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Richmond Hill photo show to honor Sikhism

A photo exhibition celebrating Sikh culture was scheduled to open at a Richmond Hill temple a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks triggered a wave of bias crimes against members of the religion because of their physical appearance.

“Khalsa: A Celebration of Culture,” a collection of 85 photos taken by New Jersey photographer Mashala, will be on display at the Sikh Cultural Society at 95-26 118th St. beginning Sunday, Sept. 8. The photographer will attend an opening ceremony that day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Sikhs were being harassed by other people just because of their appearance,” said Mashala, who is not a Sikh. “I had to use my work to expose how rich their culture is to other communities.”

In the Richmond Hill area, Sikhs were victims of violence and harassment in the months following the assault on the World Trade Center.

Among the victims were Attar Singh, a 66-year-old Sikh man who was shot at with a BB gun and beaten by youths with a baseball bat as he was leaving the Sikh temple on 118th Street. He had gone to pray for the victims of the attacks. Karnail Singh, 56, was repeatedly stabbed by youths who told him to “go back to his country.” Sukhvinder Singh was harassed by a white man who threatened to kill him and “all the Sikhs wearing turbans.”

Mashala, who focused on fashion and night scenes before becoming interested in the diverse cultures of the city, began photographing Sikhs after he attended the Sikh Day Parade several years ago. The exhibit name, “Khalsa,” is a Persian word that means pure.

The show consists of images taken at various Sikh events over the past year, including a Sikh wedding in New Jersey, the Sikh Day Parade in Manhattan and a Sikh New Year festival in Montreal, Canada.

One photo, “The Little Prince,” shows a young Sikh boy at a parade. Mashala said he chose this photo, which is also part of a traveling exhibition of 5,500 images taken by 900 photographers from 40 countries called the “September 11 Photo Project,” because he wanted the Sikh community to have a voice to show their purity and innocence.

“Their community is like everyone else’s. They want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “You can see purity behind the little boy’s face. If you were thinking of blaming somebody and you look at that face, it really makes you think.”

Harpreet Singh Toor, chairman of the Sikh Cultural Society, said the temple is a natural place for the exhibit.

“The Sikh Cultural Society is the oldest society on the East Coast and it has always worked to let the people know who the Sikhs are and what we stand for,” he said. “We are working to interact with the community to make them understand us better.”

Toor stressed that the exhibit is open to both Sikhs and non-Sikhs. It is scheduled to run through September.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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