Sikhs react to the Wisconsin temple shooting

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Story highlights

  • The largest Sikh American civil rights organization in the United States calls for unity
  • India's Sikh party plans a protest near the American embassy in New Delhi
  • Because of their beards and turbans, Sikh men are often mistaken for Hindus or Muslims
  • The entire Sikh community "will be kind of scared" following the attack, says one follower

Sikhs and their supporters in the United States and India reacted with sorrow, disbelief and anger Sunday to news of a shooting at a temple in Wisconsin that left at least seven people, including the suspected gunman, dead. Here's some what they said:

-- The Sikh Coalition

The Sikh Coalition, which describes itself as the largest Sikh American civil rights organization in the United States, has started an emergency response.

"The Sikh Coalition's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the shooting, the Sikh community of Milwaukee, and the larger community of Wisconsin, which we know will stand with their Sikh neighbors with their support and prayers during this very trying time," said Sapreet Kaur, the group's executive director.

"There have been multiple hate crime shootings within the Sikh community in recent years and the natural impulse of our community is to unfortunately assume the same in this case. Let's let law enforcement investigate the case and as new facts emerge the dialogue can change. Americans died today in a senseless act of violence and Americans of all faiths should stand in unified support with their Sikh brothers and sisters," he added.

    -- Shiromani Akali Dal, political party in India

    India's Sikh party is planning to hold a demonstration near the American embassy in New Delhi on Monday.

    "The U.S. government should act decisively to stop these inhuman attacks," said Manjit Singh, a senior member of the Shiromani Akali Dal party.

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    There are around 25 million followers of Sikhism worldwide. Most live in India.

    -- Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, Wisconsin temple member

    Kaleka, who helped police interview witnesses, decried the attack as a hate crime. Authorities have not classified it as such, saying they are treating the shooting as a "domestic terrorist-type incident."

    "It seems like this person has this 9/11 tattoo, obviously has some animosity about those incidents, and ignorantly takes it out on a community that he thinks are responsible -- which is ludicrous in every way. Not only are we Sikh, we're not Muslim. But Muslims themselves are not responsible as a group for that," said Kaleka.

    Just days after September 11, 2001, a Sikh man was gunned down outside an Arizona gas station, apparently because he looked Muslim or Arab.

    Balbir Singh Sodhi was neither. He was a Sikh, and the first person to be murdered in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks.

    Those attacks provoked a wave of organizing among Sikhs worried about being mistakenly targeted.

    -- Surinder Singh, spokesman for the Guru Nanak Mission Society of Atlanta

    Singh echoed the idea that Sikhs can be confused for Muslims and Hindus and have been targeted because of that potential.

    Sikh women are less identifiable than men, who customarily wear beards and turbans. Many American Sikh women dress like other Westerners or wear the salwar kameez, a traditional north Indian garment of a long shirt and loose-fitting pants.

    The entire Sikh community "will be kind of scared" following Sunday's killings, Singh said.

    -- The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

    The committee urged members of the Arab, Muslim and South Asian-American communities to exercise "extreme" caution at places of worship in the wake of the Wisconsin attack.

    It also urged those same people to report incidents of harassment, abuse or violence.

    "The increase of anti-Muslim rhetoric by certain media personalities, elected officials, and political hopefuls is detrimental to our Country; and, as already experienced, leads to an increase in hate crimes against Arab, Muslim, and South Asian-Americans, as well as those perceived to be Arab or Muslim," the committee said in a statement.

    "ADC will continue to stand with the Sikh American community, and other minority groups, in combating discrimination and hate," it added.