How Satwant Singh Kaleka died protecting his gurdwara

New York: White supremacist Wade Michael Page didn’t expect any resistance when he strode into the Wisconsin gurdwara brandishing a 9-millimeter handgun and multiple magazines of ammunition and opened fire. But he didn’t account for Satwant Singh Kaleka, the ferocious 65-year-old president of the gurdwara in Oak Creek.

The FBI told Kaleka’s family he attacked the shooter in the lobby, resulting in a "blood struggle." A bloodied kirpan lay close to Kaleka’s body.

"It's an amazing act of heroism, but it's also exactly who he was," Kaleka’s son Amardeep told CNN Milwaukee affiliate WTMJ.

"There was no way in God's green Earth that he would allow somebody to come in and do that without trying his best to stop it," added Amardeep. "He slowed the shooter enough so other people could get to safety."

 How Satwant Singh Kaleka died protecting his gurdwara

Amardeep Kaleka (centre) mourns for his father Satwant Singh Kaleka, who died trying to stop the shooter at the Wisconsin gurdwara. Reuters

A successful businessman, Kaleka helped build the gurdwara 18 years ago and headed its governing committee. Sikhs are known for their bravery and Kaleka made it plain to gun-toting Page that this is not a community that cowers. Kaleka took at least two bullets at close range while trying to tackle the gunman. Even though the struggle lasted only minutes, it gave the Sikh congregation time to duck for cover.

Kaleka was one of six Sikhs killed on Sunday which included five men and one 41-year-old woman Paramjit Kaur. During a chaotic few hours after the first shots were fired around 10:30 a.m., police carrying assault rifles surrounded the gurdwara with armoured vehicles. The gunman ambushed one of the first officers to arrive at the temple as the officer tended to a victim outside. A second officer then exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who was finally shot.

Following the shooting in Wisconsin, the police in Chicago and New York have added security around gurdwaras as a precautionary measure against any violence. According to the Sikh Cultural Society, there are nearly 1,00,000 Sikhs living in New York City.

The shooting has reopened wounds in a community whose members have found themselves frequent targets of hate-based attacks since September 11. To undiscerning eyes, the turban has somehow got sadly mixed up with Osama bin Laden’s headgear.

Despite America’s efforts at being a pluralistic society, the Sikh Coalition says 60 percent of turban-wearing boys are harassed in schools. Bias attacks against Sikhs spiked after September 11 and Making Our Voices Heard, a report by the Sikh Coalition found that half of New York’s Sikh students have been bullied in school. (Read the report here.)

"More than 60 percent of the Sikh students we surveyed suffered harassment or violence in city schools,” said the Sikh Coalition while fingering Richmond Hill High School as a "problem school" for Sikh children.

Pooja Makhijani, editor of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, told Firstpost, “In some parts of the US, outward markings of ethnicity or culture can attract unwarranted attention.”

In Under Her Skin, Makhijani writes about her experience of watching her Sikh classmate who had his turban yanked off during a kickball game as a “defining moment” in her life. “I should have defended him that day when a boy pulled off his patka. He was rounding second base during the kickball game when a pale hand yanked the swatch of red fabric off his head. His silky black locks cascaded down his shoulders. A few others gathered around and one voice yelled, “He’s a girl,” but he just snatched it back and went inside. He showed up in class after recess was over… It is one of those memories whose sounds and colours don’t fade away with time.”

Updated Date: Aug 07, 2012 13:11:20 IST