AMRITSAR/OAK CREEK/WASHINGTON: Indian Sikhs, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, voiced shock and anger on Monday at the killing of worshippers at a Sikh temple in the US, with some suggesting Muslims may have been the intended target.
“I am deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the shooting incident that has resulted in the loss of precious lives,” Singh, himself a Sikh, said in a statement.“That this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful,” Singh said. In Sunday’s attack, a gunman shot worshippers at a suburban Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in the mid-western United States, killing at least six people before he was shot dead by police.
“I hope the American authorities would investigate who is behind this dastardly attack on innocent devotees and that they will ensure that such ghastly events do not take place,” Singh told reporters later. In the United States they have often been confused with Muslims and targeted by anti-Islam activists, particularly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Leading Sikh politicians in India said the temple shooting in Wisconsin may have followed a similar pattern. “I think it is a case of mistaken identity.
Sikhs are often mistaken to be from the Middle East,” Manpreet Singh Badal, founder-president of the People’s Party of Punjab, told AFP. “This is an opportunity, although a very sad one, to raise awareness among Americans about the Sikh culture and identity,” he said. At Sikhdom’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in the northern Indian city of Amritsar, the atmosphere was tense and sombre as shocked Sikh devotees went to offer their prayers, amid the daily influx of tourists. Giani Gurbachan Singh, head priest at the Akal Takht, Sikhdom’s highest seat of religious and temporal authority, urged all Sikhs in the United States to “remain vigilant”.
“This is a security lapse on the part of US government wherein Sikhs have become the victims of violence,” Singh said, adding that a “chain of prayers” would be held in Sikh temples across India, including the Golden Temple. “This attack on Sikhs in the US is shameful. People come to the gurudwara (temple) to find peace. It is a holy place,” said Kulwinder Singh, 50. “Sitting in India we are helpless,” said Nita Singh, 45. “What happened in the US has hurt Sikh sentiments. The US government must take steps to see such incidents never occur in the future.”
Protests: In Indian-held Kashmir, which has a large Sikh community, protesters blocked a national highway and brandished banners calling for stronger US gun laws. In Delhi, several dozen Sikhs demonstrated outside the US embassy and chanted slogans denouncing “hate crimes”. “Sikhs contribute a lot to America, they are an important part of America,” said Manjit Singh, president of a Delhi-based Sikh party. “This is a racially motivated case and the (US) government needs to educate people about different communities so it doesn’t happen again.”