By Jasmit Singh/For the Kent Reporter
Earlier this month, a gunman demanded Deep Rai, a 39-year-old Sikh man, to “go back to his own country” before shooting Rai in his own driveway in Kent.
This act of senseless violence sent shock waves throughout the community, but Washington’s Sikh community has been the target of attacks before: a Sikh temple in Spokane was vandalized in 2016, a Sikh taxi driver in Federal Way was violently beaten in 2012, and a survey from 2014 shows that more than half of Sikh students experience bullying in schools.
While Rai is recovering well, it’s a disheartening truth that attacks like these are nothing new. It is an equally disheartening truth that attacks on the Sikh community are attacks on some of America’s most core values.
The story of Sikhs living in this country is the story of the quintessential American dream. Like immigrants from Ireland, Italy, China and elsewhere, Sikhs began coming to America in the late 1800s, seeking opportunities to build better lives for their families. As the world’s fifth largest religion, more than half a million Sikhs live in the United States with nearly 50,000 in Washington state. These are some of the nation’s top engineers, doctors, farmers, business owners, and even soldiers who proudly fight for the country they love.
Sikhs are vulnerable to this misguided violence due in part to a fundamental misunderstanding about the people and the religion. Research commissioned by the National Sikh Campaign shows 60-percent of Americans know nothing at all about the Sikh religion. But the story of Sikhism is built around America’s most pervasive founding principles: inclusion, equality and justice for all.
Sikhism originated in the Punjab region of India and is a faith rooted in love. The religion teaches that people of all race, religion and gender are equal in the eyes of God. It promotes social justice, rejects discrimination and adheres to truthful, simple and humble living. As an expression of faith, Sikhs wear turbans and beards to signal their commitment to serving humanity and standing against injustice. In fact, according to the Sikh Coalition, 99 percent of people wearing turbans in America are Sikh.
Sikhs adhere to practices and institutions that break down the walls of socio-economic and racial divisions. One such expression is langar – or free kitchen – where all visitors to a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) are served a hot meal without exception and sit and eat together as equals.
The continuing hate directed against anyone who looks different, practices a different faith, or has a different ethnicity has no place in America’s doctrine of inclusion.
At a time when national political rhetoric grows increasingly dangerous, we are fortunate for the leaders in Washington state who have stood with our community, such as Gov. Jay Inslee, Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Reps. Adam Smith, Susan DelBene and Pramila Jayapal. And we commend Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, the Kent City Council, local law enforcement and the FBI for their swift response to find justice in the case of Deep Rai’s attack.
But to further this progress, we must continue the task of education to convey our strong message of inclusion and acceptance. For any attack on the Sikh community is an attack on the fabric of America.
Dr. Jasmit Singh is a technologist and an entrepreneur who works with Washington state’s Sikh community on issues of education and empowerment.