The Pittsburgh Gurudwara Organizes Vigil Against Hate Crimes

By Premlata Venkataraman

On Sunday August 5th, at the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin at around 10:30 a.m., preparations were going on for the prayer service and the langaar when gunman Wade Page shot people inside and outside the place of worship. Police were called and before it was all over, six Sikh worshippers were killed by the gunman and 50 others wounded. The gunman Page was himself killed by the police. For the ignorant Page, filled with hatred, it did not matter that an overwhelming majority of Muslims in the US do not wear turban at all. Ignorance and hatred are always an incendiary combination in all situations.

The assembly inside the Gurudwara before the vigil outside.

Instantly, the sporadic tauntings and threats faced by turban-wearing Sikhs who were mistaken for Muslims in the US after September-11 got much-needed attention nationwide. All these years, the Sikhs handled the harassment and humiliations stoically, dealing with the local police privately all over the US.

The Gurudwara’s Granthi Shri Succha Singh reciting hymns from the Adi Granth in the program.

That ordinary Muslims going about their daily lives are harassed is bad enough. But what to make of the terror-filled crime perpetrated by a hateful man inside a Gurudwara mistaking the Sikhs for Muslims?

Despite instant access to information in the US, that people still do not have a basic understanding about our demographic mix is a great irony of our time.

US Rep Murphy at the Gurudwara Podium.

Understandably, the FBI got involved, calling the killings at the a hate crime based on ethnicity and faith. So, all over the country, vigils were held in Gurudwaras across the nation to mourn the killings of the Sikhs in Wisconsin. In Monroeville, on Saturday August 12, the Tri State Sikh Cultural Society held a meeting and a candlelight vigil at their Gurudwara to honor the dead and wounded in the violence at the Oak Creek Gurudwara.

The vigil was well-attended by members of the larger Pittsburgh community made up of Hindus, Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The diverse gathering at the Gurudwara in terms of faith and ethnicity was in itself a powerful antidote to what happened in Wisconsin.

US Attorney David Hickton addressing the assembly at the Gurudwara.

The well-organized, dignified, and solemn ceremony was a balm not only to the Sikhs gathered in large numbers, but also for all others traumatized by this senseless violence.

The Gurudwara’s Granthi Shri Sucha Singh set the tone for the evening when he sang a mellifluous Kirtan (Sikh hymns from the Adi Granth, the Sikh Scriptural book). He recited and expanded one verse of  Guru Nanak that urges people to over­come hatred and enmity with love for fellow human beings.

Two young Sikhs born and raised in the US, Bani Kaur and Amar Singh, told the audience what it means to be a Sikh. Amar Singh gave the significance of the turban and why Sikh men wear them.

US Attorney David Hickton, representing the Department of Justice of the federal government spoke to the overflowing crowd at the Gurudwara briefly in measured tone. “[A]n attack on our civil rights or a hate crime is an attack on all of us, also an attack on our nation and our principles,” he said. He assured the audience that perpetrators of hate crimes will be dealt with the full force of the law.

Congressman Tim Murphy in his address said “We are not a nation of hate, we are a nation of love, and as such there is no room for hate in this room.” He promised to lend support to Sikhs to recover from this tragedy.

A representative of Gov. Corbett and a representa­tive of Congressman Doyle and a pastor also addressed the gathering.

Later, in the open area outside, in a solemn ceremony people lit candles at the flagstaff of the Khalsa flag as the names of those slain were called  out to the chants of “Wahe Guru! Wahe Khalsa!!”

Then as is the custom in every Gurudwara all over the world, visitors were treated simple food — called langaar among Sikhs  — that was shared by all gathered. The communal sharing of food among those visiting any Gurudwara is an importnat part of the Sikh faith.  

The Sikhs living in Southwest Pennsylvania highlighting the tenets of their faith and tradition in a very solemn and heartfelt ceremony will be long remembered by all those who attended.

Chitratan Singh Sethi, member of the Executive Committee of the Gurudwara welcomed the gathering and offered the closing remarks.

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