NEW DELHI: Marking the 10th year of attack on Oak Creek gurdwara in Wisconsin, United States, President Joe Biden on Friday described the shooting at as the “deadliest on Sikh Americans in our nation’s history”.
It is now a decade since a gunman had opened fire at the gurdwara just as worshippers were preparing for Sunday services. Six community members — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed; a seventh, Baba Punjab Singh, succumbed to his injuries years later.
A statement by President Biden read, “When generations of Sikh-Americans in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, constructed their own place of worship after years of renting local halls, it was a sacred place of their own and a connection shared with the broader community. That sense of peace and belonging was shattered on the morning of August 5, 2012, when a white supremacist wielding a semi-automatic handgun arrived at the Gurdwara and began shooting.”
“The gunman murdered six people and wounded four that day, as well as another victim who survived his wounds only to succumb to them years later. (First Lady) Jill (Biden) and I know that days like today bring back the pain like it happened yesterday, and we mourn with the victims’ families, the survivors, and the community devastated by this heinous act.
“Tragically, attacks on our nation’s houses of worship have only become more common over the past decade. It is up to all of us to deny this hate safe harbour. No one should fear for their life when they bow their head in prayer or go about their lives in America.”
President Biden also praised the Sikh community and said that Oak Creek had shown the way. “After the attack, the Sikh community returned to their gurdwara and insisted on cleaning it themselves. The son of one of the victims became the first Sikh in American history to testify before Congress, successfully calling for the federal government to track hate crimes against Sikhs and other minority groups. The congregation now hosts an annual memorial run to honour the victims. The event bears the word’s Charhdi Kala, meaning eternal optimism.”
The statement further mentioned the need to continue to take steps to reduce gun violence and keep fellow Americans safe. “We must do more to protect places of worship and defeat domestic terrorism and hate in all its forms, including the poison of white supremacy. We must ban assault weapons — used in many mass shootings at houses of worship and other sites across the country — as well as high-capacity magazines. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a Bill to do just that. As a matter of conscience and common sense, the Senate must act as well. To stand in defence of religious freedom, we must all stand together to ban the weapons that terrorise congregations around our country.”
A candlelight remembrance vigil was held at the Oak Creek gurdwara on Friday evening to mark the memorial anniversary.
Earlier this week, the Sikh Coalition sent a letter to the White House, signed by 89 gurdwaras across America, urging President Biden to voice his support for the non-profit security grant programme improvement Act, and to make more federal resources easily accessible to houses of worship that seek to secure themselves against attack and prepare for emergencies.
The gurdwara at Wisconsin also issued a statement on the 10th anniversary of the deadly attack. “Ten years ago, our sangat (community) suffered the most devastating attack against Sikhs in our nation’s history. This anniversary means many things to many people. Some still feel painful loss and absence in their households and families 10 years later. Others have come of age in the past decade, learning how to lead and finding their voice in the shadow of tragedy. And still others have joined our growing community and become a part of our continuing story. There is room for this commemoration to hold the unique truth that each of us feels.”
“On this solemn anniversary, we remain inspired by the extraordinary resilience of the Oak Creek Sikh community,” Sikh Coalition executive director Anisha Singh said. “We also recognise that in the decade since this tragedy, too many other communities — Sikhs and others — have also suffered targeted violence based on hateful ideologies. We choose to honour those we have lost by continuing to fight for meaningful policy change.”
“In the decade since Oak Creek, not enough has changed — and it has been so difficult to watch other communities go through what we went through,” said Harpreet Singh Saini, who lost his mother Paramjit Kaur in the attack. “We cannot and should not accept that hate violence is a ‘normal’ part of life in our country, which is why we all must continue our work in advocacy, education and community-building.”