Envoking Sikh spirit of ‘Charhdi Kala’ —eternal optimism – seeks steps to reduce gun violence and keep Americans safe
Noting that Aug 5, 2012 Oak Creek shooting was the deadliest attack on Sikh Americans in American history, President Joe Biden has called for united efforts to secure a ban on assault weapons.
“Tragically, attacks on our nation’s houses of worship have only become more common over the past decade,” he said in a statement marking ten years since the attack on the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Read: Biden, Harris commemorate 2012 gurdwara mass shooting (August 6, 2021)
“It is up to all of us to deny this hate safe harbor. No one should fear for their life when they bow their head in prayer or go about their lives in America,” Biden said.
“Oak Creek has shown us the way,” Biden said noting 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.
Every year, the congregation now hosts an annual memorial run to honor the victims, he noted. The event bears the words Charhdi Kala, meaning “eternal optimism,” he noted.
“Fueled by that spirit of eternal optimism, we must continue to take steps now to reduce gun violence and keep our fellow Americans safe,” said Biden.
“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,” he said.
“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,” Biden said.
Noting that the House of Representatives passed a bill to do just that in the previous week, the President said, “As a matter of conscience and common sense, the Senate must act as well.”
“To stand in defense of religious freedom, we must all stand together to ban the weapons that terrorize congregations around our country,” he said.
“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,” Biden said.
“That sense of peace and belonging was shattered on the morning of August 5, 2012, when a white supremacist wielding a semiautomatic handgun arrived at the Gurdwara and began shooting,” he recalled.
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, Biden noted.
“Jill 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,” he said.
“The Oak Creek shooting was the deadliest attack on Sikh Americans in our nation’s history. 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 harbor. No one should fear for their life when they bow their head in prayer or go about their lives in America,” said Biden.
Meanwhile, Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States, has sent a letter to the White House signed by 89 gurdwaras across the nation seeking more steps to make communities safer.
The letter calls for Biden to voice his support for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act, and to more broadly work so that federal resources are more easily accessible to houses of worship that seek to secure themselves against attack and prepare for emergencies.
“We have also partnered with the Revolutionary Love Project and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) to encourage Sikh and non-Sikh Americans alike to contact their elected officials in support of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, the Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act, and the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act,” it stated.
So far, hundreds of individuals have sent messages to their members of Congress calling for these common sense measures to make our communities safer, the coalition noted.
“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 Saini in the attack ten years ago.
“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.”