Gurpreet Kaur

Gurpreet Kaur was a student at Cedar Crest College when she researched American Sikhs’ political roles after Sept. 11. This project explored issues related to Sikh identity, particularly in light of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It documented the actions taken by Sikh leaders in the United States and in India to stop the hate crimes that Sikhs experienced after the attacks and their efforts to reinforce ethnic identity among Sikhs. The research also examined the mutual system of support between overseas Sikhs and the Akali Dal (the national Sikh party in India). Surveys and interviews were used as the primary methods of research. The findings of the project have the potential to make significant contributions to the understanding of Sikh political life in India and in the United States, and to the issues shaped by the Sikh diaspora.

Kaur interviewed people in person and via telephone in the United States and in India. In each of the Gurdwaras, she ollected data through surveys and interviewing Sikh laborers, students, and professional and business persons. She then traveled to Washington, D.C. to interview Sikh leaders in the United States. She also interviewed Akali leaders in India. Kaur’s research proposal was reviewed by the Cedar Crest College Institutional Review Board prior to commencement of the research.

At the time of this research, Kaur wrote the following about the research design, background, and objective of this project:

There is not as much research done on Sikhs as on other South Asian groups who have migrated to the United States. This is particularly true about assimilated Sikhs and their relationship to politics in India. Building on the work by John Hawley, Studying the Sikhs: Issues for North America, and a film presentation by Valarie Kaur Brar from Stanford University at the Annual Conference of the Pluralism Project held on Nov. 21 and 22, 2002 in Atlanta, my project will explore a number of questions about Sikh identity, which has become more complicated in the aftermath of September 11th. These questions are: How has assimilation affected Sikh identity in the United States? To what degree does the Americanization of the Sikh tradition affect Sikh politics in India? How does the Akali Dal relate to and support those in the Sikh diaspora?

The objective of this research is to assess, within the limitations of this study, the effects of September 11, 2001 on Sikhs who are living in the United States. I will be dividing this study into two parts: one in the United States and one in India.

The questions I hope to explore in the United States include: How did Sikhs living in the United States feel about Sept. 11 and how did the event impact the lifestyle of Sikhs here? How did Sikh leaders in the United States react to the commission of hate crimes following September 11 and what did they do to stop them? How and when did Akali Dal leaders become involved in this process? What do Sikhs in America think of their Akali leaders in India? What do Sikhs feel about the ways in which the decisions of Akali leaders in India impact their lives in the United States?

I will be visiting three Gurdwaras to collect data through interviews and surveys in the United States. These Gurdwaras are located in Blue Mountain, PA, Richmond Hill, NY, and Glen Rock, NJ.

I am planning to continue the research in India to discover how Akali leaders have helped Sikhs living in America to regain their sense of security in the United States. I am interested in the following questions: What are they doing for Sikhs to bring their confidence back that they are safe in the United States? How do Akali leaders make their decisions to keep Sikhs’ lives stable in American culture? These questions will be posed to Akali leaders in India through interviews.

In India, I will be traveling to Akali leaders’ offices and residences. In order to meet with them I will be traveling to three major cities: Delhi, Amritsar, and Chandighar.

Selected Links and Publications

Hawley, J. S., & Mann, G. S (Eds.). (1993). Studying the Sikhs: Issues for North America. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Brar, V. K. Film presentation “Targeting the Turban-Sikh Americans and the Aversion Spiral after the Sept. 11, 2001” at the Annual Conference of the Pluralism Project held on Nov. 21 and 22, 2002 in Atlanta.