History and Sikhs in America

There are over 500,000 Sikh Americans and Sikhs have been in America for over 100 years.

Sikhs began immigrating to the United States in the 1900s. They came as farmers and laborers. The first Gurdwara (place of Sikh congregation) was set up in California in 1906.

In the 1960s, the US government raised its immigration quotas, and the US economy demanded that the country welcome trained professionals with open arms. With other South Asians, Sikh doctors, engineers etc., immigrated to the USA in large numbers.

In the 1980s yet another wave of Sikh immigration took place when anti-Sikh pogroms and government policies rocked the Indian part of Punjab and caused many Sikhs to flee to the United States for safe haven.

Punjab, the state where Sikhism was born and flourished, was partitioned in 1947 and split between India and Pakistan at the time of independence. Most Sikhs chose to remain or move to the Indian side of Punjab, since India purported its new constitution as secular, whereas Pakistan was created on religious lines. However, in the 1970s and ‘80s,government negligence of the state of Punjab led to economic struggles and much resentment in the state. In 1984, the turmoil in the state escalated in bloody proportions when the Indian Government attacked the most venerated of Sikh Gurdwaras, the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

In the same year, government-organized anti-Sikh pogroms took place on the streets of the Indian capital, Delhi and spread throughout India. Several thousands of innocent Sikhs died. A separatist struggle resulted and Sikh militants went to war against the government. The government ‘disappeared’ thousands of young Sikhs, who were tortured and killed in underground ‘police houses.’ That is when Sikhs began seeking asylum in other countries, including the United States.

Yes. Sikhism does not delineate/define certain tasks to only men or only women. A woman can lead or take part in any service or ceremony just as a man would. However, there are cultural constraints which sometimes lead to very few women being leaders in congregations.

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