The Sikh community reacts after the Indianapolis FedEx shooting

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The Sikh community reacts after the Indianapolis FedEx shooting

At the Gurdwara, a Sikh cult site, people gathered to understand the violence and talk about how to protect their community.

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“At a difficult time, we must come together to be safe,” said Gurpreet Singh, the temple’s president. “We have to be together, we have to raise our voices and unite. Because we stand united, but we fall divided. “

According to the Sikh coalition, between 8,000 and 10,000 Sikhs make their home in Indiana. Many Sikh families with agricultural backgrounds emigrated from India to the Midwest because of their auto and trucking industries, said Amrith Kaur, the coalition’s legal director.

The community has grown over the past few decades, and some Sikhs have also hailed from more populous centers in California and Canada.

At the weekend, the Sikh Satsang is a popular meeting place where temple members gather for prayer and food.

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In the kitchen, which is lined with long maroon carpets used to sit on the linoleum floor, chatting among friends can sometimes drown out prayer songs from the hallway. Standing shoulder to shoulder members cook and serve traditional vegetarian dishes.

Saturday was no different, except this time four members of the ward were missing – Johal, 66; Jaswinder Singh, 68; Jasvinder Kaur (50) and Amarjit Sekhon (48). All four had attended the Gurdwara, one of the oldest in the city, although Johal was the only frequent participant.

The Sikhs at the meeting from eight different Indianapolis temples spoke about the prejudices they faced. They shared stories about when they were harassed for wearing turbans or singled out for speaking Punjabi, a language native to India’s Punjabi region.

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“People see turbans and think of terrorists,” said Romandeep Chohan, 28. Johal was her aunt. “But at the end of the day we are. We are your neighbor, we are your friend. “

Others talked about past violence. In 2012, a white supremacist entered a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six people before fatally shooting himself.

The massacre, nearly 300 miles from Indianapolis, felt tragic but distant to Maninder Singh, one of the leaders of the Sikh Satsang. But as Singh waited with relatives of workers on Friday to find out if they had survived, he was reminded of the lives lost nine years ago.

“It came to my mind right away,” he said. “Have we ever thought that this could happen to us? No, we never thought it could happen here. “

Aasees Kaur, a Sikh coalition official, said the deadly attack in Indianapolis underscores the bigotry Sikhs have faced and the need for more robust efforts to prosecute hate crimes that are underreported and difficult to prosecute.

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Although authorities have not yet given a motive for the shooting, Kaur said it feels like her community has been targeted. The FedEx warehouse employed many senior Sikhs whose native language is Punjabi, as English is not an essential part of the job.

“Given everything our community has seen in the past, given the pattern of violence, bigotry and backlash we have faced, it is impossible not to feel the same pain and determination right now,” she said.

In a letter to the White House on Saturday, the coalition pleaded with the government to address longstanding concerns that hate crimes against Sikhs would go undetected and unchallenged.

The coalition noticed an incident in Illinois in 2018 when a Sikh Uber driver, Gurjeet Singh, was held at gunpoint by a passenger who said, “I hate turban people. I hate bearded people. “The attacker was not arrested.

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Under the list of motions attached to the letter, the coalition called on President Biden to visit Indianapolis, appoint an American Sikh association in the White House and reinstate a bill preventing the sale of firearms to those convicted of hate crimes. The letter also asked for federal security funding for places of worship, including Sikh temples.

On Saturday in the temple, the assembled group considered how they could make something good out of the tragedy.

Some talked about the need for Sikh representation in politics. Although there are more than 500,000 Sikhs in the United States, few have held elected offices until recently, according to the coalition. The first Sikh mayor with a turban in US history, Satyendra Huja, was elected in Charlottesville in 2012.

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One of the Gurdwara leaders, KP Singh, urged members to better communicate the ideals of Sikhism and use English to reach people who are not familiar with its traditions. He recalled that when the Sikh community in Indianapolis held a vigil for the victims of the 2012 shooting, it was carried out entirely in Punjabi. This time, he said, it has to be different.

“We pray for each of you not to think about what Channel 8 can do for us,” he told the congregation. “Do not worry. Not what Governor Eric Holcomb can do for us. Not what Mayor Hogsett can do for us, or what any of your Sikh leaders can do for us. “

Borrowing from President John F. Kennedy, he commanded: “Ask yourself, what am I willing to do for each of us?”

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Singh recalled that shortly after he moved to the United States about 50 years ago, the local newspaper published a photo of him in the “Curiosities” section. He didn’t offend himself, he said, but it was his mission to let others know of his beliefs. Decades later, he fears that Sikhs will continue to be a mystery to their neighbors.

“How is it that after more than a century here as a community we are still approached on different levels by fools and people who refuse to believe that we are not part of their own families?” he asked.

Rimpi Girn, a relative of two of the victims, Jasvinder Kaur and Amarjit Sekhon, spoke about how the tragic burden of gun violence is shared by marginalized people in the United States. Girn called for stricter enforcement of gun violence, saying the violence will only stop after lawmakers take action.

“It doesn’t matter what community you are from, what ethnicity, race, or location,” she said. “What is important is human life.”

Lateshia Beachum contributed to this report.