The victims of last week’s Indianapolis mass shootings felt familiar to Gurpreet Kaur despite the distance between their Portland home and the FedEx facility in the Midwest.
Of the eight people killed in the April 15 attack, four were members of the Sikh religious community. And when Kaur looked at photos of the victims, she saw the faces of her own family and friends.
“There was a woman in her 60s. My mother worked until she was nearly 60, ”said Kaur, secretary for the Sikh Center of Oregon. “There are so many places in the US and Canada that the workforce in India is concentrated. It’s terrifying to think of something like this happening because of identity. “
Authorities have not yet disclosed whether the shooter, a former FedEx facility employee, has targeted Sikhs. But members of the Sikh community in Oregon say the threat of violence always stays in the back of the mind.
“For many people like us – not Christian, not white – it is not” when “but” when “,” said Kaur. “There is always a fear that something will happen in your community.”
There are several Gurdwaras, or Sikh temples, in the region, including the Sikh Center of Oregon in Beaverton and other locations in Salem, Eugene, and Vancouver.
Kaur said it had been difficult to hold talks about the security and shooting in Indianapolis as face-to-face gatherings were restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the limited conversations that have taken place are not new to them or other Sikhs.
“These conversations happen over and over again, but at the end of the day, how much can these fears keep you from having your faithful life?” Said Kaur. “You can protect the Gurdwara, but when I go to work I can’t leave my identity at home.”
Sarabjeet Teja, former chairman of Vancouver’s guru Ramdas Gurdwara Sahib, said the Indianapolis shooting sent shock waves through the local Sikh community and resurfaced memories of a 2012 shooting that killed six people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin were.
Even so, he hopes Sikhs will remember the importance of not being intimidated by the Indianapolis attack.
“Being in the Gurdwara and doing other things that we normally do in our daily life – that can’t stop,” he said.
The Indianapolis shooting comes against a backdrop of ongoing concerns about Sikhs, Muslims and other religious minorities.
Teja said that prior to the pandemic, when more people gathered in person, temple leaders hired police officers or private companies in Vancouver to provide security during Sunday services.
Kaur also described an increase in bullying of Sikh children following the election of former President Donald Trump, saying that adult Sikhs who were bullied or molested as children increasingly sought advice for painful memories.
Violence against several South Asian communities, including Sikhs and Muslims, also rose 64% in the year following Trump’s election, according to the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together.
In one such attack in 2017, a man asked to come to a Gresham temple to use the toilet. Then he attacked a Sikh woman and tried to sexually assault her. Gresham police later said there was no evidence that the suspect attacked the woman because of her race or religion.
Kaur also noted that it is important for Oregonians to know the history of violence against Sikhs in their own state.
She was referring to the 1910 St. Johns Uprising in which about 200 residents of St. Johns attacked several Sikhs who lived in the area and worked in a wood mill, forcing them on trains south to another part of Portland .
But Kaur said the Sikhs had returned, filed police reports and tried to take legal action against their attackers.
Now, as then, the members of the community were strong, she said.
“I think the Punjabi community and the Sikh community are usually very resilient,” she said. “People live on, but there are psychological costs that are very obvious.”
Kaur believes that more interfaith conversation can help create a safer environment for Sikhs and members of all religious groups.
“What happens in an immigrant community doesn’t just affect that community,” she said. “It has an impact on society as a whole.”
– Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; [email protected]; @JRamakrishnanOR