Local News

Friday, Aug 10 2012 10:59 PM

Vigils remember victims, call for unity, tolerance

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Members of the Bakersfield Sikh community gathered at Stonecreek Park to memorialize the victims of the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last weekend with speeches and candles.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Manjet Singh was one of several speakers at Stonecreek Park where the local Sihk community gathered for a memorial of last weekend's shooting victims in Wisconsin.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Bhajan Kaur, left foreground, Karnail Sekhan, center foreground, Balinder Kaur, and Ranjit Kaur, right, view photographs of the victims from the shooting last weekend at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. They, along with other members of the local Sihk community, gathered at Stonecreek Park in southwest Bakersfield for a memorial.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

Hundreds of people gathered in Bakersfield Friday night, some speaking of grief, others of hate and others of the healing.

Many asked for unity and tolerance in the face of violence.

In the baking evening heat, the crowds clustered at city hall and Stonecreek Park to remember the victims of Sunday's mass shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple. Speakers offered condolences, prayers and words of praise for the Sikh community.

At the downtown gathering, a parade of politicians and candidates thanked Sikhs for their contributions to the city and called for tolerance before a crowd of dozens that filled city hall's steps. Several of those speakers then made their way south to deliver their message again to a congregation of several hundred people at Stonecreek Park.

Amid calls for peace and prayers for the six victims of the shooting, Gurujodha Singh opened his remarks with the first line of the Sikh holy book, "There is just one God."

"If there's just one god, then there's just one creation," he continued.

The Sikh religious leader said as he thinks of it, everyone is traveling on the same freeway. Instead of trying to cut each other off, why not wave at each other as we travel in our separate religious lanes, he said.

"We all need to be a little more tolerant. We all need to be more educated," said Devinder Singh Bains, who led the downtown gathering. Not to say that the Sikh way is best, but "this is our way of life," he said.

At the Stonecreek vigil, speakers addressed the sprawling audience as children scaled playground equipment and a group of men played basketball nearby. Families helped themselves to pizza and children played with the white candles that were passed out.

Rubi Chahal, who came to the gathering with friends and her mother, said she felt good, like people were there to support her religion.

"We work here, we do everything just like everybody else," she said. "We do as much for the community as everybody else."

She and her friend Harman Kaur Mann said they never felt discriminated against going to high school and college in Bakersfield but that there is still misunderstanding about who the Sikhs are.

"We just want people to know there are a lot of Sikhs in the United States," Mann said, and that those people are just as much a part of the country as anyone else. The color of your skin is not what makes you American, Chahal said. Everybody should be treated equally, whether they wear a turban or have a beard, Mann added.

The young women said they fear the shooting has faded out of national attention quickly. They wanted to know more about why the shooter, Wade Michael Page, went on his rampage.

"We just feel like there is not enough justice," Mann said.

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