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Sikhs are becoming Hoosiers in Greenwood


GREENWOOD, Ind. -- The scent of pungent spices wafts from garages morning and night as some of this south metro city's newest residents prepare meals outside to keep cooking smells out of the house. A local produce company is growing traditional Indian vegetables. And an area high school has broadened its celebration of international cultures.


Sikhs arrived for a Saturday service at a house in the Homecoming at University Park development in Greenwood. An estimated 2,000 Indian Sikh families have settled in the small cities and suburban neighborhoods south of Indianapolis. - JOE VITTI / The Star

About the religion

Sikhism, founded about 500 years ago, is the fifth-largest religion in the world with 25 million followers, the majority of them in the Punjab state in northwest India.

Sikhism is the youngest of the world's four major monotheistic religions and is based on the teachings of 10 gurus in the Sikh holy book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which is taken as the living God.

Sikhs proclaim that all human beings are creatures of God and must be treated equally. Central to the Sikh faith is humble and voluntary service for all in need.

The religion bars women from cutting their hair. Sikh men have a full beard and wear their hair uncut and contained in a turban.

The first noticeable migration of Sikhs to America happened in the late 1890s. Most of them settled in California and worked as farm laborers. There are an estimated 500,000 Sikhs in North America.

Sources:;; The Star's Library.
Cultural assimilation is taking place on two fronts in this city 15 miles south of Monument Circle: Hundreds of new Sikhs are adapting to life as Hoosiers, and Greenwood residents are learning about Indian traditions.
"It's something as a community that we have to sort of adjust to," said Greenwood Mayor Charles Henderson. "As much as I need to understand them, they need to understand us.
"It's a two-way street."
The changes have arrived swiftly in Greenwood, an overwhelmingly white, mostly Protestant city of nearly 45,000 just south of the Marion County line, where officials recently approved plans to open the metro area's third Sikh temple.
An estimated 2,000 Indian Sikh families have settled in the small cities and suburban neighborhoods south of Indianapolis, most in the past two years.
Many were lured by the area's lower housing costs and its crossroads location on trucking routes. The first to arrive spread the word, and the population has increased as much as tenfold in two years, some estimate.
"When I come here, I love it," said Jatinder Singh, a trucker who moved from Washington state. "I also love the people in this area."
Many of the changes are playing out in the Homecoming at University Park development off Main Street in Greenwood, home to many Sikhs and within walking distance of the site of the new temple on Graham Road on the city's eastside.
Henderson attended a recent Sikh service inside a two-story brick home in Homecoming that is serving temporarily as a temple. He was honored for supporting the Sikh community.
As they wait to move into their new temple, or Gurdwara, members of Greenwood's Sikh community worship at the house, surrounded by other homes in a typical suburban neighborhood.
After the ceremony, Sikhs gathered outside for a traditional meal of roti (similar to a tortilla), lentils, vegetables, rice and yogurt.
Henderson, 65 and a lifelong Greenwood resident, wore a suit and tie. He also wore an orange head covering, customary of Sikhs, and ate karah parshad, a sacred pudding of flour, sugar and butter distributed at the end of religious ceremonies.
"Diversity is something that a lot of people shudder at," Henderson said. "There was a time when diversity was only black and white. Now diversity is multi-colored."
Elaine and Steve Dougherty, who own S&E Produce and Flowers, have begun growing native Indian vegetables on their Clark Township farm, a short drive from Homecoming.
Local Greenwood residents have taken a liking to barq, a squash-like vegetable that Elaine Dougherty said is delicious on the grill topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
"It's definitely changing," Elaine said of Greenwood's cultural landscape. "We have to learn to work together. They're asking things of us that we've never heard of before."
Schools near Greenwood also have been adjusting.
What started out as a Punjabi American Culture Fair last year at Whiteland High School has evolved into the International Cultures Fair at the insistence of the Indian Sikh students. The majority of Sikhs -- the world's fifth-largest religion -- live in the Punjab region of northwest India, and their first big immigration to the United States began in the late 1890s.
In addition to cultural offerings, the school has an English-as-a-new-language class, as well as resource study halls designed for students with limited English proficiency. An instructional assistant at the school is from India.
Whiteland High's demographics have changed dramatically in less than a decade. The school had a 1 percent minority population in the 1998-99 school year. The minority population now stands at 14 percent, including about 110 Sikh students.
"We're hoping the school has been a valuable asset, because this also has been a community change," said John Schilawski, assistant principal at the school. "We're hoping we can be in the forefront in helping facilitate that."

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