State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar (D-AD 38) on Sunday gathered hundreds of members of the Sikh-American community at the Baba Makhan Shah Lubana Sikh Center temple in South Richmond Hill, Queens in the wake of recent hate crimes against the community.
The assemblywoman brought to the community New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who conducted a press conference, and question and answer along with Assemblywoman Rajkumar.
Rajkumar organized the press conference after two recent hate crimes against the Sikh-American community in October.
She said hate crimes against Sikhs increased by 140 percent in 2021 alone.
With a packed room of Sikh leaders, Rajkumar and Adams charted a path forward with the Sikh community.
They announced their plan for a citywide campaign to educate the public on the generosity, inclusivity and bravery of the Sikh people, including how Sikhs are tasked to be the protectors of the vulnerable.
“We need to clearly educate people to what this community stands for and what you represent,” Adams said. “You are not about terror: you are our protector.
“Assemblywoman Rajkumar has been clear, and she has represented you in Albany and in the streets of the city,” he added. “She is a partner with our law enforcement community and City Hall.
“You elected the first Punjabi woman and first South Asian woman to Albany, and she has lived up to the expectation,” Adams continued.
Rajkumar said she was heart-broken, describing the recent crimes against the Sikh community as “devastating.”
“But now, it is time for us to get up and take action,” said the daughter of the Punjab, a state in North India, whose ancestors are from Amritsar, from the Old City of Patti. The region of Punjab is the heart of the Sikh Community.
Like many Punjabi families across the US, Rajkumar’s family migrated to the United States for the American Dream, settling in New York, where she was born and raised.
She said she was “proud” to now be the State Assemblywoman for the neighborhood of Richmond Hill, known by many as “Little Punjab.”
“Since I was a child, my uncle always told me, ‘The Sikhs are our protectors. The Sikhs are the protectors of society. But now, we need to ask, ‘who is protecting the Sikhs? ‘And the answer is us,” Rajkumar said.
“We will protect the Sikhs. New York City Mayor Eric Adams and I are both here. You are here,” she added. “For the first time, we are going to use the levers of government to end hate crimes against Sikh Americans. For the first time, we are going to come together and educate New York State, the United States and the entire world about who the Sikh people truly are so we are not attacked and misunderstood.
“Sadly, Sikh-Americans are among our nation’s most targeted religious groups because of their distinct appearance, wearing turbans on their head,” said Rajkumar, stating that, recently, four Sikh Americans were fatally shot in the tragic mass shooting in Indianapolis; a 70-year-old Sikh man was assaulted in Queens last year; “and now, the hateful incidents of last week.”
“Let me make it abundantly clear: Number One: The hateful targeting of Sikhs is not acceptable, and any perpetrators who come after the Sikh people will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” she added.
“Number Two: We will join with Mayor Adams to tell the world who the Sikh people are. People misunderstand the Sikh culture. We will tell the world about langar, how the Sikh community feeds everyone of every faith every day,” the assemblywoman continued. “Every Sikh Temple welcomes people of any background, faith, income level, gender or race to come in every day for free, freshly made food.
“We will tell the world how Sikhs are required to defend and protect people of every faith, as if it were their own faith,” she continued. “We will tell the world about the Sikh practice of seva, selfless service. We will tell the world that Sikhism teaches that there is divinity in everyone of any faith, and that Sikhs believe in protecting the welfare of all of humanity.”
Rajkumar said it was not the first time she’s been speaking out against hate crimes against the Sikh Community, but added that she wanted “to be standing here talking about hate crimes.
“Starting right now, we are going to end the hateful targeting of Sikhs,” she said. “You have me, the first Punjabi elected official. And we have Mayor Eric Adams who will give us a national platform. You have our full 500 percent commitment.
“This is a dark time, but it is just one moment in our journey,” she said, noting that it was exactly 100 years ago, in 1923, that the United States Supreme Court ruled, in United States v. Bhagat Singh, that Indians could not be citizens of this country.
“And now, look at us 100 years later, in 2023: Sikhs number over half a million across this country, and are thriving in all fields,” said Rajkumar, giving Adams a “gift kirpan to embolden” him in the fight for the Sikh Community.
She said all Sikhs are required to carry a kirpan that symbolizes the Sikh’s commitment to fight for the defenseless and for those who cannot fight for themselves.
“And today, we gift you with one, as we thank you for fighting for us and for your protection,” Rajkumar told Adams.
The sword is engraved with the words, “To our protector New York City Mayor Eric Adams.”