Valley Sikhs speak out about national report on bullied students

Members of the Valley's Sikh community are reacting to a new report revealing Fresno County students are regularly bullied at school because of their faith.
March 13, 2014 3:45:08 PM PDT
Members of the Valley's Sikh community are reacting to a new report revealing Fresno County students are regularly bullied at school because of their faith.

"We want the community to know that Sikhism is the 5th largest world religion and we have been here in the Central Valley for over a hundred years," said Advocacy Manager of the Sikh Coalition Simran Kaur.

The "Go Home, Terrorist" report on bullying against Sikh American school children was released Thursday by the Sikh Coalition. The group was created after 9/11 to stop violence and discrimination against Sikhs. It now works toward civil and human rights for all.

The report was put together by independent researchers in Boston, Fresno, Indianapolis and Seattle. More than 500 Sikh students completed surveys in 2012 and 2013. It showed bullying increased for those who regularly wear turbans or follow their faith identity in keeping their hair untrimmed.

"Name calling, physical harassment, teachers definitely did nothing about it, "said 24 year old Bachittar Singh as he recalled what it was like for him back in elementary school.

The former Fresno Unified student said he was just seven years old when he was first targeted by his classmates for wearing a turban.

"I was sitting in third grade and the girl sitting in front of me kept on cutting me and actually forced me to bleed on my hand," said Singh. "From what I remember she said it's because I look different."

This is why he's disappointed, but not surprised after a national survey found Fresno had the second highest percentage of Sikh students who said they were bullied in school at 54.5%. That's behind Indianapolis at 55.8%. Boston was third at just under half of students surveyed (48%), while Seattle had 45.5%.

Advocacy manager of the Sikh Coalition, Simran Kaur said, the Valley's percentage is staggering considering the national average for bullied students between the ages of 12 and 18 is about 32%.

"We were hearing from parents and youth that they were being impacted by bullying but there weren't really any numbers or statistics to backup that experience," she said. "Now that we have these numbers we can use them to change policies and engage with the education system."

She said the report shows it's a serious problem in the Valley that schools are currently ignoring. She pointed to the statistic that showed Fresno had the highest percentage of Sikh students who said schools didn't take any action after they reported an incident.

"I think the biggest take home message is that we understand bullying does impact all children and the Sikh faith is particularly targeted because of our external identity so we really want to use this report as an avenue in coming to schools and raising awareness about the Sikh community," she said.

A spokesperson for the area's largest school district, Fresno Unified, told Action News all of its more than 100 schools are involved in some kind of bullying prevention program, but some members of the community argued the district doesn't go far enough in reaching out to Sikhs in the Valley.

"We actually encourage people to come and learn about the Sikh faith," said Singh. "The temple is open to anyone regardless of their faith. The term Sikh itself means "student," because a Sikh is a student throughout their lifetime. You never stop learning."

Some of the districts we reached out to were skeptical of the report since students were surveyed at temples rather than at schools. While others like Kerman Unified embraced it. The district there has taken a number of measures to educate the community about Sikhism including taking part in a regional conference, adding books to its high school libraries as well as Punjabi language courses to its curriculum. Officials said, since doing so, the district hasn't had any problems.

Coming up on April 13th, Valley Sikhs will take part in the annual Sikh Day Parade in Selma. Organizers of the event said it's a great way for the community to get learn more about the world's fifth largest religion. The parade runs from 10am to 3pm and begins at the Sikh Center of the Pacific Coast on Highland Avenue.