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From the Sikh Regiment’s sacrifices in WWI and WWII to the current Sikh presence in the United Nations’ security force and Canadian Army, Sikhs have had a long history of serving selflessly in armed forces throughout the world with turbans and unshorn hair and beards intact. To serve in the United States Army, however, a practicing Sikh is forced to compromise his identity and relinquish the basic tenets of his faith. The Sikh Coalition is leading a campaign calling the United States Army to end discrimination against the Sikh identity and allow Sikh-Americans to freely serve their nation. G.N.E’s poetic, revolution-driven, and soulful song Souljas Story is the perfect backdrop to the cause.

Show your support by signing the petition here.

Earlier this afternoon, tristate-area Sikhs marched through the streets of Richmond Hill, Queens and demanded the New York City Department of Education to take action and protect Sikh students from bias-based harassment. The Sikh Coalition, in its press release, commended the Department of Education and Chancellor Klein “for pledging to create a system to monitor and address incidents of bias-based bullying in city schools” although it falls “short of the protections called for in the Dignity in All Schools Act passed by the City Council in 2004.”

Hold up, though. It doesn’t look like the large, loud, and colorful posters will be stored in a sevadar’s basement just yet. The press release notes that the community intends to continue marching in larger and larger numbers until the Department of Education: 1. informs and trains teachers on the particular dangers faced by Sikh students and 2. teaches students about Sikhs and Sikh concerns in order to reduce bias and bigotry.

To all those who organized and participated in an effort to protect each child’s right to freely practice his faith: thank you.

It could have been me. Easily. Move the location 1.4 miles east, go back 14 years and I could have had the same experience as Gurprit Kaur.

Mind you, both Gurprit and I went to public schools in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Most of my friends were curiously open-minded. Yet, the evils of harassment and ignorance crept up in some from time to time. There were a few kids who’d nervously laugh as they asked “so what would happen if we took this scissor and snipped your hair?” And I’d look them in the eye as I sternly replied “that isn’t funny; you know why I don’t cut my hair so keep your scissors away from me.” I guess the look I gave and tone of my voice was enough to help them distinguish right from wrong.

Stern looks and terse voices don’t have much effect anymore. Or any effect for that matter. On June 8, 2008, one of Gurprit Kaur’s classmates intentionally cut three inches of her braid as she sat in her English class. Stern looks and terse voices don’t seem to catch the attention of local and national media either. Either the media is unaware of the blatant infringement of Gurprit Kaur’s rights or has deemed the story un-newsworthy. Type “Gurprit Kaur,” “P.S. 219” or any combination thereof in search engines and you’ll end up empty handed. Seems completely ridiculous as this is the third instance of physical harassment and religious discrimination towards Sikh children within a year, the last one taking place five days prior to Gurprit’s unfortunate attack.

The Sikh Coalition has recognized the lack of attention and is taking matters into their own hands by organizing a march to push the New York Department of Education to end bias-based harassment of Sikh children in city schools. Help the Coalition in our community’s collective efforts by joining in “Sikhs of New York City to March for Sikh Children” on Monday, June 30. We can’t have our young ones practice their faith in fear any longer. Take a peek at the flyer below for more information:

Many, many thanks to organizing/activist extraordinare Sundeep Singh for spreading the word.