but also how far we still have to go in order to live up to our democratic ideals.'

In her foreword to the book Civil Rights in Wartime: The Post-9/11 Sikh Experience, bestselling author Chua (Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance — and Why They Fall) hails the writers Dawinder S Sidhu and Neha Singh Gohil.

Civil Rights in Wartime chronicles the bitter-sweet fight against discrimination in America as well as European countries including the United Kingdom and France. The two attorneys active in the Sikh rights movement offer a panoramic history of Sikh migration into America, and insights into the Sikh fight for just treatment.'Sidhu and Gohil have chronicled the beginnings of America's newest civil rights movement,' Chua notes.

Sidhu is known as a prolific Sikh civil rights scholar. Based in the Washington, DC area, he has served as a law clerk to a federal judge and a staff attorney in the policy arm of a federal civil rights office. He is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania, the Johns Hopkins University, and The George Washington University Law School.

Gohil is a graduate of Yale Law School, where she was awarded a Schell Fellowship for her work with the London-based Minority Rights Group International. She is also the western region director at the national civil rights non-profit organization Sikh Coalition, and a Bay Area-based journalist.

In the post-9/11 scenario, Sidhu and Gohil write, the Sikhs were 'unnerved by the threat to our physical safety posed by terrorists from afar and by Americans all around us.' While organizations were formed to protect the Sikhs' rights, educate America's leaders and its people about Sikhs and develop relationships with law enforcement agencies, the authors also felt 'there was a conspicuous absence of academic literature that would aid judges, lawyers, scholars, and commentators in understanding first, the nature and effect of the backlash on Sikhs. And second, the significance of this particular story in the larger context of America's struggle to safeguard the rights of visible minority groups in times of war or national emergency.'

Sidhu and Gohil say they drew upon their heritage and legal backgrounds to prepare a law review article that surveyed challenges to turbaned Sikhs in the wake of 9/11. They wanted to provide an overview of the Sikh faith and the importance of the turban--the item of clothing that linked Sikhs to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. And they wanted to highlight incidents in which Sikhs have been subject to discrimination after 9/11.

In 2008, they wrote an article in a university journal focusing 'on the intersection of law and religion.' They claim it is the only legal article dedicated to the post-9/11 civil rights of turbaned Sikhs in America. They realized that similar articles targeting a much wider audience were needed. Hence the book, which is to be published in the US and the UK by Ashgate.

Among the book's most vivid and touching features are over a dozen first person accounts. Amandeep Singh, who became pro-active in the new Sikh movement, writes about how many Sikhs wanted their fight help other minorities. While many Sikhs declared they were not Muslim when confronted, Singh and like minded leaders urged them to look beyond their own interest.

'We resolved our response would be: "We are Sikh, this is what Sikhs believe in, the Sikh faith is an independent religion from northern India, separate and distinct from Islam--and by the way, it is not OK to direct anger and frustration against innocent Arabs".'

Arthur J Pais