American Sikhs
Sikhs in Union Square Somerville.jpg
Members of the Sikh community of Somerville, Massachusetts
Total population
700,000-1,000,000 (2020 est.)
(0.2-0.3% of the population) Increase [1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Northeastern United States (Greater Boston, New York) · California (Los Angeles County/Orange County, Sacramento Valley, Silicon Valley) · Texas · Virginia · Maryland · Midwestern United States
English · Punjabi and its dialects · other Indic languages

Sikhism is a religion originating from medieval India (predominantly from the Punjab region of modern-day India and Pakistan) which was introduced into the United States during the 19th century. In 2007, there were estimated to be between 250,000 and 500,000 Sikhs living in the United States, with the largest populations living on the East and West Coasts, together with additional populations in Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Indianapolis.[3][4] The United States also has a number of non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism.[5]

Sikh men are typically identifiable by their unshorn beards and turbans (head coverings), articles of their faith. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and subsequent other terrorism related activities by Islamic groups, Sikhs have often been mistaken as Muslims or Arabs, and have been subject to several hate crimes, including murders.[6][7] Sikh temples have also been targets of violence due to being mistaken for mosques. A 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin garnered national and international attention, with then President Obama ordering flags to be half-staffed at all federal buildings.



Military service

A gathering of British veterans who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War; a Sikh is present among them (c. 1917)
A gathering of British veterans who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War; a Sikh is present among them (c. 1917)
A Sikh-American U.S. Army officer(2010)
A Sikh-American U.S. Army officer(2010)

Main article: Sikhism in the United States military

Sikhs have served in the United States military at least as far back as the early 20th century, when one Bhagat Singh Thind, who though not a citizen joined the United States Army and served in World War I. Thind requested citizenship at the end of the war, being granted and revoked twice, before finally being naturalized in 1936.[8] Far larger numbers of Sikhs served in World War II, and all American wars following.

The ability of observant Sikhs to serve in the American military has, since 1985, been compromised by a discontinuation of exemptions to uniform standards which previously allowed Sikhs to maintain their religiously-mandated beards and turbans while in uniform.[9] As of 2010, a Sikh doctor, Kamaljeet S. Kalsi, and dentist, Tejdeep Singh Rattan, are the only Sikh officers to be permitted to serve in uniform with beard and turban.[10] In addition, Simranpreet Lamba was permitted to enlist, with exemption to wear his turban and beard, in 2010 due to his knowledge of Punjabi and Hindi.[11]


In 2016, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) began to allow turbans, subject to standards compatible with unimpeded performance of duty.[12] In 2015, Sandeep Dhaliwal became the first Deputy Sheriff in Texas to wear a turban on duty (Harris County Sherriff's Office). He was shot and killed from behind in 2019 while conducting a routine traffic stop on the Copperbrook subdivision in Houston Texas.[13]

In 2019, the Houston Police Department changed their rules to allow beards and turbans, joining 25 other law enforcement agencies.[14]


Many Sikhs started life in America working in lumber mills, mines, and as farm laborers, with many eventually becoming landowners. Many early Sikh immigrants were restaurant owners. In 1956, Dalip Singh Saund became the first Asian Indian-born person to be elected to the United States House of Representatives.

Elected officials


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The most concentrated Sikh community in the United States has traditionally resided in agricultural Yuba City, California,[21] although this agglomeration has since dispersed as Sikhs have gained a greater educational foundation, enabling them to have now spread out to metropolitan areas all over the United States. The largest and most rapidly growing Sikh community in New York City is based in the Richmond Hill area of the borough of Queens; the majority consist of more recent emigres from India and Canada.[22] Conversely, in the Sikh Foundation of Virginia, most members comprise both recent and more established Jatt Sikhs and Ramgarhia Sikhs. Most Sikhs of Española, New Mexico are non-Punjabi converts to Sikhism.


First immigrants

Sikhs have lived in the United States for more than 130 years. The first Sikh immigrants to the United States started to arrive in the second half of the 19th century, when poor economic conditions in British India drove many Indians to emigrate elsewhere. Most Sikh immigrants to the United States came from the province of Punjab and came to the U.S. to work on agricultural farms in California, travelling via Hong Kong to Angel Island.[23]

In the years just after 1900, hundreds of Sikhs had arrived to work in the lumber mills of Bellingham, Washington. In 1907, 400–500 white men, predominantly members of the Asiatic Exclusion League, attacked the Sikhs’ homes in what is now known as the Bellingham riots. This quickly drove the East Indian immigrants out of the town.[24][25][26]

Some Sikhs worked in lumber mills of Oregon or in railroad construction and for some Sikhs it was on a railway line, which allowed other Sikhs who were working as migrant laborers to come into the town on festival days.[27][unreliable source?]

A big effect on Sikh migration to the western states occurred during World War I and World War II, where Sikhs were recruited by the British Indian Army to serve for them. Sikhs fought bravely during these wars and began to live in England after their serving period. Among the Sikhs who already lived in America prior to the wars, many Sikhs joined them, mainly during World Wars I and II. Among those who served in the US military include Bhagat Singh Thind in World War I.

The first Sikh gurdwara established in the U.S. was the Gurdwara Sahib Stockton, in Stockton, California, which was established in 1912 by Baba Wasakha Singh Ji Dadehar and Baba Jawala Singh Ji.[28]

Discrimination after the September 11 attacks

Sikhs of America parade float at the 2016 Martin Luther King Day parade in Midtown Houston
Sikhs of America parade float at the 2016 Martin Luther King Day parade in Midtown Houston
Houston Sikh Community at the 2016 Martin Luther King Day parade in Midtown Houston
Houston Sikh Community at the 2016 Martin Luther King Day parade in Midtown Houston
2018 Sikh Festival and Parade, San Francisco Civic Center
2018 Sikh Festival and Parade, San Francisco Civic Center

As a result of the September 11 attacks, some Sikh Americans have become subject to discrimination, often from individuals who mistakenly believe that they are Arab or Muslim.

Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner, was killed on September 15, 2001, due to being mistaken for a Muslim. In a 2011 report to the United States Senate, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported several assaults and incidents of arson at Sikh temples after September 11. All were labeled as hate crimes that resulted from the perpetrators' misconceptions that their targets were Muslim.[29] In August 2012, a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was the site of a shooting, leading to six Sikh individuals being killed.[30] On May 7, 2013, an elderly Sikh man was attacked with an iron bar in Fresno, California, in a possible hate crime.[31] On September 21, 2013, Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh professor was attacked in Harlem, New York, by a group of 20-30 men who branded him as "Osama" and Terrorist".[32]

A 2007 survey of Sikh students by the Sikh Coalition found that three out of four male students interviewed "had been teased or harassed on account of their religious identity."[33] In 2014, the Sikh Coalition released a national report on the bullying of Sikh children in American schools. The report found that 55.8% of Sikh students surveyed in Indianapolis reported being bullied, while 54.5% of Sikh students surveyed in Fresno, California, reported being bullied.[34] According to the surveys, Sikh students wearing turbans are twice as likely to be bullied as the average American child.


In the 1960s, due to increased Indian immigration and rising interest in Indian spirituality in the American counterculture, a number of non-Punjabi Americans began to enter 3HO. Prominent in this trend was Yogi Bhajan, leader of the Sikh-related movement 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization), whose Los Angeles temple was the first to introduce non-Punjabi Americans to Sikhism.[5]

Notable Sikh Americans

See also


  1. ^ "Will US Census 2020 Help Sikh Americans 'Rock the Vote' This Time?". 29 September 2020.
  2. ^ "In a First, Sikhs to be Counted as a Distinct Ethnic Group in 2020 US Census".
  3. ^ Mann, Gurinder Singh; Numrich, Paul; Williams, Raymond (3 December 2007). Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs in America: A Short History, p. 120. ISBN 978-0-19-804424-6. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  4. ^ The Racialization of Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism in the United States, Khyati Y. Joshi, 2006.
  5. ^ a b Ronald H. Bayor (31 July 2011). Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest Americans. ABC-CLIO. pp. 985–. ISBN 978-0-313-35787-9. Retrieved 6 June 2013.
  6. ^ "Crimes against Sikhs continue in US amidst spotlight on race relations". 25 June 2020. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  7. ^ Gumbel, Andrew (2018-09-19). "'The violence is always there': life as a Sikh in Trump's America". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
  8. ^ Dawinder S. Sidhu, Neha Singh Gohil. Civil rights in wartime: the post-9/11 Sikh experience. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2009. ISBN 0-7546-7553-X, 9780754675532. Pg 137
  9. ^ "Beard Ban Deters Chabad Rabbis From Becoming Chaplains in Army". 27 August 2005. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  10. ^ Michelle Roberts. "1st Sikh in Decades Graduates Army Officer School, Page 1". ABC News. Retrieved 2010-03-22.
  11. ^ Susanne Kappler (10 November 2010). "Keeping faith: Sikh Soldier graduates basic training". Fort Jackson Leader. United States Army. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  12. ^ David Shortell (December 29, 2016). "NYPD changes policy, will allow officers to wear turbans". CNN. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
  13. ^ "Deputy Who Gained National Attention as First Texas Cop to Wear Turban Shot & Killed on Duty". Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  14. ^ "HPD changes uniform policy to honor Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal". November 18, 2019. Retrieved 2022-06-22.
  15. ^ Willon, Phil. "Meet the nation's first known Sikh woman to serve as a city mayor", Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2017. Accessed January 16, 2018.
  16. ^ Hefler, Jan. "Race-baiting ads backfired, says Sikh who broke barriers in South Jersey freeholder race", The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 8, 2017. Accessed December 2, 2017.
  17. ^ "Sikh city planner becomes Charlottesville mayor | Richmond Times-Dispatch". Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  18. ^ Tanjua, Damon (November 23, 2011). "School Board Members Make It Official". Vernon Patch. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
  19. ^ Dewan, Shaila & Brown, Robbie (June 13, 2010). "All Her Life, Nikki Haley Was the Different One". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
  20. ^ Haniffa, Aziz. "High-stakes showdown in Washington State". Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  21. ^ "American Punjabi Sikhs, Yuba City, California". IIP Digital. US Embassy. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  22. ^ Mokha, Kavita (20 August 2010). "New Immigrants Put Stamp on Richmond Hill". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  23. ^ Passage From India - Asian Indian Immigrants in North America", Joan M. Jensen, Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-03846-1
  24. ^ Englesberg, Paul (2015). "The 1907 Bellingham Riot and Anti-Asian Hostilities in the Pacific Northwest". The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership Publications. Retrieved 2021-01-11.
  25. ^ "News Coverage: 1907-2007 - Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project". Retrieved 2021-01-11.
  26. ^ Johnson, Tim (2007-08-29). "Dark Century: Observing the Anniversary of Anti-Sikh Riots" (PDF). Cascadia Weekly. Vol. 2, no. 35. Bellingham, WA: Cascadia Newspaper Company. pp. 8, 10–11. ISSN 1931-3292. OCLC 711684947.
  27. ^ "Sikhism in North America". Archived from the original on 2013-04-16.
  28. ^ Stockton Gurdwara, America, "Stockton California" 31 October 2006
  29. ^ "Anti-Muslim Incidents Since Sept. 11, 2001". Southern Poverty Law Center. March 29, 2011. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  30. ^ Matt Pearce; Brian Bennett (5 August 2012). "Gunman's tattoos lead officials to deem Sikh shooting terrorism". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  31. ^ SF Gate (7 May 2013). "Fresno police: Sikh beating a possible hate crime". SF Gate. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  32. ^ "Indian Professor attacked in Columbia after being called Osama". Retrieved 23 September 2013.
  33. ^ Sidhu, Darwinder S.; Neha Singh Gohil (2009). Civil Rights in Wartime: The Post-9/11 Sikh Experience. Ashgate Publishing. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7546-7553-2.
  34. ^ Juan Orozco; Carmen George (March 13, 2014). "Report: Fresno County Sikh students say they're bullied at school". Fresno Bee.
  35. ^ "Ryan Hurst Instagram with Sikh name". Instagram. Retrieved January 13, 2016.

Further reading