Members of Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in Southington had just finished their Sunday prayers this morning when they got word that a gunman had entered a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and killed at least six people, injuring dozens more.
At first, there were few known facts, and the congregation, with several families in Farmington, is still watching the news closely.
But there is one thing Darshan Singh Bajwa has seen consistently and particularly since the September 2011 attacks.
“We wear turbans — the Sikhs in America — and it’s only the Sikhs that wear turbans. … Then people see pictures of Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries and they have turbans, and we are mistaken as belonging to that group,” said Bajwa, a leader of the congregation.
And though Bajwa said Sikhs are peaceful and friendly with all religions, and their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, decrees that all people be treated with kindness as human beings, Sikhs across the country have met with conflict in cases of mistaken identity.
Bajwa, who has lived in Farmington since 1969 and saw his children graduate from , remembered an incident shortly after the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, where he faced similar discrimination.
“I was coming with my family from Washington and on that day we came to the Tappan Zee Bridge and we had a lot of troubles. Traffic was dead slow and people were calling names on us. They called out that we were the ones from the Middle East, and even our ladies in New York — the taxi drivers wouldn’t stop for them,” he said.
The turbans make Sikhs unmistakably different, Bajwa said, and many feel they must be even more vigilant with their behavior not to draw attention.
“We have a very distinct style that we wear the turbans because we grow long hair and that makes us very vulnerable to exposure in the present circumstances.”
Bajwa meets with the congregation in Southington now, but before that met with a small group of families in his home in Farmington.
As he gathered more facts about the Wisconsin shooting Sunday, Bajwa conferred with the temple president. They decided to mainly treat the incident as a random attack.
“We were discussing should we take some precautions and we were thinking that we should appraise our congregation that we should not take it as a threat but rather that anybody could do anything at any time.”
, a Southington resident who co-founded Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, condemned today's shooting.
"It is very sad," he said. "It is ignorant."
While many details are still forthcoming in the Oak Creek investigation, including a motive and the lone gunman's identity, Bharara saw the tragedy as only one thing: a hate crime.
"People do not understand what Sikhism is," he said. "Sometimes we are confused with other religions."
In light of today's events, he added, mainstream media should launch a series of public education pieces on Sikhs.
Bharara and his fellow Sikhs will also turn to prayer. "Of course, we have to do that," he said.
"May their souls rest in peace," he said of the victims. "Somehow God will provide support for the families who lost their loved ones."
Bharara and other members of the Sikh community will gather Monday night at their to pray together.
According to the NYC-based Sikh Coalition, Sikhism is the fifth largest
religion in the world, with over 25 million followers worldwide and over 500,000 followers in the U.S. More information on Sikhism can be found here.