Silent Prayer and Candlelight Vigil at the California State Capitol
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The India Association of Sacramento (IAS) held a Silent Prayer and Candlelight Vigil at the West entrance of the California State Capitol on Thursday, March 2nd. Close to 200 people from various ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds gathered here for a memorial service for Srinivas Kuchibhotla the India-origin engineer slain in Olathe, Kansas. They also recognized Ian Grillot, a brave person who was wounded while trying to prevent this tragedy from happening while another Indian, Alok Madasani was also shot but survived during this senseless attack on February 22nd. And while explanations are hard to come by, the possibility of this being a hate crime cannot be ruled out. But that was not what this gathering focused on. It was a somber show of unity above anything else.
An IAS representative shared with this reporter that this was an attempt to bring all communities together, connected through our humanity. This event was held at the State Capitol due to its visibility and access, on a day and at a time for the convenience of people who work in downtown Sacramento (just after they get off work) and to make it easy for any elected officials or their representatives to attend. This was the first time that the IAS had held an event of this kind and the goal here was not to make a big statement but to share grief with others who care.
The IAS President started off the formalities. He thanked everyone for attending and said that we are all gathered here in memory of 32 year old Srinivas Kuchibhotla who was an innocent victim in the Kansas incident, and to pray for the recovery of Alok Madasani while appreciating the bravery of Ian Grillot who risked his life to help the victims. He said that IAS organized this event to say that we are all one so let us forget caste, nationality, color. Let us stand here as fellow humans, honoring and respecting other humans. We came here together under one umbrella called humanity, said the IAS president. A short prayer followed which was appreciated by all and a handful of officials and a number of representatives of local organizations including AMV, APAPA, API Next, CAIR, OCA and others also addressed the gathering.
Rebecca and Keith, a couple from the Sacramento downtown area also appeared on stage. Rebecca addressed the gathering and said that if there is a gift for us during these troubled times in the world, it is the gift of now which brings us together as one family. Akram Keval, a Muslim representing the Interfaith Council of Sacramento followed. He said that what happened in Kansas was a hate crime and prayed to God for the safety of all people in this country while adding that we are all Americans and our skin color and dress should not make us walking targets!
Basim Elkarra said that we have gathered here at the steps of the State Capitol on numerous occasions, during both good and bad times. He added that we have been here before to show our support after hate crimes were committed against the Sikhs, Muslims and now for the Hindu community. He also added that whenever incidents like this happen people of all faiths or no faith all come together to show their solidarity and to share the grief. “An attack on one is an attack on all of our communities,” said Elkarra.
Area activist Dr. Firdos Sheikh in her speech said that she was from India and a neurologist by profession. She explained that as a doctor she does not look at things as Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or white, black or other color. “I look at hate as a mental illness,” she said. She added that what we need to express today is that we are primarily humans, and what our humanity demands is that we stand in solidarity. We have to target one disease which is a mental illness, which she defined as hate and bigotry.
Japanese-American Andy Noguchi, representing the Florin-JACL said that he joins everyone in mourning the loss, and in outrage that this type of thing happening to the Indian community, along with those that stood up for them. He said that a lot of people today are feeling the importance of standing up and that it is very valuable for everyone to be doing that. He also said that besides mourning of this loss, we need to understand why there things are happening? Our political leaders are failing us in this country, said Noguchi.
Durriya Syed representing the Pakistani community (amongst others) said that she was bringing a message of peace and that we stand here in solidarity with you for the victims of the tragedy in Kansas. She added that this was the land of the free and the home of the brave. We are united under the umbrella of humanity and by the Red, White and Blue. We want to show the world that there is a power of unity in diversity, said Syed.
As darkness approached, a candlelight vigil provided a befitting ending to the event. But not before a lady whose name we missed expressed her sentiments in stronger words than spoken earlier. She said that she was angry-furious that this has become the state of affairs and requested everyone to contact their elected representatives to express how outraged we are about hate crimes. She added that we do not want our kids bullied in school and women who wear headscarves picked on.
To conclude, it was good to see the diversity of participants and speakers here. It was certainly not a huge event but it did send out a good message. This country belongs to all of us and hate crimes cannot be tolerated. We did not know Srinivas Kuchibhotla personally but he was a young man who left behind a wife and parents. For a moment, let us put ourselves in their place. Their skin color and religion does not matter, as we can only imagine their pain.