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A Year After Oak Creek
A Sikh American Tragedy

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Saturday, August 10, 2013 | 03:13 pm

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Entrance to the Oak Creek Gurdwara premises on the first anniversary divaan on Sunday, Aug. 4.

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The Nishaan Sahib flys outside the Oak Creek Gurdwara with smaller flags bearing images of each of the six Sikhs killed last year in the shooting on Aug. 5, 2012.

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Flags bearing the six Sikh victims of the Oak Creek shooting.

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Outside the Oak Creek Gurdwara on the first anniversary divaan on Sunday, Aug. 4. (Courtesy Sandeep Singh Brar, sikhmuseum.com)

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Harpreet Singh Saini stands in front of the flag bearing the picture of his mother, Paramjit Kaur, who was the only woman killed during the shooting last year.

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Outside the Oak Creek Gurdwara, historical photos of Sikh soldiers are displayed for the public.

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The Oak Creek police guard the gurdwara on the first anniversary divaan on Aug. 4. (Courtesy Sandeep Singh Brar, sikhmuseum.com)

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The Oak Creek police guard the gurdwara on the first anniversary divaan on Sunday, Aug. 4. (Courtesy Sandeep Singh Brar, sikhmuseum.com)

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Balloons decorate the entrance to the Oak Creek Gurdwara on the first anniversary divaan on Sunday, Aug. 4. (Courtesy Sandeep Singh Brar, sikhmuseum.com)

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The Oak Creek police guard the gurdwara on the first anniversary divaan on Aug. 4.

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Notes from well wishers adorn the foyer of the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

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Notes from well wishers adorn the foyer of the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

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Notes from well wishers adorn the foyer of the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

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Notes from well wishers adorn the foyer of the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

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Darbar Sahib at the Oak Creek Gurdwara.

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About 1,000 people packed the large gurdwara on the first anniversary divaan on Sunday, Aug. 4. (Courtesy Sandeep Singh Brar, sikhmuseum.com)

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker arrives at the gurdwara.

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Victims' family members await the governor for a private meeting.

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Victims' family members await the governor for a private meeting.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India in Washington meet privately the victims' families before their address to the sangat.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker receives feedback from victims' families before his address to the sangat.

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Victims' family members listen to the governor.

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Victims' family members listen to the governor.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker embraces many of the victims' family members after the meeting.

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker embraces many of the victims' family members after the meeting.

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Perhaps the greatest outcomes, which set Oak Creek apart form the historical genocidal events on the Indian subcontinent, are reparation and justice.

None of the Indian political perpetrators of the 1984 pogroms have been brought to justice. And the tens of thousands of survivors, mostly women and children, have received little or no compensation. They have been slowly withering away in the widow colonies of Delhi.

The victims of Oak Creek and their families have experienced a starkly different response.

“During the last one year, there was (more than) a million dollars donated to the victims,” said Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal, the gurdwara’s president.

The money came from Sikhs, school children, organizations and the general public, from the US and around the world. It was evenly distributed to the victims’ families, which received about $100,000 each, one of the family members told SikhNN. Part of the money also went to those who were injured, including Murphy.

Parkash Singh Badal also promised Rs. 5 crore last year, more than $82,000 for the victims’ families. But none of that money has materialized, two of the families’ members told SikhNN. Jagjit Singh Kaleka, whose brother, Satwant Singh, was killed in the shooting, also inquired about the promised donation during his address to the sangat.

But the US justice department last week granted more than $512,000 for the victims for trauma recovery expenses. Part of the grant also was used for expenses incurred by the police department, witnesses’ mental health services, the gurdwara security system, and for the memorial events. Several of the victims’ families told SikhNN that they had not yet received any government money, and will apply for this aid.

The US immigration service also stepped in and allowed two of the victims’ families to settle here from India. Ranjit Singh and Sita Singh were brothers who also were keertaniyaas at the gurdwara. Both were shot in the parking lot as they approached the gunman in his car to ask if he wanted to come inside for some tea. Their children are now attending school here, Kulwant Singh said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker privately met with the victims’ families to listen to their concerns, before his address to the sangat.

“As our neighbors and our fellow citizens, you showed us what was great not only about being Sikh but about being American,” he said. “When one of us is attacked, all of us are attacked. You responded not with hatred but with love, and that brought great unity.” The governor had also met with the victims’ families in their homes last year.

At this meeting, family members thanked him and asked for his continued support. Kamaljit Saini, whose mother, Paramjit Kaur, was killed in the shooting, asked the governor to help him find a job in criminal justice. He recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

“Last time I talked to you, you talked about how you would love Sikhs in law enforcement,” he said. “And I’m here today, a year later, and I’m telling you I’m ready for it… I’m going to come back to you because you gave me your word last time.”

A spokesman for the families also asked for assistance in helping the immigrant children advance from high school to college, and acknowledged James Santelle, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, for his efforts in helping them immigrate.

And, more importantly for the entire Sikh American community, the US justice department also announced that the FBI had approved changes to its hate crime data collection and will add Sikhs, Hindus, Arabs Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox Christians, as a separate category when tracking these incidents.

“I did my job and now the FBI is going to do their job,” Harpreet Singh Saini told SikhNN. He also is Paramjit Kaur’s son.

Last September, his poignant testimony moved many at the Senate subcommittee hearing on hate crimes: “Senators, I came here to ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic. The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikhs. My mother and those shot that day will not count on a federal form. We cannot solve a problem we refuse to recognize.”

The FBI’s advisory board recommended in June that the bureau change its data collection forms to include Sikhs as a category of hate crime victims. FBI director Robert Mueller agreed to that recommendation on Aug. 2.

“… I was a part of that (decision), so it makes me feel good,” Harpreet Singh, now 19, added.

“I had to fill out those forms after this tragedy, I had no where to check for the members of the gurdwara and where they fit,” the police chief said. “I had to check a box that said, ‘Other.’” He said he wrote letters to Congress to push the FBI to include Sikhs.

“I’m glad that it was changed,” he said. “It’s very common sense to me. I don’t understand why there was even a debate or hearing on it.”

“In light of the first year anniversary of this tragedy, its important to remember justice and the dignity that each person deserves in that equation,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee, 4) to the sangat.

“These additions will not wholly prevent these senseless tragedies but it’s a step in the right direction towards collecting comprehensive information on these crimes and these criminals.

“But we can’t stop here brothers and sisters… We must decide as one people, as one nation that we’ve had enough because I, for one, am tired of these offenses and the pain that they cause.”






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