With the increase in terror attacks and consequent Islamophobia, the Sikh community has become the target of misguided violence born from ignorance and anti-Muslim sentiment. Now, a group in the US is aiming to educate the public about Sikhs as a people and create awareness through a series of advertisements.
The We Are Sikhs ad campaign launched on 14 April on CNN, Fox News and other TV stations in Fresno, California sheds light on the lives of people within the religious community as integral members of US society. Created by the non-profit organisation National Sikh Campaign, the ads aim to improve awareness of Sikhism and perceptions of Sikh Americans nationally and in local communities throughout the United States.
Often mistaken for Muslim because of their beardsand turbans, the campaign plans to target the "collective misunderstanding of what the turban means in the Sikh faith".
"'We Are Sikhs' is an effort to raise the awareness of the Sikh religion, including explaining and demystifying the significance of the turban," Shawn Singh Ghuman, National Sikh Campaign communications director, told NBC News.
Associated Press reported that over 300 hate crimes have been reported by Sikhs in the US since the 9/11 terror attack. "We're the least understood major faith in the United States," said Gurwin Singh Ahuja, executive director of the National Sikh Campaign and former Obama administration staffer. "When people see us, they think we're either religious extremists or terrorists.
"Kids get bullied. Mothers have to be extra cautious to make sure their kids aren't being harassed," he continued. "There's significant employment discrimination. And in some cases, people have even been killed."
Sikhism, the world's fifth largest religion was created in India and opposes the country's age-old caste system. "Whether it's our belief in equality between men and women across all races and faiths, to our deep belief in community service and the freedom to pursue one's own success through hard work, these values are fundamental to our identity as Sikh Americans," Ghuman explained.
Soon after the September 2001 attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed in Arizona and a year later, six Sikhs were shot dead in an attack on a gurdwara (temple) in Wisconsin. Most recently, in March, a Sikh man was shot in the arm in Washington State and woman was attacked at a temple in Oregon.