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The Sikh community mourns another attack, this time in Indianapolis



The close-knit Sikh community in Indianapolis is shaken by the deaths of four of its members, victims of a mass-shooting that killed eight last week. Although the motive of the killer is still under investigation, Sikhs all over the country fear for their safety as they have often been victims of racist attacks.

Here in Denver a year ago, Lakhwant Singh, a small-business owner, was brutally attacked by a white supremacist who entered Singh’s store shouting profanities and yelling, “Go back to your country.” As Singh walked outside to get the license plate number of the attacker, he rammed Singh with his vehicle, throwing him several feet across the parking lot. Singh was severely injured and the perpetrator was charged with a hate crime.

Sadly, such harassment goes far back, ever since the Sikhs first started immigrating to the United States in the 1890s. The first hate crime against them occurred in Bellingham, Washington, in 1907, when an angry mob of white men beat up hundreds of Sikhs who were working in the lumber mills, forcing them to leave town. After the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, Sikhs again faced racial slurs like “Ayatollah” and “rag-head,” because of their brown skin and males’ beards, long hair, and turbans. Following September 11, there was a surge of such attacks.

Sikhism (“Sikhi”) is a peaceful, loving, and engaged tradition. Colorado is home to a large Sikh community with two main Gurudwaras (houses of worship) in Denver. Every Sunday, in every Gurudwara in the U.S. and around the world, Sikhs follow the tradition of “langar” – a traditional vegetarian meal served free to all who wish to join. Worldwide, Sikhs have served approximately six million free meals every day (pre-COVID numbers). Every human being, regardless of skin color, age, gender, social status, political, religious, or sexual orientation, is cheerfully welcomed and served.

In Denver, the “Colorado Sikhs” organization, sponsors the largest annual interfaith event, Langar in the Park, feeding 5,000-10,000 people in one day. Dilpreet Singh Jammu, chairman of the organization and immediate past president of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, is the moving spirit behind this initiative. When I asked his reflection about the Indianapolis tragedy, he remarked, “I remember my first vigil for Sikhs killed by a white supremacist in Oak Creek Wisconsin, in August 2012. I find it truly disheartening that, years later, we are still attending vigils for our brothers and sisters. This is not acceptable in a civil society.”

Tejwant Mangat, a prominent Sikh leader in this state, told me “We must stop making assault rifles accessible, especially to young kids. Our elected officials must show the political will to make stricter gun laws to contain this deadly epidemic.” When asked to comment, Mr. Kamaljeet Singh, an official of one Gurudwara in Denver, lamented: “We are hard-working and peaceful people. We are faithful to this country and contribute to its well-being. Why should we face such hatred?”

The Sikh religion was founded in the 15th Century in the Punjab region of Northwest India, which is currently split between India and Pakistan. Since India’s partition in 1947, the Indian side of the border has been the home of a majority of the global Sikh population, estimated at more than 25 million people. And the Sikh diaspora is spread all over the world, with approximately 500,000 in the United States.

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