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Sikhs shot at in California in a possible hate crime

Candlelight vigil in response to the attacks on Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal saw attendence of more than 500 people

The shooting of two elderly Sikhs in the Elk Grove neighborhood on March 4 left the Sikh community in Sacramento as well as the rest of the country deeply affected. Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal were on an afternoon walk when they were gunned down. Surinder Singh died, and Gurtej Atwal was in critical condition. According to The Sacramento Bee, the police are investigating this as a possible hate crime because of the traditional clothing of the victims, including a turban and full beards. The Sikh community reacted strongly to the unfortunate incident. Kashmir Singh, UNITED SIKHS Director from California said, "The Sikh community in California is visibly shaken by this incident, which follows closely on a similar crime against a Sikh taxi driver a few months ago. Sikhs are targeted because of their external religious identity, which is ignorantly equated or linked to terrorism." Besides education, messaging about matters of national security is also important. Hansdeep Singh, Senior Staff Attorney said, "Currently, we live in a climate where government officials, like Congressman Peter King, seek to alienate religious minorities by calling for hearings that only discuss extremism within the Muslim community. Our history is rife with examples of targeting minority communities (i.e. Japanese), instead, we should examine the impact of how vilifying a particular group permeates the societal consciousness and inevitably leads to hate or bias based attacks."
A Muslim civil rights group announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the shooter. The Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) noted the possibility that it was a hate crime. ‘At present, we have no evidence to indicate there was a hate or bias motivation for this crime; however, the obvious Sikh appearance of the men, including the traditional Dastar headwear and lack of any other apparent motive, increasingly raise that possibility,’ Elk Grove Police Chief Robert M. Lehner stated. Surinder Singh was a truck driver who had worked in both India and Libya before moving to the US about five years ago. He had recently survived his fourth heart attack. Gurmej Atwal moved to the US in 2001, and the family settled in Elk Grove in 2003. A nearby driver spotted the bodies of the elderly men along the sidewalk and stopped to call the police.

The Sikh community of Stockton, Yuba City, and Sacramento and SALDEF offered a $10,000 reward for information on the crime. Additionally.

Just four months ago, a Sikh American cab driver was brutally assaulted in West Sacramento, CA after picking up passengers at a local restaurant. The assailants, who yelled anti-Islamic remarks as they beat the 56 year old driver, were apprehended by the police. Candlelight vigil in response to the attacks on Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal saw attendence of more than 500 people

Hindu Students Council honored

Popular New York Times-owned website announced the winner of its 2011 Readers’ Choice Award for Best Hindu Organization: Hindu Students Council (HSC). The largest Hindu youth organization in North America edged out four other finalists, all of which were selected by editors from numerous nominations submitted by hundreds of readers. HSC enjoyed a near outright majority with 48% of the votes, and HSC Executive Board member Arjun Pradeep acknowledged the achievement, noting, “Receiving the award is a great honor in itself, but knowing that such a great portion of the readers recognized HSC’s efforts makes this award even more special!”

HSC was founded in 1990 by three students and has since grown to over 55 chapters in North America and several inspired chapters around the world, evolving into a truly international effort. The non-denominational, nonsectarian organization’s mission is three-fold: first, it seeks to provide opportunities for college students and young professionals to learn about Hindu heritage and culture; second, it strives to foster awareness of issues affecting Hindus; and third, it provides Seva (service) to the community.

The first part of the mission manifests itself in the form of various activities, events, and projects held at HSC chapters, aimed to educate young adults about Hindu culture. Activities include camps, trips to local temples, discussion forums on Vedanta, Bhagavad Gita study, and dinner socials. Among the events held are celebrations of major Hindu holidays such as Diwali, Pongal, Holi, and Shivratri, as well as movie screenings featuring films with Hindu themes. For instance, UC Berkeley’s chapter recently screened “The Legend of Bagger Vance”, which is based on the Gita, and “Hanuman”, which presents the Hindu hero’s story in animated form. College chapters at University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Penn State and Yale hold weekly poojas and have dedicated prayer space on campus. University of South Florida is holding a Regional Retreat at the end of March for the Southeast chapters. Other examples include Boston University’s weekly Saturday morning Bhajan sessions, to which 15-25 students gather and sing religious hymns harmoniously in groups. Stony Brook hosts a Dharmathon which includes speaker sessions, yoga classes, Mandir trip, ending with a celebratory Holi event. Each chapter uniquely promotes Hindu Dharma through their events and meetings.

Raising awareness on issues concerning Hindus is also a key focus for HSC. For example, a few years ago HSC became aware that California school text books featured blatantly false and offensive misinformation on Hinduism, including claims that the religion is responsible for the current caste system in India and the source of the practice of “brideburning”. The organization spread awareness about the efforts of California parents and other Hindus to fight such misinformation. In another instance, HSC worked with other organizations to successfully lobby a Seattle based company to stop manufacturing toilet seats with the image of Ganesh and sandals featuring Hindu deities on their soles.

Lastly, Seva (service) for the community plays a large role in HSC’s mission. Each year, thousands of youth across North America and indeed the world organize and participate in service work projects such as environmental cleanups, blood drives, soup kitchen service, and low-income housing construction. In light of the recent events with the Tsunami and Earthquake in Japan, HSC-TT (Trinidad and Tobago) chapter immediately took the initiative to set up a relief fund and work with the Japanese Embassy for effective distribution.
For more information, visit HSC at