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Local Sikh Community Reacts To Wisconsin Shootings

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As police in Oak Creek, Wisc., search for a motive in Sunday's shooting at a Sikh temple, local Sikh leaders are offering support and answers to the question of why.

Jasjit Singh is the executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund or SALDEF, the oldest Sikh American civil rights organization based here in Washington D.C. When he got the text about the shooting Sunday afternoon, he says he immediately got on a plane to Wisconsin.

"Once this news broke, it was just clear that we needed to be here on the ground, because nothing like this has ever hit our community," said Singh by phone Monday.

Singh was there in time for Monday's press conference, where local and federal authorities offered support, but few answers in connection with the murders which took the lives of six worshipers inside a Sikh temple.

"There's still an unclear assessment of what this individual's motivation might be, but as an advocacy group, we have a strong sense of what it might be," says Singh.

That's because Singh has witnessed and provided legal aid and support for many in the local Sikh community who've been targeted with threats of violence. Some people confuse Sikhs with radical Muslim fundamentalists, says Manjit Singh, co-founder of SALDEF. Some local Sikhs have received threats based on such misconceptions.

"It's primarily because of ignorance," says Manjit Singh. "The fact that the overwhelming number of Americans don't know who Sikhs are and equate the turban and the beard to people of the Middle East — Iraq, Iran, the Taliban, and Afganistan — I mean there's a huge slew of misconceptions."

 

Some of the visible articles of faith include hair, beard, and a turban worn by men. 

“The hair is seen as a gift by God ... and the school of thought is we do not want to alter something that is an natural gift by the divine," Manjit Singh says. "The hair is thought as an integral part of the Sikh’s identity.”

Manjit Singh hopes that continuing to educate the wider community about Sikhs and their culture will help avoid the mistrust and threats which have shadowed the community. 

Both men applauded D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier's efforts to increase security at Sikh temples and other places of worship locally following yesterday's shooting in Wisconsin.

 

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