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SALDEF Gala Highlights Civil Rights Champions and Accomplishments

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Monday, October 18, 2010 | 11:10 pm

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Jasjit Singh, associate executive director, with background photo of the Oregon governor signing a repeal of the ban on teachers wearing religious garb.

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Ravitej Singh Khalsa, at podium, received the Public Service Award and returned the favor by awarding Manjit Singh, SALDEF co-founder, far right, with a $5,000 award.

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Samuel Bagenstos, principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, and keynote speaker.

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Wade Henderson, CEO and president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a national coalition, received the Dorothy Heights Coalition Building Award.

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K.P. Singh, artist and activist, received the Bhagat Singh Thind Community Empowerment Award.

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Ajeet Singh Matharu's family accepts the Youth leadership Award on his behalf. An activist in the Jakara movement, a Sikh youth organization, a teacher who contributed to the Sojhi curriculum and an activist, passed away earlier this year at age 27.

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CURRENT AND FUTURE

Among SALDEF’s other accomplishments is approval from the Georgia Department of Driver Services of the wearing of patkaas and dastaars for license photos. The problem came to light when a 15-year-old was asked to removed his patkaa for the photo, and his father was asked the same of his dastaar when went to renew his license. The department issued an apology and allowed SALDEF to train its staff. Law enforcement agencies and the Transportation Safety Administration also have adopted these training materials. Similar photo policies have also been overturned in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Michigan, Nevada and California.

In Washington, SALDEF worked with the police department to initiate the first open invitation to Sikhs to serve as police officers. It’s the first major metropolitan police department to welcome Sikhs.

“This is significant because just eight years ago our community was suing for the right to be a traffic cop in the city of New York,” said Jasjit Singh, associate executive director. It serves as an “excellent precedent.” California had previously offered seven positions for Sikh officers.

SALDEF is finding more novel ways to be proactive.

“We’re going to address issues before they come up,” Jasjit Singh added. “Where can we frame the story, where we can make sure there are positive mentions of Sikhs?”

Last year, SALDEF members discussed Sikh American challenges on RT, an international English-language news channel broadcast to more than 200 million viewers in 100 countries, on five continents, throughout the world. They have also worked with National Public Radio, FOX, Warner Brothers and NBC Universal.

This summer, the group analyzed Facebook and found 45 anti-Sikh and anti-turban pages. Facebook is the world’s most popular social networking Web site, which claims to have more than 500 million active users.

These kinds of pages are “forums for hate speech and misconceptions,” Jasjit Singh said. On one there are pictures of Sikh Gurus and weapons of terrorism, on another there are pictures of Sikh historical figures and Osama Bin Laden.

“These are not only pages that are undermining our educational efforts, they also put our community in harms way. It convinces people that this must be true.”

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