NEW YORK: What do prominent Sikhs in America think in the aftermath of the latest incident of a hate crime against the community at Riverside Sikh Gurdwara in southern California earlier this week?
They stress that these incidents are happening because of ignorance about Sikhs, and they all stress the importance of reaching out to other communities and groups any means – be it the media, the langar or gurdwaras – to tell them who we are.
Here is what some of them say:
DR RAJWANT SINGH: Gurdwara officials in every part of the United States must work closely with their local law enforcement agencies and elected officials.
In addition, involvement and participation in local affairs, including the media, is critical at this time and it shows that Sikhs are part and parcel of American society.
Sikhs need to organize and participate in traditional American celebrations and become a part of the lawmaking body that makes decisions for us and on our behalf.
Instead of just being utilized for weekly gatherings and prayers, gurdwaras should be used and known as educational centers for those around us who don’t know who the Sikhs are, so we can prevent a tragedy like this from happening again due to ignorance.
(Washington-based Dr Rajwant Singh is the chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education – SCORE)
DR HARVINDER SAHOTA: I think educating the local people about the Sikh religion is the way forward.
At the community level, we should promote awareness about the Sikh religion through the media in this country – TV, radio, newspapers, the Internet, etc.
At the individual level, Sikhs should engage others and explain to them what Sikhism is.
The bottom line is spread the word who Sikhs are. We can help ourselves by setting good example at work, in Institutions and all walks of life. These efforts should be supplemented by the Indian government, their representatives in this country like the Ambassador and consul generals and Indian American organizations. They should be talking about Sikhs and Sikhism to the local people.
(Dr Harvinder Singh Sahota, the pioneer of profusion balloon in angioplasty, is based in Irvine, California)
MR KIRTAN SINGH KHALSA: The thing that Sikhs do and can do more of that has the greatest impact in any environment is to serve langar. Sikhs should make up any and every excuse to serve langar to all. Once someone has the experience of langar, they know who we are.
It is well known throughout history that people from diverse backgrounds are most likely to get to know and trust one another when they break bread together. Guru Nanak knew this, Guru Amardas institutionalized it and it has been part of Sikh history and an elemental part of every Sikh religious service every since.
Now we need to serve langar everywhere outside the Gurdwara as well; langar satisfies the hunger…and we all have a hunger and longing to belong. We all have a desire to connect with one another and the connection that comes through sitting peacefully and eating together is understood in any language, any place, any culture and it transcends all intellectual predispositions or bias and gets right to the hearts of all.
We say every day, “Sarbat da Bala”, it means Goodwill to All. That’s what Sikhs are all about.
(Los Angeles-based Kirtan Singh Khalsa is minister of Sikh Dharma)
DR JASBIR SINGH KANG: The act of vandalism at Sikh Gurdwara of Riverside is condemnable, but this kind of incidents need to strengthen our resolve to educate other about us. I am optimistic that we will overcome these hurdles with proper long-term efforts and strategy. Hate incidents of any form are unacceptable. Nobody should suffer because of who they are and nobody should put up with it.
Sikhs are facing hate crimes largely due to ignorance and these are isolated incidences. Because of 9/11 and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; turbaned Sikhs have been confused with terrorists due to the American media showing news clips with turbans again and again. Even people of brown skin or south Asian origin have also faced similar incidents on lesser scale. But Sikhs have borne the brunt of these incidents.
But after the Oak Creek tragedy, the mainstream media has been positive and favorable to Sikhs. Reporting in the Indian media in the past has also labeled Sikhs as terrorists which does cause confusion to American reporters when they google information about Sikhs.
(Dr Jasbir Kang is a known community leader from Yuba City in California)
MR INDER SINGH: Vandalism at the Riverside Sikh gurdwara is a reprehensible act and deserves to be condemned by all citizens and taken seriously by the law enforcement agencies. The terrible tragedy at Oak Creek last year is still fresh in the memory of Sikhs in America.
The pattern of violence against the Sikhs in the United States since 9/11 continues to increase.
The law enforcement agencies must send a powerful message to people responsible for the heinous crime. They should act promptly, apprehend the culprits and prosecute them.
(Tarzana-based Inder Singh is the chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin – GOPIO)
MR SATPAL SINGH KOHLI: Firstly, I am truly saddened about the vandalism at the Sikh Gurdwara in Riverside in California.
Our Sikh communities need to be more vigilant and take appropriate steps to secure our Gurdwaras and homes.
Gurdwaras must install security cameras around the clock to monitor all movements. Wherever possible, Gurdwaras can have a full-time sevadar at the front entrance.
On Sundays, the Gurdwara must endeavor to invite other interfaith and local community leaders, including police chiefs, to participate in Gurudwara ceremonies so that they can educate others about the Sikh religion.
Every Sikh attending the Sunday Gurdwara must try to bring one or two neighbors who are non-Sikhs.
Gurdwara members must use their full resources to contact their local law agencies and apprise them of their Gurdwara facilities and ask for protection, particularly on Sundays and main events.
Law agencies must be briefed immediately at various levels and must agree to provide security. Local, State and Federal law agencies must take cognizance of these increasing attacks against Sikhs in the US and offer appropriate security.
These attacks and vandalisms are based on ignorance and lack of education about the Sikh religion. Sikhs must act and contact local media and express moral outrage at these incidents and ask the media and community leaders to denounce such crimes.
(New Mexico-based Satpal Singh Kohli is the Ambassador of Sikh Dharma)
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