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Heal, Unite, Act: Pardeep Singh Kaleka on restoring hope 10 years after the Sikh Temple tragedy

On the morning of August 5, 2012, a White Supremacist gunman assaulted the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara located in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting of Sikhs in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the deadliest attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades.

Six worshippers – Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka – were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020.

Still others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting — the lives of the rest of the survivors were forever changed by the trauma of the attack itself and the anguish of losing loved ones.

In the decade since Oak Creek Temple Shooting, the local sangat has continued to commemorate this devastating loss while also modeling the resilience inherent in the Sikh faith. On the weekend of August 5, 2022, Sikh Americans and allies from across the country came together in Oak Creek to recognize this milestone. The events of the Oak Creek 10th Anniversary Remembrance were titled “Heal, Unite, Act!”

UNITE as one in the face of this and other hate-motivated tragedies since by coming together at the Thursday, August 4 event “Healing from Hate and Protecting Places of Worship Forum with the Department of Justice at Oak Creek City Hall.”

HEAL from the loss of those we miss dearly at the “10-Year Remembrance Vigil” outside of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek on Friday evening, August 5.

ACT towards building a safe, diverse, and inclusive America at the “Community Chardi Kala” Event on Saturday, August 6 that was also held at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.

The overwhelming question that was posed to us over the week was, “how is your community doing in the 10 years since?”

Our community continues to thrive! We continue to be proud Americans and proud Sikhs! We will never forget the lives lost that day and we continue to move forward in the spirit of Chardi Kala and Sarbat Da Bhalla, unrelenting optimism and the purpose to bend the moral arc towards a betterment for all.

The long weekend of events have commanded the attention of national and statewide policy makers, national and local law enforcement, interfaith leaders, governmental and NGO institutions, Sikhs and the broader community from many different states.

Proclamations were presented, flags throughout the state flown at half-mast, lights lit on the Hoan Bridge over Milwaukee, and lights lit at the Vigil. Our youth are more inspired than ever to make progress in the name of love, inclusion, and Sikhi.

Our Sikh Sangat has grown exponentially and is committed in living out the values of equality, unity, selfless service, and justice. However, we could not have done this alone. Therefore, the Sikh community thanks everyone who attended, prayed, and supported the remembrance at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek.

It was envisioned by our Gurus that the Gurudwara would not just simply serve as a house of worship for Sikhs but instead the entire community at large should feel like they are welcomed. This is why every Gurudwara in the world will intentionally have 4 doors; one to the north, east, south, and west. This signifies our commitment to mutuality and Oneness as the hallmark of Sikhi.

Fear could have closed these doors and our hearts, but it did not, for in our time of pain, the greater human family showed up and we knew that we were always loved. Thus, the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin has become a sanctuary for all.

Many challenges still remain and we must continue to show up. When there is suffering, we must show support. Our children remarked joyfully as they saw the vast community of support. Our adults were overwhelmed by the connected spirit of people who arrived from far and wide.

I however, was not surprised. I have seen this over and over again. The Sikh Temple and all Sikhs have learned many valuable lessons over the past ten years, perhaps none more important than the fact that at the depth of our human soul, we are good.

To know that in our core we can retrieve this goodness gives me the focus to restore rather then fix. The fact that we are good gives me the strength to fight for communal salvation that rests in the realization of faith over fear, and hope over despair.

So, to answer the question of how we are doing? Our hearts are full and we remain genuinely thankful for your support and love.

About The Author

Pardeep Kaleka

Pardeep Kaleka is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, published author of The Gifts of Our Wounds, award-winning columnist with Milwaukee Independent, and a clinician specializing in utilizing a trauma-informed approach to treat survivors and perpetrators of assault, abuse, and acts of violence.