Amid hate crimes’ spurt, Sikh fervour grips Times Square

Iconic location turns awareness centre on Sikh culture and for demystifying myths about the community.

The iconic Times Square was seeped in the colours of the Sikh culture as thousands of community members gathered here to celebrate Vaisakhi and educate fellow Americans about Sikhism in the wake of growing incidents of hate crimes and discrimination against them.

Legendary Indian sportsman Milkha Singh graced the occasion and addressed one of the largest such celebrations in the U.S., calling on the Sikh community to educate the young generation about the significance of the Sikh culture.

‘Turban Day’ sparks selfie spree

Hundreds of excited tourists and children queued up at the popular city destination to get turbans tied on their heads in bright colours by members of the Sikh community and took pictures and selfies wearing them as ‘Turban Day’ was also celebrated at the event.

The participants jostled to get a picture clicked with the elderly ‘Flying Sikh’, who had travelled from Canada for the event.

Milkha’s fame: ‘beard and turban’

“Today if the Sikhs have a name, are known around the world, it is because of the turban. Milkha Singh is called a ’Flying Sikh’ because I have the turban on my head and the beard on my face. My beard and turban are the reasons for the respect and recognition that I have across the world,” Mr. Singh told PTI.

Non-profit organisation Sikhs of New York and New Jersey and the event’s organisers Bobby Sidana, Kawaldeep Sahni, Chanpreet Singh and Gurmeet Sodhi said the event aimed at not only celebrating the festival marking the spring harvest but also educating Americans and thousands of tourists about the Sikh culture.

Addressing misinformation

They said it would also make them aware of the significance of the Sikh articles of faith like turban and beard and to address the misinformation about Sikhism that leads to profiling and backlash against members of the community, particularly after the 9/11 attack.

Lauding the organisers for putting together the event, Mr. Singh said such a celebration of Sikh culture would inspire and educate people across the city and country about Sikhism and its rich history.

“Sikhs will do everything to help others”

“People here should know that Sikhs are warriors, they have fought for other people and will do everything to help others. The event will inspire people here and educate them about the Sikh culture, they will get to know who Sikhs are,” he said.

In his message to the gathering, Mr. Singh said he would like to see “one more Milkha Singh” from the Sikh community spread across the U.S. and the world.

No, not terror symbols

Lamenting that Sikh articles of faith such as the turban and beard are often still misconstrued and associated with terrorism, the organisers invited passers-by and those at the event to get a turban tied on their heads and to ask about the Sikh culture.

Given the sharp uptick in cases of profiling, backlash and hate crimes against the Sikh-American community, the organisers underscored that such events will help spread the correct information about Sikhism and remove misconceptions that lead to discrimination. They also spoke about the recent landmark decision in which the .U.S military allowed decorated Sikh-American soldier Captain Simratpal Singh to continue serving while keeping his beard and wearing a turban.

Hoping for a police berth

The organisers lauded the handful of Sikhs serving in the New York Police Department and hoped that in future many more Sikhs would be able to serve in the military and law enforcement agencies while maintaining their articles of faith.

Placards were placed at the venue detailing nuances of the Sikh tradition and performers enthralled the gathering with traditional Sikh music and dance.

Many Americans know zilch about Sikhs

Chanpreet Singh, one of the organisers of the event, has said even in 2016, many Americans remain uneducated and misinformed about who Sikh-Americans actually are.

Sikhs have been living in the U.S. for several decades, yet not much has been done so far to educate the Americans about the Sikh culture.

Take a cue from Canada

“We have done very minimal to educate people in the U..S about our identity. Next door in Canada, Vaiskahi was celebrated in the Parliament but in the U.S. we are facing discrimination and hate crimes. It is about time that [we celebrate the Sikh culture] in the mainstream,” he said.

Mr. Chanpreet Singh has said people will have a better understanding of a culture and its history if it is explained to them firsthand.

Remember this you see a Sikh

“Through the event we are providing the people an experience. They will remember this and next time when they see a Sikh with a turban, they will be able to recognise him and relate to his culture,” he added.

Carla, a young tourist from Spain, waited in line to get a turban tied on her head.

“I learnt a lot of the Sikh tradition and what it stands for. Such an event will enable people to get to know about other traditions and respect them,” she said as she got a red turban fitted on her.

U.S. boasts 5 lakh Sikh-Americans

In the United States, there are at least 500,000 Sikh Americans who have been a crucial part of the U.S. fabric.

The event comes against the backdrop of increase in recent months in hate attacks targeting members of the Sikh community.

Spate of attacks

Last year, on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, 53-year-old Inderjit Singh Mukker of Illinois was brutally assaulted and called “terrorist” and “bin Laden” by a teenager.

In March this year, hate crime charges were filed against an individual for brutally attacking Balwinder Jit Singh, a Sikh Los Angeles County bus driver.

Terrorist label

In 2014, Sandeep Singh, a Sikh father in New York City, was run over and dragged 30 feet after being called a . “terrorist“.

In 2012, a gunman with Neo-Nazi ties walked into a Gurdwara and shot and killed six innocent Sikh victims in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in one of the most brutal attacks on the Sikh community in the U.S.

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