How Articles of Sikh Faith Are Criminalized on College Campuses

AW: There was actually a lot of uproar. I couldn’t go on Instagram or any social media platform without seeing it on everyone’s story. In terms of organizations, there was United Sikhs, there was the World Sikh Organization (WSO), [and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund] SALDEF.… It even went so far as to get acknowledgement from leading Sikh organizations in India, like the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. So it was crazy how this one incident at a university in North Carolina had such an international uproar. 

One thing I noticed, though, was that there was a lot of support from not only the Sikh community but other communities as well, especially other minorities. A lot of different minority communities were getting involved — saying that similar experiences have happened; we don’t feel like we’re being represented or included.

TV: What did you accomplish in your work with the Kirpan and talking to North Carolina State as an executive of the Sikh student association, NC State Nirvair?

AW: After being reported a few times [for carrying the Kirpan on my own campus], the Office of Diversity contacted me. I [met with them and] informed them on what Sikhi is, what our practice of carrying the Five Ks was, and what the Kirpan was. They were actually willing to listen and were genuinely interested, taking notes, asking questions, and asking for resources on where they could learn more. 

Honestly, that was really proactive. But what they ended up deciding was, “Hey, you’re allowed to wear your Kirpan, but it has to meet these [certain] requirements.” I think it was a little bit insufficient, that it didn’t reach as far as it could have, and I think that’s been something we’ve been trying to focus on a little more with our [Sikh Student Association].

TV: Why do some Sikhs wear all Five Ks while others only wear a couple?

AW: This is a conversation that I’ve been having a lot in the last few weeks. I think it’s an important distinction to make that not every Sikh follows Sikhi the same way. Just as in any other faith, you can’t expect every person to have this monolithic, homogeneous identity. 

The other thing is that the Five Ks aren’t necessarily mandated for every Sikh. Not every Sikh is expected to be a part of the Khalsa, which is a specific, more martial order of Sikhi — and that’s just one dimension of Sikhi. You go to India and you can see there’s even more variation in Sikhi than there is over here. There will be people who practice more, and they’ll be people who practice less.

TV: In light of your brother’s incident and others involving Sikhs practicing their religion, do you have any closing thoughts on how Sikhs are treated in the US?

AW: There’s a tendency in the Sikh community and South Asian communities as a whole to kind of brush [these incidents] under the rug and not talk about [them]. Like that string of attacks against elderly Sikhs in Richmond Hill [in Brooklyn], I think they are definitely more common than what the media likes to highlight. 

I don’t think I know one Sikh who’s my age, living in the US, that hasn’t gone through something similar. The first thing that comes to mind is [being in] airports, and this ties back into the post-9/11 policy changes. [Another] big one that kind of took me by surprise was last year when my roommate and I were walking on Hillsborough Street. It was 8 or 9 p.m., and we were walking back when a pickup truck full of white college students decided to shout racial slurs at us. Things like, “Oh, go back to your country” or “You’re not welcome here,” and they started throwing eggs at us. 

This had never happened in my three years at university, but then we realized we were walking around on [the anniversary of] 9/11. Then it became obvious. So I think as a minority in the US, as a minority in India, and especially as a minority in Pakistan, you develop this resilience to a lot of the discrimination.

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