October 30, 2023 (Washington, DC) — Following the surprise announcement of a so-called “Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain Congressional Caucus” late in September, the Sikh Coalition continues our efforts to ensure that Sikhs are accurately and genuinely represented on Capitol Hill.
A caucus is a group of legislators (Senators or members of the House of Representatives) in Washington, DC, who commit to working together to advocate on behalf of a specific group or issue. Among many other things, caucuses can be important tools for advancing the concerns of marginalized groups like the Sikh American population—but only if the leadership of the caucus works closely and honestly with those groups. Unfortunately, there are multiple concerns with this particular caucus, which was announced by Congressman Shri Thanedar (D-MI) on September 30.
First, the congressman’s office confirmed that no Sikh organizations, leaders, or gurdwaras were consulted in the formation of the caucus—meaning that it represents the Sikh community in name only. Second, Congressman Thanedar previously announced his intention to found a Hindu-focused caucus, but appears to be using this caucus to subvert and dilute the Sikh faith under a Hindu identity. Third, despite the caucus being formed to increase “interfaith understanding,” particularly among faith traditions prominent in the Indian diaspora, it does not include other South Asian faith communities, including Muslims, Christians, and others.
Finally, Congressman Thanedar has also been open about his desire to advance India’s relations within the United States. Given reporting which indicates that U.S. law enforcement agencies notified Sikh Americans of potential threats against their lives due to potential transnational repression at the hands of the Indian government, we are concerned about any potential for this caucus to combat meaningful oversight of the U.S.-India relationship.
On October 3, the Sikh Coalition joined partner organizations from several different faith traditions—Hindus for Human Rights, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Emgage, and the Indian American Muslim Council—in an initial sign-on letter outlining the basic issues with this new caucus. After meeting with Congressman Thanedar and consulting with other Sikh organizations, we have released a second letter—signed by Ensaaf, the Jakara Movement, and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund—arguing that these concerns have not been addressed and that the congressman should remove the word “Sikh” from his caucus’ name.
Additionally, organizations in the Congressman’s home state of Michigan are also speaking out about this caucus’ problematic nature: Rising Voices, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) Michigan, and American Citizens for Justice released a joint statement in support of the initial Hindus for Human Rights letter. Similarly, 10 gurdwaras throughout the state signed onto a letter echoing the Sikh organizations’ calls to remove ‘Sikh’ from the caucus’s name. In addition to coordinating these efforts, the Sikh Coalition has also been glad to contribute to media reporting around this issue, including in NBC News and the Washington Post.
Regardless of this or any other caucus, the Sikh Coalition will continue to advocate for the religious freedom and civil rights of peoples in the South Asian diaspora given the past and present oppression and discrimination against our communities around the world.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.