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Monday, April 23, 2007

Plan to throw the books at violence

Sikhs hope library effort will reduce attacks

Rajinder Singh Khalsa is tired of the insults — or worse — hurtled at him on the street because he wears a turban. Khalsa, who is Sikh, was beaten in Richmond Hill three years ago by five men when he intervened on behalf of a fellow Sikh they were mocking.

Khalsa tried to explain the significance of their turbans to the men, who told him to “get out of this country,” before they broke his nose and fractured his eye socket.

Now, he is hoping a new library project launched recently by the nonprofit Sikh Coalition could combat bias with education. The project aims to place a packages of 10 books and two DVDs in every library in North America.

“I think if people will know more about our culture, then they will not be going to attack us,” Khalsa said. “Because of the turban, they think you’re a Taliban or you’re Bin Laden. They think we’re Iranian, but we come from Northern India. ... This is the fifth largest religion in the world.”

Khalsa’s attackers were eventually found guilty of a hate crime, receiving sentences ranging from five days to two years in state prison. But Khalsa said people in his community continue to be victims of hate crimes.

A few days ago, some young people threw stones and broke the window of his friend’s storefront in Rockaway.

“When I came to America, I was thinking I was in a place where I finally can live freely and safely,” said Khalsa, a Queens resident who operated a car service before his injuries.

“I don’t know where in the world I would feel safe,” Khalsa said. He left India for fear of religious persecution.

The coalition is calling on their community to donate the packages to their local libraries and have received orders from libraries in New York, Boston, Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia, Rhode Island, Ontario and beyond, said Manbeena Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s operations manager.

“A lot of libraries don’t have any information on Sikh, or even if they do, it might be outdated,” Kaur said.

Khalsa, who donated books to a library in Texas where some of his Sikh friends live, said, “Sikh means ‘student of life’ and this time I want to save my people from ignorance.”

Building up

The Sikh Coalition spent a year and a half reviewing more than 50 books and DVDS — and even traveling to India to talk to authors and publishers of out of print editions — before culling the selection and it worked with a librarian from the city’s University Club, who wrote synopses for the books. They expect the project to take five years. [Link]

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