As I scanned the screen, my brows furrowed and my eyes narrowed in anger and frustration, but not in shock. I could easily believe the events of Tuesday, Sept. 8,, 2015, when a United States citizen was viciously attacked in a Chicago suburb. Inderjit Singh Mukker was accused of being a “terrorist” before he was severely beaten. When it was announced that there would be no hate crimes charged, the Sikh community put pressure on officials and succeeded in adding hate crime charges on Sept. 10.
The notion that hate crimes would not be charged in Mukker’s case was absurd because Mukker was clearly targeted on the basis of his race and outward religious expressions. Mukker is a South Asian Sikh-American. He is brown, has a long beard, and wears a turban. He was easily targeted because of his ethnicity and adherence to Sikh customs.
This horrifying incident reeks of racism, Islamophobia, intolerance and general ignorance. The news and social media have analyzed those topics thoroughly, but I want to discuss the marginalization of Sikh and broader South Asian communities on our campus.
While the term “South Asian” is a broad category, our community is not homogenous: there are differences in the social hardships that each group, faces. The Sikh turban and beard are prominent markers of their religion, which gives way for the general public to assume that they are Muslim.I, as a Hindu, never worry that my family will be attacked. As a (relatively) fair-skinned woman, I do not face the same level of shaming that white beauty standards impose on darker-skinned South Asians. There are endless examples of invisible barriers that make it difficult to discuss “South Asia” as one whole. But for the sake of convenience and unity on our campus, “South Asian” is a salient identity.
This incident shook me not just because of the racism and violence, but also because it portrayed an extreme version of the marginalization that the South Asian Hoya community faces everyday.
How many of your professors do you think are of South Asian descent? How many courses that are consistently offered discuss South Asian religion, philosophy, history, movements, politics, economics or arts? How many South Asian languages are offered on campus?
In answer: Georgetown only offers a couple classes on South Asian religion and philosophy in addition to a special course taught by a professor sent by the Indian Embassy each year. No modern South Asian languages are taught here.
There is no prayer space dedicated to either Hindu, Sikh or Jain faiths on campus. In general, South Asian faiths are left out of interfaith dialogue and events—especially, Sikhism, which is an important faith to include during this uptick of Islamophobia. Although we had a Hindu chaplain for a while, currently there are no Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain chaplains or chaplains-in-residence. Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, or Jain religious holidays are hardly afforded the same level of respect as holidays of the Abrahamic faith traditions are.
“But we have Rangila!” Sure, we have one token cultural event. But Rangila is not a true representation of South Asian culture as a whole. Rangila showcases a watered-down version of North Indian culture. But South Asia includes many countries. Each culture is rich and diverse.
Every culture is worth studying and has value, perspective, and depth. When Georgetown’s Asian Studies department excludes South Asia, it tells me that my people, culture and heritage don’t matter. When I can’t study Hindi, my family’s language, the university tells me that it’s okay for students to not even acknowledge the fourth most-spoken language in the world. When the School of Foreign Service, one of the most prestigious international affairs institutions in the world, dismisses South Asia, it tells the South Asian community that our cultures are not worth appreciating, are not worth our intellectual thought, that “globalization” does not include the 1.7 billion people in South Asia. According to Georgetown, I, as a South Asian, don’t matter.
How does this connect to the Chicago Sikh man? He was marginalized: his identity was deemed unimportant and less valued. Our society makes no effort to counter unawareness and ignorance. Maybe if our educational institutions put more value on studying the Sikh religion, on learning about Indian and Pakistani customs, on discussing American racism in a South Asian context, then maybe that man wouldn’t have been attacked. After all, more Americans than ever are now attending higher-education institutions. It’s up to us to extend our academia to South Asia in order to truly globalize our education and perspectives. The more ignorance we counter on our campus, the more ignorance we can dispel in the real world.
Piyusha Mittal is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.