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Sikh community talks prejudice, perception on campus

As anti-Muslim rhetoric continues to be discussed on national airwaves, the Islamic community is not the only victim of prejudice. Other people, including those in the Sikh community, are being targeted, and discrimination has affected Sikh students at Ohio State.

The Sikh religion originated India during the 15th century.

Isaac Weiner, assistant professor of comparative studies and associate director at the Center for the Study of Religion at OSU, said that anti-Muslim bigotry has been affecting the Sikh population for years.

“There is a history to anti-Islamic prejudice being directed at Sikh Americans, especially in the aftermath of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” Weiner said.

Weiner said that there have been a number of hate crimes and attacks directed toward the Sikh population out of ignorance to the differences between Muslims and Sikhs. Weiner said because of the visible elements to these religions, such as the turban, people mistakenly assume the turban as a sign of the Islamic faith.

“On one hand, ignorance is a real problem, but on the other hand, the problem is not that people are attacking Sikhs instead of Muslims but that they shouldn’t be attacking these people at all,” Weiner said.

Arshveer Bajwa, a second-year in biology and a practicing Sikh, said that he has had people mistake his religion for Islam because of his turban.

“It’s sad to see that people assume if you are wearing a turban, you’re a Muslim and, in turn, that you’re a terrorist,” Bajwa said.

Bajwa recalls, even at an early age, being confronted with hate and prejudice because of his physical likeness to Muslim people.

Bajwa moved to Buffalo, New York, in 2001, less than a year before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Bajwa remembers being called “Osama,” “Arab” and “terrorist” as a child.

“They see the news, and they see bomb blasts on CNN, and they see Osama (bin Laden) wearing a turban, so people assume everyone in the world who wears a turban must be a terrorist,” Bajwa said.

Bajwa stressed the importance of being educated about other religions and people, as well as being tolerant of the “melting pot” that exists on OSU’s campus.

Ravleen Kaur, a second-year in public affairs and a practicing Sikh, said that she feels Sikhs are invisible on campus.

“Everyone thinks we’re Muslim, which, of course there is nothing wrong with (being Muslim),” Kaur said. “But, for educational purposes, it’s important to know the differences between Sikhs and Muslims, and many people just don’t.”

Kaur said that her experiences as a Sikh vary. Bullying surrounding her appearance was commonplace before arriving at OSU. Kaur said that she always felt the pressure to assimilate into her surroundings but never forgot her roots.

“I really try to keep the essence of Sikhism and Indian culture a strong part of my identity because I think it is possible to be both of those things while being American,” Kaur said.

Kaur and Bajwa both said that they have never felt more accepted than when they arrived at OSU, with the diversity of its student body and access to the people who understand their culture, and, at the same time, people who strive to gain a greater understanding.

People of the Sikh faith have been making national headlines, including a recent instance in which a Sikh man was denied access to an airplane in Mexico when he would not remove his turban because of his religious beliefs.

Another example is when Arish Singh, a comedian and writer based out of Chicago, was kicked out of Donald Trump’s rally in Iowa on Jan. 24 for showcasing a sign that read, “Stop Hate.”

Singh spoke to The Lantern about his experiences as a Sikh-practicing man.

“Recently someone just yelled, ‘Terrorist,’ from his truck when I was in Chicago, and he seemed just very cavalier about it. Things such as that are not uncommon,” Singh said.

Despite his difficult experiences regarding his faith, Singh remains steadfast in his support of the Muslim community.

“Even though there is this prejudice and discrimination going on, that encouraged me more to stand up against it,” Singh said. “That’s why I wear a turban, because I want to stand with those people.”

Political rhetoric surrounding Muslims in America has made many fearful, but Bajwa, Kaur and Singh said the first step is educating people on the different faiths that make up the fabric of the U.S. and being culturally sensitive within America’s melting pot of diversities.

“You are an individual,” Singh said. “That is not a liberal or conservative idea, that is a very fundamental American notion, and we all must remember this.”

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