Metro Sikh leaders discuss safety, community response

Several leaders with the Sikh Gurdwara of Oklahoma, a group of metro area Sikhs, met Wednesday to talk about safety measures that may need to be put in place in the aftermath of a fatal shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple.
by Carla Hinton Published: August 9, 2012

Leaders of the Oklahoma City Sikh community met Wednesday with representatives from law enforcement agencies to discuss possible safety precautions in light of a fatal shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple.

About a dozen members of the Sikh Gurdwara of Oklahoma said they needed to decide what measures should be taken to ensure the safety of the Sikhs who attend worship at the temple, known as a gurdwara in Sikhism, at 4525 NW 16. They said their gurdwara has been burglarized three times since it opened in 1984 and security measures, including a burglar alarm and bars on the windows, were added after each incident.

However, the incident in which six people were shot to death at a suburban Milwaukee gurdwara has made the close-knit metro-area Sikhs more concerned. Wade Michael Page, 40, later identified by authorities as a white supremacist, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after killing six Sikhs at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wis., on Aug. 5.

Dr. Jaspal Singh Chawla, an Edmond physician, said he thinks the Wisconsin shooting will encourage bigoted people to take similar actions, particularly against Sikhs like him who wear distinctive turbans as a symbol of their faith.

“We are fearful of our personal safety,” Chawla, 66, said, noting that Sikhs wearing turbans are often misidentified as Islamic radicals in the aftermath of 9/11 when the public glimpsed pictures of radical Islamic terrorist leader Osama bin Laden with a beard and wearing a turban.

Others at the gurdwara on Wednesday said they are not personally afraid, but they have to be proactive when it comes to the safety of those at the gurdwara. The house of worship is near the corner of NW 16 and Meridian, sandwiched between a storage facility and a thrift store and across the street from the Meridian Plaza shopping center.

“Certainly it has rung alarm bells because we have to take precautions because we are obligated to the congregation that meets here,” Sarbjit “Sabi” Singh, 67, a retired Oklahoma City engineer, said. “We feel a sense of gratefulness to the community-at-large who have responded with such graciousness, and we are also grateful for the interfaith respect and sympathies, but we recognize that it just takes one person to do this.”

by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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