After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Mandeep Singh Mathary noticed a change. He began hearing about members of his Sikh community being targeted by others.
Some Sikh children were pelted with apples at school. Some were hit by cans of soda hurled at them. He felt a shift in the way people looked at him.
“There was a lot of racial-profiling happening,” Mathary said Monday at the 11th Annual 9-11 Memorial Run at Bakersfield Harley-Davidson.
First, Balbir Singh, a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Ariz., was killed just four days after the 9-11 attacks. Then, in 2012, six Sikhs were gunned down in a Wisconsin temple.
Locally, a man slurring racial epithets at a local Habit Burger Grill allegedly threw a hot drink last year at Balmeet Singh, a Sikh man who lives in town.
So about a decade after the attacks, a group of Sikhs — who belong to a religion that preaches love, oneness and a life of service — formed the Sikh Riders of America.
The national group’s goal is to reach out to the community, educate people about the Sikh religion and increase awareness of their culture. What better way to do that than with motorcycles, one of the most iconic symbols of American culture?
An added bonus is that plenty of Sikhs in Bakersfield already had motorcycles, so creating a club made sense, Gurinder Singh Basra, president of the Sikh Riders of America, said Monday in Bakersfield, in between conversations with passing motorcyclists, educating them on the Sikh religion.
“If we don’t reach out to people, we can’t educate them," Basra said. “Part of the problem is there’s no education in school to teach people about world religions.”
Most of all, Sikh riders want people to know that the turban doesn’t represent hatred — it represents equality, sovereignty and obedience, Sikh riders say. It shouldn’t be construed with terrorism.