A national Sikh-American civil rights organization launched an anti-bullying campaign Thursday aimed at ending harassment and violence against youths often mistaken for Muslims because of their religious garb and misinformation about Asian-American culture. The campaign comes after recent attacks against Sikhs and Muslims in the U.S., including an attack on a motorist in Illinois that galvanized a community to demand hate crimes charges against the assailant.
The campaign, discussed on social media with the hashtag “#ActToChange,” seeks to broaden awareness about the bullying of Sikhs and other Asian students, who report victimization at rates statistically higher than national averages, according to the Sikh Coalition. The coalition took a leadership role in the campaign, with the support of the White House Initiative on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, said Arjun Singh, a coalition representative.
“The bullying of Sikh children is an epidemic,” Singh, law and policy director for the Sikh Coalition, said in a statement. “Misinformation and misunderstanding regarding the Sikh faith, coupled with a dramatic increase in bigoted dialogue towards religious minorities, has resulted in intolerance and bullying in our schools,” he added.
The campaign is accompanied by a website featuring fact sheets for teachers and resources for parents of bullied students. The Sikh Coalition also released a video on YouTube, which highlights the challenges that Sikh children face when confronting school bullies and coping with isolation because of their faith.
Sikh children make up a statistically small portion of U.S. schoolchildren. But 67 percent of turbaned Sikh children have reported being bullied in school, according to a 2014 national survey conducted by the Sikh Coalition.
What starts as bullying due to cultural misunderstanding can pose serious risks to Sikhs if unchecked, members of the community have said. Inderjit Mukker, a 53-year-old motorist from the Chicago area, was attacked Sept. 8 by a teenager, in an apparent road rage incident that was instigated when the teen allegedly yelled racial slurs at Mukker.
Local Sikh leaders claimed the teen, who was not named by authorities because he is a minor, called Mukker “terrorist” and “Bin Laden” before repeatedly striking him in the head. A prosecutor initially charged the teen with aggravated battery, before Sikh community leaders provided additional information to police, prompting the state’s attorney to add hate crime charges to the case Sept. 15.
Hate crimes rose against both Muslims and Sikhs after the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., according to the FBI. Last August, a Sikh father in New York was called “terrorist,” run over and dragged 30 feet by a motorist. In 2012, a white supremacist gunned down six people in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Harjot Kaur, community development manager for the Sikh Coalition’s New York City branch, said working with students is critical to ending bullying against Sikhs. “In order to address this challenge, we must start by giving Sikh children the tools to stand up and speak out when they or someone else is bullied,” Kaur said in a statement. "This partnership with the White House gives our community a broader platform to combat bullying across the country.”