Manpreet (Monica) Singh is the first elected female Sikh judge in the US, having been sworn in as a judge of the Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 4 in Texas, earlier this year. An even more notable aspect of the occasion was the presence of Ravi Sandill, who is Texas’ first elected South Asian judge; Sandill proudly presided over the ceremony in a packed courtroom. Filled with utmost gratefulness, Singh hadn’t expected to receive the outpouring of love she has received from those around her, and she considers her accomplishment a win for the entire community. Born and raised in Houston, Singh now lives in Houston with her husband and two children.
Growing up, Singh’s family was one of the first Sikh families in the Houston area. Monica's father, Attarjit Singh, moved to the US as an architect in the 1970s after obtaining a green card under the Immigration Act of 1965. As a young, turbaned Sikh, he followed job opportunities wherever they took him. As time went on, Monica's parents began running a small printing business, but encountered repeated instances of overt discrimination. That said, her parents — and parents of the diaspora, for that matter — did whatever they could to ensure that their children excelled and stayed connected with Sikhi.
Singh grew up around a Sikh communal circle and remembers getting together on Fridays and doing Kirtan on Sundays. Reflecting, Singh realizes that most of her connections from the time grew up to become engineers and doctors. Although Singh herself also did well in Math and Science at school, it was really History that intrigued her. “I started realizing how revolutionary our religion was as compared to American history. I was quite interested in exploring the concept of “othering” and how it impacts minorities.”, shares Singh. As such, the meticulous student was always super interested in debate during her school days, confident that she’d want to pursue the field of law as a profession.
At the time she got admitted to the bar, Singh became the first Sikh to practice law in Houston. When first practicing in 2001, most of the faces she’d see among her colleagues were predominantly that of white men. Singh recalls, “You’d think law would be progressive, but it was very backwards. People would often ask me where I’m from, probably looking for India as the answer, but I got myself into the habit of saying ‘North Houston’.”
Fast forward to today, Singh says that the profession has become quite diverse, with more female law school graduates than males. Having been an attorney for 20 years, Singh has handled thousands of cases prior to taking the bench and has played an active role in many civil rights organizations at the local, state and national levels. In addition to being a recipient of the nationwide Passion of Excellence Award, Singh has served on the Board of Directors for various organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Texas Lyceum, and the Sikh Coalition. The overachiever was also named the runner-up for the Houston Young Lawyers Association Most Outstanding Attorney in 2010 and was recognized as the South Asian Bar Association Distinguished Member Award Winner in 2017.
Embarking words of wisdom, Singh reminds young professionals that money isn’t enough of a driver for a career, “Whatever profession you choose, it has to be that you can’t see yourself doing anything else. If you’re truly passionate about it, you’ll find success.”