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Sikh-American Activist’s Anti-Hate Speech Watched 16 Million Times





It was the murder of someone she called ‘uncle’ 15 years ago that turned Valarie Kaur into a political activist. In the years that followed, she has emerged as an interfaith leader, an activist-lawyer and filmmaker, who keeps the focus on racism in America.

But nothing may have prepared her for the support she garnered after a brief meditation that she shared at an interfaith watch night service as the U.S. turned the page to a year of uncertainty. Her six-minute speech at a historic African American church in Washington has been watched 16 million times online to date.

“What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? ... What if our America is not dead, but a country that is waiting to be born?” she said about the racial hostilities erupting in America.

Sharing her concerns about raising a young brown boy who could be seen by the ignorant as a terrorist or a foreigner, she said all hope was not lost, however.

“We must breath, and we must push,” she said in the speech.

Like a mother giving birth.

“The response to the video has been overwhelming. I’ve received hundreds of emails, tweets, and texts from people sharing their own stories and thoughts …I've been working for social justice for 15 years but never have I seen so many people ready to take a stand. This inspires me and gives me hope,” Valarie said.

In the speech, she shared the story of her grandfather, who was detained in America as he arrived from Punjab a century ago, wearing the Sikh turban. It was a white American lawyer who fought for his release. That partly inspired her to be a lawyer.

Valarie was born and raised in Clovis, California, USA, a small town near Fresno where her grandfather settled. Racism hit her again 2001, this time not as a story from her grandfather.

Balbir Singh Sodhi, a family friend and a Sikh-American, was murdered in a hate crime in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, being mistaken for a Muslim. Then 20-years old, Valarie drove across America to chronicle hate crimes against Sikh and Muslim Americans in an award-winning documentary film, "Divided We Fall".

Her drive against hate also won her her love, filmmaker Sharat Raju, now her husband. “We met when he screened his first film about a Sikh family in the aftermath of 9/11,” she recalls.

Sharat is the grandson of Kannada poet, Gopal Krishna Adiga.

The Groundswell movement, an online interfaith community that she founded, has more than 300,000 members, and Valarie is a sought-after speaker on civil rights issues and internet freedom, across America.

In 2015, Valarie was honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She feels the racial violence that has seen several Sikh men killed in the USA in recent years, as well as the recent killing of an Indian engineer in Kansas are not isolated incidents.

“Like Balbir Singh Sodhi Uncle’s murder, Srinivas’ murder is not an isolated incident. It’s part of a larger climate of fear, hate, and vitriol and foretells more violence to come. Srinivas’ murder is also the latest in the epidemic of hate violence that began in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. My solace is that millions of people are politically awakened now like never before and ready to stand in solidarity with us and other communities in harm’s way.”

Valarie spent some months in her childhood in Punjab, and now returns often with her family and young son, Kavi.

“Most of my immediate family now lives in the United States, but the stories, scriptures, and songs of Punjab and the subcontinent are in my lifeblood,” she said.

Valarie believes the violence against minorities and the alarming rise of Hindu extremism in India is part of a global malaise.

“I see the rise of the current U.S. President as part of a global rise in far-right [extremism] in countries around the world, including India.”

[Courtesy: The Hindu newspaper. Edited for]
March 6, 2017

Conversation about this article

1: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), March 06, 2017, 11:26 AM.

Certainly, we are proud of Valarie as an ambassador of our community. Her work with communities across the globe is in accordance with Sikh values around serving humanity.

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