American Sikh community traumatized by new mass shooting | WGN 720 radio
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Ajeet Singh had to arm himself for a return to work at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis on Tuesday for the first time since a former employee shot dead eight people, including four members of the tight-knit Sikh community of ‘Indianapolis.
“I was afraid to come back,” Singh said. “I don’t know why it happened again. Was it random or was it because of who I am? ”
As the motive for last week’s rampage remains under investigation, leaders and members of the Sikh community say they feel collective trauma and believe more needs to be done to tackle bigotry, prejudice and violence they have suffered for decades in the country. Amidst intense pain, they channel their grief into demands for gun reform and tougher hate crime laws, and call on foreigners to learn about their Sikh neighbors.
“We are repeatedly faced with disproportionately senseless and often very targeted attacks,” said Satjeet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, a New York-based group that has urged investigators to examine prejudice as a possible motive. of the shooting.
“The impact on the community is traumatic,” she continued, “not just especially families who face senseless violence, but also in the community at large because it is community trauma.
In the days following the shooting, the coalition facilitated a call with federal officials in which Sikh leaders in Indiana requested the appointment of an American Sikh liaison officer to the Office of Public Engagement of the White House, among other requests.
A monotheistic religion founded more than 500 years ago in the Indian region of Punjab, Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world with approximately 25 million followers, including approximately 500,000 in the United States.
Kaur said that as a relatively young religion with a small population in the western world, Sikhism is generally not taught in schools to the same extent as other world religions or integrated into policy making, this which leads to misunderstandings and ignorance. Anti-Sikh discrimination can manifest itself in everything from schoolyard bullying to verbal attacks to shocking acts of violence.
Last year, a man accused of crushing the Sikh owner of a suburban Denver liquor store after telling him and his wife to ‘return to your country’ was charged with the felony of hate and 16 other counts, including attempted murder.
The latest murders have brought back painful memories to Rana Singh Sodhi, an Indian immigrant living in Arizona. He has spent nearly two decades preaching love and tolerance after his brother was gunned down four days after 9/11 by a man who mistook him for a Muslim because of his turban. Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first of dozens of Sikhs who were the targets of hate crimes following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“It’s very painful,” said Rana Singh Sodhi. “I hope that one day… people will love each other and enjoy life, work together and live together in this beautiful country.”
There are between 8,000 and 10,000 American Sikhs in Indiana, where they began to settle over 50 years ago and opened their first place of worship, known as the gurdwara, in 1999.
Most of the FedEx warehouse workers are members of the community. Gurinder Singh Khalsa, of the Indiana-based Sikh Political Action Committee, said many Sikhs live on the west and south sides of Indianapolis, making the facility’s airport a convenient place to work. .
On Monday, his committee said it had set up a task force to seek answers to the shooting and pressure government officials to act. An important goal, Khalsa said, is to help people returning to work feel safe.
It would be a relief for people like Gaganpal Singh Dhaliwal, who said two of his aunts had just arrived for their warehouse shift on Thursday night when the shooting started. His mother also works there. They all survived, but he mourns his colleagues and friends.
Dhaliwal expressed hope that the tragedy will inspire others to better understand religion and cultural practices: “To all of my fellow Americans, be they Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, Jews, non-religious, everyone: Google it. word “Sikh” today. … Spend five minutes of your time learning about other people around you who may not be like you. ”
He’s already starting to see signs of awareness, including in flags fluttering over half of the staff outside homes and businesses in Indianapolis and a “wave” of fundraising support for the families of the victims. He urged more people to build bridges with his community.
“If you see a person like me wearing a (turban) on their head, on your street, in your grocery store, in your workplace, go talk to them,” Dhaliwal said. “Tell them you know who Sikhs are, or give them a hug and say, ‘Hey, you’re welcome to America.’ Right now we’re a community that needs a lot of support and know that we have a place in this place called America.
The murders reverberated across the country. Pardeep Singh Kaleka, executive director of the Greater Milwaukee Interfaith Conference and son of one of seven fatal victims of a 2012 mass shooting against a gurdwara in the suburb of Oak Creek, Wis., Said there had concerns about a growing threat of violence.
Small communities traumatized by violence ask, “Have I been targeted for my race?” Kaleka said. “Have I been targeted for my ethnicity, for my religion? Have I been targeted for something I can’t control? ”
And in California, Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal, a member of Stockton Gurdwara Sahib and an early student of Sikh American history, said he struggled with a range of emotions, including “anger, pain, despair and a feeling of not belonging ”. Frustratingly, he said, much of the public’s attention has been placed on the shooter’s mental state rather than the community he has hurt so deeply.
“I’m tired of the same old story,” said Bainiwal, who was born and raised in the US, but was told to “fit in”.
In Indianapolis, the Sikh community is focused on helping the bereaved, who hope to get about two dozen expedited visas so that relatives overseas can travel for funeral rites that will take place in the next two weeks. The procedure will begin with cremation and then be followed by up to 20 days of reading Guru Granth Sahib’s 1,400-page scripture, Dhaliwal said.
Earlier last week, Sukhpreet Rai’s home was bustling with happy chatter and cooking activities amid Vaisakhi celebrations, a big Sikh holiday festival and an upcoming family anniversary. Now she is silent in the mourning of two of her parents, Jasvinder Kaur and Amarjit Sekhon.
“We were supposed to celebrate a birthday and be together as a family,” Rai said. “We’re together and we’re each other, but it’s for something different – it’s for a funeral.
Associated Press editors Anita Snow and Gary Fields contributed to this report.
The Associated Press religious coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment via The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
Casey Smith is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative Corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on secret issues.
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