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Shooting of Elk Groove Sikhs threatens Freedom of Religion: Canadian Sikh Coalition

March 9, 2011 | By

Surry (March 8, 2011): Two elderly members of the California Sikh community were shot on Friday while walking in a Sacramento suburb.

Surinder Singh, 65 and Gurmej Singh Atwal, 78, were on a late afternoon stroll in Elk Grove when an unknown suspect in a pickup truck opened fire on them. Police believe they were most likely targeted after being mistaken for Muslims because they were wearing dastaar. Mr. Singh died of his injuries and Mr. Atwal remains in critical condition.

“These attacks are born out of complete ignorance of whom and what Sikhs are,” said Parvkar S. Dulai, director of the Canadian Sikh Coalition. “Refusal to learn basic religious facts, such as that Sikhs are not Muslims, leads to tragedy. We deeply appreciate the work of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), who agree with us that no one should ever face violence because of their personal religious beliefs.”

Expressing fears that they may also be targeted, some California Sikhs have suggested they will now hide all indicators of their religion in public. Such worries are bolstered by an event on February 13, when several U.S. congressmen spoke at a vicious anti-Muslim rally in southern California. Hundreds of people participated in the protest against a CAIR fundraiser, screaming obscenities at young families and telling American-born Muslims to “go home.”

Noting that the foundational philosophy of Sikhi is opposition to hatred and intolerance, the Canadian Sikh Coalition cited the practice of langar, a free, vegetarian kitchen. Integral to the Sikh religion, langar was designed to ensure that all people, no matter their caste or religion, can dine together as equals.

“Langar is a reminder,” said Dulai, “that Sikhi is an open religion which rejects insularity and invites any who are interested to learn. These unifying practices teach us that we can only achieve real peace through interfaith coalitions and a harmonious global Sikh community. Freedom of religion will never be guaranteed unless the choice of every person has equal protection.”

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