This weekend, over 2,000 members of the Sikh community from the Philadelphia area and beyond came to Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill to participate in the Philadelphia Sikh Society’s (PSS) 12th annual Sikh Games of Philadelphia.
According to Narinder Singh, secretary of the PSS, which is located in Millbourne, Delaware County, the festive two-day event draws members of the Sikh community from as far away as New York and Maryland. The Aug. 5 event at Bonner had participants of all ages playing volleyball, soccer, wrestling, races and the traditional "Kabbaddee," a tag-game similar to Jailbreak.
"Our reason is to memorialize the Sikh martyrs," Dharam Singh Khalsa, a PSS founding member, said.
He explained that the annual sporting event was to remember those Sikh that were persecuted and died for their faith. According to Khalsa, the first Sikh martyr died in the early 17th century in India, and hundreds of thousands of the faithful have followed.
While the hundreds of participants and spectators were wildly cheering and enjoying the event by the late afternoon, it was apparent that this year’s Sikh gathering had taken on an unexpected, deeper meaning.
"We made the announcement this morning," Khalsa said. "Everybody was shocked. Everybody said it was bad news."
Seven Killed in Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting
Khalsa was referring to a shooting that occurred earlier in the morning at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, where seven people are confirmed dead after a gunman opened fire during the temple's morning religious service.
Among those dead is the alleged gunman, who was reportedly killed after an exchange of gunfire with local police.
"It was horrible news that has happened," Khalsa said. "We condemn this."
According to Khalsa, the PSS, the Sikh religion and its international community seek only peace.
"I want to tell the people, we are a peace-loving people," Khalsa said. "We want to live together. We respect all religions, we must have respect for everybody."
A Demand for Preventive Measures
The reasons behind the deadly shooting Sunday morning have not yet been reported, but several PSS leaders and members say that the Sikh community across the nation has become familiar with increasing forms of violence and intimidation since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
"I think it was a hate-crime," one PSS member, a professor of physics at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, said. "It was very sad when I heard it. It was out of ignorance and intolerance."
"Most Americans are very nice," he added.
The PSS vice president, Harvinder Kauer Kocher, agrees.
"This is my opinion: It is mistaken identity," she said.
According to Kocher, since 9/11, she has noticed reports of acts of violence, intimidation, and in some cases, murder of members of the Sikh community.
“Whoever is wearing a turban in America is 99 percent Sikh,” Kocher said. “Not Muslim.”
Since the attacks, she said, the PSS has attempted to gain more exposure for understanding and welcoming for the Sikh community in the Philadelphia area and throughout the United States.
Locally, such measures have included participation in the annual Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation, which last took place April 29.
However, Kocher said, more needs to be done by the government and media.
"We are a very small community," Kocher said. "We need the government’s help, and talk on [television] about the suffering."
She suggested that the United States government should have increased gun control laws, and that the media should produce more coverage on the Sikh community to increase understanding.
"Why do we have to have a tragedy happen to get good from it?" Kocher said. "And, by good, I mean the media letting people see that we are Sikhs."
She added that the deaths in Wisconsin could happen anywhere to anyone, not just to faith-based organizations such as the Sikhs, citing Columbine and the July 20 shootings at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. It is for that reason, she said, government and media need to act to curb such violence.
"They are all very important people," Kocher said. "Universal brotherhood is what we say in prayer every day."
A Sikh Grassroots Goodwill Campaign in the Works
According to Khalsa, the PSS, which is based in Upper Darby, will attempt to gain an audience with the township this week. He said the organization hopes to start a partnership with the township for a grassroots campaign that would ultimately achieve the goals described by Kocher.
According to a Philly.com article, the mayor of Millbourne Borough, Tom Kramer, has also spoken with members of the Sikh community, which includes Gurbaksh Basra, a member of the Borough Council. In the article, Kramer said that the PSS and its temple haven't experienced any vandalism or other concerns in the thriving Sikh community.
The report further states that Upper Darby police are continuing to monitor the local Sikh temple.
"We believe in the Constitution," Khalsa, a 15-year U.S. citizen, said. "We will support whatever the government will be able to do to stop these crimes."
"We have more freedom here than in India," Khalsa said.
At about 6 p.m., a sudden and violent storm disrupted the PSS sporting event.
Hundreds of people ran for shelter in their nearby vehicles, while the majority were left stranded underneath, and fighting to hold down, large canvas tents.
Some were frightened by the unexpected strong gusts of wind and piercing rain. All stood huddled en masse, bearing a look of determination that would soon prove to outlast the raging storm before them.