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Sunday, May 28, 2006

"Sikh community fights prejudice, violence"

Stockton Sikhs have regularly encountered stereotypes and misconceptions about their culture and religion, especially since Sept. 11, 2001. The turbans and long beards Sikh men wear evoke Islam, though they are Indian....

more of the Sikhs' involvement with law enforcement has been because of harassment against the Sikh community from individuals outside it.

In March, vandals spray-painted swastikas and racial slurs on the outside walls of the Stockton temple.

People also regularly throw stones at the temple windows, according to Amrik Singh Dhaliwal, who said his mailbox is vandalized on a regular basis. He guessed the vandals target it because they erroneously associate his name and the religious symbols that hang beside the box with terrorism.

"Some people see the beard and they try to fight," associating Sikhs' facial hair and turbans with images of Muslim terrorists, even though Sikhs are from India, he said.

"We say nothing, because we don't want to cause trouble," added his wife, Gurbaksh Dhaliwal. "These kids (who vandalize their mailbox) know nothing...."

Since 2001, the community has organized cultural festivals and made other efforts to show the rest of the city who they are to reduce discrimination based on appearance.

"The Sikhs haven't done anything in response except try to educate," Kapany said. "If you look at the history of the Sikhs in the U.S., there has been very little violence."

The rare acts of aggression from inside the community have the potential to throw off this delicate balance.

"We want to establish a certain identity, and by having this type of violence, we can't do that," Dhillon said.

This identity, especially for United States-born Dhillon, is inextricably tied to being part of the diverse American fabric. She said the national anthem makes her cry just as much as it does other patriotic Americans. "I don't know when those misconceptions (about Sikhs) will be rid of," she said. [Link]

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