Thousands Mourn Sikh Temple Members at Joint Funeral

Aug 10, 2012

There was a huge outpouring of love and support in Oak Creek today, as the six worshippers a gunman shot and killed at the Sikh Temple Sunday were laid to rest. As WUWM’s Marti Mikkelson reports, a couple thousand people turned out for the public wake and service at Oak Creek High School. Those in grief were surrounded, and they, in turn, encouraged others.

The line of mourners extended out the door of Oak Creek High School.

Each mourner put on a headscarf upon walking into the gymnasium – the traditional Sikh sign of respect. Then they joined the long line of people filing past the six caskets. After the two-hour visitation, family members spoke about their loved ones. Pardeep Kaleka spoke of forgiveness. His father, Satwant Kaleka, started and led the temple, and died trying to stop the gunman.

“How can we look into the eye of a horrific tragedy and find a blessing? When bad things happen to good people, what good can come of that? Today I stand before you without a father. Yet, in my grief I seek solace in the fact that even in death my father has done more to promote awareness of the Sikh faith than he did when he was alive. Six lives were taken that day. But, do not let them die in vain. Let us learn from the tragedy. Let us learn that although we have our differences, our similarities are what bind us together. We have much to learn from one another. Just as our founding guru, our teacher, turned strife into service, so too must we turn hate and sin into love. As appalling as the acts that transpired may be and as devastated as all the families are of the survivors we must not fight hate with hate,” Kaleka says.

One of the people, who traveled quite a distance to attend the service, was U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. He told mourners that the unspeakable tragedy has united the community and the power of faith will heal it. Yet Holder says people should work to prevent hateful acts.

“Today as we reflect on the lives and legacies of these six remarkable individuals we are also reminded of our family members who have been taken from us all too soon and too suddenly in other senseless acts of violence. Unfortunately for the Sikh community this sort of violence has become all too common in recent years. In the recent past too many Sikhs have been targeted and victimized simply is because of how they look and what they believe. It is wrong, it is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated. We must ask necessary questions of ourselves. What kind of nation do we want to have? We must have the courage to demand more of those who lead us and just as importantly of ourselves,” Holder says.

While Holder called on the community to discuss ways of preventing such killings, Mandu Varma of Milwaukee urged fellow temple members not to burn the American flag. Varma says the white supremacist who targeted Sikhs is not representative of most people in the U.S.

“Some evil person is doing this kind of stuff, we can’t blame this country. This is a nice country. We have to help and support this country because this country is helping everybody, us too,” Varma says.

A German immigrant made his way to Friday’s funeral. Sergio Lemaitre says he is amazed by the outpouring of support.

“I’m taken by the fact how common our foundations are, the idea of peace, of friendship, of fellowship. To really understand that we are all brothers and sisters and we are family and hate just makes us blind. The way the Sikh community has handled this so far is a huge example of what I embrace as values that I have growing up as a Christian,” Lemaitre says.

Lemaitre says love and forgiveness are difficult in the face of violence, and he draws strength from the Sikh community’s willingness to pardon the killer.