Formally launched at the Capitol Hill yesterday, the first ever Sikh-American Congressional caucus is co-chaired by Congresswoman Judy Chu from the Democratic Party and David G Valadao from the Republican.
Formed to educate US lawmakers and the general public about Sikh issues and support the American Sikh community that has often faced discrimination post 9/11.
"More than a decade after 9/11, too many Sikhs across America face discrimination, bullying, and even bias-motivated violence from misguided individuals associating them with the terrorist attacks," said Chu announcing the formation of the caucus.
"This caucus will be the voice for American Sikhs in the House of Representatives, working across the aisle to address the unique challenges that this community faces," she said.
Thanking members of Congress lending their voices to this cause, Chu said, "Together, we will preserve religious freedom, protect the safety of all people, and celebrate America's diversity."
"The Central Valley is home to more than 25,000 Sikhs, one of the largest Sikh populations in the United States," said Valadao.
"Sikhs have a very strong presence in our communities and have made great contributions to our society, he said.
The lawmakers noted that since 9/11 Sikh Americans have faced increased levels of discrimination and even violence from individuals who mistakenly believe they are associated with terrorist attacks on the US.
"Sikhs are suffering because many people do not understand or are simply unfamiliar with their religion. The Sikh American community continues to be disproportionally affected by school bullying and hate crimes. Events like the devastating tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin should never have taken place," Republican Congresswoman from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said.
The immediate past Chairwoman of the powerful House Committee on Foreign Relations, Ros-Lehtinen, said the Sikh American Caucus will raise awareness of the Sikh religion while advocating for solutions to end bullying and racial profiling, and to protect religious freedom in the workplace. "It is time that we embraced our Sikh brothers and sisters as peaceful and productive members of the American society," she said.
The Caucus would also work on bullying being experienced by as many as three in every four Sikh boys and racial profiling due to well-intentioned but misguided law enforcement policies. John Garamendi said the challenges for the Sikh American community preventing deplorable hate crimes, fighting discrimination, and ending misconceptions in the public - are very real. "I am confident that through the American Sikh Caucus, the wide array of Sikh civil rights organizations, and like-minded groups, we can overcome these challenges and create a more just America," he said.
Other members of the Caucus are Karen Bass, Gerry Connolly, John Conyers, Jim Costa, Jeff Denham, Raul Grijalva, Joe Heck, Rush Holt, Mike Honda, Hank Johnson, Doug LaMalfa, Zoe Lofgren, Tom McClintock, Jerry McNerney, Carolyn Maloney, Doris Matsui, George Miller, Devin Nunes, Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell, Gary Peters, Jan Schakowsky, Jackie Speier and Chris Van Hollen. Of these seven are from the Republican Party and 21 from the Democratic Party.
Congressman Valadao, said more US lawmakers are expected to join the Caucus. In a dear colleague letter to members of the US House of Representatives, Valadao said American Sikhs have contributed to the strength and diversity of the United States for over 130 years, starting businesses and becoming active leaders in the local communities.
"In the aftermath of September 11th, Sikh Americans have faced experiences a sharp rise in increase in incidents of bias-motivated violence by bullying... More than 700 such incidents took place over the last decade," he wrote urging his Congressional colleagues to join the Caucus.
California-based political activist Harpreet Singh Sandhu and Pritpal Singh, from the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (AGPC), played a key role in the formation of the Caucus. "Our dream of a direct voice to Congress about Sikh related issues has come true. The Caucus' purpose is to educate and allow Members to strategise on how to support the American Sikh community and attack the many issues we face today including bullying, Armed Forces and homeland security," Sandhu said.
"History has been made today some 130 years after our forefathers first arrived on American shores," said Hardayal Singh, director of UNITED SIKHS, welcoming the creation of the caucus.
Pritpal Singh, coordinator American Sikh Gurdwara Committee said it would give advocacy groups a platform to disseminate information to policymakers about significant issues affecting the Sikh community.
The caucus intends to address among other things military discrimination preventing American Sikhs from enlisting due to restrictive appearance regulations that ban turbans; violence and bullying faced by American Sikhs, racial profiling and employment discrimination.
PTI with inputs from IANS