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Jasmeet Sidhu Headshot

For Sikhs, a Certain Inevitably With Wisconsin Tragedy

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Sunday morning is a familiar scene inside many Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) across North America.

The men and women in the kitchens will be preparing roti, dahl and other traditional Indian dishes to serve for lunch (or langar, the free community meal) to the temple's congregation.

Children will be running and playing barefoot up and down the temple's corridors. Inside the main prayer hall, early recitations of prayer and singing will be beginning.

However, for congregation members of the Sikh temple in Milwaukee, this peaceful and reassuring routine of worship was horribly disrupted by the arrival of a gunman, whose spatter of bullets left six dead in his wake.

Milwaukee police are now calling the shooting a "domestic terrorist-type incident."

The news of the shooting has shocked the nation and an entire global community of Sikhs, only weeks after the bloodshed in Aurora, Colo.

Though the police have not confirmed a motive for Sunday's attacks, for many grief-stricken American Sikhs there is a certain ripple of downhearted inevitably that came with news of the tragedy.

Since Sept. 11, Sikhs living in the U.S. have a reported a rise in attacks, both verbal as well as physical. These attacks have included the deaths of many turban-wearing Sikh men, who are often mistaken as Muslim.

In fact, the first hate-crime death connected with Sept. 11 was that committed against a Sikh, not a Muslim, with the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi just four days after Sept. 11.

On Sept. 15, Sodhi, a turban-wearing Sikh was shot and killed in his Arizona gas station. Sodhi's death began a decade of hate-crimes committed against Sikhs -
- around 700 cases of violence and discrimination against Sikhs to be exact, according to the Sikh Coalition, the nation's largest Sikh American civil rights organization.

In April, Representative Joseph Crowley, D-NY, co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on Indians and Indian-Americans, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., urging the F.B.I. to collect data on hate crimes committed against the Sikh-Americans.

In the letter, Crowley cited that in the previous year alone, two Sikh men in Sacramento were slain, a Sikh temple in Michigan was vandalized and a Sikh man was beaten in New York.

His website says Sikh Americans are members of a community "that is acutely susceptible to violence because of their appearance."

So when the news came early Sunday morning of the events that transpired in Milwaukee, Wis., horror from the tragedy intermingled with resigned defeat among many Sikhs -- that a decade's worth of education on who the Sikhs and Muslims were and on their respective peaceful religions could not stave off another tragedy.

There are approximately 300,000 Sikhs living in the U.S. Is it the fifth-largest religion in the world, with more than 30 million followers. It is a monotheistic religion believing in one God, with its roots in the province of Punjab, India, where 500 years ago Guru Nanak first preached its message of social justice, charity, equality between all human beings, and emphatically denouncing superstitions and blind rituals.

It were these messages of the faith, that members of the Milkwaukee Sikh congregation were preparing to pray and meditate on, before a mad gunman entered the hallways of their Gurudwara, the most holy and welcoming place for Sikhs.

While the community in Milwaukee and the global community of Sikhs mourn for those that passed that fateful morning, the persisting questions of the safety of Sikhs and Muslims in America will and should remain.

And just with the conversations that need to be occurring around gun control that were sparked again in the days following the shooting in Aurora, Colo., unless an effective solution is recognized, there is a certain breath-holding among all of us, waiting to see if and when, the next incident occurs.