The shooting came just days after Sikhs, who make up the fifth largest religious community in the world celebrated Vaisakhi, the most significant holiday on our calendar, and the state of Indiana honored its Sikh residents with a month of awareness and appreciation for the FBI’s motives The murderer has not been investigated – and may never do so, as he aimed the gun at himself and is now deceased. Sikh Americans feel targeted again. As it is 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent racial setbacks, we cannot ignore the long history of hateful violence against Sikhs in this country. FBI hate crime data shows Sikhs are one of the most talked about religious groups – behind Jews and Muslims – in modern America. We also know that much of the violence Sikhs face has to do with the cultural and religious illiteracy of others. Although most Americans are one of the greatest religions in the world, they don’t know who Sikhs are. A 2013 study by the Stanford Innovation Lab and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that 70% of Americans misidentified Sikhs when they showed a Sikh man in a picture, with many believing they were Muslims, including brown skin , Facial hair and turbans on our heads – has made Sikhs regular targets of racial violence. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a turbaned Sikh immigrant from Punjab, India, was the first victim of a hate crime after September 11th. His killer Frank Roque mistakenly linked Sodhi’s Sikh identity to terrorism in a rampage in which an Afghan couple and a man of Lebanese descent were attacked and killed him at close range outside Sodhi’s gas station in Mesa, Arizona on September. fifteen.
We can point to several factors that contribute to such unnecessary tragedies: uncontrolled access to deadly firearms, xenophobic rhetoric that sanctions bigotry, a history and climate of racism that makes those who look different terribly vulnerable.
And while we may not know the motive of the Indianapolis killer, we know the immense cost of our cultural ignorance. If nothing else, this tragedy could inspire more people to learn about their Sikh neighbors.
The Sikh religion (Sikhi in Punjabi) is one of the youngest in the world and originated around 500 years ago in the South Asian region of Punjab, which is currently divided between Pakistan and northwest India.
The founder of the belief, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 and was disappointed with the suffering, divisions and social inequalities he saw around him. He wanted to start a new community with a new vision rooted in unity, love and justice. He taught that all people are equal and interconnected and that people have no legitimate basis on which to create hierarchies or to discriminate against one another. Rather, each of us is inherently divine and we should treat ourselves accordingly. To serve humanity means to serve God (Vahiguru). Guru Nanak put his vision into practice and established institutions that would live beyond him. For example, he started the tradition of the langar, a free communal meal that is open to everyone with only one condition – everyone must sit together on the floor as equals. This tradition is still alive and well today.
Guru Nanak traveled through South and Central Asia, spreading his message and building a following. These people referred to themselves as Sikhs, a Sanskrit term that means “students”. The mindset was that we are lifelong students who always strive to learn and grow.
Guru Nanak’s community also grew, and before he died he appointed a successor, Guru Angad. There were a total of 10 gurus (enlighteners) in the lineage of Guru Nanak, the last of whom, Guru Gobind Singh, died in 1708. From this point on the Sikh authority rested in two entities – the Guru Granth Sahib, the scriptural canon Das was compiled and composed mainly by the Sikh Gurus themselves and the Guru Khalsa Panth, the community of initiated Sikhs. To this day, Sikhs regard these two entities as their eternal Guru.
As part of their practice, Sikhs maintain long, uncut hair, which they often wrap in turbans on their heads. Many see their appearance as a public promise to live by their faith. Sikhs value their identity as a gift from their gurus and share aspects that bind them to their fellow religionists, past and present.
Sikhs continued to grow and spread across the world over the decades. After British colonizers took control of Punjab in 1849, an increasing number of Sikhs moved to regions controlled by the British Empire, including Great Britain, Southeast Asia and East Africa. The first Sikhs came to North America as workers in the late 19th century – and they soon afterwards faced American racism. In 1907, in Bellingham, Washington, angry mobs of white men gathered, beat and driven Sikh and other South Asian workers from the city, an event now known as the Bellingham Race Riots. Most of the early Sikhs in America came on the west coast, and over the years they have spread across the country. There are now an estimated 500,000 Sikhs in the United States and roughly the same number in Canada. All of this together makes the Sikh community in North America strong about one million people.
While the American Sikh community in the United States continues to face racism, it has also shown incredible steadfastness and resilience. Many see us as victims, but Sikhs tend to see themselves as they always have. The Sikh community’s grief over the Indianapolis murders will not change their own commitment to justice and spiritual advancement.