One middle school boy profiled in the report is Harrjit Singh [sic], who didn’t want to say what school he attends. On Sept. 11 this year, Harjit said kids called him a terrorist. And during a P.E. class, somebody ripped off his patka and said, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to see if there was a bomb in there.”
…Sukhmani Kaur, described as a San Jose junior high school student in the report, said fellow students threatened to cut her hair at school.
“They put opened scissors to my hair and threatened to cut it. They tried twice. The first time I told them to stop. They knew I couldn’t cut my hair because of my religion. I told my counselor what happened, and nothing was done,” she said in the report.”
The study’s results have moved Sikh parents to take action to create a safe atmosphere for their children in American schools:
The discoveries have Sikh parents fanning out to schools in Silicon Valley, even driving out to Sacramento and Manteca, passing out DVDs and writing exercises, hoping teachers will allow them to teach students about their faith born more than 500 years ago in Punjab, India.
“Our team has been working at a frantic pace for the last four weeks,” said Nirvair Singh, a Cupertino software engineer, who co-founded a group called SEVA right after Sept. 11, 2001. “We’re alarmed. Sikh parents are particularly concerned about the hardships our children are facing in middle and high schools.”
It’s not just in the Bay Area. Hours away, in Yuba City, Sikh children are often bullied as well even though Yuba City has one of the largest Sikh populations in the country:
“A lot of kids just suffer through it, especially the boys,” Kang said. “Some kids give up their appearance because they don’t want to be bothered and some kids are strong and they want to make every effort for people to understand.”
In addition to educating their peers, part of the solution is fostering the sense of identity in Sikh youth:
“If you don’t know who you are, how do you expect other people to know that?” Everest said. “There has to be someone who is willing to be different, to put themselves out there. And at the same time you have to have support, too.”
Coincidentally, just this past weekend the Jakara camp was held in Yuba City to motivate Sikh children about their faith:
“They live here and go to English school and forget my language — Punjabi — and Sikhi,” Kaur said for why she brought them to camp. “They tell me, ‘You have to teach us, we forget Sikhi.’ I always tell them, ‘You want to learn? Keep learning.'”
As I grew up, I was the only turban-wearing kid almost throughout my public school-going days. In high school, I was one of three out of a population of over 700. I know first-hand and all too well the trials faced by Sikh school children at the hands of other students, and at the disregard of teachers and administration.
Back then, we were a relatively new community hitting the ranks of the student body. Our parents were caught unsuspecting and perhaps ill-equipped to deal with the problems their children faced in school. Given how small of a minority we were, parents didn’t have the most receptive of audiences in teachers and administrators, either.
Times have obviously changed, and with experience, we can see a more proactive approach to these issues by the Sikh community. The approach must be consistent and comprehensive. Teachers, administration, peers, and yes, even the Sikh students themselves, must be educated on what Sikhism is and what it means to be Sikh. It seems that Sikhs – at least in the examples above – are taking positive steps in this regard.