By David Cruz
New Jersey’s Sikh community is reacting to yesterday’s massacre at a gurudwara in Wisconsin, while police here are working to protect them and prevent against potential copycats.
There are about 25,000 Sikhs across New Jersey, according to Karnal Singh, president of the Nanak Nam Jahaj gurudwara in Jersey City. At the modest Gurudwara on West Side Avenue, congregants are eager to share their beliefs and customs with newcomers. It’s this kind of openness that made it easy for a gunman to walk into a gurudwara in Wisconsin and open fire. Singh said the news from the mid-west was a shock and made leaders here wonder about the safety of their own place of worship.
“From yesterday, we are worrying about that,” said Singh.” Before we didn’t think we needed any kind of security over here, but now, I think we need security because this can happen anywhere, you know.”
Singh says officials in Jersey City have been extremely cooperative with his congregation even before this weekend’s shooting. He said he plans to talk with city officials about ways to make everyone feel safer. The Jersey City Police Department says they’ve increasing patrols in the neighborhood and will meet with leaders there soon, to assess ways that they can shore up their own security. As for members of the congregation, they say they have no real fear, or, for that matter, anger.
“Not really,” says Harkesh Thakur, a member of the Nanak Nam Jahaj Gurudwara. “Our community is a peace-loving community, spreading love amongst ourselves. There is nothing like hate and anger among our community or our members.”
Gurcharangit Lamba, an attorney and a consultant to government and business as well as to a number of gurudwaras around the state, says he understands that Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims, and often face hostility as a result. It’s tragic, he says, that ignorance and intolerance often manifest themselves in tragic violence. He hopes media attention paid to the community in the wake of this weekend’s killings will serve to enlighten.
“I’m really shocked to understand why am I not mistaken for a follower of Christ,” he notes. “Christ looks like me; I look like him. I look like Santa Claus, why am I not mistaken for him?”
Several Gurudwaras around the state plan to host open houses and community meals in the hopes that something positive can come from this tragedy.