The Sikh Gurdwara shooting that left 6 innocent congregants dead in Wisconsin has left many devastated, and looking for answers. In the unfortunate hours during the shooting, news channels desperately attempted to find answers on Sikhism, and as a Sikh all I could do is sit there in shock, not just at the shooting, but more at how no one seemed to know who we were.
Many misconceptions were released by the media, including statements that Sikhs were an offshoot of Hinduism, or a blend of Islam and Hinduism. Sikhism has a great deal of respect for all faiths, but it is as independent as any faith. Founded in Punjab (which now falls in both Pakistan and India), its rejection of the caste system, idol worship, and rituals were just a few of the reasons the faith arose, not out of Hinduism or Islam, but separately as a force against oppressive theologies of the time.
Equally appalling however, is the reaction of India’s political party leaders over the horrific events. With some Indian citizens burning American flags, and shouting in protest against America, I was angered by their ignorance and mold ability. Who are they to burn my flag? Had these Indians and party leaders forgotten what caused the Sikhs to flee India and find refuge in America in the first place?
On June 4, 1984 the Indian army under the order of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attacked the Sikh’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple. The attack was justified by the government as an attempt to flush out Sikh separatists. Like most Sikhs, these separatists were demanding freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equal representation. However, the attack did not justify the human rights violations committed within the complex of killing congregants, urinating on dead bodies, tying congregants’ hands with their own turbans, and forcing them to drink the bloody water of the holy pool surrounding the Golden Temple. Along with the Golden Temple, 52 other Gurdwaras (housing no such separatists) were attacked. Reports estimate that 3,000 – 5,000 congregants were killed in 2 days, however, due to a media blackout and ban of Amnesty International (which continues to this day), an accurate number is difficult to fathom. Sikhs fled the nation of India in the years following 1984.
When Indira Gandhi was killed by her own two Sikh body guards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, the ruling Congress party enticed mobs to ransack the capital of Delhi, and kill Sikhs. It is estimated that over 5,000 Sikhs were killed between October 31st and November 2nd of 1984. Sikh men were lit on fire with tires hung around their neck, women were raped in the streets, and the police stood around and did absolutely nothing to stop it. To this day, regardless of all the eye-witness reports that put individuals such as Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar at the scene of these murders, no one has been convicted.
Witness reports from the Wisconsin shooting state that the shooter aimed at mostly “turbaned individuals.” Similarly, in the years following 1984 in India, the government of India began Operation Woodrose, which was a shoot and kill policy of all terrorists, with terrorists being described as those who wore turbans and had long beards. It is estimated that 150,000 to 250,000 Sikhs were killed under the false accusation of terrorism. The state sponsored terrorism gave a disturbing amount of power to then police chief KPS Gill. It is the orders of KPS Gill and other such high ranking officers that caused the death of thousands. Today, KPS Gill and most of the police officers who killed young men in police encounters, raped daughters in front of their fathers, and destroyed a whole generation, roam free.
Due to these reasons above, I cannot accept India’s “outrage” of the Wisconsin Sikh Temple incident. The leaders of India are hypocrites if they call for swift action for the killing of 6 Sikhs, when they themselves have the blood of 200,000 Sikhs on their hands. (I am only speaking of Sikhs in this post, but many minorities suffer in India).
The American media immediately fixed whatever mistakes they had made regarding the Sikh faith. Police shot and killed the culprit, the Gurdwara’s president was made a hero for his attempt to fight the shooter with his kirpan, and over $150,000 have been raised by Americans to help the victims and those that were wounded. That is what makes American great.
As Americans we may have some work to do in understanding eachother through inter-faith dialogue, but the value of human life and freedom is held at a level unknown to the Indian Government. The Indian government is yet to acknowledge the thousands disappeared and killed, yet to prosecute those responsible, and have provided almost nothing to the families of the victims.
India’s hypocrisy should not be tolerated. The violence in India continues as recently as this last month, where 17 innocent villagers were killed by Indian Police (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/chhattisgarh-encounter-were-innocent-villagers-killed-238347). India does not represent the Sikh faith, and it definitely does not represent Sikh-Americans. I am thankful that I live in a nation where I can practice my faith freely, safely, and even when tough times arise, I can turn to my fellow Americans for comfort, support, and change.
(For more information regarding the Sikh Genocide in India, please visit http://www.Ensaaf.org)
(To donate to the Wisconsin victims, please visit http://www.indiegogo.com/Milwaukee-Sikh?a=996722)
[These views expressed here are solely of the author, and do not represent any organization, people, or nation]