Lessons in diversity from slained Houston deputy

The Sikh world was shaken to the core when Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal was gunned down in Houston on 27 Sept. What are some lessons we can learn from the unfortunate incident? HB SINGH explores.

Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal
By Hb Singh | OPINION |

The Sikh world was shaken to the core when Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal was gunned down in Houston, Texas, on 27 Sept.

The people of Houston, too, were horrified with the incident. They were immensely moved when they learnt of Sandeep’s spirit of selfless service and dedication, all while sporting his turban and beard, as per the calling of his faith. His final farewell was described almost as ‘royal-like’ by some, with the outpouring of grief and love from across the section.

Needless to says, it was nothing short than tragic when the man in blue succumbed to gunshots from the back in the line. But why such an outpouring of love and respect? What are the lessons for the United States and other nations?

Deputy Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal was no ordinary men in blue. The 41-year old former owner of a trucking business made history in 2009 when he became the first Sikh to serve as a deputy in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Then, in 2015, he broke new grounds when he received accommodations to keep serving with his turban and beard intact.

The turban made him stand out. And being in the minority, you can imagine the potential treatment he might receive while on duty. Sandeep is of the Sikh faith which enjoins its followers to maintain unshorn facial hair. The male members and some women members bear the turban.

The fear of him being targeted for his looks was always present.

One of the thousands who attended his final farewell was the former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. He had assisted the process to effect changes to the uniform code, allowing Sandeep to serve with his outward religious symbols in place.

In an interview with a columnist for The Religion News, Garcia said: “As officers, we’re already vulnerable every time we put on our uniforms. Sandeep would be even more vulnerable with his turban and beard, because of ignorance from the general public and even from our own department.”

But how do you explain the immense outpouring of grief? It was simply a recognition of Sandeep’s dedication yo his office. Sandeep was driven by his inner conviction to serve. That is a core value of anyone calling themselves a Sikh. Service above self! We call it sevaa or selfless service.

Sandeep stuck to his core principle despite the obvious challenges, including his looks.

Discrimination on the grounds of looks, race and religion abounds in the US and other nations. Just across the border recently, a man in Montreal urged a National Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh to “cut off” his turban to “look like a Canadian.”

Canadian politicians are busy campaigning for the Oct 21 national polls. Like Sandeep, Jagmeet stands out in the crowd. He is the first politician from the minority communities to lead a major political party in the nation of 37 million people. If that is not enough, you would often catch him in striking designer suits and colourful turbans.

“Lots of Canadians are told they have to change who they are to be successful. My message to all of you — be yourself & celebrate who you are. We all belong,” he said in a Facebook entry.

So, like Jagmeet, Sandeep knew exactly what he was up against. But he has taken it in his stride as he is campaigning for the Canadian elections.

One solution is to push for diversity. In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious setting, the levers of government should, as much as possible, reflect the ground realities. The lawmakers should be of diverse background. For years, the West struggled to break free from the domination of male, white and privileged politicians. The struggle goes on.

The mixed ground realities must also be reflected in government agencies. The police, immigration, local council and the rest of the machinery are the front liners. They deal with the people on day-to-day matters. They should have sound understanding of the ground. And the should look as diverse as the people they serve.

Sikh Coalition, a US-based advocacy group, have dispatched letters urging the US state and local law enforcement as well the defence ministry to ease up on the restrictions placed upon people from the minority communities to serve the nation. They are simply asking for ‘easier, more equitable path to reasonable religious accommodations’.

It’s past time to improve outdated policies and remove bureaucratic red tape so that the next generation of heroes are as diverse as the communities they choose to serve and protect, the advocacy group said.

The US and other nations can honour Deputy Sandeep by doing just that. It is high time to embrace diversity.


Hb Singh is a Kuala Lumpur-based journalist with some experience in dealing with Sikh organisations, both from within and outside. 

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



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