Normally, instead of marching in front of the White House, Sarjit Dhillon would be at home in McLean doing laundry, entertaining her two children or cooking dinner.
But today, Dhillon, who calls herself "a typical American housewife," will join hundreds of other Sikhs in a demonstration to protest India's treatment of the members of her religion.
It is her second march in just over a year, since events in India started affecting her quiet suburban life. "My parents, brothers and sisters are back home," said the 36-year-old Dhillon.
"We are not being given visas so we can't go home to visit," she said. "We only know what we hear or what we can get in letters."
An estimated 600 Sikh families live in the Washington area, said Rajwant Singh, a spokesman for the Washington-based Sikh Association of America. The majority of Sikhs live in Bethesda, Gaithersburg and Silver Spring or in McLean and Springfield. They are, as a rule, educated professionals -- doctors, lawyers and engineers -- who could afford to transplant their families from India to America.
"I don't think outwardly my life is that different from any American housewife," said Dhillon, who has lived in the Washington area 11 years and who sometimes works as a technical editor.
Now events in India have added to their activities such events as rallies and marches.
Last Sunday, the couple helped serve out-of-town visitors who attended their regular religious service at Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville. During the service, a steady line of men with their hair swathed in turbans and their chins covered by thick beards filed past a table to pick up saffron-colored material the color of the religious flag of the Sikhs to be worn as turbans at today's march.
"Our first march in our entire life was on June 8, 1984, after the Golden Temple assasult," Sarjit Dhillon said of her family.
The army assault on the Golden Temple, a holy shrine in the city of Amritsar, was ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and occurred June 6. The government said the temple was being used as a base for militant Sikhs.
In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated and in February, four Sikhs were charged with conspiracy in the assassination. Anti-Sikh riots followed and thousands of Sikhs were killed. Now the world community of Sikhs say the persecution continues and that all Sikhs are being labeled terrorists because of the actions of a few.
"If it is true that behind every cloud there is a silver lining, the silver lining behind the events in India is that our children have become very conscious in their religion," said Dhillon. But the events haven't affected everyone in the same way. "To begin with you have two camps with two different positions, and if anything, these positions have been hardened," said her husband Harpal Dhillon, a senior engineer at a McLean systems engineering firm.
"There is a small camp that believes . . . that the government has done everything fair and square and that the Sikhs are to be blamed for their own problems," he said. "The other group -- of which I am a member -- feels the government is deliberately victimizing Sikhs to do irreparable damage to their self-confidence and economic security."
He compares the "persecution" of the Sikhs to that of the Jews by the Nazis, noting that Sikhs are "generally well educated and better off than the average Indian and their appearance makes them easily identifiable."
Still, when the Dhillons compare the problems they face as a group locally to those faced by their relatives and friends in India, their troubles seem to pale. At worst, here they are sometimes confronted with discrimination because of their appearance. Then there is the question of how to teach their American-born children to respect their past, maintain traditions and enjoy their new culture.
"We have the temple organizations and youth camps because the children need more reinforcement here than they have back home," said Sarjit Dhillon. "You have to show them that they are Sikhs and Americans and that there is no conflict between the two."