Gurbani Kaur is a rising senior at Hathaway Brown who serves as one of the editors-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Review. She wrote this open letter to address the tragedy of the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting on August 5, when a gunman opened fire at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. One Sikh woman, five Sikh men, and the gunman himself all were killed. The tragedy also left nearly 20 wounded and three people hospitalized in critical condition. In the wake of this terrible tragedy, many Sikhs are frustrated about the hate crimes, discrimination, and physical and psychological abuse they have faced after 9/11. Since that time, Sikh turbans have been falsely associated with the attack on the Twin Towers. Kaur says she wants to shed a positive light on the religious-diversity education that has played a significant role in her life as an American Sikh teenager.
August 8, 2012
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing to express my condolences to the entire Oak Creek Gurdwara Sikh Community as well as the Sikh community at large. As a teenage American and Sikh youth, I am moved to write this letter as an obligation to speak out against injustice, ignorance, and religious intolerance. My heart shrank in disgust as well as sadness as I watched the tragedy of the Wisconsin Gurdwara shooting unfold before my eyes; I am flabbergasted by the knowledge that someone would murder innocent worshippers in sanctity of their own religious setting, the Gurdwara. I fail to understand how anyone could be moved to commit an act of violence completely unprovoked against any worshipper be him or her at a Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Temple or Gurdwara.
Just like the majority of Sikhs residing in the United States, I was born here and am an American citizen. I owe my allegiance to this country and am just as loyal as any other of my fellow American citizens. The very American ideals/values of freedom and sacrifice for one’s country are paralleled by the teachings of Sikhism. The three basic principles of Sikhism are to work hard to earn an honest living, share one’s earnings with others through charity, and to remember our Almighty creator by chanting his name. The Sikh word for God is Waheguru.
Sikhism is a monotheistic faith that was born in the Punjab region of India. Today it is the fifth largest world religion with nearly 25 million and counting followers. Sikhism is a God-loving not God-fearing religion. The word “Sikh” translates to “disciple or student,” and Sikhism places a tremendous value on education and equality for both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. In fact anyone and everyone has always been welcome to visit a Gurdwara, or Sikh temple. This fact is even mirrored in the architecture of the Golden Temple in Amritsar in India. The Golden Temple has four doors from which people can enter one on each side of the building (North, South, East, and West) symbolizing, once again, that all are welcome in the Gurdwara.
When a Sikh engages in educating non-Sikhs about his/her faith he/she is engaging in “parchar.” Growing up in a post 9/11 world, I was in first grade when this tragedy struck our nation; I have felt obliged to practice a great deal of parchar, due to the ignorant and misguided association of the Sikhs with terrorist organizations. This past December I was honored to fulfill the request of my Global Scholars teacher to give a presentation on Sikhism and the Golden Temple to my fellow classmates and the faculty who chaperoned my school’s India Trip. Following my presentation I, with the help of my family, gave my peers a guided tour around the Golden Temple Complex and inside of the Gurdwara itself. I knew my efforts were fruitful and appreciated when in between my presentation and the beginning of the guided tour my Global Scholars Teacher and one of his fellow colleagues, and trip chaperone, went to a local turban shop and purchased Sikh turbans for themselves and requested the shop owner to adorn their heads with the Sikh crown. My inspired teachers chose to don the same turban, for the rest of the day even after they left the Gurdwara, that has been misguidedly associated with terrorism and caused the unfortunate abuse and demise of American Sikhs since 9/11.
Through my experience as a young American Sikh I have come to understand the true meaning of the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt when she stated, “with great freedom comes great responsibility.” In order to fully exercise our freedom of religion as Americans, people of faith including Sikhs must actively fulfill their civic responsibility to educate their fellow citizens and uplift one another from the swamp of misguided ignorance that plagues our nation. Only then can we truly believe that we have created an understanding, empathetic, and diverse community that can proudly proclaim America to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
On behalf of the entire Sikh community, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the President of the United States, President Barack Obama, for his kind gesture of ordering the American flag to be flown at half-mast until August 10th; I would like to thank the empathy we have received from the Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. I would also like to emphasize our gratitude towards the Wisconsin Police and First-Responders who put their lives on the line to protect the Sikhs of Oak Creek Gurdwara from further destruction, especially Lt. Brian Murphy whose heroic actions to help a victim in the parking lot as the first to arrive on the scene has left him in hospitalized in critical condition.
Please help me spread the word and honor the lives of the brave Sikh woman Paramjit Kaur, 41, and five brave Sikh men: Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65; Prakash Singh, 39; and Suveg Singh, 84, who were murdered in the Oak Creek Gurdwara Shooting Sunday August 5th, 2012. Let us all extend our support and prayers for the safe and timely recoveries of those who were hospitalized: Bhai Punjab Singh, Santokh Singh, and Lt. Brian Murphy.
Thank you for your time.