By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Aug. 11, 2012
There was a mournful silence, which gave way to a mild hum of voices praying together.
About 70 members of the Sikh community huddled together and read the Sikh holy book along with the priest on Wed, Aug.8 at the Sikh temple on Fifth Ave.
The prayers talked about evanescence of life.
They entreated God to bring peace to the departed, and courage to the loved ones burdened with living.
Candles flickered near the Guru Granth Sahib, and gave the room a sepulchral aura.
An unbearable sadness seeped through silence and words.
In the community hall, over dinner, the congregants talked about how the shooting had impaled the hearts of the Sikh diaspora.
“Look at that door,” Makhan Sanghera, the Sikh Society president said, pointing to the wide open door at the entrance.
“Everyone is welcome here, but what can you do if someone walks in and starts shooting,” he said.
Others shook their head in mournful silence, tyring to imagine the Wisconsin tragedy.
“What can be worse than being shot in a place where you have come to pray,” said Kulwinder Singh Padda.
The Sikh temple, or Gurudwara, in India is a place of prayer and meditation. Outside India, it is an island of community and fellowship, a refuge from the foreignness of the world beyond its gate.
For the Sikh diaspore, there could be no bigger violation than an attack on a temple.
As they analysed the tragedy, Sikh men at the local temple also bewailed the fact that Sikhs were being mistaken for Taliban with their turbans and flowing beards.
“We should have more educational programs to tell mainstream Canadians and Americans about ourselves,” said Chamkaur Singh.
That has become a common refrain in the community, especially since Sikhs have borne the brunt of racist and xenophobic attacks after 9/11.
A few days after the 9/11 attacks, a Sikh man, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot dead in Arizona by a man who assumed he was a Muslim.
Kavneet Singh, the managing director of Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), said there have been more than a 1,000 reported cases of attacks on Sikhs since 9-11.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Sikh men in the Oak Ridge area of Wisconsin called the killings ‘collateral damage’ of the so-called war on terror.
They also said they were routinely called Osama bin Laden, even after they tried to explain that Sikhs are an entirely different religion.
Yet, it’s not lost on Sikh community leaders that there is something disturbing about underscoring the religious difference between Sikhs and Muslims, as if the attack on the latter was somehow more acceptable.
“We don’t want anyone hurt because of their beliefs or their religion,” Sanghera says.
Squamish Sikhs at the temple also expressed their pride in Canadian multiculturalism, and took comfort from stricter gun laws in the country.
They also took special pride in Squamish, where cultural and religious differences have rarely frayed the social fabric of the community.
“In Squamish, we have, and we will, always keep our doors open,” Sanghera said.
Everyone sitting close to him nodded instinctively.