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Sikh shooting victims leave behind grieving Indian family

Kaur, whose husband was killed in the shooting attack in Wisconsin, mourns at her home in New Delhi.

NEW DELHI: For 16 years, Lokinder Kaur waited patiently for the day her husband would be reunited with her and their children. That dream died with him in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Ranjit Singh, one of six killed in a shooting attack at the temple, never came home even once in all those years, working at a grocery store during the week and volunteering at the Sikh gurdwara on weekends. He promised his family he was doing what had to be done to get a green card so they could come join him.

He called every few days, even as the months dragged into years. Kaur said she spoke to Singh just the day before a gunman entered the temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and shot worshippers as they prepared for services Sunday.

Singh sang devotional songs at the temple and took care of worshipers, serving them meals. His brother, who died in the attack as well, often sang with him.

All Kaur was left with is a recent photograph of Singh, dressed sharply in a crisp shirt and tie and smiling confidently into the camera.

“My children keep asking me, ‘What did Papa look like?’” she said, sobbing at her faded memory of her husband’s face.

“I have no answers.”

When Singh first left for the United States his son was just 7 months old, his daughters 4 and 6. He had a visa for just six months.

“My husband had only one dream: To see his children settled abroad,” she said. Kaur sat surrounded by grieving family and friends in her modest two-story home in a Delhi neighborhood.

To chase that dream, he kept renewing his visa, finally applying for a green card a few years ago.

“Every six months, he would tell me he would be home soon.”

His daughters got married while he was away. His son grew up knowing him only as the voice on the phone, the image in the photographs.

“I just don’t understand what happened over there. Why did they die,” Kaur asked, sitting on the floor, exhausted by her grief.

According to police, the gunman was a failed soldier who played in white supremacist heavy metal bands. His motive remains a mystery.

With their turbans and beards, Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims or Arabs, and have been targeted in post-Sept. 11 bias attacks in the United States. The New York-based Sikh Coalition reported more than 700 incidents in the U.S. since 2001.

A short distance away from Kaur’s home, similar scenes of mourning cloud the home of her slain brother-in-law Sita Singh, who routinely traveled between India to the United States.

His wife, Surinder Kaur, first got word that something had happened in a 1:30 a.m. phone call from a relative, who said the brothers had been shot. Three hours later they were dead.

“It’s just us women left all alone to look after our children,” Kaur said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 08, 2012, on page 11.

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