HomeSikh Americans"We’re here, and we want to be known": NJ Sikh education bill...

“We’re here, and we want to be known”: NJ Sikh education bill passes

by Lindsay Wang, AsAmNews contributor

The Sikh community in New Jersey earned a victory at the end of June with the passage of a Sikh education bill in the General Assembly.

Bill AR-172 passed with a unanimous vote of 75-0, having garnered the support of over 30 legislators before it came to a vote. It calls for the incorporation of Sikh instruction in school curricula state-wide.

For members of the Sikh Youth Alliance (SYA), which played a key role in drafting and introducing the legislation, this bill is one element of a larger movement of Sikh advocacy.

“It was introduced in January, [and] even before it was passed … we had already started speaking with school boards with more than good intentions … to try to help make these changes in the curricula or in the school systems,” Jaspreet Singh, Community Director of SYA, told AsAmNews.

“So having this bill passed already is going to help us even more to kind of encourage more school districts to jump on board,” he continued.

Education is one of the SYA’s primary focuses, according to Bhupindar Singh, Outreach Lead of SYA.

“Sikhs have been part of U.S. history for the past close [to] 120, 130 years, [and] they have made substantial contributions in the economic, political, cultural, and societal aspects of U.S. history,” he said. “But … when it comes to education and educating the people about what Sikhism and Sikh culture, history, religion, and identity is all about—that’s where we saw there was a certain lack of intervention.”

This bill, which follows a 2022 law that mandates the inclusion of Asian American and Pacific Islander history in New Jersey school curricula, hopes to make that intervention in classrooms across the state.

“Every township … [is] independent to choose what level of intervention they want to make into their curriculum,” Bhupindar said.

“So it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, but it has to be customized according to every single town, whichever of them is going to be interested to include the Sikhism curriculum into the social studies aspect, although through the legislation, we requested to have one chapter to be included from grade K to grade 12,” he continued.

While the bill has passed in the General Assembly, a vote on its counterpart SR-108 in the Senate is still pending. The Senate is currently in recess, but the SYA is hopeful about its prospects and expects it to be passed by the end of the year, Bhupindar said.

“We’ve been getting a lot of community support, and I think the legislators do understand a lot of the needs behind this bill as well,” Jaspreet added. “It’s not something that we’re just lightly demanding just because. We’re here, and we want to be known—and not to undermine any other community.”

As work continues on the front of the Sikh education bill, the SYA is hoping to continue working towards a better, more just future for the Sikh community.

“Especially after 2001, we had the 9/11 attacks, we had as portrayed on the TV the terrorists … they were wearing turbans—to people, that stuck,” Jaspreet said.

“So anytime they say somebody wearing a turban, whether it was a kid or adult … there have been a lot of reports of attacks on people wearing turbans, and schools as well—there was an increase in bullying and hate crimes within the kids,” he continued. “And I was a victim of that as well, growing up. We had different ways of working through it back in the days, but what we want to do is definitely not have our future generations experience that because kids right now are still experiencing it. Even though it was over 20 years ago, they’re still experiencing that.”

For proponents of the bill, its passage is a step in the right direction toward that future.

“In working with leaders and advocates of the Sikh community, the need for legislation was apparent,” said Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, one of the primary sponsors of the resolution in the Assembly. “All of which have seen Islamophobia firsthand, this is why it is vital for schools to include Sihk education in their curriculums. Understanding the diversity in our state and our fellow residents’ cultural differences is important for a more inclusive tomorrow.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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