By Subhi Khanna
CHICAGO: A day after they were targeted in one of the worst outbursts of violence against an immigrant community in generations, American Sikhs and the Indian American community are struggling to make sense of the bloodbath at a gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and searching for words to describe the carnage.
While the motives of the suspected gunman, identified this morning as Wade Michael Page, who shot and killed six worshipers and wounded three, remain unclear, many in the community have no doubt this was a hate crime, as Sikhs have been a target of multiple hate crime incidents in recent years. Page, a military veteran who himself was shot to death by police, reportedly had a 9/11 tattoo on one arm, pointing to the likelihood of this being a hate crime.
Some Sikhs described the carnage as the realization of their worst fear — people misidentifying them as Muslim terrorists because of the turban and beard they sport.
“This [bloodbath] is the result of ‘mis-identification’ as people think we look like Muslims,” said Inderjeet Singh, a Chicago-area cab driver for 20 years. He cited a series of attacks in which the Sikh community was targeted in the past decade.
The first 9/11 hate crime victim was a Sikh. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Mesa, Arizona, gas station owner was murdered just four days after the terror attacks in New York and Washington by an aircraft mechanic who mistook him for an Arab because of the turban that Sodhi wore.
For the same reason, many Sikhs like Inderjeet Singh are fearful of wearing turban. “My turban is not on my head — it’s in my bag today,” said Singh, adding that he usually avoids wearing it during the night time so as not to raise any suspicion.
He and many other Indians believe that a widespread ignorance about the Sikh religion may have led to the Oak Creek carnage.
Some stressed that it is time to educate America about the Sikhism, which has half a million adherents in this country.
Saurabh Sharma, 31, an investor who just moved to Chicago, said the “senseless act of violence” may have been “driven by lack of education around Sikh religion and the appearance that comes with it.”
“This is a wake-up call in a way, a time for everyone to educate themselves,” said Amandeep Singh Parmar, who came to the United States 10 years ago.
Some also linked the attacks to the overall gun violence in America. “The shooting in Wisconsin is the sign of a larger epidemic in America,” said Madhav Khanna, a 22-year-old who just graduated from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Gun violence has become a major problem and it is extremely unfortunate that a place of worship has been attacked. Only a madman would do such a thing.”
For the 175,000-strong Indian American community, the slaughter hit close to home, and literally so. Oak Creek, just an hour and a half drive from the Windy City, is for all practical purposes a suburb of Chicago.
Throughout yesterday and this morning condolences were pouring in from different parts of the city. So was a groundswell of support. “Hopefully the Indian community in Oak Creek can rally together after such a hateful crime,” said Khanna.
The Sikh community in Chicago has scheduled a candle light vigil on Monday night at Palatine Gurdwara Sahib in near Chicago, roughly 65 miles to the south of Oak Creek.
A statement by the Indian embassy in Washington said the Consulate General in Chicago has been “in close touch with the local authorities to monitor the situation” and “official has been deputed to visit the site to ascertain the situation on-the-spot.”
The embassy also said on Sunday that it is “seized of the situation and has been in touch with the National Security Council.” (Global India Newswire)