Published On: Tue, Jan 27th, 2015

60% of Americans unaware about Sikhs and Sikhism: Survey

Washington, 27 jan (SNS) - More than a decade after 9/11, Americans who come across a turban-wearing Sikh are still prone to mistaking him for a Muslim, according to a study.

Sixty per cent of Americans who participated in the study released by the non-profit National Sikh Campaign admitted to knowing nothing about the Sikhs who live, study and work in their midst.

When shown a photo of a smiling older Sikh male in a red turban, 28 per cent of respondents thought he was Middle Eastern and 20 per cent believed he was Muslim.

Thirty-five per cent thought he might be from India, or of Indian descent. Only 11 per cent correctly identified him as Sikh.

Shown a fashionable young woman with knee-length hair — the Sikh faith discourages hair-cutting for either sex — 20 per cent described her as Middle Eastern. No one thought she was Sikh.

“We have been very much part of the American fabric, and yet we are not well known, and often misunderstood,” said Rajwant Singh, co-founder and senior adviser of the National Sikh Campaign.

“Frankly speaking, we are just tired of being the target and we want to be understood.”

The first Sikhs emigrated to the United States from what was then British-ruled India a century ago.

Today, the Sikh American community numbers between 200,000 and 500,000. Estimates vary because the US Census Bureau collects no data on religious affiliation.

But in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001, Sikhs have found themselves targeted — with sometimes bloody results — by Americans who presume anyone in a turban must be a Muslim.

“I feel there is still a lot of ignorance,” said Arizona businessman Rana Singh Sodhi, who lost two brothers in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.

One of the brothers, Arizona gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi, was slain four days after 9/11 by a white American who reportedly bragged that he wanted to go out and “shoot some towel heads” to avenge the attacks.

The gunman, Frank Silva Roque, got a death sentence for his actions that was later reduced to life imprisonment.

A second brother, Sukhpal Sodhi, died in 2012 after he was hit, apparently by a stray bullet from a gang fight, in his San Francisco taxi cab.

In August 2012, a white supremacist and US army veteran fatally shot six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin before taking his own life.