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US gurdwara shooting: Is it time for a reality check?

The murder of six Sikhs at a gurdwara in the United States by a neo-Nazi racist reveals, yet again, how ethnicity and identity remain the basis of hatred in a world becoming increasingly smaller. as we chase perceived modernity, is it time for a reality check?

chandigarh Updated: Aug 07, 2012 19:57 IST
HTC and Agencies
HTC and Agencies
Hindustan Times

Loving, dedicated and deeply religious – these are words most people in the area used to describe the six victims of the senseless shootout at a gurdwara in Wisconsin.

When a gunman opened fire at the gurudwara in Oak Creek on Sunday, management president Satwant Singh Kaleka tried to attack the shooter at the door of the gurdwara, his son said.

Wounded in his lower extremities, Kaleka, 65, made it inside, hid with others in a room, and died there.
“It was like a second home to him,” Amardeep Kaleka said of his father’s love for the gurdwara. Lahwinder Singh, a member of the community, said the president “brought everyone together. He just wanted to make a good temple, a good community.”

After more than 10 hours of waiting, including hours inside the basement of a nearby bowling alley, family members began learning the fate of loved ones from officials late on Sunday.

Authorities began calling out the names of waiting family members to talk to them in a private area. “It’s hard to describe the scene. People were crying and hugging each other,” said Ben Boba Ri, an official with the gurdwara management.

Among those killed was Parkash Singh, a priest who was described as quiet and gentle. “He was a good guy, a noble soul,” said Manminder Sethi, a dentist. Parkash Singh, a native of Tikkampur village in Haridwar district, had been an granthi at the gurdwara for six or seven years. Parkash, 39, is survived by his wife and two kids, whom he had taken to the US just two months ago. His sister, Pushpa, lives in Tikkampur. Delhi natives, brothers Sita Singh, 41, and Ranjit Singh, 49, were also among the dead. The Oak Creek Police identified the other victims as Paramjit Kaur Toor, 41, a native of Ludhiana district; and Suveg Singh, 84, of Patiala.

A farmer from Duggal village of Patiala district, Satwant Kaleka, 65, had moved to the US in 1982. A successful businessman, Kaleka was a man of faith. And, on Sunday, he died defending it.

Identified as the first victim of the shooting, Kaleka was the brother-in-law of Punjab cabinet minister Surjit Singh Rakhra and was into petroleum and real estate.

He was sitting in the room near the main entrance of the gurdwara when he heard gunfire. “When he came saw the bald, six feet tall man shooting indiscriminately, Kaleka tried to thwart the attack by holding him from the back. But the gunshots wounded him in his lower extremities,” Harinder Singh Gill, a member of the gurdwara trust told HT over phone from the US.

Reports said Kaleka received at least four gunshots during his two-minute scuffle with the attacker.

Kaleka had been pivotal in the establishment of the new gurdwara in Oak Creek by arranging more than 10 acres of land. The gurdwara started in 1997 with about 25 families, and construction on the current temple in Oak Creek began in 2006, according to the gurdwara’s website.

“Whenever there was any requirement, be it of a small piece of glass, Kaleka was the first person to bring that to the gurdwara,” said community member Raghubir Singh.

Kaleka is survived by his wife Satpal Kaleka, and two sons.

“We are proud of the courage of my brother who tried to stop the attacker,” Amarjeet Singh, a retired army captain, said here with tears in his eyes.

Kaleka would be cremated on Tuesday in Wisconsin where he was living with his family and the families of his two elder brothers. Rakhra is already there, pertaining to the marriage of his brother Darshan Singh Dhaliwal’s daughter.

The marriage slated for August 11 is to take place in another gurdwara in Brookfield, about 30 miles away in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee.

The two gurdwaras serve as community centres as well as houses of worship. Many holidays, not just those of their own religion, are celebrated there by Sikhs.

This was a typical Sunday morning, with people starting to gather by midmorning when the gunman entered the kitchen and opened fire, said Jagpal Singh, a local Sikh. Several people who survived locked themselves in bathrooms, he said.

Sethi, a member of the gurdwara management, said most members of the congregation were not there at the time of the attack because services did not begin until around noon: “It was a stroke of luck that the gunman entered and went on his rampage an hour or more before most of the community had shown up.”

(Inputs by Ravinder Vasudeva and Radhika Nagrath. For detailed coverage, see Hindustan Time of August 7, 2012)

First Published: Aug 06, 2012 11:14 IST