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USA Calls For Peace And Tolerance Mingle With Frustration At Sikh Grandfather's Funeral


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Calls for peace and tolerance mingle with frustration at Sikh grandfather's funeral

By Cynthia Hubert

A granddaughter imagined Gurmej Atwal walking in heaven, his best friend at his side.

A son spoke of the senselessness of the crime that killed Atwal and another Sikh American grandfather as they strolled the streets of Elk Grove last month.

Intertwined with the hymns and prayers and words of sympathy at Atwal's funeral on Saturday were calls for peace and tolerance.

"We must insist that the prejudice that killed Mr. Atwal not move forward," said California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

"We do stand with you," he told about 200 people, most of them members of the Sikh community, who gathered for the service. "You are not alone."

The still-unsolved shooting on March 4 killed Surinder Singh, 65, immediately. Atwal, 78, who has four children and 10 grandchildren, survived for six weeks in a hospital.

The case has drawn national attention, with some speculating that the killings were hate crimes because both men wore thick beards and turbans. Those traditions have made Sikhs the target of bigotry and attacks since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

At the service in south Sacramento, visitors approached the open coffin where Atwal lay, pausing and offering brief prayers. As is customary in Sikh tradition, his body was to be cremated and his ashes released to his family.

Sikh funerals typically are celebrations of the completion of life rather than lamentations over the end of it. But given the circumstances of Atwal's death, family members, friends and acquaintances expressed deep regret and a resolve to end cultural and racial intolerance.

"God has made the world a very diverse place," said Irfan Haq, president of the Sacramento Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations. "We share happiness the same way. We share grief the same way. There is no room for hatred or prejudice."

Mary Tsukamoto of the Japanese American Citizens League recalled seeing Atwal and Singh taking their daily walks in Elk Grove, where she lives.

The shootings, she said, come from the misguided belief that "people who look different or are from different cultures or religions are to be feared.

"This is a tragedy and a terrible loss to all of us."

Elk Grove police are investigating the shooting and have not declared it a hate crime. Despite help from the FBI, the offer of more than $50,000 in reward money, random traffic checkpoints and appeals to the public, no strong leads have emerged, said Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Lehner.

"I wish I could make some kind of announcement to explain all of this," Lehner told the gathering Saturday. "But whether it takes 100 days or 1,000 days or more, we will stay vigilant" in searching for those responsible.

For all of the sorrow around the deaths, Lehner said, some light has emerged.

"This event, like none other in our history, has brought us together as the remarkably diverse community that we are," he said.

Community response to the tragedy has been uplifting to the family, said one of Atwal's three sons, Kamaljit.

But the biggest comfort would be an arrest, he said.

"The fact that no one has been caught makes us very sad," he said. "This is senseless. Vicious. Barbaric."

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/04/24/3574460/calls-for-peace-and-tolerance.html#ixzz1KTcx0qTX