India’s Sikhs respond to shooting in Wisconsin

Most of the world's 20 million Sikh's are in India's Punjab Providence - today, they're thinking about Wisconsin

Jack Rodolico By Jack Rodolico

Mourners, including Harpreet Singh (L) and Amardeep Kaleka (R), whose father, temple President Satwant Kaleka, was killed, cry during a news conference in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. (Reuters/John Gress)

Another week, another mass shooting of innocents here in the U.S. – and another foreign nation throws up its hands in horror at America’s surreal gun violence.

This week, during a Sunday morning service at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Wade Michael Page killed six Sikh worshipers. He was then shot dead by police.

More details are emerging every hour. Page served in the military for about six years in the 90s. The gun Page used, a 9mm handgun, was purchased legally. A white supremacist with a 9/11 tattoo on his bicep, Page was “a frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band,” says the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

You won’t find a more detailed analysis of the shooting – and subsequent investigation underway – in Wisconsin than this report from the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

But Latitude News wondered what the Indian press had to say: Most of the world’s 20 million Sikhs live in India’s Punjab province.

India’s political and religious leaders have expressed their horror and sorrow at the gurudwara shooting (a gurudwara is a Sikh temple). But Sikhs have long suffered oppression, even in India – most notoriously the 1984 storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and then after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, the “1984 genocide.” Those events were in the news just a few weeks ago, when British Sikhs protested the carrying of an Olympic torch by an Indian actor they accuse of inciting the attacks 28 years ago.

Today Sikh protestors took to the streets in India, demanding better protection around the world. Among the handmade signs: “USA Govmt. Shame – Shame.”

Jammu, northern India – protesting against the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (Reuters/Mukesh Gupta)

Politicians, too, are calling on the American government to take action.

According to India Today, Avtar Singh Makkar, president of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC), is calling on the Prime Minister of India and the U.S. government to take action. (The SGPC is Sikhism’s leading religious body.)

US Government should take strict note of the incident and punish those behind the criminal act. They should also ensure safety and security of the religious places of the Sikh community in US…. In US, you will find doctors, scientists, industrialists and entrepreneurs from the Sikh community.

The Indian Prime Minister himself, Manmohan Singh, is a Sikh. According to the Times of India, he called the shooting a “dastardly attack” and a “senseless act of violence.” The chief minister of Punjab province implored Prime Minister Singh to speak with the Obama Administration about Sikh safety in the U.S. In a letter to the Prime Minister, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said:

there is a growing feeling in the minds of Punjabis in general and Sikhs in particular that the Union government must get more activiely and vigorously involved in getting the US administration [to] address the issue of safety in earnest.

If you’re looking to get a sense of the thoughts among Indians about the shooting, check out the comments at the bottom of this article from this article from The Times of India. The over 800 comments truly are all over the map, but these two represent two sides of debate about what happened in Milwaukee:

The Indian community in USA should take steps to teach the hate blinded American citizen how to differentiate between an Arab and a Sikh…. I don’t know when the under educated Americans will learn to differentiate chalk from cheese.

…Indian media and govt easily forgets what they themselves had done or have been doing with minorities. They seems to have forgotten that hundreds of gurdwaras were desecrated in this so called secular country but never  ever  let chance go away for condemn the other nations.

Alleged gunman Wade Michael Page, undated. (Reuters/FBI/Handout)

But this interview from New Dehli Television drove home a message, not only about the senselessness of the killing spree, but also about how the world is, simply, shrinking.

Amardeep Kalika’s father, Satwant Singh Kalika, was killed in the shooting.

“In America,” Kalika says, “there’s always the story of the guy coming over with two dollars in his pocket and making a million. He was that guy.”

Kalika (in the at the top of this story) says his father used a portion of his savings to build the very gurudwara in which he was eventually slain. The devout Sikh wanted the temple to be built big enough to welcome large numbers of Punjabi Sikhs to Wisconsin.

Kalika said that hate groups aren’t impulsive.

It was a highly organized act. Don’t think that just because you hear the word anger or hate, that it wasn’t organized. That takes a very precise articulation in the mind. And that action took years and years. It took years to come to an anger boil like this….if we’re going to talk about terrorism, let’s not simplify. Show the real articulation of why terrorism exists in the nation, and go through the complexities.

As the BBC reports, since 9/11 Sikhs have been victims in numerous acts of violence in the U.S. Sikhs wear turbans and Osama bin Laden also wore a turban, causing people to confuse Sikhs with militant Muslims – as if that was a reasonable excuse for shooting strangers. Sikhs also face attacks in the UK, though their longstanding presence in that country (witness the popularity of movies like “Bend it Like Beckham,” about a Sikh girl who adores British footballer David Beckham) had Sikhs telling Reuters that a Wisconsin-like attack could never happen in the UK.