U.S.

Orlando Sikhs stand with you

By Miya Treadwell | August 06, 2016
Orlando Sikhs take part in interfaith vigil for victims of the June shooting.

Orlando Sikhs take part in interfaith vigil for victims of the June shooting.

In the weeks following the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the Sikh community in Orlando responded with a message of unity, which may have helped prevent backlash. 
 
Nearly two months after the shooting, the Sikh Coalition, a New York-based advocacy group, confirmed it has not received any incidents of backlash against Sikhs in connection to the June 13 massacre. 
 
Local Sikhs also have not heard of any issues.
 
“I haven’t heard of anybody receiving any backlash,” said Ishwar Singh, president of the gurdwara, Sikh Society of Central Florida, in Oviedo.  And neither has Navtej  Singh Khalsa, a member of the management committee. He was integral in collaborating events to bring a heartbroken community together. 
 
Orlando Sikh show solidarity with LGBTQ community. Photo courtesy: Sikh Society of Central Florida.
 
The gurdwara invited its sangat to participate in an interfaith service and a prayer vigil in remembrance of the victims shortly after the shooting, he said. The interfaith service took place at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando. Sikhs, Christians, Jews and atheists were all given an opportunity to mourn the lives lost by this tragedy. 
 
Navtej Singh described the service as solemn but necessary to begin the healing process.  
 
Every faith had an opportunity to get in front of the audience and say a few words in support of the grieving families,” he said. “Communities should get together and work together.  
 
The prayer vigil was held on June 17 at Lake Elola, in Orlando. More than 50,000 people showed up to uplift the community, Navtej Singh said. Only 20,000 people were expected. 

Orlando Sikhs at Lake Eola Park where an interfaith vigil took place that evening. Photo courtesy: Sikh Society of Central Florida.

Supporters from the gurdwara were asked to wear orange or blue turbans, the colors of solidarity for Sikhs. They were there to lend a helping hand in anyway possible.  
 
“(We were) handing out water bottles, snacks and flowers, he said, “Doing whatever we could.”
“When we went to the vigil…everybody knew what we were trying to do and everyone was nice,” Ishwar Singh added. He experienced a sense of mutual respect and grief, he said.
 
The prayer service was covered by the Naples Daily News, in Florida, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspapers. 
 
Orlando Sikhs handing out water bottles and snacks donated by Costco at Lake Eola Park where the interfaith vigil was held for victims of the shooting. Photo courtesy: Sikh Society of Central Florida.
 
United Sikhs, also a New York-based advocacy group, was one of many organizations that descended on Orlando in support of the victims and the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community).
 
A few days earlier, on June 13, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security worker, walked into the Pulse gay nightclub, and began shooting. Forty-nine people were left dead. 
 
The response by the local and national Sikh community reflects the foundational principals of the religion, said Wanda Day Sanchez, acting national legal director for United Sikhs. 
 
“The faith mandates that they (Sikhs) protect the innocent,” she said. “The main idea is that all humans are deserving of respect and kindness. 
 
“We stand in solidary with the LGBTQ community.”
 
Orlando Sikhs show solidarity. Photo courtesy: Sikh Society of Central Florida.
 
The Sikh Coalition received a couple of cases of bias since the Orlando shooting, but neither were from backlash. One was of Veerender Singh Jubbal, whose image was digitally manipulated to implicate him in the Paris attacks. The other was of Neelamjt Singh Dhillon who was questioned by the police after dining at a restaurant with a case carrying his musical instrument that looked suspicious to another patron. 
 
"While we assume that there are other cases that have not been reported, ...both stories emphasize why we must remain vigilant," said Arjun Singh, the coalition's law and policy director.