Sikh Americans hold vigil for Orlando victims

Sikh Americans hold vigil for Orlando victims

In remembrance of the 49 victims of one of the worst mass shootings in American history at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Fla. June 12, the Sikh Religious Society in Palatine, Illinois, organized a prayer service and candlelight vigil June 22.

Over 200 people comprising members of the local Sikh community, neighbors, and interfaith groups gathered for the event that started with Kirtan in the congregation hall of the Palatine Gurdwara.

One hymn translated for the attendees on projection screen, read, “We are all born with the same divine light, then who is good and who is bad?”

Eight speakers representing the Sikh, LGBTQ, Muslim, mental health care, and gun violence prevention communities, addressed the standing-room-only gathering. Balwant Singh Hansra welcomed the guests and urged them to donate to known charities or groups supporting the families and friends of the victims.

“This gathering is against hate and violence and for respect to all human life”, said Rajinder Singh Mago who outlined the purpose of the gathering and introduced Gaurav Singh who emceed the program.

Surinder Kaur Nand, a psychiatrist, Nancy Mullen, executive director of Youth Outlook, Marcus Hamilton, a counselor at Youth Outlook, Satnaam Singh Mago a Sikh Youth Outreach volunteer, Azam Nizamuddin, an interfaith representative from Villa Park mosque, Parminder Singh Mann, a Sikh youth activist, Maria Pike of Every Town Moms against Guns and Mohammad Sarwar Nasir, president of Muslim Community Center Chicago, shared their perspectives and emphasized cohesiveness and strength in respecting and accepting diversity.

“God dwells in every heart,” said Nasir while reciting a couplet in Punjabi.

Hamilton, who works with a local nonprofit, Youth Outlook that offers counseling to 11-20-year-old LGBTQ children and young adults, said that as a gay man he lost a piece of himself after the shooting .

“It was an attack on Muslims, it was an attack on Sikhs, it was an attack on Christians,” Hamilton said. “It was an attack on people of good will everywhere.”

The Sikh community, which has suffered similar hate and violence, has memories of deadly 2012 attack when a man with connections to white supremacists, shot and killed six worshippers at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis.. Several speakers referred to that incident during the evening.

There also were several calls to action to the large interfaith crowd at the vigil. “We cannot pray away the violence, the shootings, the injustice and inhumanity. Let’s honor their lives through action.” said Gaurav Singh who emceed the program.

“The origins of Sikhism were based on activism against tyranny and hate, and standing up for truth and justice, not only for themselves, but also for others,” said Satnaam Singh Mago.

Narrating the story of a school friend Lucio, who was a regular at Pulse club in Orlando until about a month prior to this tragedy, Satnaam Singh Mago said, “We are all connected in sorrow and determination to end racial and hate violence in our communities.”

Pike recalled that the day her son was killed outside his apartment in Logan Square Chicago in 2012 was the day she became an activist.

“I’m feeling very humbled by your presence because I know that the fact that you are here means that you care,” Maria Pike told the large crowd. “It means that we are one.”

Mann, wanting to bring ownership and action beyond the vigils, asked the gathering, “Are we authentic in feeling the pain? Can we make it our own? Is it another community’s [pain]?” He emphasized the Sikh teaching begins with the numeral one, to signify the inherent unity of not just mankind, but all that there is.

Standing in solidarity against hatred and violence, a moment of silence was observed to honor the dead. After the candlelight vigil, which included a reading of the names of the 49 victims by Jasvir Kaur and Jagjinder Singh, everyone sat down on the ground as a sign of support to lawmakers who staged a sit-in on the House floor on the same day in Washington D.C.,

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