Sikhs stand up to bullying as they try to build understanding

SILVER SPRING, Md. (RNS) Throughout elementary, middle and high school, Prabhdeep Suri has been the only Sikh in his class, and it’s been obvious.
Prabhdeep Suri speaks about his experiences with bullying in a classroom at the Sikh gurdwara, Guru Nanak Foundation of America in Silver Spring, Md. on Jan. 19, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Prabhdeep Suri speaks about his experiences with bullying at the Guru Nanak Foundation of America, a gurdwara, or Sikh temple, in Silver Spring, Md., on Jan. 19, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Like all Sikh boys, he wore a patka, a head covering for his uncut hair that’s worn out of respect for his gurus. To his classmates, the patka was a license to stare, taunt, isolate, punch and kick him. It was a target to knock off his head. It was the reason they called him “Osama bin Laden” and “terrorist.” “He came home crying three days out of five,” his mother, Harpreet Suri remembered. “They were taking his patka off almost every day.” Bullying is a hot topic in the U.S. today, and affects children and teenagers who for any number of reasons appear or act differently. But unlike others who can hide their religion at school — by wearing a baseball cap instead of a yarmulke, or never mentioning that their family celebrates Ramadan — Sikhs literally wear their religion on their sleeves. The kara, a steel bracelet, symbolizes strength, and unity with God. Sikhs believe God created the universe and all religions, and made men and women equal. More apparent is the patka, which covers a Sikh boy’s head from the day his hair is long enough to tie into a topknot, and is traded for a turban at his coming-of-age ceremony, around age 12. Prabhdeep, now 17, credits his parents and his religious community at a gurdwara (or temple) here for giving him the strength to survive the torment with his pride and religious identity intact. His parents sought to instill that pride with the help of religious school teachers at the gurdwara and counselors at a Sikh summer camp. But they dealt with the verbal and physical assaults at school mostly on their own, holding countless meetings with often-disinterested principals. They enrolled Prabhdeep in a private school in the vain hope of a serious response. Once, at a school assembly, they wrapped their son’s hair in his patka as they explained the sanctity of the ritual. “I was very resistant,” Pradhdeep said, recalling the public patka tying. But he said he understands the importance of demystifying Sikhism for non-Sikhs. “We stand up for ourselves,” he said, “by telling others about our religion.” Increasingly, in recent years, Sikhs have banded together to call attention to the plight faced by their school-age children, so that families such as the Suris do not have to fend for themselves.
Left to right, Darminder, Bramhdeep, Prabhdeep and Harpreet Suri pose for a photo at the Sikh gurdwara, Guru Nanak Foundation of America in Silver Spring, Md. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Left to right, Darminder, Bramhdeep, Prabhdeep and Harpreet Suri at the Guru Nanak Foundation of America in Silver Spring, Md., a gurdwara, or Sikh temple, on Jan. 19, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The Maryland-based Kaur Foundation, for example, has distributed sleek, upbeat anti-bullying videos and lesson plans to the teachers of 1.3 million American elementary and secondary school students since 2008. The video, “Cultural Safari,” explains Sikh culture, including a patka-tying demonstration and a lively musical number, but also makes the case for tolerance of anyone from an unfamiliar background. “You don’t have to have Sikhs in the school to realize this is a valuable curriculum,” said Nina Lamba, the Kaur Foundation’s director of strategic partnerships and the owner of a technology company in northeastern Maryland. But children are not the only victims of ignorance among the 500,000 Americans who practice Sikhism, the world’s fifth-largest religion. Incidents against Sikhs in recent years include:
  • Four days after 9/11, an Arizona man bragged that he would take vengeance by killing Iranians, Middle Eastern people, and Arabs, and then pulled up to a gas station and shot and killed its turban-wearing Sikh owner.
  • A gunman looking to kill Muslims killed six and wounded three at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in August 2012, as they prepared for Sunday services.
  • A suspect shouting anti-Muslim slurs attacked a Sikh doctor and Columbia University professor in Manhattan in September, breaking his jaw.
Because of their turbans — of all American men who wear turbans, the vast majority are Sikhs – many mistake Sikhs for Muslims, who sometimes wear turbans, though not commonly in the U.S. Sikhs — properly pronounced “siks,” but more commonly “seeks” — are also mistaken for Hindus, because Hinduism dominates India, where Sikhism was founded and most of the world’s 25 million Sikhs live. In response to the violence, said Amardeep Singh, co-founder of the largest Sikh civil rights group in the U.S., Sikhs have come together to explain who they are, not by contrasting themselves to Muslims, but by speaking up about their own beliefs and practices. “One of the core tenets of Sikh tradition is to have respect for all religious traditions,” said Singh, whose Sikh Coalition was founded on the night of 9/11, after a man seeking vengeance attacked a Sikh family in Queens, N.Y. “How can we throw Muslims under the bus,” he said, “when there are writings of Muslims in our own holy books?” Singh and other American Sikh leaders have worked, especially since 9/11, to press the case of Sikh religious freedom before courts, federal agencies and Congress.
Mirin Phool speaks about anti-bullying efforts in a classroom at the Sikh gurdwara, Guru Nanak Foundation of America in Silver Spring, Md. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Mirin Phool speaks about anti-bullying efforts at the Guru Nanak Foundation of America in Silver Spring, Md., a gurdwara, or Sikh temple, on Jan. 19, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

They successfully lobbied the Transportation Security Administration in 2007 to allow passengers to pass through airport security without removing their turbans. They helped convince the FBI in June to collect data on hate crimes committed against Sikhs. Before a congressional subcommittee this week, they testified against the “presumptive ban on Sikh articles of faith” in the U.S. military. “It was 9/11 that put the issue out there for the Sikhs that, as Martin Luther King showed us, no one is going to fight your fight for civil rights,” said Mirin Phool, the Kaur Foundation’s founder and president. “You have to do it for yourself.” KRE/AMB END MARKOE An anti-bullying video from the Kaur Foundation.   The post Sikhs stand up to bullying as they try to build understanding appeared first on Religion News Service.

15 Responses to “Sikhs stand up to bullying as they try to build understanding”

  1. Christy Besozzi

    Religious ignorance – and possibly a dash of mental illness – has resulted in many of the very violent religious &/or ethnic prejudice incidents. General bullying behaviors also appear, to me, to spring from ignorance and lack of empathy (that can also come from ignorance).

    Shouldn’t we as a society apply ourselves to eradicating the ignorance?

    I would propose that a curriculum on a variety of religions be developed and taught in schools. The religions would include Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, the Baha’i Faith, perhaps some native American religious practices and beliefs, and perhaps some others depending on the faith community size and relevancy to the modern world.

    Each faith or community could develop their own curriculum within a set time frame allowed for the course, then submit it to a panel made up of representatives of all faiths for final approval. Proselytizing would not be allowed in the curriculum (i.e. the curricula would not be allowed to be designed to preach to persuade students to convert), but rather would be the basics of beliefs, history, religious observance practices, and customs tied to the faith communities.

    Bullies should be identified by the schools and perpetrators enrolled in counseling. Bullying behavior needs an intervention, the sooner the better.

    It wouldn’t be easy, but we already know what happens when people are ignorant about the beliefs and customs of ‘others’. So, why don’t we try knowledge instead?

  2. Patrick O'Gara

    “I would propose that a curriculum on a variety of religions be developed and taught in schools. The religions would include Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, the Baha’i Faith, perhaps some native American religious practices and beliefs, and perhaps some others depending on the faith community size and relevancy to the modern world. “

    …A truly excellent and perceptive idea, Christy,. Although you seem to have omitted Calvinism, Methodism, Existentialism, Baptisimism, Pelmanism, Christian Science, Quakerism, Druidism, Voodooism, Astrologism, Sun Worship, Ancestor Worship, Muggletonianism, Aztecism, Spiritualism, and Quivering Brethrenism – for some odd reason.

    A small problem might be that there would be no school time left to teach the little nippers Arithmetic, Brainless Jingoistic Patriotism, Tap-Dancing, Basketball, or even Joined-up Writing.

    Not that those things matter all that much, these days, do they?
    Montaigne pointed out, many years ago,“Man cannot make a worm, but yet he makes gods by the dozen.”
    But then, he was a cheese-eating surrender monkey..

  3. Christy Besozzi

    I expected some reactions similar to the above. Some quite valid since I recognize the school year is already packed.

    Sure some limits on which religions would need to be made. The list (“…Druidism, Voodooism, Astrologism, Sun Worship, Ancestor Worship, Muggletonianism, Aztecism…” etc.) could be pared down by not including those “religions” not purporting to be worship of a god (gods) – such a astrology and worship of a book (???- the term Muggletonianism). As mentioned in my original post, “perhaps some others depending on the faith community size and relevancy to the modern world” would limit which faiths. Obviously, the 23,000+ denominations of Christianity could not all be covered, but the curriculum could at least cover how some of the major ones formed (i.e. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and the like).

    The curriculum would not be all year long – I am not envisioning the content to be extremely detailed, just over-views of these main faiths in the world.

    Remember: our students of today will have the jobs of tomorrow which will require friendly contact with people of other faiths and cultures all over the world – and our diverse society in this country, too.

  4. Patrick O'Gara

    “Remember: our students of today will have the jobs of tomorrow…”

    …Assuming that there are any jobs tomorrow, that are not being outsourced to Bangladesh, or God knows where else, today.
    A very big “assume,” in my opinion. But you are right, Christy – we must all learn to get along – or perish.
    We will do the latter, I think – because we have demonstrated, since man first became conscious, that what Montaigne called “Differences of opinion,” invariably religious, invariably end up with somebody being roasted alive.
    The next – and last – world war will be over religion, and will end in atomization.
    Quite soon.

    “…worship of a book (???-“ Quite right. Never heard of such a thing. Must have made it up.

  5. Christy Besozzi

    RE: Patrick’s thinking that we will all perish – a dark view of the future, indeed.

    Sorry to go all Baha’i on you again, but we Baha’is have a very optimistic view of the future since we believe that Baha’u’llah is the prophesied Promised One of all the major monotheistic faiths. So..peace and the prosperity from the realignment of what we spend our energy & money on are on the horizon. The hold up is that humanity has not recognized and followed the latest Manifestation of God yet. Until humanity does, things will only get worse. So, yes, things will be bad for quite a while yet, but there is light at the end of this miserably long tunnel.

    By the way in regards to humanity recognizing Baha’u’llah as that Promised One, it would only come about through voluntary action of individuals accepting that on their own, not by force. You cannot really force someone to believe anything. Forcing our faith on others is completely counter to our laws. That’s why so few people know about the Baha’i Faith.

  6. Patrick O'Gara

    “Forcing our faith on others is completely counter to our laws. That’s why so few people know about the Baha’i Faith.”
    Excellent lesson for us all, Christy. Let us hope it stays that way.
    …If only “so few people” knew anything about any “faith.”

  7. Christy Besozzi

    Patrick – so sorry to hear that you are so sour on religious faiths. It is so easy to confuse the faiths with their imperfect – and sometimes misdirected – followers.

    Hope your view of the future improves…

  8. Patrick O'Gara

    Well, Christy, if there were no “followers,” there would be no “faiths,” would there?
    So, if we can just keep the “faiths,” and get rid of the “followers,” we will all be moving right along, in my opinion.

    I wouldn’t describe my view of the several thousand religious “faiths” people dream up to amuse themselves as, “sour,” – cheerfully sceptical, certainly.
    That’s because I’m greatly in favour of as many different religions as fanciful people can invent – and those religions all doing, within the bounds of legality, public decency*, probity and common sense (don’t want them doing stuff that will scare my dogs) – anything that enters their heads.
    And the loonier the better. Because then it’s funnier, isn’t it?
    (See? No “sourness” there. Just cheerfulness!)
    It’s only when there’s just one or two religions in a place that the blood starts to flow. Like Northern Ireland, or Iraq, or Tudor England. And we don’t want any of that.

    *The worshippers can do what they choose in private. (Take “selfies,” too, if they want.)

    • Christy Besozzi

      Re: comment that faiths are not faiths when there are no followers.

      The Baha’i teaching is that all the major monotheistic faiths are from God – He sent a Manifestation of Himself in human form to bring the Message to us spiritually puny humans. Those Revelations were pure and real whether any human followed them or not.

      When followers do believe in the Message, once the Revealer is gone from the scene, the followers start to inject other beliefs into the Faith. If the Faith is compared to a Lamp, these human additions are like dust and grime that accumulates on the Lamp’s glass. So God sends a new Messenger with an updated Revelation – Revelation 2.0 – to clean off that dirty glass and even improve on the light generation by the Lamp. And the process continues through the centuries. Prophet by Prophet the Message is renewed and updated for the time, place, and people to whom the Messages are revealed.

      But, I know I’ve lost you already.

      How about some mathematical proofs? I would recommend watching the videos (2 parts) “Bible Prophecy and Mathematical Probabilities” on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/IntegralDestiny9 . It takes a lot of fortitude to watch the complete presentation, but you may find it interesting.

  9. Patrick O'Gara

    “The Baha’i teaching is that all the major monotheistic faiths are from God – He sent a Manifestation of Himself in human form to bring the Message to us spiritually puny humans. “

    This is startling news to me, Christy.
    What, “…Manifestation of Himself in human form..” did God send the Muslims? Or the Jews?

    However, I will try to get hold of the videos.

  10. Patrick O'Gara

    Oops! Doh! etc. Coding wrong. Not meant to be so strident.

    But… while I’m on again, I hope you don’t mean to suggest that Mohammad was “a Manifestation of God in human form…” Christy.
    That would make the Muslims very cross.
    He was a prophet. And a man.
    As for the Jews…well.
    But, if you don’t mean that – what do you mean?

  11. Christy Besozzi

    Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Muhammad, Jesus, Zoroaster, Buddha, the Bab, Baha’u’llah – all Manifestations of God. i.e. Prophets (with capital P), Messenger of God, Apostle of God (not the disciples of Jesus, tho’), Messiah, etc.

    Muhammad was prophesied in the Book of Revelation – Chapters 11, 12, & 13. The Dragon beast was the ‘antichrist’ of the Muhammadan Revelation – it did a nasty number on Islam in its formative years.

    If you try to find that video “Bible Prophecy and Mathematical Probabilities”, there is also a video that explains Muhammad’s Dispensation in a video named “Revelation Revealed”. http://www.youtube.com/IntegralDestiny9

  12. Patrick O'Gara

    Well, Christy – I did find the videos and managed to wade through 20 minutes of simplistic gibberish on Part 1.
    It’s not really worth you and I going into too much detail – we have more important things to do like walk dogs, and wash our hair – but I’ll try to be brief, and not too unkind.
    Probability Theory:
    What is the probability of a 73 year old Englishman going to U-Tube on 14th Feb, 2014, at 5 p.m. his time, to watch a video at the suggestion of a nice lady who believes in Bah’ai? I would put it at about 7.143 billion to one. Population of Planet Earth.
    Quite a lot, anyway. But it happened. What is the probability of your car registration number NOT being TYF 2398? Several billions to one ON, I suggest.
    …And would you say to someone who has just won 65,000,000 dollars on the lottery, “You were foolish to waste your money on that ticket – you had no chance at those odds!” Best of luck with that.

    To be more germane to us here – re Prophecy No.3 – That The Messiah would come into Jerusalem “riding on an ass,” – if you wanted to be thought of as The Messiah , what would you do in those circumstances? That’s right! You’d go to Rent an Ass and rent an ass!
    What are the odds against that? Not very big! This is called “self-fulfilling,” and people just love to do it. Cheers them up. Make them feel confident.
    There is not only no proof that Christ was God, but nor is there “proof” that he even was a human being.
    Any more than there is of Robin Hood. Just hearsay.
    I suspect that both chaps did exist, myself.
    But considering we don’t even know what year Christ (let alone Robin Hood, or King Arthur) was born in, we won’t be proving anything worth a bent dime, any time soon, will we?.

    Evidence? We couldn’t even “prove” O.J.Simpson was guilty – what chance for “proving’ anything about Christ?

    I hope I make myself clear.
    But I doubt it.

  13. Christy Besozzi

    Live long and prosper…

    • Patrick O'Gara

      Well, I assume you read it, Christy. Thanks for that.
      Your response is about what we might expect.
      A bit short on specifics.

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