The White House initiative on Asian American Pacific Islander’s (AAPI) and New York based Sikh Coalition held a Sikh Google Hangout to address the issue of bullying in schools.Also Read - 'Baahar Badi Star Banti Hai, Hum Dikhate Hain Isko..': Fatima Sana Shaikh Opens Up About Bullying as a Child Artist

At the hangout, speakers–Gurjot Kaur, staff attorney at New York based Sikh Coalition and Maulik Pancholy, an acclaimed, film, television and stage actor and a member of President’s advisory commission on AAPI addressed the unique issues faced by Sikh American students and highlighted federal resources available to stop bullying. Also Read - US Running Out of Time to Limit Dangerous Covid Surge: White House Medical Advisor Dr. Fauci

School is tough for many kids, but it is especially hard for young Sikhs, according to a report released by the Sikh Coalition last year. Also Read - French Researcher Warns Of Constitutional Crisis In America

The report titled “Go Home Terrorist” stated over half of Sikh children endure bullying at school, it’s even worse for Sikhs who wear a turban, where a staggering 67 percent of whom report being bullied.

The study, which involved 700 Sikh students in Massachusetts, Indiana, Washington and California, found that Sikh children had been punched, kicked and had their turbans ripped off by fellow students.

“Sikh children are often subjected to epithets like ‘terrorists’ and ‘Bin Laden post 9/11 attacks,” Kaur said, when talking about the types of bullying young Sikh children face.

In fact, Sikh Coalition was founded on 9/11 to address hate crimes and violence faced by the Sikh community as a result of the attacks.

Kaur highlighted several barriers in reporting bullying cases, including retaliation and lack of awareness about Sikhism and Sikh articles of faith.

“One barrier in reporting is that students fear retaliation,” she said. “One such case was in New York City where one student with limited English proficiency was being bullied severely every day, and when he finally reported it the school suspended the tormenter. However, it didn’t really address the underlying biases and prejudices and [the] bullying continued.”

Sikhism is not taught in the social studies subjects in schools, which leads to lack of societal knowledge regarding this faith. Despite the fact that Sikhs have been woven into the fabric of American culture for over a century, there is still a need to educate Americans about what the religion stands for.

“So many students and teachers are not aware of Sikhism, the Sikh immigration history, or their roles in our country,” Kaur said. “We have had students who say that our principal does not understand why it’s such a big deal that somebody ripped off my turban at school, they don’t understand the religious significance, they don’t know that for a Sikh to be without their turbans in public is akin to be naked.”

The fight against bullying, however, is gaining momentum especially since the launch of the AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force by the White House. The taskforce is a part of WHIAAPI’s larger hate crime prevention program, and involves the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Task Force, launched last year, brings together federal experts in civil rights, language access, education, community relations, public health, mental health, and data to find creative solutions to help the AAPI community.

“There seems to be a wide gap in the instances of bullying and the utilization of government resources to address bullying,” Pancholy said, who shared a personal story of how he was bullied for being Indian American and gay. “So, the taskforce is trying to create awareness about the available resources, so that people know about it and ways to access in their languages.”

Pancholy and other members of the taskforce hold regular meetings and listening sessions with the AAPI community, to inform them about resources and gather information through surveys.

He added: “We have distributed survey forms to advocacy groups, community groups, to domestic violence shelters. Since February we have conducted over 15 listening sessions around the country.”

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