Both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike came together to heal and reflect at a panel discussion that took place at the Cowell Conference Room on Nov. 15.
The conference, organized by the UCSC Sikh Students Association (SSA), was held in response to the Oak Creek, Wis. shootings last August in which an armed man entered a Sikh temple and killed six worshippers at point blank.
“When a big thing like this happens, regardless of to whom it happens, there’s a reason to reflect on what it means,” said William Ladusaw, dean of humanities, “or what it should cause us to think about.”
The SSA organized the conference with Nirvikar Singh, chair of the Sikh and Punjabi Studies Program at UC Santa Cruz, during the months preceding Nov. 15. Holding the conference later in the quarter worked best for the SSA’s schedule, as well as for the purposes of reflection.
“It gave people time to think about the incident and bring forth ideas and concerns,” said Navdeep Kaur, a student member of the SSA.
According to Mark Juergensmeyer, author of the Oxford Handbook of Global Religions, Sikhs are a monotheistic religious group who follow the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev. Sikhism originated during the fifteenth-century in Punjab, the region between India and Pakistan. Since then, Sikhs have had a long history of peaceful worship — their religious philosophy prohibits the invoking of violence in all situations except that of self-defense.
The four panelists at the event included Seema Kaur Sidhu, UCSC alumna Amrit Kaur Sidhu, Nirvikar Singh and Nathaniel Deutsch, co-director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UCSC.
Seema Kaur Sidhu said this violent act affected the entire Sikh community.
“The shooting that occurred in Oak Creek, Wis. was a tragedy that not only affected the Sikhs in Wisconsin, but whose impact reverberated throughout the U.S. and affected every Sikh household,” Kaur Sidhu said.
While the conference gave gatherers a chance to reflect on the tragedy itself, it also raised questions about larger issues of diversity and tolerance in the United States.
“We’re in some sense at the beginning of a period where the diversity of our globe is being reflected in American society,” Singh said. “And we have to figure out how to have a creative response rather than a destructive response.”
Seema Kaur Sidhu proposed pluralism as an alternative to violence. The panelists defined pluralism as the social practice of coexisting. In an ideally pluralist society, diversity not only exists, but diverse groups actively accept and encourage one another’s differences.
“This tragedy is not just something that exemplifies the growing resentment felt by [some] white Americans toward immigrants,” Seema Kaur Sidhu said, “but also exemplifies the inherent lack of pluralism in American society today.”
Amrit Kaur Sidhu said that pluralism requires active communication.
“This active dialogue entails a relationship that requires both sides to speak and listen,” Amrit Kaur Sidhu said. “They must be critical of one another and of themselves. In engaging in this process, society will be more open to realizing the commonalities that we all share and the true differences that we keep.”
The UC system labels itself as “diverse” and “tolerant,” Amrit Kaur Sidhu said it fails to truly engage in pluralism.
“In other words,” Amrit Kaur Sidhu said, “you are putting a bumper sticker with messages of diversity and coexistence onto the surface of your institution of learning and calling it pluralism.”
The panelists’ critiques were paired with prospective solutions. Singh and Seema Kaur Sidhu both said educating American youth from a young age about cultural differences — fostering mutual understanding between diverse groups — is the ideal route. However, Americans aren’t there yet, Seema Kaur Sidhu said.
“We, as members of the American society — members of an active American society — need to wake up and take charge,” Seema Kaur Sidhu said. “As young scholars, educators [and] advocates, not only are we letting our voices be unheard but we’re engaging in passive behaviors that will result in more innocent citizens being killed.”
Discussions such as the conference are steps in this direction, Deutsch said.
“[We are] hoping that moving forwards, the forces of good — gatherings like this — can make a positive difference,” Deutsch said.
Japneet Kaur, a third-year business management and economics major from Merrill College, is another member of the Sikh Student’s Association who helped organize the conference. Kaur was pleased with the turnout at the conference.
“It was really great to see that so many people showed up here who aren’t necessarily Sikh or might not even know anything about Sikhs,” Kaur said. “I think that kind of shows that we’re taking a step in the right direction.”
While the discussion was broad, grief in the wake of tragedy had a strong presence throughout the conference.
“We cannot afford another Oak Creek tragedy,” Seema Kaur Sidhu said. “We must heal. This is a sore wound that we have in our society and we have to heal from inside out.”