Harpreet Singh Saini, whose mother was one of the six people killed when a white supremacist attacked worshippers at a gurdwara in Wisconsin in August, appeared at a Congressional hearing and asked FBI to track anti-Sikh hate crimes.
"Senators, I came here today to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not even count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognise," Saini told lawmakers.
"These are steps that we must take to ensure that we never endure a tragedy like the one in Oak Creek," said Singh, whose mother Paramjit Kaur Saini was tragically shot and killed in Oak Creek on Aug 5. The demand for including anti-Sikh violence in hate crime statistics gained momentum after the killing, with several lawmakers also demanding the same.
Federal officials have said that they have started looking into the issue and their decision is expected to be known by mid-October. "Aug 5th was a tragic day not only for Sikh Americans, but for all Americans, as is any day extremist hate groups target people of faith with harassment and violence," he said.
In his touching testimony, Singh argued what happened at Oak Creek was not an isolated incident. "I fear it may happen again if we don't stand up and do something. I don't want anyone to suffer what we have suffered. I want to build a world where all people can live, work and worship in America in peace. Because you see, despite everything, I still believe in America -- American dream," he said.
The gurdwara incident highlighted the question whether to re-examine the categories of religious groups that are listed on the FBI's hate crimes data collection form -- a document that is used to capture the perpetrator's motivation and not the victim's background, conceded Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.
"In the next few weeks, the Civil Rights Division and the Community Relations Service will bring together a broad spectrum of religious organisations, including groups representing Sikh Americans, to elicit their views on what information should be collected. Separately, the FBI's panel of outside subject matter experts will hear from stakeholders," Austin told lawmakers.
Chairing the Hearing of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 'Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism', Senator Richard Durbin said that sadly the shooting in Oak Creek was not an isolated incident.
"More than 6,600 hate crimes were reported to the FBI in the calendar year 2010, the most recent year for statistics. And a 2005 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics believes that even those crimes that are reported are just a fraction of those that actually occur," he noted.
Observing that the Department of Justice collects information on hate crimes but the present lists do not list the Sikh religion, Durbin admitted that there is a concern among Sikhs over the issue.
"I know for two years Sikh-Americans have been asking that there be a special category on the hate crime report so that we can keep track. Why don't we have a special place here for identifying hate crimes against Sikh-Americans?" Durbin asked.
Austin said the Department of Justice has met regularly with Sikh-Americans and other faiths and have heard this concern and is going to take action.
He said the civil rights division and the community relations service of the Justice Department are going to bring together a broad array of religious groups to address exactly what kinds of statistics should be kept.
"We plan to invite and have spoken to the Sikh community as well and the FBI has a process that is gone through before determining how the form is changed and the Department of Justice will play an active role with respect to that process to ensure that the form properly reflects those who are perpetrators, those who are victimised by hate crimes," Austin said.
Responding to a question from Senator Durbin, Austin said that the decision of the Justice Department would be known soon.
"There will be a meeting mid-October in which what the Department of Justice finds will be presented to an FBI committee. At that point, the decision of the Department of Justice will be known," Austin said.
"I think in light of the terrible incident at Oak Creek, Wisconsin, that this would be a good thing for us to do as expeditiously as possible," Senator Durbin said.