My Cup Overflows…
Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia
Executive Director, Religions for Peace USA
April 18, 2021
The Sikh community celebrated one of the most important festivals of Vaisaakhi on this past Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Vaisaakhi marks the birth of Siri Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of the Sikh faith, and later also the formation of the Khalsa (formal initiation of Sikhs) by the Tenth Sikh Guru Sahib.
This year the celebrations were to be particularly joyous as the 400th birth anniversary of the Ninth Sikh Guru Sahib fell a few days later on Sunday, April 18, 2021 (which is today, as I write this note). The Ninth Sikh Guru, Siri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, stood up for freedom of belief for all and was martyred for standing up for the right of Hindus to practice their faith even when he might have disagreed with those practices. This has provided inspiration to Sikhs, including me, to stand up for the rights of others to practice their faith freely and without fear.
This year’s Vaisaakhi was somewhat subdued owing to COVID-19 restrictions, so I joined the virtual Sikh community for prayers. On Friday afternoon, I received a call from Brother Jack Sullivan, Executive Director of the Ohio Council Churches. I was busy with a Zoom call. But he called again and left a voicemail. It was through a Christian brother that I found about the shooting in Indianapolis and that several Sikhs had been among the injured or killed. We live today in an inter-connected world in which we are supported by people of many faiths. My hearing of this tragedy through the kindness of a concerned Christian friend is a testament to the interdependent interfaith community we are building in our country.
As soon as I heard the phone message, I thought of Oak Creek – the horrific mass murder of Sikhs at Oak Creek Gurdwara in 2012 by a White supremacist. The Sikhs were praying when they were shot dead. And then like everyone else I googled Indianapolis and Sikhs. I was horrified to read that four of the victims shot dead were from Sikh community including a grandmother.
This horrific shooting continues the epidemic of gun violence in our country with over 50 shootings in a month – how sad and utterly shameful for us as a country. Today, my cup of grief has overflowed with yet more gun violence deaths reported in Austin, Texas. Has this epidemic of violence numbed us so much that we think this is the new normal? When will this end? What is our role in this as people and communities of faith? Why are our political leaders so ineffective on this issue? What can we do to make our communities safer? These are questions being asked by many of us.
As we work together to address these questions, it is important we pray for all those killed and injured in the recent shootings and their families including the shooters and their families. We must then pledge to make real change.
On this day today marking the 400th birth anniversary of Siri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, who stood up for freedom of belief and worship of all, I pledge to work towards making all people secure in their own communities.
Soon after the names of the dead from the Indianapolis shooting were announced, I noted that the media refrained from referencing the religious identity of the victims. I wondered if the victims had been from another religion, would the media still have kept quiet for so long. While the police investigate the motives of the shooters, it is important that we lift up all the lives lost in this tragedy.
For the last several days, so many of my friends have reached out to me – Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers and many others – asking how they can help the victims of the Indianapolis shooting.
You can help by praying for all the victims (including the shooter) and making a contribution to one of the GoFundMe campaigns at https://www.gofundme.com/c/act/indianapolis-fedex-shooting-fundraisers. You can contribute to a campaign of your choice at this website.
And tonight before going to bed, please say a prayer for all those impacted by gun violence and pledge to make our communities safer for our children and grandchildren.
Shalom, Salaam, Peace, and Fateh!