Westchester Sikhs Focus on Peace After Shooting

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Avtar Singh gathered with other Westchester Sikhs and community members to begin the healing process after last weeks shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple.
Avtar Singh gathered with other Westchester Sikhs and community members to begin the healing process after last weeks shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple. Photo Credit: Jes Siart

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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I'm shocked at how little air time this got, across the board. After the theater shooting, you couldn't turn to a channel that has news without hearing about it(rightfully so). I had to turn to several News stations, finally finding it on CNN, before just going online to find out what happened.

There is never going to be FREEDOM for all, of religion or anything else in this country as long as people think Freedom only includes the stuff they believe in.... Look at some of the comments in news and online... people basically coming out and saying, well if you didn't wear a turban, blah blah blah... it sickens me. I guess men going to temple in yamikas or women who still cover their hair, going to church should start changing, huh...

New York State has the reputation of being especially enlightened on social issues. Let us all reach out to the Sikh community in our own ways to assure them that Americans and New Yorkers do believe in religious freedom and respect for all cultures. This includes people of all backgrounds, races, creeds, genders and lifestyles. It's time to address all issues related to hate crimes, violence and other criminal acts, and to strengthen our gun control laws, care of the mentally ill, and increased education in our schools regarding etiquette, protocol and anti-bullying.