Sikh Coalition, Allies File DOJ Complaint for AZ Sikh Forcibly Shaved in Prison
On May 24, the Sikh Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona, the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the ACLU National Prison Project, and WilmerHale filed a complaint
with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of Mr. Surjit Singh, who is currently serving a sentence at the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) in Tucson, AZ. Upon his incarceration in August of 2020, Mr. Singh’s turban was taken from him and his beard was forcibly shaved.
The Sikh Coalition and our partners filed a formal written grievance on Mr. Singh’s behalf, securing an accommodation to prevent further shavings and allowing him to keep his turban. The ADCRR refuses to commit, however, to a policy change that would prevent similar violations in the future; accordingly, our complaint to the DOJ asserts that Mr. Singh’s religious freedom was violated by the ADCRR, and it urges the DOJ to examine the ADCRR’s practices to ensure that other incarcerated persons are not subject to similar violations. The complaint was covered by CNN
, the Associated Press
, Arizona’s largest newspaper
, and Arizona’s NPR affiliate
, among other outlets.
Sikh Coalition Mourns with Family of Taptejdeep Singh
On May 26, a mass shooting at a VTA rail yard facility in San Jose, CA, left nine people and the gunman dead. Among those killed was 36-year-old father of two Taptejdeep Singh. The Sikh Coalition worked with Mr. Singh’s family to put out a statement
commemorating their loss and sharing stories from witnesses that indicate that Mr. Singh spent his final moments trying to ensure that others were safe. Our prayers and hearts are with all of the families who have suffered loss as the result of another senseless, violent attack.
This month, the Sikh Coalition joined Sikhs around the world in solemnly marking 37 years since the Indian Army launched its assault on Darbar Sahib (popularly known as the Golden Temple) and dozens of other gurdwaras throughout Punjab. According to eyewitness accounts, Operation Blue Star killed thousands of innocent Sikhs; it also led directly to further state-sanctioned violence and executions in the following months and years. To ensure that the historical memory of 1984 lives on, we have shared several commemorative resources and projects here
Bigotry and nationalism remain pressing threats in India, the United States, and around the world. From the repression faced by protesting Indian farmers and the attempt to falsely frame demonstrators as extremists to the ongoing fight against xenophobia and white supremacy in the United States, the work to protect and empower our community continues. We stand firm in our demands for accountability and justice, and we reiterate our commitment to fighting alongside other marginalized groups in our common struggle.
COVID-19 Updates in the United States and India
On June 4, the Sikh Coalition sent out a COVID-19 update
covering a wide range of topics about the ongoing pandemic. Chief among the information was new masking guidance for fully vaccinated individuals from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): In May, the CDC announced that those who have been fully vaccinated do not need to continue wearing masks or maintaining six feet of distance. (Please note that this guidance only applies to fully vaccinated individuals--those who aren’t vaccinated or haven’t gone two weeks since their final dose should continue wearing a mask to protect themselves and others.)
Additional updates in the email included information about the authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-old adolescents, and an update on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Sikh Coalition also called attention to the continued, heartbreaking surge of COVID-19 in India. In the weeks ahead, expect to see new and updated COVID-19 vaccine resources in English and Punjabi.
[RSVP] California Ethnic Studies Webinar on June 30
The Sikh Coalition, in partnership with the Jakara Movement, would like to invite you to a virtual webinar discussion, Ethnic Studies and the California Sikh Community
, on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 at 7:00 PM PST
. If you are a current or upcoming high school student, or the parent of one, we encourage you to attend this Zoom webinar discussion to learn how ethnic studies curricula and other initiatives can be used to ensure that teaching about the Sikh community happens in your classroom. Click here
to reserve your seat today!
Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act Signed into Law
In May, President Biden signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act
, an important first step to countering the threat of hate in America and the first significant piece of federal hate crimes legislation in 12 years. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in response to anti-Asian hate that has surged during the pandemic. Further, it includes the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which will modernize hate crime reporting and provide new resources for survivors.
The Sikh Coalition has been advocating for the passage of the NO HATE Act’s important provisions since it was introduced in 2019. While this legislation is a historic step forward, it is far from the end. Read this message
from Sikh Coalition Executive Director Satjeet Kaur, who attended the bill signing in Washington, DC; she discusses how our organization will continue to fight for better state-level hate crime legislation, mandatory federal hate crimes reporting, and other policy improvements to ensure the safety of all marginalized communities.
Another Historic Day at West Point
The Sikh Coalition is pleased to congratulate Second Lieutenant (2LT) Gurjiwan Singh Chahal
for successfully graduating from the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point on May 22. In 2017, 2LT Chahal entered as a member of West Point’s Class of 2021 and simultaneously became one of the first two male Sikh soldiers to maintain their articles of faith in West Point’s 215-year history. The second Sikh male soldier also successfully graduated, but for privacy reasons pertaining to his military career, he respectfully requests anonymity.
You can review photos from the graduation here
. In the meantime, the Sikh Coalition continues our 12-plus year campaign, along with allies and other organizations, to end religious discrimination in the country’s largest employer: the U.S. Department of Defense.
FBI Sikh Awareness Trainings Continue
Following our March Sikh awareness training for more than 60 staff members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Sikh Coalition has received inquiries from FBI offices around the country requesting that we train their agents about the Sikh faith, tradition, and community.
In May, the Sikh Coalition led a Sikh awareness training for the FBI office in Salt Lake City, UT. In the weeks ahead, we look forward to conducting additional trainings for FBI offices in Minneapolis, MN; Phoenix, AZ; and Kansas City, MO to ensure that law enforcement is better equipped to respond to the unique challenges that Sikh Americans face. If you are interested in bringing Sikh awareness trainings to your local and federal law enforcement offices, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Latest Updates on our Federal Advocacy Work
In the last few weeks, the Sikh Coalition has engaged with U.S. lawmakers and the federal government on multiple advocacy issues important to the Sikh American community.
Firstly, we met with the Department of Labor to address the concerns that many Sikh Americans have about workplace safety regulations being used to keep Sikhs out of workplaces--including hard hat requirements for truck drivers, drug hair testing proposals, and an inability on the part of employers to accommodate N95 respirators. (After months of advocacy
from the Sikh Coalition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s newly-published COVID-19 guidance
better identifies the obligations of employers to provide N95 respirator accommodations for Sikhs and other religious minorities.)
We also joined other Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations in kicking off the White House’s new Initiative on AAPIs that will address the challenges of bias, hate crimes, and discrimination faced by our communities. Lastly, we raised concerns about the importance of providing meaningful Punjabi language access to the public with the Department of Justice. Through these and other opportunities, we continue working to ensure that the Sikh voice is heard in the halls of power.
Women in Faith & Belief Virtual Panel
On May 18, Sikh Coalition Legal Director Amrith Kaur joined the Women in Faith & Belief
panel at Tanenbaum’s 5th Annual Religious Diversity Leadership Summit. The panel focused on what it means to be a woman of faith working towards the realization of religious rights and tolerance. During the discussion, Ms. Kaur shared her personal and professional perspectives as a Sikh woman who also represents the community in cases where a community member may have been discriminated against because of their Sikh identity.
In this Issue