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Elk Grove Sikh Temple Mourns Two of its Own

Sikh leader says his community remains woefully misunderstood.

The Gurdwara Dasmesh Darbar on Elk Grove Florin Road was the home temple for the two elderly Sikh men who were .  This was the compound they came to pray, to socialize, to be among their fellow Sikhs on a day-to-day basis.  It is now the site where the week-long mourning for 65-year old Surinder Singh will take place.  Mr. Singh and his companion, 78 year old Gurmej Atwal, were shot by an in broad daylight while they were out for their regular afternoon walk together.  Mr. Atwal survived the shooting, but remains in critical condition in the hospital.

Gurdwara, the Punjabi term for Gateway to the Guru, function as both temple and community center for Sikhs whereever they live.  It is that latter purpose that is of particular importance to Elk Grove's Sikhs as they come together this week not only to mourn, but to find ways to increase understanding and acceptance among their fellow Elk Grovians.  While the has , the Sikh community feels it is. 

Darshan Singh Mundy, who is the leader of our local gurdwara, Damesh Darbar, talks of the hostility the Sikh community has endured since 9/11.  Despite the fact that Sikhs have given of their time and money to the same causes that evoked the charitable instincts of all Americans--9/11, the tsunami, the Haitian earthquake--the community is not, Mr. Mundy feels, accepted as full-fledged members.  “We love America,” he said.  “We consider ourselves part of the community.  Yet because we wear the turban, people think we are Muslim and they make negative remarks to us."

The ignorance and misinformation about the Sikh community is not confined to mistaking them for Muslims.  Mr. Mundy tells of speaking at a training class for police officers and being asked whether his people are panhandlers and fortunetellers.  They are not.  The first Sikhs to emigrate to California were farmers who emigrated to the Sacramento Valley from India.   Initially, they settled in Yuba City, and that is still where the largest Sikh community in the United States is. 

Now, as they have moved into other parts of the Central Valley Sikhs can be found in all professions.  Elk Grove has a relatively large community of Sikhs that is just now getting organized. The gurdwara where Mr. Singh  and Mr. Atwal were active members is still very much a work-in-progress.  While the buildings may not be as grand or as ornate as the finished gurdwaras in Sacramento and San Jose, the Sikh hospitality is there in full force.

The Gurdwara Dasmesh Darbar is, says Mr. Mundy, “for everyone, not just Sikhs.  We have four doors, each facing east, west, north, and south, that are always open.  Anyone can come in and have a simple meal with us.” 

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