COLLECTIVE TRAUMA. A single bouquet of flowers sits in the rocks
across the street from the FedEx facility in Indianapolis, where eight
people were shot and killed, in this April 17, 2021 file photo. A gunman
killed eight people and wounded several others at the facility near the
Indianapolis airport, in yet another mass shooting in the United States.
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
From The Asian Reporter, V31, #5 (May 3, 2021), page 16.
U.S. Sikh community traumatized by yet another mass
By Casey Smith and Luis Andres Henao
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Ajeet Singh last month had to steel himself for a
return to work at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis 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 the April 15 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 channelling their grief into demands for gun
reform and tougher hate crime statutes, and calls for outsiders to
educate themselves about their Sikh neighbors.
"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.
The latest killings dredged up painful memories for Rana Singh Sodhi,
an Indian immigrant living in Arizona. He has spent nearly two decades
preaching love and tolerance after his brother was shot dead four days
after 9/11 by a man who mistook him for a Muslim because of his turban.
Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first of scores of Sikhs who were the target
of hate crimes in the aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks.
"It’s very painful," Rana Singh Sodhi said. "I hope one day ...
people will love each other and enjoy the life and working together and
living together in this beautiful country."
There are between 8,000 and 10,000 Sikh Americans in Indiana, where
they began settling more than 50 years ago and opened their first house
of worship, known as a gurdwara, in 1999.
Most of the employees at the FedEx warehouse are members of the
community. Gurinder Singh Khalsa of the Indiana-based Sikh Political
Action Committee said many Sikhs live on Indianapolis’ west and south
sides, making the facility’s airport location a convenient place to
His committee said it had set up a task force to seek answers about
the shooting and to press government officials to take action. An
important goal, Khalsa said, is to help people returning to work feel
That would be a relief to people like Gaganpal Singh Dhaliwal, who
said two of his aunts had just arrived for their shift at the warehouse
the night of April 15 when the shooting started. His mother also works
there. They all survived, but he’s mourning colleagues and friends.
Dhaliwal expressed hope that the tragedy will inspire others to
better understand the religion and cultural practices: "To all my fellow
Americans, whether Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, Jewish,
non-religious people, everyone: Google the word ‘Sikh’ today. ... Devote
five minutes of your time to be aware about another people around you
who may not look like you."
Already he’s starting to see some signs of raised consciousness,
notably in the flags flying at half-staff outside homes and businesses
across Indianapolis and an "outpouring" of support to fundraisers for
victims’ families. He urged more people to build bridges to his
"If you see a person like me wearing a (turban) on the head, in your
street, in your grocery shop, at your workplace, go talk to them,"
Dhaliwal said. "Tell them you know who Sikhs are, or give them a hug and
say, ‘Hey, you’re welcome in the U.S.’ Right now we’re a community that
needs a lot of support, and to know that we have a place in this place
The killings have reverberated nationwide. Pardeep Singh Kaleka,
executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee and
the son of one of seven fatal victims of the 2012 mass shooting at a
gurdwara in the suburb of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, said there are concerns
about an escalating threat of violence.
Small communities traumatized by violence are left to wonder, "Was I
targeted for my race?" Kaleka said. "Was I targeted for my ethnicity,
for my religion? Was I targeted for something I can’t control?"
And in California, Tejpaul Singh Bainiwal, a Stockton Gurdwara Sahib
member and student of early Sikh American history, said he’s grappling
with a range of emotions including "anger, hurt, hopelessness, and a
feeling of not belonging." Frustrating, he said, is that much of the
public focus has been on the shooter’s mental state rather than the
community he wounded so deeply.
"I am tired of the same old narrative," said Bainiwal, who was born
and raised in the U.S. but has been told to "fit in."
In Indianapolis, the Sikh community was focused on helping the
bereaved, who were trying to secure roughly two-dozen fast-tracked visas
so relatives overseas could travel for funeral rites. The proceedings
begin with cremation that is followed by up to 20 days of reading of the
1,400-page Guru Granth Sahib scripture, Dhaliwal said.
Early last month, the home of Sukhpreet Rai bustled with happy
chatter and kitchen activity amid celebrations of Vaisakhi, a major Sikh
holiday festival, and an upcoming family birthday. Now it has fallen
silent in mourning for two of her relatives, Jasvinder Kaur and Amarjit
"We were supposed to be celebrating a birthday and being together as
a family," Rai said. "We’re together, and we have one another, but it’s
for something different — it’s for a funeral."
Associated Press writers Anita Snow and Gary Fields contributed to
this report. Associated Press religion coverage receives support from
the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely
responsible for this content. Casey Smith is a corps member for the
Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report
for America is a nonprofit national service program that places
journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Read the current issue of The Asian Reporter in
Just visit <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>!