Five years ago, on Aug. 5, my identity as a Hindu-Sikh American came into question.
I was at my aunt’s house in Delhi when we turned on the TV and heard the news that a Wisconsin-based gurudwara was attacked by a white supremacist. Distraught faces, police units, and confusion covered the headlines of many news channels; unfortunately for me, I was 20 at the time, and it was the first time I had seen any coverage of the Sikh community on primetime television. This was not the way anyone would have hoped.
I remember not sleeping well that night. The thoughts of suffering, loss, and the power of fear and ignorance surrounded me as I lay in bed wondering: “How could this happen in America? How could this injustice take place in a nation where diversity was our creed and pluralism was our lifestyle?”
My one sanctuary, my escape from the real world that brought me closer to the Almighty and its creation, became a safe space no more. It had been desecrated by the bullets of blind rage and vendetta.
What made this whole situation worse was when I learned that a man’s Islamophobic fervor led to the death of Sikh lives. I witnessed the narrative of newscasters across networks clarify that Sikhism was not Islam and that this event finally became the catalyst for religious literacy and understanding. I saw people changing targets, not targeting the malice that fueled the attack.
My parents and I were not strangers to the crude nature of racism or discrimination; after the September 11th attacks, we have experienced several instances of rude remarks in public but never realized how far people would go to make their views clear. I realized that the death of Balbir Singh Sodhi in 2001 was not a clear enough message of hatred and misunderstand that the trends of negative treatment towards minority religious and ethnic communities has been on the rise ever since. was in That night, I was gripped by the fear of a nation that I had to return to. My disappointment and anger led me to think that my American identity became at odds with my interfaith identity. I did not want to go home. I wanted to hide. I wanted to get away from it all.
Suddenly, I had a thought. I got out of bed and I prayed. I contemplated. I reflected. And I remembered the Mool Mantar, the first line of the Sikh scriptures, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, that says this:
Ik Onkar Satnaam Karta Purakh Nirbhau Nirvair Akaal Moorat Ajoonee Saibhang Gur Parsad. Jap. Aad Sach Jugaad Sach Hai Bhi Sach Naanak Hosai Bhi Sach.
There is One God whose Name is Truth. God is the Creator, Without Fear and Hatred towards Creation. The One who is Eternal, beyond Birth and Death. By the Guru’s Grace, we Chant And Meditate: The Almighty was true in the beginning, true throughout the ages, true here and now, and Nanak says, will forever be true. ||1||
I paused. And I realized something that I should have a long time ago. If my Creator has created all things without enmity and fear, what should I be scared of? Why should the fear and hate mongering of individuals and communities define the way I live my life? My faiths tell me over and over again that I must not refrain from righteousness and that I adhere to vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the Hindu precept that embraces the entire universe as my family.
This was just one side of my transformation. The other side had to do with the oppression of so many communities around the world. If I have a responsibility to seek justice and equity in the world, it cannot merely be done by a single individual or community. It requires an entire world to make a lasting change for a better future.
On Aug. 5, 2012, I rediscovered what it meant to be Hindu, Sikh, and American altogether again. I was reminded of my purpose as an individual, as a servant of God, and as a born and proud citizen of the United States. I was reminded that all of my brothers and sisters coexist with me as siblings as destiny and that in my heart is renewed by sarbat da bhalla, or the well being of all creation.
I returned to the U.S. with a new level of self confidence and a demand for change, one that had begun with myself. This new motivation was a start to a new life and a new profession dedicated to the rights and sustainability of all creatures. My faith made me a human rights and social justice activist and gave me the tools I needed to promote knowledge, engagement, and service within and between diverse communities across Southern California and the United States. It got me involved in work for climate change, nuclear disarmament, community service, LGBTQ rights, work against caste, and so much more because I had now realized that I must do whatever it takes to create a safe and stable future for myself and those around me.
A story that began in darkness now contributes to the light that we need in our world. The jyot, or light, of my soul accompanies millions of people motivated for positive and productive change around the world. As we honor the lives lost at the Oak Creek Gurdwara, as well as the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us stand up now and prevent the travesties of history from repeating themselves. We can either accompany the light that brightens the world or accompany the darkness that consumes us in the silence of injustice. I will not fear the darkness and I will fear the vitriol. No human is my enemy, only the ideals that seek to divide us and destroy us.