Five Years Later, Milford Sikhs Struggle as Symbols of Faith Become a Cause for Fear

September 11, 2006

Source: Milford Daily News

On September 11, 2006 the Milford Daily News reported, "The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had nothing to do with Veena Chani, and yet, five years later, they made her life so much worse.

The Holliston resident is a Sikh, practicing a centuries-old religion that originated in what is now the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. The religion stands for freedom, liberty and justice. The turbans worn by Sikh men are symbols of that.

But the turbans and their uncut beards, two of the religion’s five articles of faith, also bear a striking resemblance to those worn by Osama bin Laden and members of the Taliban. Following Sept. 11, those displays of faith suddenly sparked fear and mistrust in many Americans, Chani said.

'They say a snake will bite you if he is scared,' she said. 'The American people is a very welcoming people as long as they do not feel threatened.'

Since Sept. 11, some of the 500,000 Sikhs in America have been killed because people misunderstand their attire and violently react, Chani said. Many others have found it tough to find work, because potential co-workers say they are uncomfortable to be near them, she said.

'We are totally traumatized,' Chani said. 'Mothers are traumatized because our sons and husbands are in turbans and we send them out (into the world).'

Sikhs believe in protecting those that need help, and fighting to stand up for the oppressed against injustice, Chani said. After moving to the United States 32 years ago, Chani still works hard to educate her neighbors to help the community understand her people better.

Her husband, Jaswant Singh Chani, is an architect, who recently designed the expansion of their house of worship, the New England Sikh Study Circle, on East Main Street.

He chalks up the situation to ignorance, and said talking and listening are the only ways to help bring understanding and peace.

'I think the solution lies in talking with people, face to face,' he said, 'and listening.'"