New Jersey’s Indian community has joined forces with people of all faiths to remember victims of the Sikh massacre in Wisconsin.
Although Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-17) is of Hindu faith, he says the Hindu and Sikh communities have many similarities like the Festival of Lights, or Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.
The assemblyman says he was shocked and dismayed upon hearing the news of what had taken place at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee.
“I was shocked. I thought how could this happen. Also in such a place where people go to worship. Innocent children, innocent people were victimized by this horrible crime.”
Mistaken for Muslims, members of the Sikh community have been targets of bias crimes since the September 11 terrorist acts. Chivukula vividly remembers his own experience from that time because he was running for an assembly seat for the first time. “I was campaigning and after 9/11 … I went to shake hands with people [and] some people refused to shake hands with me in New Jersey.”
The lack of understanding between people of all faiths and cultures, says Chivukula, shines a light on a need for education on several fronts.
“I was involved in the first hate crimes law many many years ago and we stay in touch with the law enforcement, especially with the Sikh community … educating the law enforcement officers [on] what Sikh religion is all about and how to help them and to do some of these textbooks about Sikhism and Hinduism so that children could learn about it at a very early age.”
The assemblyman was recently at a candlelight memorial service held at a Bridgewater gurudwara to honor the victims of the Wisconsin shooting.
“This is the time we have to come together and reach out to our neighbors and communities that will build the bridges and make sure that we increase the understanding of what the culture, whether it is Sikhism or Hinduism, what we bring to the richness of New Jersey and the United States.”