The Sikh Coalition is a community-based organization that works towards the realization of civil and human rights for all people. In particular, we work towards a world where Sikhs may freely practice and enjoy their faith while fostering strong relations with their local community wherever they may be.
We pursue our mission by:
- Providing direct legal services to persons whose civil or human rights are violated;
- Advocating for law and policies that are respectful of fundamental rights;
- Promoting appreciation for diversity through education; and
- Fostering civic engagement in order to promote local community empowerment
With a full-time staff of 10 and offices in New York City, Fremont, CA and Washington D.C., we are the most-staffed Sikh organization in the history of the United States.
The Coalition is Born
The Sikh Coalition was born in the aftermath of bigotry, violence and discrimination against the city’s Sikh population following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We began as a volunteer effort on the night of September 11, 2001, when an elderly Sikh and two teenagers were violently attacked in Richmond Hill, Queens in “reprisal” attacks by fellow Americans. The group that became the Sikh Coalition issued a press release the next day under the organizational title “Coalition of Sikh Organizations of New York” condemning the terrorist attacks and calling on police to better protect our neighborhoods.
Anticipating that more hate crimes and bias attacks that were to come, the group in New York City, which labeled itself "The Coalition of Sikh Organizations", initiated a program to send press releases to the Media on September 11th and began creating press kits enable communities across the country to organize at a grass roots level. With the aid of some activists in Chicago, a website was set-up by Sept 12 to record the occurrence of hate-crimes across the country, a chat board, and resources for the media. Other activists from various metropolitan cities across North America joined the initiative and a virtual Coalition emerged.
Within a two week time period, the Coalition developed affiliations in Toronto, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. A synergetic energy propelled these groups into an impetus for change. The Coalition worked with the US Justice Department to battle hate-crimes and get directives published by the Department of Transportation to combat profiling at airports. Simultaneously, a contingent was dedicated to working with the media in educating the public across North America through print articles and television coverage.
On October 12, 2001, the Sikh Coalition formally incorporated and began operating as a volunteer led organization of concerned Sikhs across the country since no national civil rights-focused Sikh organization existed until the Sikh Coalition was formed. By October 25, 2001, the newly formed Sikh Coalition had its first major victory, persuading the United States Senate to pass a resolution the Coalition had drafted recognizing Sikh-Americans and condemning hate-crimes against Sikhs and other minorities.
Since our inception, we have used all available means to tackle the discrimination our community faces. We have often used a combination of education, government advocacy, community organizing and where necessary, legal action to protect our community’s civil rights.
For three years after 9/11 we remained a volunteer organization with a core group of fifteen mostly young Sikhs who devoted anywhere from ten to thirty hours per week working to protect our community.
In September 2003, we hired our first staff member, Amardeep Singh as our Legal Director. In March 2004, we opened our first office in New York City, situated perfectly between our core constituencies in Queens and northern New Jersey.
Since September 11, 2001, our work to humanize our community has been difficult given the predominant association in this city and country of the turban and beard with terrorism. We have provided direct legal services to seventy-one victims of hate crimes, twenty-nine victims of airport profiling, and twenty-one Sikhs who were prosecuted for carrying the kirpan, a Sikh article of faith. Over seventy percent of these cases come from New York, the rest are selectively chosen from around the country when victims requesting assistance have no other means of support.
In the five years of our existence, we have forced two of the city’s largest agencies to accept Sikhs for the quality of their work rather than their appearance and the city’s police department to recognize that Sikhs when pushed will demand that their police department protect them like all other citizens. Our reputation around the country continues to grow.
In addition, over the past two years, our organization has worked with a member of the New York City Council to develop a package of two post-September 11 discrimination bills, Intro 576. which would require the city of New York to create a plan to mitigate backlash violence against Sikhs, Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians in case of an event that would precipitate such violence, and Intro 577., which would ban discrimination on the basis of religious garb in New York City uniformed agencies. Together, these two bills are a huge step forward in our community’s effort to force government to respond to our concerns. They mark the first time a city, state, or federal legislature has ever introduced a bill drafted by the Sikh community to address a concern affecting the Sikh community.