It might be difficult for most Verona families to put themselves in the places of the six victims whose lives were taken by a gunman in the Oak Creek Sikh temple Aug. 5.
But for Verona business owner Laki Kaur, it was all too easy.
Kaur, who emigrated from India while in high school and practices the Sikh religion, has many connections to temple. Her children were at the temple just a week before the shooting. She and her family frequent the church with her son, 13, and daughter, 9, and even helped them form Sunday classes for kids.
And her sister, who started the Sikh temple – called a gurdwara – in Middleton in the 1990s, is there even more frequently than Kaur is.
To Kaur, the news of the shooting – reportedly by a white supremacist – was shocking, not just in its horrific nature, but also because the temple is where many go to find peace.
“Everybody who got killed … we used to see them all the time there,” she told the Verona Press on Friday.
But a blessing within this tragedy is that all the children who go to the gurdwara were in the basement. And that’s in large part because that was the first week of classes for a program she, her six sisters and brother along with other parents at her temple helped the suburban Milwaukee group create.
“If there was no class, all the kids would have been playing in the parking lot (when the shooter came),” she said.
But while the shooting hits too close to home for the Verona Liquors business owner, she said she was compelled to let Verona know she is not afraid. Opening a business in March, she said her experience here and else where in Madison continues to be positive.
And she’s never been treated differently because of her skin color or religion.
“I really don’t think people will treat me differently now, either,” she said. “Verona is so open.”
The shooting brought Sikhism to the forefront of conversation, and Kaur said although she has never had a problem because of her religion, there are misconceptions about it.
First, people often confuse Sikh people with Muslims. The Sikh religion actually originated in India and is an offshoot of Hinduism, though it is monotheistic and doesn’t involve a caste system, Kaur said.
Kaur described it as being about peaceful worship and a deep respect for one another, especially for “your elders.”
“Once you enter the gurdwara, everyone is the same,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have. We believe in equal rights for everybody. It’s very peaceful; we are totally against violence.”
Men in the religion traditionally wear turbans, which originated as a way to signify that they are Sikh and not Hindu. Within Kaur’s family, she said she doesn’t want to force her son to wear the traditional garb (and in a similar tradition, grow his hair long), but she wants him to be able to have the choice to do it.
Women traditionally cover their heads when entering the gurdwara, but are not traditionally required to wear any garb in public, another difference from Islam, she said.
And women have equal rights within the religion, Kaur said.
“Females have equal rights,” she said. “I have my own business. I do whatever I have to do. I dress the way I want to.”
About 100 families patronize the Middleton temple, Kaur reported, and while the majority are Indian, she said there are a few Caucasian families who attend, and all are welcome.
“The doors are open for everybody,” she said.
She runs her business the same way. Calling many customers by their first names, she remembers names and faces and greets everyone with a smile, whether they’re a college student or a businessman. She said many customers have told her how sorry they were about the shooting.
Whatever the motive was behind the shooting, she hopes tying a familiar face with the Sikh religion will help bring awareness. Also pointing out how widespread culture ignorance can go, she said if people are afraid of the unfamiliar, it doesn’t really matter what religion someone is.
“I don’t think they’ll be against only Sikhs,” she said. “It will be against any different-looking person.”