When police deputies in a Northern California county didn’t take action last year following complaints by a Sikh American that he was the victim of obscenities, racial slurs and violent threats, an advocacy group that defends Sikh civil rights and religious freedom for all demanded an investigation—and got it.
The nonprofit group, known as the Sikh Coalition, offered legal counsel to Rouble Paul Claire, the 66-year-old resident of South Asian descent, living in Yuba. The advocacy group also met with the county sheriff, who “acknowledged that his deputies failed to follow proper investigatory protocol in the course of these cases,” the Sikh Coalition said in a May 10 statement, a day after Claire filed a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages against the county, its two police deputies and the women accused of the hate crimes and threats.
The Sikh Coalition was founded four days after September 11, 2001, when a Sikh gas station owner in Arizona was shot to death by a man enraged by the terrorist attacks who took him for a Muslim because of his turban and beard. In the months that followed, Sikh gurdwaras (temples) were torched and members of the faith were beaten.
“In those early days, and as violence against Sikhs has continued … Sikhs regarded their persecution not as an opportunity for pointing fingers, but for radical empathy,” Religion News Service observed in a July 15 feature story on the Sikh Coalition.
Sikh Coalition says 60 percent of turban-wearing boys are harassed in schools. The group, based in New York City, started out by advocating with local politicians to help stop hate crimes.
Over the years, the coalition expanded its mission to include members of other religions and to defend “the constitutional right to practice your faith without fear.”
One example, during the COVID-19 pandemic: the Sikh Coalition fought to protect the religious rights of all healthcare professionals who maintain facial hair mandated by their faiths but were compelled to shave to wear one-size-fits-all N-95 respirators or risk being fired.
Over the past two years, the coalition has lent its support to the creation of a hate crimes law in South Carolina, one of only three states, (the others being Arkansas and Wyoming) that has no such laws.
The Sikh tradition, known as Sikhi, with 500,000 members in America, was born in the Punjab, a vast region that falls into present-day India and Pakistan, more than half a century ago. The faith has more than 25 million followers worldwide, making it the fifth-largest religion, according to the Sikh Coalition website.
Sikhi preaches love, selfless service for humanity, and the equality of all people. To that end, the Sikh Coalition urges Sikhs to be “spiritual warriors,” as their faith requires, ever ready to fight against injustice and tyranny.
The Sikh Coalition evolved from a grassroots organization based largely in the nearly 300 gurdwaras across the U.S. It works to raise public awareness about the faith and improve Sikhs’ place in American society, says Rucha Kaur, the group’s community development director.
With the traditional Sikh values of service and equality, Sikhs open their gurdwaras for the langar, the communal mealtimes to which all are invited. The interaction and collaborative nature of the meals facilitate social action in the public realm while helping Sikhs become more mindful of the “fulfillment of universal human needs in American law and society.”
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