No one should fear for their lives while praying: Biden on 10th anniversary of Oak Creek Gurdwara attack

NEW DELHI: Marking the 10th anniversary of the attack on Oak Creek gurdwara in Wisconsin, USA, President Joe Biden on Friday described the shooting as “the deadliest of Sikh Americans in our nation’s history.”
It has been a decade since a gunman opened fire on the gurdwara just as worshipers were preparing for Sunday service. Six members of the community — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khatra and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed; the seventh, Baba Punjab Singh, succumbed to his injuries years later.
Statement by the President Biden read: “When generations of Sikh-Americans in Oak Creek, Wisconsin built their own place of worship after years of renting local halls, it was their own sacred place and a shared connection to the larger community. That sense of peace and belonging was shattered on the morning of August 5, 2012, when a white supremacist with a semi-automatic handgun arrived at the Gurdwara and began shooting.
“The gunman killed 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, as it did yesterday, and we grieve with the families of the victims, the survivors and the community devastated by this heinous act.
“Unfortunately, attacks on our nation’s houses of worship have become more frequent over the past decade. It is up to all of us to deny this hate a safe harbor. No one should fear for their lives when they bow their heads in prayer or live their lives in America.”
President Biden also praised the Sikh community and said Oak Creek has shown the way. “After the attack, the Sikh community returned to their gurdwara and insisted that they clean it themselves. The son of one of the victims became the first Sikh in American history to testify before Congress, successfully urging the federal government to pursue hate crimes against Sikhs and other minority groups. The congregation now hosts an annual memorial run in honor of the victims. The event carries the word Charhdi Kala, which means eternal optimism.”
The statement also mentioned the need to continue to take steps to reduce gun violence and keep our fellow citizens 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 need to ban assault weapons — used in many mass shootings in temples and other places 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 also act. To stand up for religious freedom, we must all come together to ban the guns that terrorize our country’s congregations.
A candlelight vigil was held at Gurdwara Oak Creek on Friday evening to mark the commemorative anniversary.
Earlier this week, the Sikh Coalition sent a letter to the White Housesigned by 89 gurdwaras across America, calling on President Biden to voice his support for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program Enhancement Act and make more federal resources readily available to houses of worship seeking to protect themselves against attacks and to prepare for emergency situations.
A Gurdwara in Wisconsin also issued a statement on the 10th anniversary of the deadly attack. “Ten years ago, our sangat (community) suffered the most devastating attack on Sikhs in the history of our nation. This anniversary means many things to many people. Some still feel a painful loss and absence in their households and families 10 years later. Others have come of age over the last decade, learning how to lead and finding their voice in the shadow of tragedy. And others have joined our growing community and become part of our ongoing story. There is room for this celebration to contain the unique truth that each of us feels.”
“On this solemn anniversary, we remain inspired by the extraordinary resilience of the Sikh community in Oak Creek,” said Sikh Coalition Executive Director Anisha Singh. “We also recognize that in the decade since this tragedy, too many other communities – Sikh and otherwise – have also suffered targeted violence based on hateful ideologies. We choose to honor those we have lost by continuing to fight for meaningful policy change.”
“In the decade since Oak Creek, not enough has changed – and it’s been so hard 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 must not accept hate violence as a ‘normal’ part of life in our country, which is why we must all continue our work in advocacy, education and community building.”

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