Fighting for change, and humanity

Anisha is currently the campaign manager for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress.

From being one of the 45 Indians on the coveted list of Forbes’ 30 under 30 (in the Law and Policy category) to being the first in her family to attend and pass out of a graduate school, Anisha Singh has always been ahead of the curve. “I am honoured and humbled to be included in this prestigious list among so many talented individuals in 20 different sectors. I am proud to be a part of a list that is uplifting numerous people of colour, including 44 other Indian Americans. It serves as a reminder of how far women of colour have come and can still go. The sky is truly the limit,” says the 28-year-old, who has more than nine years of experience in public interest and social justice work.

Anisha was born in New York City and her father is from New Delhi and mother from Burma. And ironically, it was in ‘The City So Nice They Named It Twice’ that Anisha first experienced abuse that challenged her beliefs and put her on a course that is now hitting the headlines across borders. “Right after 9/11, I was only about 14 years old but even then, nothing made sense to me. While I mourned with my country, I watched local journalists at my Gurudwara interviewing uncles about being ‘harassed’ and friends at school bullying my friend who happened to wear a patka,” says Anisha.

She then started tracking such issues and volunteered for Sikh rights organisations across the country. “The idea that people didn’t know what Sikhism was and that we were not terrorists, rocked my core. I just couldn’t keep silent. I learned that almost over 60 per cent of our youth are being bullied at school and ignorance has driven hate crimes in cities across the nation. I did not have to be a victim or know a victim personally to be frustrated and believe change begins with me. I developed a passion for advocacy and my pride in my religion and my need for others to understand its beauty fueled my career path and led me to law school. I wanted to be a lawyer to advocate for justice. People needed to understand the wonderful teachings of Sikhi — the ideas of Ek Onkar, Chardi Kala and Seva.”

Anisha is currently the campaign manager for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think-tank that educates “Americans on the need to fill judicial vacancies so that historic backlogs can be remedied and civil and criminal cases may be heard in a timely manner.” “We believe America should be a land of opportunity, where people can climb the ladder of economic mobility. Our values include protecting the planet and promoting peace and shared global prosperity. In 2044, minority communities will become the majority. How are we opening doors for economic growth and prosperity for all Americans and not just the privileged few? We seek to change the country by answers to such questions,” says Anisha, who has been working with the organisation since April last year.

Prior to CAP, Anisha was employed with UNITED SIKHS — which helps transform underprivileged and minority community — where she came across numerous stories about Sikh youth being bullied at school. “I myself was bullied growing up. It was personal and I wanted to help. I started having conversations with my contacts at the US Department of Education and White House Anti-Bullying Initiative on the most effective ways to combat bullying. From there, our team developed materials and resources to assist youth and their parents with bullying and began conducting presentations in Gurdwaras and towns most impacted by bullying against Sikhs. By the end of my tenure at UNITED SIKHS, we had reached thousands of people with our resources,” says Anisha.

And with the US presidential elections round the corner, she hopes to make the best use of her position and the leverage of her inclusion in the list. “At present, the only difference is the discourse is more public and Americans are feeling comfortable expressing their racism. The justification they receive from presidential candidates to be hateful has led to a drastic uptick in hate crimes against Indians, Sikhs and Muslims in particular. But the same questions remain: How do we lift up Sikhism in its unique beauty? How do we show that Sikh values are American values? With the hateful anti- Muslim, rhetoric being disseminated from Republican presidential candidates, how do we protect our community from the backlash? How do we foster love in a climate of hate?” she says, adding, “My work would have continued without this honour, but if more doors open up, I hope to utilise them to continue advocating for disenfranchised communities, especially communities of colour.”

Voice for the minorities

In 2006, after hearing of a Sikh inmate being transferred to a Florida prison where he would be required by law to cut his hair — a violation of his religious rights — Anisha successfully lobbied the Florida Legislature for their support to instead transfer the inmate to a Vermont prison where he would be able to observe his religion. Since then, Anisha has been a leading Sikh rights advocate, serving in White House and interagency conferences to address hate crimes towards Sikh Americans, fighting legal cases for victims of discrimination and hate, and advancing legislation to benefit Sikh victims of bullying and discrimination in the schools and workplace.

Anisha also served as the lead of the international policy division of the multinational non-profit organisation, UNITED SIKHS, where she advocated for human and civil rights on behalf of the global Sikh community. Anisha single-handedly managed the DC chapter, cultivating key relationships with the White House and on Capitol Hill. She also founded the national Anti-Bullying Campaign to proactively assist victims of bullying through presentations and resources in partnership with the White House Anti-Bullying Initiative.

Last year, Anisha won an historic anti-discrimination case against the U.S. Army, which had previously lacked religious accommodation procedures, preventing dedicated individuals from serving their country. As a result of UNITED SIKHS and the (American Civil Liberties Union) ACLU’s representation of the client, a 19-year-old who was repeatedly denied acceptance into his university’s ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) programme, the U.S. Army created a procedure for individuals to request religious accommodations to join.

Anisha received her BA with honours in Political Science and Communication Studies from the Florida State University and received her JD from the University of Virginia School of Law by the age of 24, having completed Equal Justice Works and Equal Justice America

While in college, Anisha spearheaded a campaign to mobilise students at three institutions — Florida State University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and Tallahassee Community College — to register to vote for the 2008 general election. She also worked for Senator Dave Aronberg and served as a citizen liaison for Governor Charlie Crist, where she was responsible for researching and drafting talking points for the Governor to address his constituents about relevant policies.

At the University of Virginia School of Law, Anisha focused on civil rights and honed her research and analytical skills in order to serve underrepresented communities. While taking her classes, she also acted as sole counsel for female clients seeking legal status under the Violence Against Women Act, including a complex four-year historic win she litigated in Immigration Court, which received national media attention.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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