Connecticut Sikh community leader Swaranjit Singh Khalsa honored by the FBI

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Khalsa is originally from Punjab.

AB Wire

Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, a Norwich, Connecticut-based community leader has been honored by the FBI with the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award at the 10th annual Interfaith Spiritual Wellness Fair, last week.

The recognition is granted yearly to 56 people — one for each of the FBI’s field offices. In April, he will travel to Washington, D.C., where he’ll receive a tour of FBI headquarters and will be celebrated along with the other award recipients during a ceremony.

The vetting process for the award is extensive, according to FBI Community Outreach Specialist Charles Grady, reported TheDay.

A community or law enforcement agency nominates the person. A special agent in charge reviews and narrows down the nominees. Members of the FBI conduct interviews to learn how much of an impact the person has made.

Khalsa, Grady said, was chosen for his work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI to help educate law enforcement officers about cultural differences in Connecticut.

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“It’s all about the willingness of an individual to go over and above what’s asked and bring people together from all walks of life,” Grady said. “He was the clear choice.”

Khalsa, a Sikh from Punjab, India, came to the city in 2010, not long after finishing up graduate school in New Jersey. After getting a master’s degree in computer science, he instead ended up in business as the owner of the Norwichtown Shell station.

Drivers would stop at his station, he said, but when they saw him and the turban on his head, they’d make a beeline for the gas station next door.

“I said, ‘There’s something wrong,’” Khalsa said, reported TheDay. “‘Maybe we should come outside.’”

It wasn’t much later that he held his first Sikh awareness day, right there at the station. Dozens of people — local residents, police officers, historians — showed up. That, he said, was the “icebreaker.”

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“That was the start of my interaction with the community,” he said. “After that, people were coming in, helping out, asking me to tell them more about my religion and where I came from.”

Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that emphasizes compassion and service to others, was formed in the 15th century, when divisions by caste and color produced inequality at its worst.

In Connecticut, the Sikh population has been growing for years, Khalsa said. He pointed to the number of temples in the state — there were three, now there are five — as easy evidence of that.

But Sikhs, whose long beards confuse some into believing they’re Muslims, have been the targets of hate crimes across the country, including the August 2012 mass shooting at a Wisconsin temple that left six Sikhs dead and four wounded.

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That’s part of why he got involved educating officers about not only Sikhs, but also Muslims and Arabs.

During last Wednesday’s event at the Southeastern Mental Health Authority, he joined members of more than 25 faiths, as well as representatives of nonprofits and people involved in healing practices, such as acupuncture detoxification.

There, he told some of the more than 500 expected guests about Sikhism, and how Sikhs have made strides to be able to do things such as serve in the U.S. military while retaining their religiously mandated beards and turbans.