Tag Archives: sikhs

Sikhs, Liu call for NYPD uniform reform


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison

City Sikhs say they no longer want to be forced into choosing between their religion and a career as a police officer.

Comptroller John Liu along with the Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs started a petition calling on the city and the NYPD to modify the policy prohibiting headdresses and requiring officers to keep their beards short.

Simmering for years, the issue returned to the forefront after six Sikhs were killed in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August. Many Sikhs felt the shooting resulted from a lack of knowledge about the religion — a misunderstanding many say is furthered by the uniform requirements in the NYPD, effectively preventing followers from serving.

“Changing these policies would show that New York City deserves its reputation as a global capital of religious acceptance,” said Liu, who also sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg following the shooting requesting the policy change.

In August, an NYPD spokesperson said Sikhs may wear turbans as long as they are dark blue and fit under their cap. Beards are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the spokesperson said.

A large majority of the city’s 30,000 to 40,000 Sikhs live in Queens.

“New York City, which is home to such great diversity, should be more considerate and open to those communities that have decided to make this city as their own,” Harpreet Singh Toor, chair of public and external affairs at the Sikh Cultural Society.

A policy change would not only benefit Sikhs, but any member of a religion that requires head coverings or beards.

The petition also points to the fact that other forces throughout the country permit religious garb while serving.

“Sikhs can and have served as police officers successfully all over the world,” said Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition. “The NYPD needs to understand that its ban on Sikh service is both wrong and illegal.”

A bill, sponsored by Councilmember Mark Weprin, was passed by the city council last year that required employers, including the NYPD, to “accommodate religious practice, unless doing so would create undue hardship.”

The bill did not require the department to make any changes, though litigation remains a possibility, Singh said.

Assemblymember David Weprin also introduced a bill in Albany that would address uniform agencies allowing individuals to wear their religious attire.

Sikhs dispute NYPD policy banning beards, turbans


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison

With police protecting gurdwaras throughout the city, Sikh worshippers replete with beard and turban will find no officers who look like them.

Police policy prohibits headdresses, preventing many practicing Sikhs from joining the force. Officers in the NYPD must also keep their beards short.

“For this past decade, especially since 9/11, [Sikhs] have been the target of insults, of hate crimes of misunderstandings, of discrimination, even along official channels of government,” said City Comptroller John Liu, who called for the NYPD to amend its policy.

Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition, pointed to other police departments around the country that allow officers freedom to wear religious clothing.

“The idea that [Sikhs] can’t be police officers in the neighborhoods that they grew up in New York City is utterly ridiculous,” he said.

Close followers of Sikhism do not trim their hair; the religion also requires members to don a turban.

“Until we have a Sikh employed in the NYPD with a beard and turban, we will not be really understood,” said Harpreet Singh Toor, media consultant for the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill. “It makes us feel like we are less of an American than anyone else.”

Until recently, Sikhs who were MTA employees were required to wear the logo on their headdresses — a policy that ended in June. Soldiers in the U.S. Army have received individual exemptions to wear a turban while serving.

“It’s very important that government itself, particularly law enforcement, is not excluding our community if we’re even going to make a dent in this larger public perception that turban equals terrorist,” said Singh.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said approximately 19 Sikhs currently work for the police department, but for many who steadfastly practice the religion, that’s not an option, Liu said.

“Sikhs are forced to choose between a career and a religion,” he said.

An NYPD spokesperson said Sikhs may wear turbans as long as they are dark blue and fit under the their cap. Beards are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the spokesperson said.

A bill, sponsored by Councilmember Mark Weprin, was passed by the city council last year that required employers, including the NYPD, to “accommodate religious practice, unless doing so would create undue hardship.”

The bill did not require the department to make any changes, though litigation remains a possibility, Singh said.

Weprin’s brother, Assemblymember David Weprin, also introduced a bill in Albany that would address uniform agencies allowing individuals to wear their religious attire.

Toor said he holds out hope that one day Sikhs will be able to serve and protect the mayor like he is protecting them.

“That’s the America we’re dreaming of,” he said.

Op Ed: Condemning the violence against Sikhs


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

ALEX HEADSHOT

In the aftermath of the terrifying events in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the American Sikh community is grieving the loss of six lives. They are also awaiting answers.

Why would such a heinous act be perpetrated, committed within their own house of worship? Although the investigations concerning the motives of the killer are ongoing from local, state and federal authorities, there has been an unfortunate history of violence against Sikhs since the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Most devout Sikh males do not cut their hair, which they cover with turbans. The turbans and their uncut beards are frequently, and inaccurately, associated with images of terrorism and violence. Many times, attacks against Sikhs are cases of mistaken identity, with the perpetrators thinking the Sikhs are Muslims.

If the perpetrator of this horrendous attack was driven by a fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims, it must be stressed that the Sikh Coalition is vehemently opposed to all acts of religious bigotry. Sikhism is a religion of love, strongly advocating a peaceful coexistence with other faiths.

The fifth-largest religion in the world, Sikhism was founded in the late 15th Century in the Punjab region of present-day India by a succession of 10 gurus, or spiritual leaders. The first, Guru Nanak, was strongly opposed to the Hindu belief in castes — a class system — which in turn dictated one’s career, social standing and even who they were allowed to marry. Another fundamental belief for Sikhs was the promotion of equality among men and women. Sikhism is also a monotheistic faith, meaning they only believe in one god, who they call Waheguru. Their image of Waheguru is gender neutral, further promoting their concept of gender equality.

The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, laid out several rules of conduct for Sikhs, the most obvious being unshorn hair. Another rule was the adoption of a shared last name, Singh, which means “lion,” for men, and Kaur, or “princess,” for women. Sikhs worship at temples called gurdwaras, where all are welcome, even non-followers. After the worship service, the gurdwara offers a free community meal called langar.

Sikhs first came to the United States in the late 19th century. The U.S. has the fourth-largest Sikh population in the world, behind only India, the United Kingdom and Canada. Despite facing adversities such as bullying, job discrimination and racial profiling, Sikhs are a proud part of our cultural landscape, working in all professions and contributing to their communities. Queens boasts the largest Sikh population in New York City and is home to several gurdwaras.

What happened in Wisconsin was the latest in a dreadful saga of violence against Sikh Americans. What makes this the most upsetting is that this occurred at a house of worship. Attacks at any house of worship — church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or gurdwara — must be condemned, as these institutions are regarded as places of peace. Crimes like this strike at the heart of religious freedom, a core principle that is central to Sikhism and the United States alike.

Alex DiBlasi is an educator and advocate for the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights group in the United States. He lives in Long Island City.

Queens Sikhs vow to help victims


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison

BY SAMUEL LIEBERMAN & CHRISTOPHER BRITO

One day after the massacre of six at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, an NYPD patrol car was stationed outside the Sikh Center of New York in Flushing.

“This is a hate crime so it not going to be easy to stop,” said Gurvinder Singh, 45, a temple member. “Synagogues have security, churches have security, and now our temples have security.”

On Monday, August 6, officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, gathered with Sikh leaders to condemn the violence and assure them that the city would dispatch additional resources at temples, or gurdwaras.

Sikh leaders at Queens temples said they shared a sense of relief at the stationing of police officers outside.

Gianee Anand Singh, 59, leader at the Sikh Sabha of New York in Flushing, said he never felt afraid to enter his place of worship, yet the police presence still puts him at ease.

“I am grateful to the American government for doing something for us,” he said. Gurkran Jeet Singh, 32, echoed the sentiment.

“This [tragedy] is too bad,” he said. “We are scared of that happening. We are scared for ourselves. But the police are helpful, they make us feel more safe.”

Singh said that the Sikh Sabha, with between 200 and 300 members, intends to help the victims of the Milwaukee massacre.

“Together, all the Sikh community will do something,” he said.

Bloomberg offers condolences to Queens Sikh community following Milwaukee shooting


| brennison@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of NYC Mayor's Office

Dozens of Queens Sikhs joined the mayor in Richmond Hill, including one man who lost an uncle in the Milwaukee shooting, to offer their support and condolences to the families of those who were killed.

“I think it fair to say New Yorkers of every faith are joining the Sikh community in praying for the recovery of those gravely wounded in that terrible attack,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Before meeting with the press, Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly sat down with Sikh leaders at the Sikh Cultural Center to personally offer their condolences to the religious community.

Approximately 15,000 Sikhs live in Richmond Hill and the surrounding areas.

Mohan Singh Khatra, whose uncle was among the six killed at a shooting inside a Milwaukee temple, said he was not angry, but sad. Khatra said he had spoken to his uncle, Suved Singh, about 12 hours before the shooting and discussed an upcoming visit.

“I feel really bad because we never can see him again,” Khatra said.

Immediately following the shooting in Wisconsin, police officers were dispatched to city Sikh temples to prevent any copy cat crimes.

The president of the Richmond Hill temple bemoaned the fact that this took place at a religious institution.

“People go for worship; they are praying to God and they get killed,” said Gurdev Singh Kang. “Their loved ones were home and they are not going back home.”

Harpreet Singh Toor, a spokesperson for the Richmond Hill temple, said he always felt safe in New York City.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, no matter what religion you profess you have a right to be safe in your homes, your places of worship and on the streets of New York City,” the mayor said. “We have no tolerance for intolerance or for lawless violence.”