I Am Sikh. I Am American. Being both should not be so difficult.

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 | Huffington Post | US | 13 Sept 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Sahaj Kohli is a Lifestyle Blog Editor at Huffington Post. Main photo from her Facebook.
Sahaj Kohli is a Lifestyle Blog Editor at Huffington Post. Main photo from her Facebook.
By Sahaj Kohli | HUFFINGTON POST

Though this week was the 14th anniversary of 9/11, an unforgettable attack on our nation, it was also a jarring reminder of how misunderstood and mistreated my religious community is.

Tuesday, Inderjit Singh Mukker, a Chicago man, was minding his own business, driving, when a man from the car behind him stormed to his window and incessantly beat him.

Why? Because he was wearing a turban? Because he was not white? Because he didn’t look American? Because he could have been Muslim? (So what if he was Muslim? What happened on 9/11 in no way reflects Islam.)

Alas, this week, I’m reminded that I still feel as if I don’t belong here… or there… in this country.

I am the first person in my family who was born and raised in America — something I’ve always recognized as a core part of my identity and, more importantly, in my ongoing identity crisis. I am American. I am Indian. I am Sikh. But I’ve always considered myself American first.

I cherish and adore my American rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of individuality. Yes, I believe there’s some work to be done, but overall, I’m beyond proud to be an American.

And I’m beyond proud to be a Sikh, though I’ll admit: I have some serious issues with the concept of organized religion. I’ve had my own personal struggles with faith, God, death and the general, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” question. But I’ve never felt that my religion was being tested, only that my personal faith was.

Sikhs faced a number of repurcussions in the aftermath of Sept. 11, but I was 12 and too young to process its effects on my identity as a Sikh. Instead, I grew angry and infuriated on America’s behalf. My America was terrorized.

As I got older, I grew disgusted with the domestic terrorism that followed. That there were some Americans who categorized all Muslims, or simply any turban-wearing people, to experience heinous hate crimes. I was, and am, saddened that Sikhs were bullied into cutting their hair or cutting their kids’ hair to avoid the stereotypes and subjection. (If you don’t know, uncut hair is part of the external identity of a practicing Sikh).

The incident with Mr. Mukker on the anniversary week of 9/11 has made me feel yet again, torn.

I feel betrayed by my people… but Americans are my people.

SEE ALSO: Sikh American bashed in Chicago hate crime just days before 9/11 anniversary (Asia Samachar, 10 Sept 2015)

I’ve accepted the fate of constantly struggling with my personal identity. But what I never thought I’d have to face was the pain that comes when those who are religious are penalized for practicing their faith; that my practicing, active friends and loved ones in the Sikh community have been threatened for partaking in religious rituals or dress. I am indignant that in my own beloved country, my fellow practicing Sikhs’ commitment to their religion is constantly tested.

I look at my baby nephews, who were born in America, and I fear what could be a part of their future. I fear their sleepless nights contemplating their beautiful, long hair and whether it’s worth it. I fear their struggles with the decision to wear a baseball hat or a bandana rather than a turban to attract less attention to themselves and their full identity. I fear their heartache and confusion when one of their fellow Americans calls them a raghead or a terrorist or worse, beats them up.

I want my nephews and my religious community (and everyone, really) to feel proud to be an American and be welcomed and accepted. I implore my country to be better and to do better. I want to stand with Americans against terrorists… real terrorists. And I want to stand as a Sikh-American, not Sikh or American.

I am a member of the fifth largest religion in the world, Sikhism. And I am an American. Being both should not be this difficult since the principles of Sikhism align with the principles that America strives to fight for — equality and social justice. It only becomes a war when one group turns on the other.

I am American. I am Sikh. But more importantly, I am human. My religion does not undermine my or anyone’s human rights to freely practice a religion, safely.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED AT HUFFINGTON POST ON 12 SEPT 2015.

RELATED STORY:

Sikh American bashed in Chicago hate crime just days before 9/11 anniversary (Asia Samachar, 10 Sept 2015)

 

Sikh turban victory against U.S. army (Asia Samachar, 15 June 2015)

US Major: Religion is a force of good (Asia Samachar, 10 Feb 2015)

 

[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Asia. How to reach us: Facebook message or WhatsApp +6017-335-1399. Our email: editor@asiasamachar.com. For obituary announcements, click here]

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