06 August 2012

Sikh tragedy

I was going to start putting a more personal touch on my India reflections. But I didn't think it would get this personal. Yesterday's tragic shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee drives me directly to a brief, spontaneous visit to a Sikh temple in Old Delhi.

We were on a mission in old Delhi: to buy a drum, my one personal souvenir of the trip. (More on that another time!) But as the three of us were the only ones going to the old city, Philip our guide made sure we saw more than just music row. We walked through the old mosque (India's largest; this link is NOT my video), found my drum, ate a South Indian lunch, walked through Green Park, and then - just before we slipped onto the Metro, the temple.

The temples are called "Gudwara," and are a surprising change from idol-filled Hindu temples. We were told that the Sikh religion was a reform movement trying to bridge Hindu and Muslim religious conflicts. I - wrongly - assumed that meant they are an image-free form of Hinduism. No, they are a monotheistic religion, and so fit broadly into the family of world religions that includes Judaism and Islam. In their own words . . . "Idol worship, religious rituals, and superstitions are discouraged." The Gudwara is a place for gathering and teaching.

The Sikhs under attack on Sunday, Aug. 5, in Milwaukee, were apparently celebrating birthdays in the "temple."

Since 9/11, Sikhs in the U.S. have been under suspicion, harassment, and domestic terrorism threats, because ignorant people confuse them with Muslims. But then, it is ignorant people who suspect, harass, and threaten American Muslims, too. Sikhs are the Indians whose men wear those cool turbans and leave their hair and beards uncut. Not to be paternalistic, but it is so cute - we saw this in India - to see young boys and young men in the early turban phase. (photo from an online source)

A recent flap got more attention in India than in the U.S., when a prominent Sikh man was forced by the TSA to remove his turban to go through airport security. This was an affront and an embarrassment, and a diplomatic travesty. (Seriously? With all our scanning technology? What was up with that?)

Still, all that aside, here's a nice thing to read, hopefully reflective of our true American character.

And, I'd like to think that this news item would have touched me, even if I hadn't gone to India, even if I hadn't had my brief introduction to Sikhism and its places of worship. But I'll say it again: nothing like travel to make you feel the world's pain.

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