Why We Need to Care about Bias-Based Bullying

When I was 4 years old, I remember my older brother coming home one day from Junior High with distress and tears.  Although, at that age, I did not comprehend every single thing that was talked about, I knew one thing–my brother was hurt and upset.  Later, I found out that another student grabbed his turban from behind him while he was walking.  This same student had taunted him for weeks about his turban before the incident, but no administrator at the school did anything about it.  At the time, I did not even know about bullying or who a bully was, all I knew is I never wanted my brother to experience this again.  This situation was finally resolved only after the school administration saw to what degree the attack took place.

It is a known fact that bias-based bullying and harassment towards South Asian students and families is a growing problem.  According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education study, over 54 Percent of Asian American youth reported experiencing bullying, the highest percentage of any ethnic group surveyed. In SAALT’s report, In the Face of Xenophobia, the New York City Department of Education and the Sikh Coalition’s 2007 report indicates that in the nation’s most diverse neighborhood of Queens, 77.5 percent of young Sikh men reported being harassed, taunted, or intimidated because of wearing a turban.  Like my brother, many students and community members face harassment every day because of their ethnic and racial identity and religion.  But what comes across as more problematic than the issue itself is that there is no system in place to prevent bullying before it happens or so it never happens again.  Currently, legislation is being considered in Congress that will help vulnerable students and families. The Safe Schools Improvement Act is a proposed federal anti-bullying law.  If enacted, it will require schools and school districts to collect and publicize data about incidents of bullying and harassment.  This will create incentives for school officials to protect students and allow government agencies to quickly identify schools and school districts where problems exist. It is important that our policymakers know that this is and important step in protecting all victims from bullying in our schools. Last summer, with the helpful guidance from the Sikh Coalition, I went to Capitol Hill and lobbied two congressional offices with the hope that they would consider this an important issue and act on it.

This piece of legislation is very important but creating effective tools to prevent bullying and educate students is just as critical. Personally, I was very distressed growing up seeing more and more Sikh children facing such gruesome bullying incidents.  I wanted to help in any capacity I could, even if it was small.  While in college, I created a “Combating Bullying” project with leadership training from the Sadie Nash Leadership Foundation.  I was able to develop lesson plans for 8 workshops bringing 8 Sikh youth together every 2 weeks to learn about bullying, understand that they are not alone in this process, and explore various resources that were available for them if they were bullied again.  Upon completion of the program, the students were more confident and better able to address the issue.

In July, SAALT will be bringing students from across the country to the nation’s capital to attend the 2013 Young Leaders Institute. The students will build leadership skills, explore social change strategies around bias-based bullying among South Asian and immigrant communities in the US, and develop exciting project ideas to enact change on their campuses and in their communities. I am excited to work with these Young Leaders and support their creative projects to educate peers, raise awareness, and campaign for change as they work for a safer schools, safer families, and safer communities.

Learn more about SAALT’s Young Leaders Institute and our incoming 2013 Young Leaders!


Manpreet Kaur Teji
Program Associate, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Volunteer Advocate, The Sikh Coalition

Supreme Court Watch: Fisher v. UT Austin and the South Asian Community

On June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, involving the university’s use of race in its admissions policy. Here at SAALT, we eagerly awaited the Supreme Court’s ruling, as we had joined an amicus brief filed by the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice in the Fisher case last year in support of the UT-Austin admissions policy.

In its decision, the Court upheld the broader principles from existing precedent from Grutter v. Bollinger, which allowed for race to be used as one of various factors given the compelling state interest in promoting diversity within education. However, rather than ruling on the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ policy itself, the Court returned the case to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court asked the lower court to review whether the consideration of race in the admissions policy in question was narrowly tailored and necessary in order to achieve educational diversity.

Despite common misperceptions to the contrary, South Asians support and benefit from holistic race-conscious admission policies like the one implemented by the University of Texas. South Asian students, along with all other students, enjoy a richer learning environment when they are immersed in a diverse educational setting.  The ability to learn from students and peers various backgrounds helps better prepare them for the workforce and the real world. In fact, in light of ongoing discrimination that South Asians encounter in this country, it is vital that students from other racial backgrounds learn about our experiences and we, in turn, learn about theirs. It is also important for us to remember that it was not too long ago in our own recent history that our community has been denied equal opportunity in this country and race-conscious admissions policies bring us closer to equality. In fact, Asian Americans, including South Asians, strongly support affirmative action and race-conscious policies in educational settings, as shown by recent polling from the National Asian American Survey.

We are heartened by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold precedent regarding holistic race-conscious policies and are confident that the lower court will uphold the policy upon its review of the case.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.

Supreme Court Watch: United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry and the South Asian Community

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its opinions in two critical cases involving the issue of marriage equality. In a landmark decision, United States v. Windsor, the Court invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between “one man and one woman” and only recognized opposite-sex marriages for purposes of federal law. Following the enactment of DOMA in 1996, same-sex partners were denied federal benefits, including those under federal tax, housing, Social Security, and immigration laws, and exclusively granted them heterosexual married couples. Prior to the decision in Windsor, denial of such benefits was allowed, even if couples lived in individual states that recognized their marriage. In its decision, the Court found that DOMA violated principles of “equal liberty of persons” enshrined in the 5th Amendment. (It is important to note that the Court did not rule on Section 2 of DOMA, which permits individual states to enact legislation that refuses to recognize marriages between same-sex partners.) In a separate case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal to reinstate Proposition 8, a ballot initiative passed by California voters in 2008 that prohibited marriage between same-sex partners and was subsequently barred from being enforced by lower courts, on the grounds that those seeking appeal did not have the legal standing to do so. As a result, the lower court ruling preventing the enforcement of Proposition 8 remains intact.

As an organization that has long supported marriage equality, SAALT applauds the rulings by the Supreme Court in these two cases. In particular, the Windsor decision will positively transform the lives of South Asian Americans involved in committed relationships by ensuring that they can no longer be denied vital federal benefits simply based upon whom they love or marry. This decision also paves the way for the South Asians in same-sex binational marriages (recognized by the state or country where they were married) to avail themselves of federal immigration benefits, including the ability to sponsor their spouse under the family immigration system and petition for loved ones living abroad. For too long, couples in this situation have lived in a perilous legal limbo, as we discussed in a recent oped. Such uncertainty often results in individuals overstaying their visas to remain together or living abroad in exile. SAALT commends the Court’s decisions to reaffirm the principles of equality and fairness and looks forward to working with federal agencies to ensure that community members will be able to access the federal benefits provided to them as a result of this ruling.

For further information on the Court’s decision on DOMA will affect eligibility for various federal benefits, check out the ACLU’s website here.

For further information on how the Court’s decision on DOMA will affect immigrant families and couples, check out Immigration Equality’s FAQ.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.

The Community Safety Act: Accountability for the NYPD and Its Importance to the South Asian Community

On June 27, 2013, the New York City Council passed two bills of the Community Safety Act, introduced last year, which curbs discriminatory policing practices and establishes accountability mechanisms for the New York City Police Department (NYPD). One of the bills, the End Discriminatory Profiling Act (Intro. 1080), would establish an enforceable ban against profiling and discrimination by the NYPD; expand the bases for prohibited profiling and discrimination (currently, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origin) to include age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability or housing status; establish a private right of action allowing profiling victims to file lawsuits against the NYPD; and allow individuals to file claims based on intentional discrimination and/or disparate impact. The second bill, the NYPD Oversight Act (Intro. 1079), would grant independent oversight authority over the NYPD to the Commissioner of the Department of Investigation through reviews of the police department and require public reports regarding its findings. SAALT applauds the passage of the Community Safety Act as well as the efforts of local organizations in New York City, such as DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving, to ensure these bills become law.

The passage of the Community Safety Act is vital for all residents of New York City – including African American and Latino individuals who have been subjected to an exorbitant and disproportionate percentage of stop-and-frisk encounters. Most notably, since September 11th, South Asian community members have been similarly subjected to arrests, questioning, and harassment simply based upon race, religion, and appearance.  In a joint report released in March 2012, In Our Own Words: Narratives of South Asian New Yorkers Affected by Racial and Religious Profiling, by DRUM, The Sikh Coalition, UNITED SIKHS, South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!), Coney Island Avenue Project, Council of Peoples Organization, and SAALT, community members’ personal experiences revealed the toll that such discrimination has taken on their lives. Interactions with NYPD included that of a young Bangladeshi man, while simply waiting for his friends, being subjected to warrantless searches by police; a police officer asking a South Asian student about his religion; and an Indian Hindu individual being asked about his ethnicity and whether he had drugs. Community members have also been asked whether they are Muslim, where they pray, and even been pressured to spy on their own communities and report on “terrorist activity.” Indeed, reports from the Associated Press in 2011 revealed the widespread spying and surveillance by the NYPD on Muslim communities and student associations, both within and beyond New York City. (In fact, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the CLEAR Project at the City University of New York, recently filed a lawsuit challenging the discriminatory surveillance practices of the police department.) As a result, individuals reported that such interactions harmed their relationships with friends and family and, also, made them more hesitant to reach out to police in times of need.

SAALT has joined our partner organizations in New York City in calling for the enactment of robust and expansive anti-profiling policies and strengthening government and civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies in the city. We commend the City Council’s passage of the legislation, which would go into effect in January 2014, if enacted, and urge the Mayor to sign the bills into law.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.


Supreme Court Watch: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder and the South Asian Community

On June 25, 2013, in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights of 1965 ruling it unconstitutional. SAALT strongly condemns the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which has been pivotal in protecting minority voters’ ability to participate in the American democracy. In January 2013, SAALT joined an amicus brief in the case, along with 27 other Asian American organizations, arguing in favor of the Voting Rights Act, particularly given its importance related to language access and political representation.

With the backdrop of egregious racial discrimination against minority voters, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act articulates a formula to determine which jurisdictions are required to have any changes in their voting laws pre-cleared by the Department of Justice or a federal court (under Section 5 of the legislation) to ensure that minority voters’ ability to vote is not diminished. The trigger formula used to designate such jurisdictions, as outlined in Section 4, is based on various factors, including historical evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices, impact on language minority groups, and low minority voter turnout. While the Court recognized that racial discrimination continues to plague the ability for many to vote, it stated that the coverage formula used in Section 4 was “outdated” in light of recent increased minority voter turnout, disapproved of states being treated differently under the law, and suggested that Congress update the formula in order to pass constitutional muster. This counterintuitive reasoning ignores that Sections 4 and 5 have been pivotal in promoting enfranchisement, considerable evidence proves racial discrimination at the polls continues, and federal legislators have recognized the importance of keeping the Voting Rights Act in effect. In fact, the Voting Rights Act, including Section 4, has increasingly enjoyed significant bipartisan support within Congress over the years and was most recently reauthorized almost unanimously in 2006.

The right to vote has been a long-fought battle for communities of color in the United States. The Voting Rights Act is an historic and crucial piece of legislation that was borne out of our country’s Civil Rights Movement and the pioneering struggles of the African American community in the 1960s. Indeed, the South Asian community’s own path to attain naturalization, conferring the right to vote, has been a rocky one. In 1923, the Supreme Court then ruled that South Asians were not considered white by the common person and thus could not be considered citizens; this remained in effect until legislation was enacted decades later. In more recent years, as documented by election monitoring and exit polling efforts, South Asian and other voters of color continue to encounter barriers at the polls because of race, religion, and language ability and restrictive voter identification proposals continue to threaten the right to vote. South Asians will not be immune from today’s disappointing ruling, particularly given our community’s overall size and growth in jurisdictions previously covered under the Section 4 formula, including Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia.

This ruling is a grave setback for voting rights and equality in the country that ignores both the historical and contemporary evidence of discrimination that minority voters face. Community members are encouraged to join a petition calling for an amendment to protect the rights of all voters. Looking forward, SAALT will continue to work with allies when Congress develops a new coverage formula in light of today’s ruling and ensure that it addresses discrimination against racial, ethnic, and language minorities.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.

Under Suspicion, Under Attack

Xenophobic Political Rhetoric and Hate Violence against South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab Communities in the United States
This new analysis finds that South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities are subject to an increasingly hostile climate in the United States, characterized by frequent hate violence and rising xenophobic political rhetoric in the national political debate.
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