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Friday, November 11, 2005

Despite Long History, Stockton Sikhs Feel Misunderstood

On November 5, 2004, The Record reported, "The Sikh religion has a long history in Stockton.

The Stockton temple is the oldest in the country, and Sikhs have lived in this part of California for more than a century. Yet Stockton Sikhs say they their religion and customs are still largely misunderstood by the general public...

Most Sikhs are from the Punjab region of India. Sikhs in Stockton say they are often confused with Muslims from the Middle East because of their turbans and long beards.

'Now we have a mistaken identity. Sometimes people yell or raise their hands and yell that we look like Afghanis,' said Amrik Singh Dhaliwal, president of the Stockton temple.

Some Sikhs say they have faced increased discrimination since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Others say they also have suffered verbal abuse, threats, harassment, racial profiling and violence.

'I am not against any religion, but I am against those who do the crimes,' said Jasbinder Singh Nijjer, treasurer for the temple. He said children had thrown rocks at elderly Sikhs in Stockton parks...

The most-recent incident on the list occurred in Lodi last month, when racist graffiti was found near a Sikh temple.

Dhaliwal said the Stockton temple also has been vandalized but noted that hate crimes and harassment of Sikhs have not been as severe in Stockton as in other communities.

He also praised law-enforcement authorities for educating their officers about Sikh attire and customs. Pete Smith, spokesman for the Stockton Police Department, said officials work closely with the temple leaders during public events such as the Sikhs' annual parade. The department also conducts ongoing cultural diversity trainings."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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