The Sikh Coalition was born in the hours after 9/11, out of self-defense. In those raw days after the attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot outside the gas station his family ran in Mesa, Arizona. In the months following, American Sikhs were beaten and their temples, called gurdwaras, were set on fire. Less than a year after Singh Sodhi’s murder, his brother was shot while driving his cab near San Francisco.
In those early days, and as violence against Sikhs has continued — the latest wave of anti-Sikh harassment hit Queens, New York, earlier this year — coalition members were unwilling to deflect threats and blame onto Muslims, whom bigoted attackers were confusing with Sikhs. Instead, as the hate crimes posed a uniquely painful problem, Sikhs regarded their persecution not as an opportunity for pointing fingers, but for radical empathy.
Sikhism — Sikhi, in the usage of its practitioners — is a tradition based in service to others. Where there are approximately 500,000 Sikhs in the United States today, the advocacy and organizing of the Sikh Coalition may reach millions.