Indianapolis, April 21
Ajeet Singh had to steel himself for a return to work at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis on Tuesday for the first time since a former employee shot dead eight people, including four members of Indianapolis’ tightly knit Sikh community.
“I’ve been scared to go back,” Singh said. “I don’t know why this happened still. Was it random, or was it because of who I am?” While the motive for last week’s rampage remains under investigation, leaders and members of the Sikh community say they feel a collective trauma and believe more must be done to combat the bigotry, bias and violence they have suffered for decades in the country. Amid intense pain, they’re channeling their grief into demands for gun reform and tougher hate crime statutes, and calls for outsiders to educate themselves about their Sikh neighbours.
“We are time and time again disproportionately facing senseless and often very targeted attacks,” said Satjeet Kaur, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, a New York-based group that has urged investigators to examine bias as a possible motive in the shootings.
“The impact on the community is traumatic,” she continued, “not just particularly the families that face the senseless violence, but also in the community at large because it’s community trauma.” In the days since the shootings, the coalition facilitated a call with federal officials in which Sikh leaders in Indiana asked for the appointment of a Sikh American liaison in the White House Office of Public Engagement, among other requests.
A monotheistic faith founded more than 500 years ago in India’s Punjab region, Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest religion with about 25 million followers, including about 500,000 in the United States.
Kaur said that as a relatively young faith with a low population in the Western world, Sikhism is generally not taught in schools to the same extent as other global religions or integrated in policy-making, resulting in misunderstanding and ignorance. Anti-Sikh discrimination can manifest itself in everything from schoolyard bullying to verbal attacks to shocking acts of violence.
Last year, a man accused of running over the Sikh owner of a suburban Denver liquor store after reportedly telling him and his wife to “go back to your country” was charged with a hate crime and 16 other counts including attempted murder.