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Dogged by ill-will, Sikhs not feeling at home in US

The killing of six persons by a white gunman at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, on Sunday turned the spotlight onto the American Sikh community. Yashwant Raj reports. Gunman kills sixvideo-icon | Mother says sorry | NY mayor slams Obama, Romney

world Updated: Aug 08, 2012 07:46 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times

The letter did not bear the addressee’s name, simply a curt ‘Mr’, and the message it delivered was chilling. But it was nothing this Sikh-American family hadn’t seen before.

It said: “Our people in the neighbourhood have been closely watching your activities, and have figured that you are a close associate of a secret Taliban movement on US soil. If you do not leave the country as soon as possible, one among us will shoot you dead. Don’t attempt to relocate elsewhere in America, because we are closely monitoring your activities.”

This was the fifth letter of the kind to land in the family’s mailbox. They had received two such letters in 2003, when they were in Gaithersburg, Maryland. A couple more came, this time at their new home in Leesburg, Virginia, in 2005.

“This case is still under active investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, US Postal Service and Fairfax Police PD,” said police spokesperson Liz Mills on Monday.

The killing of six persons by a white gunman at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, on Sunday turned the spotlight onto the American Sikh community. For a long time now, Sikh leaders have been critical of the American society’s lack of understanding with regard to Sikhs — something that results in such attacks.

Alleged gunman Wade Michael Page is seen in this undated handout from the FBI, released at the Oak Creek Police Department. Reuters/FBI/Handout.

Arizona Sikh Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first victim of the 9/11 backlash, shot dead by a man who had declared he wanted to kill the “ragheads” (a derogatory term for turban-clad people) responsible for the terror attacks.

This misconception in American minds was probably fuelled by photos of terrorists with flowing beards and turbans, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, being flashed on television.

“I heard a lot of ugly taunts and insults, and had a couple of encounters that might have been dangerous if I hadn't decided to walk away very quickly,” Amardeep Singh, co-founder of The Sikh Coalition, wrote in his blog. “Like a lot of other Sikhs, I put up a sticker of the US flag on my car, announcing myself as a ‘Sikh-American’.”

Amardeep Kaleka, son of the president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin comforts members of the temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. AP/M Spencer Green

The last time the Sikh community found itself targeted by extremists was in March 2011, when two elderly men on a morning walk were shot dead in Elk Grove, California. No arrests have been made yet.

A majority of the 500,000 Sikhs in the US had arrived in the 1950s-60s, though the first wave came as farmers around the late 19th Century.

Read more:
Mass shooting incidents in last 20 years
Children who spotted shooter seen as heroes
Gurdwara head fought shooter with kirpan, turns into hero
Gurdwara shooting: FBI rules out involvement of second person
US flags to fly at half-staff till Aug 10 to honour Gurdwara shooting victims

First Published: Aug 07, 2012 23:47 IST