After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mala Kohli's adult son was the target of ridicule in New York City.
A Sikh, Ajay Kohli wears a turban and does not shave his facial hair. Some took his look to mean that he was a follower of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 hijackings.
"They'd say, 'Go home, Osama,'" Mala Kohli said. "It's very important, especially after 9/11, for people to know who we are. We are Sikh. We are Indian."
Sikhism, the world's fifth-largest religion, has more than 20 million followers. According to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, about 500,000 live in the United States, 20,000 in Virginia. But many Americans still do not understand the faith and culture. That's why Kohli and a dozen or so other women from the Sikh and Punjab Community of Central Virginia, which has about 150 members, regularly cook meals to share with others.
Each week, they prepare food from their homeland of Punjab, India, at their temple. Everyone, no matter his religion or race, is invited. And on Saturday, they will dish out traditional Indian food during the fifth annual Festival of Punjab, India at the Cultural Center of India in Chester.
"It's to bring the whole community together," said Pinky Khokhar, one of the chefs. "We want people to see what we are about -- our culture, our religion. We want people to know us." [Link]
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