India outraged over Sikh killings
Protests and prayer vigils were planned as grieving Sikhs across India called for strong U.S. gun-control laws after a gunman killed six Sikhs on Sunday in their temple.
Los Angeles Times
NEW DELHI —
India reacted with grief and outrage Monday at the news that at least six Sikhs were killed when a gunman attacked them the day before in their Wisconsin temple as they prayed and prepared food.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, said in a statement that he was shocked and saddened by the news and extended his condolences to the families of the victims.
"India stands in solidarity with all the peace-loving Americans who have condemned this violence," he said, adding that he hoped "such violent acts are not repeated in the future."
The motive of Wade Michael Page, a U.S. Army veteran who opened fire on worshippers at a Sikh temple, in Oak Creek, Wis., and was shot and killed by police, was not clear.
At the Golden Temple in Amritsar near the Pakistan border, one of the Sikh religion's most sacred shrines, officials said they were planning a three-day prayer vigil in honor of the victims.
"We are still in shock after the incident," Avtar Singh, the president of the trust that runs the temple, told local media.
Sikh men all take the name Singh, meaning lion. Protesters Monday in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir blocked a highway and waved banners calling for stronger U.S. gun laws. And Sikh parties pledged to mount a peaceful demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, as American Ambassador Nancy Powell visited New Delhi's largest Sikh gurdwara in a show of solidarity over what she described as a "ghastly act of violence."
Giani Gurbachan Singh, the head priest of Akal Takht, the highest Sikh temporal seat, called on Sikhs in the United States to adopt security measures at the U.S. temples, including installing closed-circuit cameras.
"This is a security lapse on the part of the U.S. government," he said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. He called for prayers for the victims to be said at Sikh temples across India and ordered a Sikh delegation sent to the United States to investigate the attack.
The Indian government rushed its consul general from Chicago, N.J. Gangte, to Wisconsin. India's foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, said the government was awaiting the results of the U.S. investigation, and he criticized the gun culture in the United States.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling in Africa, spoke by phone Monday with her counterpart, Krishna, said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell. He did not immediately have details of the conversation.
Ambassador Powell paid her respects at a Sikh temple in New Delhi and assured the worshippers there that her government stood with them. Powell expressed condolences and support for thorough investigation into "this horrific crime," Ventrell said in Washington.
In the northern city of Jammu, dozens of Sikhs gathered to protest the shooting, shouting slogans and carrying placards that read, "Ban open sale of weapons in U.S.A." and "Shame Shame Shame."
"It is very shocking. A country like the U.S.A., which says it is a superpower, could not protect its own people," said T.S. Ahluwalia, a marketing executive, as he walked into a Sikh temple in New Delhi.
India itself has a growing problem with gun violence, and ranks second worldwide in absolute numbers of civilian guns at 40 million, according to gunpolicy.org, a website hosted by the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia.
However, guns and ammunition are strictly regulated in India, and their numbers and use pale beside America's estimated 270 million firearms. India has fewer than four guns for every 100 people, compared with about 89 guns per 100 Americans, the world leaders.
"The gun culture in America is a bit disturbing," said Rohan Sabharwal, 23, a Sikh dressed in an orange turban who was shopping in a Delhi market. "It's a sad, regrettable thing to have this happen."
Sikhs for Justice, which describes itself as a U.S.-based human-rights advocacy group, said in a statement that it was donating $10,000 to the badly wounded Wisconsin police officer who risked his life in the attack and likely saved many other Sikhs. The officer was taken to a Milwaukee hospital and is expected to survive.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs, who wear long beards and turbans to cover their uncut hair, and other South Asians have been the victims of mistaken identity, starting just four days after the World Trade Center attack when a Sikh gas-station owner in Mesa, Ariz., was taken for an Arab Muslim and killed.
Since then, according to the Sikh Coalition, a New York-based activist group, there have been some 700 cases of random violence, killings, vandalism, bullying, beatings and intimidation against the Sikh community in the United States.
Arvinder Kaur, an English professor at Post-Graduate Government College for Girls in Chandigarh, said her American Sikh relatives don't wear turbans so they are better able to blend in.
"But I'm concerned for them," she said, although she's not going to cancel a planned trip to the United States. "We can't be scared. We can't let these people get away with this kind of discrimination."
The Sikh's headgear also has created misunderstandings with U.S. airport security. In late 2010, a senior Indian diplomat was told he had to remove his turban, a request that Sikhs consider offensive. After a 30-minute standoff, the diplomat's identity was verified, and he was allowed to proceed without a body search, but the incident made headlines in India.
Founded in 1469 by Guru Nanak, who preached monotheism and equality, in reaction to the Hindu caste system, the religion grew more militant after fights with India's Muslim Mogul rulers. The 10th and final founding leader, Guru Gobind Singh, commanded Sikhs to carry a kirpan, or curved ceremonial dagger.
Sikhs at one point controlled a powerful kingdom in what is today western India and parts of Pakistan. The British captured it in a bloody war in 1849. Around that time, the British army formed a Sikh regiment that still exists in the Indian military. Although Sikhs comprise about 2 percent of India's population, they make up a far higher percentage of the military.
Sikhs complained of discrimination after the nation achieved independence in 1947, and extremist factions grew in power. In 1984, Sikh extremists demanding the formation of a new nation of Khalistan holed up in the Golden Temple before being forced out by Indian forces with tanks; about 1,200 people died, mostly Sikhs.
Several months later, two Sikh security guards for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi shot and killed her in retaliation, prompting bloody anti-Sikh riots across Delhi and other cities. The Sikh uprising was crushed in much-criticized police actions across Punjab in the 1990s.
In addition to Prime Minister Singh, Sikhs hold some of India's most important positions: Army Chief Gen. Bikram Singh; and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, head of the financially powerful planning commission, are all Sikh.
They are a majority in the agriculturally crucial province of Punjab, known as the breadbasket of India, which now is ruled by the Sikh-dominated Akali Dal party. Their temples, or gurdwaras, often run free kitchens giving food to all comers. They are sometimes found on street corners during hot, summer months handing out cool drinks of ice, milk and rosewater to passing drivers.
Includes material from The Associated Press