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Include anti-Sikh violence in FBI hate-crime list: Gurdwara shooting victim

Thursday, 20 September 2012 - 6:26pm IST | Place: Washington | Agency: PTI

Federal officials say they have started looking into the issue and their decision is expected to be known by mid-October.

Harpreet Singh Saini, whose mother was one of the six people killed when a white supremacist attacked worshippers at a gurdwara in Wisconsin in August, appeared at a Congressional hearing and asked FBI to track anti-Sikh hate crimes.

"Senators, I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognise," Saini told lawmakers.

"These are steps that we must take to ensure that we never endure a tragedy like the one in Oak Creek," said Singh, whose mother Paramjit Kaur Saini was tragically shot and killed in Oak Creek on August 5.

The demand for including anti-Sikh violence in hate crime statistics gained momentum after the killing, with several lawmakers also demanding the same. Federal officials have said that they have started looking into the issue and their decision is expected to be known by mid-October. "August 5th was a tragic day not only for Sikh Americans, but for all Americans, as is any day extremist hate groups target people of faith with harassment and violence," he said.

In his touching testimony, Singh argued what happened at Oak Creek was not an isolated incident. "I fear it may happen again if we don't stand up and do something. I don't want anyone to suffer what we have suffered. I want to build a world where all people can live, work, and worship in America in peace. Because you see, despite everything, I still believe in America -- American dream," he said.

The gurdwara incident highlighted the question whether to re-examine the categories of religious groups that are listed on the FBI's hate crimes data collection form -- a document that is used to capture the perpetrator's motivation and not the victim's background, conceded Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

"In the next few weeks, the Civil Rights Division and the Community Relations Service will bring together a broad spectrum of religious organisations, including groups representing Sikh Americans, to elicit their views on what information should be collected. Separately, the FBI's panel of outside subject matter experts will hear from stakeholders," Austin told lawmakers.

"Sikh Americans have been part of the American family for many decades – and in fact this year will mark the 100th anniversary of the first Sikh Gurdwara in the United States. Yet many do not understand the long history of the Sikh faith and culture in America. It is our hope that with greater understanding of that rich history and the contributions of Sikh Americans, there will be greater respect for our common humanity. Sikhs and law enffrom across the nation," Cole said.

He said Sikh Americans must never be made to feel that their religious practices subject them to unfair scrutiny from their government.

"Sikh children should not have to wonder whether their faith in God will subject them to attack. No one should have to worry that they will be targeted with violence because of their religion. That is unacceptable and un-American, and we will do everything we can to prevent it," he asserted.

The Acting Associate Attorney General, Tony West, hoped that the training will inspire even broader collaborations in communities across the nation and forge lasting partnerships among law enforcement, elected officials, non-Sikh communities, and their Sikh neighbors.

Referring to a Sikh temple in his hometown of San Jose, California, West said this is the largest gurdwara in North America and he has had the great privilege of visiting that temple on more than one occasion.

"And every time I visit, I am struck not just by the breathtaking beauty of the architecture -- although it is beautiful -- or the impressive golden dome and surrounding cupolas -- although they are impressive. What always strikes me is not just the structure but the people: those who congregate at the temple. They are Sikh, but not just Sikh; they are people of all faiths, of all ethnicities, of all races and backgrounds," he noted.

"At that temple you will see the diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area, all there together. Worshipping in the Prayer Hall. Gathering in the Community Kitchen. Their welcome presence at that gurdwara embodies the principle of universality; that none is a stranger and no one an enemy," he said.

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