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Westchester Sikhs Focus on Peace After Shooting

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. – Westchester Sikhs gathered Sunday in Tarrytown to offer each other support and guidance a week after the tragic shooting that left six dead and four injured at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin .

Those who attended the service spoke of peace and tolerance and focused on addressing what they called the underlying hatred that caused the Wisconsin shooting  and other attacks of violence.

“I’m worried for the children,” said Avtar Singh, a member of Guru Nanak Sikh Center in Ardsley. “They see the coverage on TV and don’t understand.”

Singh said younger children can't understand the tragedy but older children should be encouraged to talk about the shooting and its causes. Singh, who moved to the United States in the 1970s, said attacks at places of worship, which are supposed to be venues of peace and safety, go against the basic founding principle of religious freedom in the U.S.

Singh said since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks there has been an increase in violence on Sikhs across the country. Sikh religious traditions call for wearing turbans and beards, which causes some people to confuse them with Muslims, Singh said.

Singh and others said the misplaced violence highlights the larger issue of intolerance and hatred toward minority groups.

“There appears to be ignorance about the Sikhs, but also there must be a lot of hate against other American minorities that led to this heinous crime against humanity,” said officials from the Guru Nanak Sikh Center in Ardsley in a statement given out at the event.

More than 50 people, both Sikhs and others, attended the event at the Knights of Columbus on North Washington Street where prayers and hymns were delivered in response to the shooting. After the service many people stayed to enjoy a langar, the traditional meal of vegetarian food prepared by Sikhs and offered to anyone, regardless of faith, as a service to the community.

Singh said the violent tragedy in Wisconsin is particularly difficult for the community to process because the Sikh religion promotes peace, tolerance and the idea that all people, regardless of religion, are equal and free to practice their beliefs.

“Sikh Americans are part of the American fabric, from coast to coast, working in every profession, serving in our armed forces and holding important positions in American political and civil life,” said officials in the statement. “Even still, Sikh Americans continue to experience hate crimes, job discrimination, school bullying and racial profiling.”

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