Liberty at Stake

Harkirat S. Hansra

Why did you decide to write the book "Liberty at Stake"?

I was born and raised in America, and was happily living up until 9/11. Everything changed on that fateful day. I was yelled at on the street. I felt unwelcome in my home country. I started thinking about the problem and possible solutions. I figured out that there is a fear of the unknown in society. I decided to take matters into my own hands, stand up, and fight the American way; through education. This is why I ended up writing, "Liberty at Stake: Sikhs - The most visible yet misunderstood minority of America."

Is this your first effort or did you do anything else to spread knowledge about Sikhism?

Actually, I first started spreading awareness in the Sikh Parade in Yuba City, 2001. I printed some fliers about the basic beliefs of Sikhism and distributed them to non-Sikh onlookers who were on the sides of the roads. I then started participating in community parades like 4th of July, Memorial Day, and Veteran Day in the Sacramento area. My friends and I distributed fliers in each of these events. Next, I created a website with a feedback page for the same purpose. I receive about 5/6 e-mails every week from around the world. I answer basic questions about Sikhism in my replies to those e-mails. The writing and publishing of this book is my latest effort.

How did you get all this energy?

I started participating in Sikh speech competitions since I was six years old. I have made my way up to the international level many times, and even won twice. These competitions gave me a lot of confidence. In addition to Sikhism, I am also a youth rights activist. I have given my testimony in the California Senate twice for youth rights. I am also the chairman of the Sacramento County Youth Commission, where I advise the administration on youth issues.

How have you tried to educate the public about Sikhism?

My goal is to spread knowledge and to confront hate and prejudice. In my book, I have added a "Frequently Asked Questions" section, and an "Interesting Facts About Sikhism," section about Sikhism, right in the beginning of the book. The idea is that if a non-Sikh reader goes to Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Books-A-Million book store and decides to just flip through the first few pages of the book, he or she will learn more about the important facts of Sikhism. The idea is not in selling the actual book but in spreading the knowledge. I have also given live interviews on some TV stations and also with radio talk show hosts. Some newspapers have written articles on me and my book. I have talked about our basic beliefs and the misconceptions about turbans, everywhere I've talked about Sikhism.

Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for younger generations?

Sikhs have been living in America for over a century, but still our neighbors don't know who we are. It is partly our fault. We never tried to interact with them. Our community badly needs writers and activists. I encourage young Sikhs to be good in their studies and to be successful in their careers while at the same time, becoming community activists as well. Once we tell the community about ourselves, the discrimination and prejudice against us will diminish. This may be an idealistic view of the world but this is also a matter of simply taking a stand! Guru Sahib will always help us along the way!

Have you done something recently to stand up for your rights? Do you have an inspiring story to tell other Sikhs? Would you like to serve as a role model for Sikh youth? If so, tell us about it here, and we may feature your story on Khalsa Kids’ “You’re Not the Only One” page. Your story can be used to help other Sikhs around the world.
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