It was the American dream that kept Ranjit Singh, a resident of Chand Nagar in Vishnu Garden, away from his family in Delhi for around 16 years till he was killed on Sunday in an attack on a US gurdwara.
Singh, a raagi (hymn singer at a gurdwara), went to the US in 1995 on a tourist visa as a jaathedar (religious worker) to sings kirtans. His family says the 47-year-old was waiting for his American green card which he was about to get. His younger brother, Sita, also met a similar fate.
Two others from the colony suffered bullet injuries in a shooting at the gurdwara and are battling for their lives in a hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Of the six persons killed in the incident, five were jaathedars of Indian origin.
Thousands from Vishnu Garden, a sleepy locality in west Delhi, have worked as jaathedars in the US, if only to realise their American dreams.
“Going to the US as jaathedars is easy. The local gurdwara sponsors the jaatha (a team of three raagis and harmonium and tabla players) and they get visas easily. Working abroad has its charm, and this drives the raagis to flock to the US, UK, Canada and Australia,” said Harvinder Singh Sarna of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC).
A raagi or a jaathedar can make up to $1,000 (around R55,000) in the US. In India, however, they do not earn more R1,000. “According to some estimates, there are around 150 gurdwaras in the US, 25 in the UK, 340 in Canada and around 100 in Australia. Not surprisingly, there is a huge demand for raagis,” said Prithipal Singh Sandhu, former secretary, Akal Takht. Each gurdwara employs at least two jaathas.
The US gives R-1 visas to religious workers for a maximum of five years. After their visas expire, they can apply for green cards. “Singing hymns in gurdwaras is a tradition in several family. This is the reason raagis are concentrated in Vishnu Garden,” said Kulwinder Mattoo, of the DSGMC.