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Sikh students face abuse in US; get called 'terrorists'

Tuesday, 18 March 2014 - 7:59pm IST | Agency: IANS

Sikh children in American schools have been punched, kicked, have had their turbans ripped off by fellow students and called "Bin Laden" or worse. Some have even had to face abuses like "Go Home Terrorist".

Their only fault is that they are Sikh students who live in accordance with the tenets of their faith, says a new report on bullying against Sikh American school children. The report was prepared by the Sikh Coalition, an umbrella organisation of the Sikh community. "I was in California like seven, six years ago. It was me and my brother, we had jooras (uncut hair tied in a topknot)... Just us two were Sikh... For two years, we got bullied, came home crying every day," said L Singh, one of the bullied children cited in the report.

"Mom got tired of it. She went to school. They didn't do anything about it. Teachers were racist out there... I was in 5th grade, and my dad took us to a barber shop, and he was like, 'It's today.' My mom was crying, my dad was crying. It was the day we just (took our patka) off, and we cut our hair." 

"We went back to school and we still got bullied. And we had to move out to Indiana, just because of the bullies (in California)," he said.

"Bullied in California. Bullied in Indiana. Bullied when he maintained his religiously mandated uncut hair. Bullied after he cut it. Left to his own devices to end it. That's the story of L. Singh which captures the experience of young Sikhs across America," according to the report.

The bullying of Sikh children is often associated with post-9/11 bias, the report found with epithets such as "terrorist" or "Bin Laden" frequently accompanying verbal and physical abuse.

Statistically speaking, more than half of Sikh children in US schools endure bullying with over two-thirds of turbaned Sikh children among its worst victims, according to a new national report.

Focused on Seattle, Indianapolis, Boston, and Fresno, California metropolitan areas, the report titled "Go Home Terrorist: A Report on Bullying Against Sikh American School Children" was released last week on Capitol Hill, the seat of the US Congress.

It is based on surveys and focus groups of over 700 Sikh school children and interviews of over 50 Sikh students in the four metropolitan areas during 2012 and 2013.

According to the National Centre for Education Statistics, 32 percent of all students aged 12 to 18 report that they are bullied in school. Turbaned Sikh children therefore likely experience bullying at more than double the national rate, the report said. 

Consistently, Sikh children have called on educators and administrators to teach more about Sikhs and the Sikh religion in order to build understanding in school, it noted. The report cites lack of federal data on the bullying of Sikh school children as a systematic concern that should be addressed in order to better diagnose and target efforts to solve the issue.

In addition, the absence of or negative representation of Sikhs in school textbooks nationwide was cited by the report as an opportunity to better combat or mitigate school bullying. 

Mike Honda, Democratic chair of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, joined the American Sikh Congressional Caucus and The Sikh Coalition at the release event. "The Sikh Coalition's study and report reinforces the need for research, attention, and education to address bullying," Honda said. "It would not be an exaggeration to call school bullying, particularly as it applies to turbaned Sikh youth, 'widespread'," said Amardeep Singh, director of programmes at the Sikh Coalition.


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