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New Ad Campaign Turns Spotlight On Sikhs

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - A new ad campaign wants to bring awareness about major world religion Sikhism. More than 25 million people practice the religion, with a huge population here in the Sacramento Valley.

"Well, I have two children and they keep us busy," one of the ads begins. "You know, Boy Scouts, saxophones, gymnastics."

National Sikh Campaign is launching the campaign on Friday in an effort to stop hate-fueled attacks on its followers. Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world, just above Judaism and just below Buddhism. Yet it's often mistaken or confused with other religions.

"We are part of the American fabric," said Inderjit Kallirai, who lives in Elk Grove. "We are part of the American system."

With roots in India, Sikhism was built on a foundation of unity, equality and, like other major religions, the belief that God is supreme.

The campaign released the following statement on the launch:

"'We Are Sikhs' is launching now to educate and inform the American public about who Sikhs are to stem the tide of violence against the community and showcase Sikhism's core values of gender equality, racial equality, and religious tolerance and how integral Sikh Americans are to neighborhoods and communities across this great country."

The commercials will start airing on Friday on cable stations and local stations in areas with large Sikh populations.

"Violence against Sikh Americans continues to occur on a regular basis," the statement continued. "In December 2015, a Sikh American man was brutally beaten in Fresno, California. Another Sikh American man was attacked and killed in Fresno weeks later, in January 2016. In March of this year, a Sikh American man in Kent, Washington was shot in an incident that is now being investigated as a hate crime."

September 11 was a tragic day for all Americans, including those of Muslim and Sikh faiths. A year later, Gurveer Singh was born. Now at 15 years old, he says it isn't always easy being the only person in the room wearing a turban.

"There aren't a lot of Sikhs at my school and I had to stand up for myself," Singh said.

Attacks on Sikh followers have persisted in recent years, even right here in California.

"After 30 years living in this country, last week somebody told me 'Go back to your country!'" said Gur Iqbal Singh Kang.

His response to them was: "This is my country."

"Wear this turban," Singh Kang said. "Let people know who you are!"

Still, he and Singh agree: the Sikhs have an identity problem.

"We're often mistaken for Muslims and Hindus and we just want people to know that we're different," Singh said.

But Muhammad Saifullah, who is Muslim, says he doesn't take offense and understands the struggle for acceptance.

"We want our own identity away from people who are terrorists," he said.

"I've seen every episode of Spongebob because my kids like it," one of the commercials said.

Singh just hopes it's a step towards showing that Americans come in all different packages.

"It's going to be a good thing for our religion and our community," Singh said.

The launch coincides with a major festival also on Friday celebrating the Sikh New Year.

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