Darshan Singh, the secretary to the Sikh Sangat Society in Everett, offered reassuring words to his congregation after the shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5: “We will get through this.”
The shootings have thrown a spotlight on his faith and the Everett gurdwara, one of four Sikh temples in Massachusetts. The Everett temple held a vigil last week to pray for the victims and survivors of the shootings, drawing support from non-Sikhs and the congregation of more than 300.
The congregation relocated to Everett in December. It had been meeting at a location in Somerville since 2005, but raised enough money to buy the building in Everett to create “this beautiful gurdwara,” Singh said, referring to the faith’s place of worship. The other Sikh temples are in Somerville, Millis, and Milford.
A former physics teacher from India, Singh moved to the Boston area in 1997 after sending both of his daughters here to attend Northeastern University. He answered several questions from the Globe about the local Sikh community and the reaction to the shootings.
Q: What has the Everett community’s reaction been to the shootings in Wisconsin?
Singh: On Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, when the shootings in Wisconsin happened, our gurdwara was having services from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. So nobody learned of the incidents until they got home and turned their TVs, radios and Internet on. The people we have talked to are really sad to hear of this incident.
We had a candlelight vigil in front of our gurdwara on Friday. Many people came, some 300, including American people from here in our neighborhood. Everybody was very sad. We prayed to God and God will grant us peace so we can live in peace together. We hope we can live in peace and not attack one another due to our appearances or beliefs.
Q: How have you discussed the shootings with your congregation?
Singh: We have talked to friends, family, and other members of the congregation. Everyone is sad and disturbed to learn about this incident.
On Friday, I addressed the public in our language, Punjabi, and my daughter took the stage and discussed it in English. We discussed everything. The congregation is in a very sad mood. Everyone is scared now. They said what they were thinking and we said, “We will get through this.”
On Sunday, the services started at 9 and we go up to 1:30. There were 300 or 400 people there, too. American people from the neighborhood came, too. We handed out pamphlets and explained to them what we were doing. We conduct the services in Punjabi, but put up the translation on the projector. They were very happy to be here to see what we are doing. Then we had the common breakfast.
Q: What are the lessons and tenets of Sikhism you would like the greater public to learn?
Singh: Sikhism has faced persecution since its birth, but despite that, our fifth guru at the time of his sacrifice taught us that everything that happens should be accepted as a sweet will of God.
Our first guru gave us three foundational principles of Sikhism: Honest and hard work. To remember/meditate on God. To share our earnings with others.
Q: Do you or your congregation face discrimination as a result of your faith? Could you give some examples?
Singh: Since 9/11, many members of the congregation, who wear turbans, have faced discrimination. Turbans and hair are an important part of Sikhism but often people relate turbans and beards with Taliban or other extremist groups. The discrimination around Boston has been limited to verbal assaults and taunts, e.g., people have complained about hearing slurs like, “Go back, Taliban,” “Go to Afghanistan, Osama.” This has happened either on the streets or driving in our cars.
Q: What sort of reaction have you had from other faith communities, such as the Muslim community, that have faced episodes of discrimination in the past?
Singh: We have seen very positive response from other faith communities. We have received e-mails and phone calls offering condolences and support from the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities. People have expressed their interest in joining us at vigils and services to remember those who have lost their lives.