By Rob Glidden
Southington’s Sikh temple, Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, hosted a candlelight vigil in the wake of a violent shooting at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
The tight-knit Sikh community in Connecticut, along with others across the nation, has been deeply disturbed and shaken by the incident on Sunday, August 5, when gunman Wade Michael Page shot and killed six people inside the temple before turning the gun on himself.
The Southington temple, which only opened on West Street last year, drew hundreds of participants for the vigil. The following night, another vigil was held at the temple in Hamden.
“So far, it has been peaceful here,” said Darshan Singh Bajwa, a member of the temple’s management committee. “But you never know when somebody with some kind of prejudice, some kind of mental problem, can do damage.”
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith that was founded in Northern India more than 500 years ago. Observant Sikhs do not cut their hair and male followers often cover their heads with turbans and refrain from shaving their beards. The core tenets of the religion value mediation, supporting your family with honest work, and helping to provide for the needy. For more on Sikhism, see the guest column on page 8.
Those unfamiliar with the faith often see the turbans and beards and confuse Sikhs with Muslims, a case of mistaken identity which can have dire consequences in the years since Al Qaeda’s attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. The Washington-based Sikh coalition has reported more than 700 incidents in the country since 9/11, most of them attributed to anti-Muslim sentiment. A Sikh gas station owner was shot and killed on September 13, 2001. A Sikh doctor in New York City spent 48 hours straight treating the victims of 9/11 before he was attacked on the street when he finally went home to rest.
Bajwa said the issues of mistaken identity were problematic well before September 11. After a group of Iranians took 52 Americans hostage in November 1979, for instance, he said people verbally harassed him and his family while they were driving on the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York.
Manmohan “Manny” Singh Bharara, the co-founder of the Southington temple who has become a familiar face in town, said he felt the most responsible way to deal with the tragedy was not to give into anger.
“When something like this happens, you must be calm and patient,” he said. “You can not respond to hatred with hatred. It does not get us anywhere. We want something positive to come out of this, although we will have paid a great price for it.”
Representatives from Southington’s other religious institutions signed a joint statement expressing solidarity with the Sikh community and condemning the violence. Southington’s First Congregational Church hosted a rally the week before in response to the Aurora, Colorado shooting.
“Once again, ignorance and hatred has reared its ugly head and all of us feel the sting of sadness and grief at this sign of brokenness,” the statement reads. “Violence done to one part of our community diminishes us all.”
A report from the Waterbury Republican-American was used in this story.