A Victim's Son Reflects on the Sikh Temple Shooting

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly meets with local Sikh leaders following the shooting in Wisconsin on August 5, 2012. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly meets with local Sikh leaders following the shooting in Wisconsin on August 5, 2012. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Amardeep Kaleka's father was killed in the horrific shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh temple on Sunday that left seven people dead, including the gunman. His father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was the temple president. When Wade Michael Page arrived, gun in hand, Satwant Kaleka found the only weapon he could, a butter knife, and challenged the attacker. He sustained gunshot wounds to his hip or upper leg, yet continued to defend his community until his death, buying others time to hide themselves. 

FBI agents embraced his son, telling him, "Your dad's a hero." The man who had put up an American flag in his front yard, and had "lived the American Dream," his son says, died to save lives. 

Amardeep continues the exploration of what the massacre means for the community of Sikhs in the United States.

"I think personally I stand at a crossroads," Kaleka says. "I think the nation stands at a crossroads as well, and we continuously have these struggles or challenges come up in our society."

Kaleka has identified a "unique similarity" between the shooter, Wade Michael Page, and his father. Both men had a connection with music, although it manifested itself antithetically. "In the Sikh tradition, everything we do is based on music and prayer, and that connection with the shooter['s] hate-filled music was there. I believe there was a self-brainwashing of sorts." 

Both the shooter and Satwant Kaleka were members of tightly-knit, insular communities. Kaleka describes his father as "very outgoing", welcoming anyone who wandered into the Sikh temple. "In our temples we have four doors that are open to any sort of person," he says. "He was the first person to walk people through if they showed up and they were of a foreign descent, and talked to them about our traditions and make sure that he was [reaching out]." 

"That, at the end of the day, is the big difference between the two lives." 

Kaleka also touched on the theme of assimilation, and how he has handled his dual roles as a Sikh and as a "cheesehead," a traditional nickname for residents of his native Wisconsin. He chose from a young age not to wear his hair long or grow out his beard. For him, it is a personal choice, and while the Sikh religion suggests and encourages its members to subscribe to the traditions, the final decision is up to the individual.

"In our culture, some of the first words uttered in our holy book are, 'The truth that you find to match your own god-consciousness, the little voice inside of you, that truth is the one you follow versus the external truth that people tell you,'" Kaleka says.  

Guests:

Amardeep Kaleka

Produced by:

Robert Balint and Joe Hernandez

Comments [3]

My name is Stephen Power. I wrote an article on Sikhs for the Boston Globe a few years ago. I also wrote a book about American converts to Sikhism entitled, "Spirit Warriors."
An analogy is use to describe Sikhs is that they are like militant Unitarians. They believe everyone should choose his or her path to God, and they will defend, with their lives. your right to choose your own path.

Aug. 09 2012 05:59 PM
Chris

Why was nobody, except the shooter, armed, in the Sikh temple near Milwaukee? I'd like to Amardeep Kaleka's opinion.
I have some speculation I'd like him to comment on.
On Nov. 1, 2011 Wisconsin's concealed_carry law went into effect. The licensing process is just beginning. It may have been too soon for many people to have obtained Wisconsin licenses, authorizing persons to carry concealed weapons, under this newly restored right to carry a concealed weapon in Wisconsin.
In Florida, it took years, after right-to-carry laws were passed, to achieve gun licensing of 7% of its people. Violent crime there fell as more victims became armed.

Or, people of Milwaukee may feel it’s too much trouble to carry in a gun-unfriendly environment.
The head of Milwaukee’s police force — notorious anti_gunner Chief Ed Flynn said: “My message to my troops is, if you see anybody carrying a gun on the streets of Milwaukee, we’ll put them on the ground, take the gun away, and then decide whether you have a right to carry it.”

Aug. 09 2012 03:16 PM

I just heard your interview with Amardeep. What a courageous, well-spoken young man!!! His words of simple truths moved me to tears. I am amazed at how you and your community, but especially you, are handling your grief, which I cannot imagine, but it must be tremedous.

I nearly lost my dad just two months ago due to medical complications after his surgery. I mean he nearly died! And NOT from such a hateful, spiteful, cowardly act as that which took Amardeep's father! Yet, I do not think I'd be able to be so calm, so clear thinking, so wise, as this son is being after the sudden lost of his beloved father.

As only the second generation of immigrants, myself, I was able to identify with ALL you spoke of...We are each individuals, with our origins, religions, cultures, races, but we are ALL Americans!! There is no room in America for the haters..truly those haters should practice what many of them preach: America love or LEAVE it!!

May God bring you and your family and your community, Sikh and non-Sikh, closer together through this tragedy; may you all find peace and strength in the common and community bonds you all share! Your community is an example of how all communities should be; may nothing but good triumph over what was intended to be evil and shown to be pure cowardice!!!

Aug. 09 2012 10:12 AM

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