TRENTON, New Jersey: On March 26, the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly passed a joint resolution designating April of every year as “Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month.”
The author of the joint resolution AJR 93, Karanveer Singh Pannu, who is a SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund) SikhLEAD alumni and author of “Bullying of Sikh American Children: Through the Eyes of a Sikh American High School Student,” said, “This is an incredible victory for the entire Sikh community, after putting in countless hours at Assemblyman Louis Greenwald’s office this past summer, I am beyond ecstatic that it was voted on today and successfully passed. This is the first step in teaching citizens of our great State of New Jersey that the turban represents the core American values of equality, freedom, and social justice. Not only are Sikh Americans a critical component of American society but our faith follows the same core values that make us a great nation.”
The United Sikhs organization says that New Jersey is home to over 12 gurdwaras, the Sikh places of worship, and has roughly 100,000 Sikhs Americans residing within its borders. It is also the first U.S. state to elect a Sikh Mayor, Ravi Singh Bhalla, and appoint a Sikh Attorney General, Gurbir Singh Grewal. The Sikh community of New Jersey has continually taken an active role to help with seva, or selfless community service. For example, as stated in the joint resolutions, Sikh communities in Jersey City, Glenrock, Newark, Trenton, and Camden hold regular events that provide free meals to less fortunate Americans in their communities.
The passing of the bill comes at a critical time in the U.S. There has been an unprecedented spike in hate crimes according to the FBI and even New Jersey Mayor Bhalla continues to face threats on a daily basis. “As one of the most diverse states in the nation, New Jersey is enriched by the many cultures that thrive in our state, including the Sikh community,” said Majority Leader Greenwald. “By designating April as Sikh Awareness and Appreciation Month, we aim to fight back against anti-Sikh bigotry and celebrate the lasting contributions of the Sikh people and the essential role that Sikhs play in NJ’s diverse community.”
According to a study conducted by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Stanford University’s Peace and Innovation Lab entitled Turban Myths, 70% of the American public cannot identify a picture of a Sikh man as a Sikh. Moreover, the national survey of public perception showed that there is a bias against the Sikh American articles of faith, including the turban, beard, and uncut hair. According to Kamal Kalsi of Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA), this “joint resolution will begin to educate the community that Sikhs have been a part of the American fabric since the 1800s when the diaspora helped to build our railroads and develop our farming industry. Today, Sikh Americans contribute to all walks of society including service to our nation’s police and military. Service is in our blood.”
According to Manwinder Singh, Director of United Sikhs, an advocacy and humanitarian NGO, “April is also the month of Vasakhi, a Sikh festival that is a reflection on a new beginning that gives us Compassion (Daya), Discipline (Dharam), Courage (Himmat), Strength (Mohkam), bringing us closer to the virtues of our Master (Sahib)”. As we see a surge in hate crimes this year, so also is a surge in our resolve to heal with love. April 14 is also celebrated as the World Sikh Day”
The importance of passing this joint resolution and the fact that New Jersey passed the bill with 100 percent consensus shows that the State of New Jersey has no tolerance for hate and also welcomes the contributions and community service made by their Sikh constituents, notes the United Sikhs organization.