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Vigil honors victims of hate crimes

Sikh Student Association Vigil from The Statesman on Vimeo.

Dozens of voices raised in song as they formed a circle. Each and every arm held a candle high as all eyes were closed for prayer. “Vahiguru,” the voices sang. “Vahiguru.”

Some drove to Stony Brook University for the event with their children and spouses. Others were students, some of whom brought their friends. But all gathered together in a candlelight vigil on Aug. 28 for a common purpose: raising awareness of Sikhism in light of hate crimes against the religion to educate both the Stony Brook community and the public as a whole.

Conceived by SBU’s Sikh Students Association and the Muslim Students Association, the Stony Brook Vigil for Tolerance was a response to the gurdwara shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., and the mosque burning in Joplin, Mo., which happened consecutively.

For Anita Saini, president of the SSA, doing something in remembrance of the victims had cumulated in the vigil, the product of eight days of hard planning.

“Incidences like these have happened since 9/11 repetitively, and it’s always gone on unnoticed,” Saini said. “On Aug. 5 and Aug. 6, when the temple got shot down and the mosque got burned down, it was the first time the media actually took notice that Sikhs and Muslims were victims of hate crimes. We decided that it would be a good time to try to raise awareness.”

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated from Punjab, India, in the 15th century. Distinguishable through the distinctive turbans worn by both male and some female practitioners, Sikhs are sometimes confused for Muslims. This confusion makes Sikhs targets for hate crimes in the United States—the reason for Saini’s reference to September 11.

“We’re all human,” Arvinder Narchal, a resident of Lake Grove, said. Narchal attended the vigil with his wife, Jasleen, and their sons, Gurvin and Rohnit. “Your blood is red, my blood is red, everyone’s blood is the same. So I don’t know why these people go do these things in religious places. If they have some kind of problem, you should sit down, talk about it and get it over with,” Narchal added.

He first heard about the Wisconsin temple shooting from friends in India, who heard it through local news sources. “We support the community and we always go together to the temple, every week,” Narchal said. “Going in holy places and shooting people, burning mosques, I don’t think it make any kind of sense.”

But there were also non-Sikhs who also wanted to show support for the concepts of acceptance, tolerance and equality–principles of Sikhism. “I have a lot of friends who are Sikh. My best friend is Sikh,” senior Siddharth Kuchibhotla said. Kuchibhotla is a practicing Hindu who wanted to show support and solidarity for a religion that his friends belonged to. “When I heard about the shooting in Wisconsin, I thought it would be great if there were something that can bring people closer, to show unity on campus,” Kuchibhotla said.

“To be honest, at the beginning, I was only expecting a few people,” Kuchibhotla said. “But to find hundreds? I was so amazed and happy. There is a strong sense of community and unity here.”

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