After spate of hate crimes, Sikhs stepping up U.S. campaign focused on identity

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Fundraiser for the National Sikh Campaign held in Piscataway, NJ March 5. (Photo: Zak Photo and Video)

At a March 5th fundraiser in Piscataway, N.J., some three hundred Sikhs opened their wallets to donate thousands of dollars in support of the National Sikh Campaign, a strategic advertizing plan that is expected to hit major media outlets and establish a social media presence in April.

In the wake of a series of attacks on Indian-Americans over the last two weeks, Sikhs, who have been particularly vulnerable to hate crime attacks are more stressed, because of their turban which most Americans link to their image of an Islamic terrorist.

While hate crimes took place even during the Obama administration, including the massacre of 6 Sikhs at the Wisconsin gurdwara in 2012 by a white supremacist, Rajwant Singh, advisor to the National Sikh Campaign says there is a greater urgency now to spread awareness about Sikhs. That is the goal of the upcoming advertizing and social-media blitz.

Photo: Zak Photo and Video

“In this heightened polarized atmosphere where people are less hesitant to express anti immigrant and anti-minority sentiments, especially fringe elements, you are always looking around to see how people are watching you,” when one steps out of the house, Singh admitted. “It’s not a good feeling, specially for kids,” he added.

The New Jersey fundraiser was held just the day after a Sikh man in Kent, Washington state, Deep Rai, 35, was shot and injured by a white man who is still being sought by police. Add to that, the Feb. 22, fatal hate crime when Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian techie, was shot to death by white man in Olathe, Kansas. In both cases, the shooter shouted at the victims to get out and go back to their own country.

A spokesperson of the advocacy organization, the Sikh Coalition, told News India Times anecdotal evidence indicates a rise in confrontations with Sikhs around the country in the last few weeks.

The Campaign has a fundraising target of $1.3 million and has already raised close to $1 million ($950,000) through 8 fundraisers around the country. It will launch a brand entitled “We Are Sikhs” in April, that will leverage polling and focus group research done already, and use intensive television and digital advertising on regional and select national networks like CNN and Fox News. “The aim of this brand is to build the Sikh image in the United States since the majority of Americans admit to knowing nothing at all about Sikh Americans,” says the NSC, something revealed by a landmark survey the organization released in January 2015 entitled “Sikhs in America”.

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