CHICAGO — Founded more than 500 years ago in the Punjab region of South Asia, the Sikh faith has more than 25 million adherents worldwide. There are some 500,000 Sikhs living in the U.S. today, with the first immigrating in the late 1800s.
Four of the eight victims in last week’s deadly mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis were Indian Americans of the Sikh faith. Now, activists, artists and political leaders are calling for solidarity and acknowledgement.
At a virtual vigil for the victims of the FedEx mass shooting thousands mourned the loss of life.
A large majority of employees at the FedEx warehouse facility were of the Sikh faith. It's something that some allege the shooter, a former FedEx worker, would have known when he opened fire.
Among the dead four Sikh Americans: Amarjeet Johal, 66; Jasvinder Kaur, 50; Jaswinder Singh, 68 And Amarjit Sekhon, 48.
“People have been, you know, shaken in agony and pain. We've been quiet. We've been gathering together among ourselves to tend to each other, said Valarie Kaur, civil rights activist, attorney, and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project.
“This vigil was a way to invite people to stand in solidarity with Sikhs and see us not just as victims, but as people who have something to offer for how to find resilience and longevity in the face of ongoing injustice."
The murders come as anti-Asian hate crimes have been surging. On Thursday, with wide bipartisan support, the Senate passed a hate crime bill condemning discrimination against Asian communities in the U.S.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and the advocacy group Sikh Coalition have called for an investigation into whether the Indianapolis attack was driven by anti-Sikh motivations.
“The fact that the shooter had reportedly been on white supremacist websites is a critical piece of new and relevant information,” said Sim J. Singh, senior manager of policy and advocacy at the Sikh Coalition. “And that's why we're still underscoring the need for that investigation with potential bias, motivation.”
“We have been hearing eyewitness accounts from the ground that the gunman specifically targeted Sikh employees during his rampage. In essence, he hunted us,” said Kaur.
Anti-Sikh sentiment and violence is not new. In the aftermath of 9/11, more than 700 attacks and discriminatory harassment were reported against the community.
Balbir Singh Sodhi, an Arizona gas station owner who possibly targeted because of his turban and beard, was murdered in the first post-9/11 retaliatory hate incident.
“People believed that individuals who look like myself weren't really a part of the United States,” said Singh.
In 2012, a white supremacist fatally shot six worshippers at a Sikh Temple in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. It sent shockwaves through the tightknit community.
“He knew that he was shooting up a Sikh house of worship,” said Singh. “This was not a case of mistaken identity.”
“In the wake of Oak Creek, we were just trying to get the nation to talk about white supremacy and our community in that narrative, but we couldn't even get them to pronounce Sikh or ‘Seek’ or know who we were or what we were about. And then, the nation moved on,” said Kaur.
And concern is growing.
According to a new Pew study, 32 percent of Asian adults say they have feared someone might threaten or physically attack them, more than other racial or ethnic group. The vast majority (81 percent) also say violence against them is increasing.
“My own son heard the words ‘Go back to your country’ when he was only 4 years old,” said Kaur. “And memories from Oak Creek are coming back to me, memories from post 9/11 are coming back to me, and all of us are in this kind of deep trauma as a community.”
Kaur says in light of the killings in Indianapolis, it’s time for others to recognize that racial violence must be called out and reckoned with.
“We're calling for our fellow advocates to use the hashtag #StandwithSikhs to see us as part of the broader narrative to hashtag #StopAsianHate to see us as part of the broader narrative to stop and end racial violence in this country.”
For now, the Sikh community is standing in solidarity and praying for justice.