Fifth Anniversary of Sikh American Massacre Commemorated at Oak Creek | Sikh Vogue

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Several Indian American organizations and hundreds of community members gathered in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Aug. 5 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the worst massacre in Sikh American history.

Simultaneously, the Sikh Coalition organized a national day of seva – service – in 23 cities across the country. Volunteers served meals at homeless shelters, and collected food for food banks. Volunteers in Modesto, Calif., worked with Habitat for Humanity to build and paint houses.

In New York city, volunteers – known as sevadaars – cleaned up Morningside Park in Harlem. And in Irvine, volunteers planted and pruned trees at the Shadetree Nursery.

The remembrance ceremonies kicked off with a 6K ‘chardi kala’ – spirit of optimism – walk/run organized by Serve2Unite, co-founded by Pardeep Kaleka.

Kaleka’s father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was one of six people killed by avowed neo-Nazi Wade Michael Page, who stormed the Oak Creek gurdwara the morning of Aug. 5, 2012. Satwant Singh Kaleka was the gurdwara’s president, and bravely attempted to intervene with Page to stop the massacre before he was killed.

Page, a member of the white supremacist group Hammerskin Nation, also killed Paramjit Kaur, 41; Prakash Singh, 39; Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; and Suveg Singh, 84. The gunman then killed himself.

At the temple, which still bears bullet holes from the horrific violence, the Guru Granth Sahib – Sikh holy scriptures – were read continuously for 48 hours beginning Aug. 4. Langar was served continuously during the reading, known as Akhand Path.

On Aug. 6, the community gathered at the temple to sing kirtans and hear the words of community leaders who had traveled from around the country to attend the remembrance services. A blood donation drive was held during the 6K walk/run.

“We continue to be inspired by the perseverance of those who were critically injured: Baba Punjab Singh, Bhai Santokh Singh, and Lt. Brian Murphy. And we admire the strength of the entire Oak Creek sangat, which set a powerful example of resilience for the entire nation, said Sikh Coalition executive director Sapreet Kaur, in a press statement. She urged the nation’s gurdwaras to make security a top priority, noting that the Sikh Coalition has shared written security resources with over 200 gurdwaras and facilitated over 30 security consultations nationwide this year.

Kaur also urged the community to educate other Americans about the Sikh faith. “From classrooms to community service, and from courtrooms to the halls of Congress, we must continue to spread Sikhi’s message of universal equality and dignity for all people,” she said.

South Asian Americans Leading Together noted in a press statement that hate-motivated crimes against the South Asian American community have been on the rise since the Oak Creek massacre. The organization attributed the sharp spike in hate crimes to the Trump administration, stating: “The spate of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and overall discriminatory policies continue to encourage violence against our communities at staggering rates, leaving many fearful that they will be the next targets of attack.”

Sabrina Singh, deputy communications director for the Democratic National Committee, released a statement noting: “Far too many Sikh Americans have been wrongfully subjected to discrimination and hate crimes, and this incident is just another horrific example of intolerance and violence against Sikhs.”

“The diversity of our faiths and the freedom to practice them are what make the United States strong and prosperous. The Democratic Party is committed to promoting equality for all and working to stop tragedies like this from ever occurring again,” said Singh.

Rep. Judy, Chu, D-Calif., and chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a press statement: “The tragedy at Oak Creek reverberated across the nation because it was an attack on our shared American values of tolerance and religious freedom. As we reflect on the lives that were lost five years ago, let us also recommit ourselves to speaking out against prejudice and violence whenever it occurs. Hate, in any form, has no place in America.”

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, noted in the CAPAC statement: “Every year, my heart breaks with the memory of those we lost on this day five years ago at the Oak Creek Gurdwara, where innocent lives were taken in a senseless act of violence and hate. This year, the tragedy at Oak Creek is particularly resonant as we have witnessed an increase in hate crimes against Sikh Americans, Indian Americans, and other communities.”

“As we mourn and honor the lives lost five years ago, we must recommit ourselves to combatting hatred and intolerance against every community,” said Krishnamoorthi.

 

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