- Four of the eight people killed in the Indianapolis shootings last week were Sikhs.
- There are more than 500,000 Sikhs in the US, but most Americans don’t know who we are.
- I wish more Americans were curious about people of other faiths.
- Amitoj Singh is a New York-based journalist who previously served as the lead anchor and news editor for India’s New Delhi Television (NDTV).
- This is a split opinion. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Eight people were shot dead in another act of senseless gun violence last week in Indianapolis.
The fact that four of the eight people killed and two of the five injured were Sikh – and that approximately 90% of the workers at the facility are Sikh – raised concerns that this was a hate crime against the community.
Preliminary evidence is inconclusive whether it is actually a hate crime, despite a police incident report released Monday stated: “An official saw white supremacist websites on the suspect’s computer when he was securing his shotgun in 2020. “
Hate crimes or not, as a Sikh, America’s narrative was troubling in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. News articles had a need to explain who Sikhs were. Local news channels and reporters failed to mention the word Sikh almost 15 hours after the mass shootings, despite interviewing Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt. And Asian Americans tweeted the silence regarding Sikhs. This reluctance to talk about the Sikhs was likely due to the reporters, along with many Americans, not being familiar enough with the community to warrant mainstream attention.
When a journalist I deeply respect produced content that previously explained who Sikhs were, a feeling shot through me. Myself and other Sikhs I know are happy to raise awareness of Sikhs and educate others about who we are, but I wish Americans would try to know who Sikhs are alone, and especially not when we are victims or we are killed.
I can’t speak for the entire Sikh community, but the fact that a victim’s family member and various members of the community have tweeted and mentioned feelings with similar feelings shows that many feel like we are only seen when we are to be killed.
Sikhs believe in the universal brotherhood of mankind
After September 11th, American Sikhs were confused with Muslims, and that has not changed over time. Interestingly, Sikhs have fought Islamophobia and viewed Muslims as their brothers, despite the irony that Sikhism as a religion was crystallized in many ways as a result of a struggle against Islamic tyrants and that post-partition violence between India and Pakistan reigned an ugly and part bloody uprising between Muslims and Sikhs.
This attitude reflects our values not to throw any community under the bus to save ourselves and not to allow hatred. The basic tenets of religion are to regard all human beings as one and equal and to believe in the universal brotherhood of mankind. Also in the context of America’s current racist reckoning, the rationale of Sikhism is that we must pray for the universal welfare of humanity regardless of caste, color, or creed.
When the pandemic struck New York and other parts of America, Sikhs across the country organized and put their lives at risk to provide free groceries and groceries to communities. This stems from the Sikh value of serving humanity. Sikhs are known worldwide for this. Khalsa Aid, a non-profit humanitarian organization based on the principles of Sikhism, has been to war zones serving humanity on this principle. I walked with protesters during the marches for the Black Lives Matter movement in New York and watched as Sikhs waited at the end of those marches to give free food to the weary protesters.
Sikhs serving free food to Black Lives Matter protesters.
Amitoj Singh / Insider
Americans should learn who their neighbors are
As a responsible American citizen, everyone should want a curiosity about the different colors of America. The current zeitgeist was a great improvement over the past. Well-intentioned people are everywhere, but the pervasive lack of curiosity is not a good sign of America’s future. Communities longer in America than the Sikhs hold the key to solving this lack of curiosity crisis.
Younger generations seem to be more curious. American friends in New York asked me, “Are you a Muslim?” or: “You’re celebrating Ramadan, right?” (Yes, but it’s an Islamic festival).
I don’t find it offensive that Americans know nothing about Sikhs or why wearing a turban as an article of faith is important for some Sikhs and not for others. I just find it disappointing that so many people seem to have almost no interest in learning about or talking about other beliefs. And in the case of this incident, their curiosity will not be aroused until we are killed.
On August 20, 2020, I was in front of the Chase Center in Delaware, taking in the little atmosphere the Democratic National Convention had during a pandemic. A white man who smelled of alcohol felt justified enough to call me from a parking lot and call me over. I was obliged because something like this had happened before. When I got there, he wanted me to explain to his dear children what “that” (my turban) was. I accepted again. I was caught between the feeling of not being intuitively good, that he was at least curious and at the same time shocked about his claim to have the gall to yell at me and demand my presence.
As I walked through Times Square in a turban on Halloween night, I and my Sikh friend realized that people thought it was a Halloween costume. They gave us thumbs up or looked surprisingly adulterous for our ingenuity in fashion.
In all honesty, it is surprising that the people of a country so intellectually amazing, for the most part, know nothing about Sikhs, even though we are everywhere. The New Jersey attorney general is Sikh. Nikki Haley was a Sikh. There are more than 500,000 Sikhs in America. Canada has Sikh ministers and the opposition leader is Sikh. 25 million Sikhs are on this planet and the Golden Temple, the Sikh Shrine in Amritsar, India and the Mecca for Sikhs, is the most visited place in the world. In this shrine, unique to the Sikh faith, hundreds of thousands of visitors receive free food and accommodation every day. Even if Americans don’t know about Sikhs today, they should get to know us.
The writer of the play with members of the Sikh community at Black Lives Matter Protests in New York City.
Amitoj Singh / Insider
A story of hate crimes
Even if the Indianapolis shooting is not classified as a hate crime, the event immediately brings back old, painful memories as Sikhs committed hate crimes against them in the past.
In 1907, 500 white men, many of whom were members of the Asian Exclusion League, participated in the Sikh pogrom, mistakenly known as the Bellingham Riots, and beat Sikhs in Bellingham, Washington, until they fled the city. More recently, Sikhs have been victims of hate crimes related to false identity – Americans killed them because they did not know who they were. In 2012, six dead and four others were injured in a mass shooting at a Sikh cult site in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Many Sikhs immigrated to the United States, Britain, and Canada from India after being subjected to mass murder in India in 1984.
Despite their deep fear, it was the Sikhs closest to the shooting who urged others not to forget that it was not only Sikhs who were killed in this unfortunate incident. Sikh members of the heartbreaking Indianapolis community I spoke to were incredibly aware that this was about eight lives lost, not four Sikh lives. They called it a crime that should bring America together to address humanitarian issues – issues like gun violence, mental illness, polarization, and the ugly political rhetoric against immigrants.
A member of the community, Gaganpal Singh Dhaliwal, whose family members work at the FedEx facility, asked Americans to do two things: “Please take just three minutes to google the word Sikh, and second, when you are walking around your town go and you spot a Sikh, just hug them and ask how they are feeling. “
Sikhs in America are only talked about or asked who we are when we pass out food in the spirit of our seva principles, or sadly when we are shot or killed. I wish that would change.