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On Aug. 5, 2012, at about 10:30 am, Pardeep Singh Kaleka engaged in his usual Sunday morning ritual: driving to the gurdwara his father had founded in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

His father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, and mother Satpal Kaur were already at the temple. Satwant would greet congregants as they came in, while Satpal would join with other women in the gurdwara’s kitchen to prepare langaar, the free feast given out daily to anyone who wishes to partake.

Satwant Singh Kaleka, with members of his family. (Photo courtesy of Pardeep Kaleka)

“I was down the street from the gurdwara when I heard there had been a shooting,” Pardeep Kaleka told India Currents in an Aug. 2 interview. “I knew both my mom and dad were inside.”

Hammerskins Nation

The shooter was Wade Michael Page, an avowed white supremacist and a member of the Hammerskins Nation, one of the oldest, and most violent skinhead groups in the US. Page killed six people that morning, and seriously injured three others, including Oak Creek Police Lieutenant Brian Murphy before turning the gun on himself.

Page had surveilled the gurdwara on at least two occasions before his attack. On Aug. 2, 2012, the gunman observed the entrance and exits to the house of worship and took photos. Page was known to law enforcement, but was not considered to be an active threat.

As he began his trail of carnage, Page was confronted by Satwant Singh Kaleka, who tried to hold the shooter back with a knife. While many publications have reported that Satwant used his kirpan in an attempt to fight off Wade, Pardeep said his father had just a butter knife.

Confronting The Killer

“What are you doing here? Why are you doing this?” Satwant asked the killer, according to Pardeep.

“My dad could have run away. He could have left at any time, and he would probably still be with us today. But he chose to confront the killer, to save the lives of others,” Pardeep Kaleka said emotionally. “My father was always a courageous man, until the end. He believed in perservering over tragedy.”

Page was advancing towards the kitchen, where Satpal and other women were hiding in the pantry. He changed course after firing five fatal shots at Kaleka, running out to the parking lot where police confronted him. After he was shot in the hip, Page took his gun to himself.

The Faces Of The Victims

Others killed in the massacre included:  Paramjit Kaur, Suveg Singh Khattra, Prakash Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Sita Singh. Baba Punjab Singh, a Sikh priest, was shot in the head. He was left partially paralyzed for more than seven years and died on March 2, 2020.

The victims of the Oak Creek gurdwara massacre. (Saldef.org photo)

Kaleka spoke at the first national Unity March in Washington DC on June 25. “Just before he died, my father had retired. He told me: ‘Pardeep, this is a wonderful country. When you retire, they pay you.’ He had reached the American dream,” the activist told the crowd.

My Dad’s Final Words Were A Prayer

“My dad’s final words were a prayer. He did not pray for himself. He prayed for all of us,” said Kaleka. “It is amid our challenges that our light truly shines.”

Satwant Singh Kaleka was born in Patiala, into a family of farmers. He immigrated to the US in 1982 with his wife and two sons, Pradeep, and filmmaker Amardeep Kaleka, who made a bid for Congress in 2014, challenging Republican Paul Ryan.

Satwant started his American dream working at a gas station. He later bought his own gas station. In 1997, Satwant Kaleka and other Sikhs in the area bought a plot of land to build the Oak Creek Gurdwara. He remained as the temple’s president until his death.

Satwant Singh Kaleka and his grandson. (Photo courtesy of Pardeep Kaleka)

Houses Of Worship Are Targets Of Hate

Shortly after the tragedy, Pardeep received a call from ex-skinhead Arno Michaelis, author of My Life After Hate. The two teamed up to create Serve2Unite, a community group that goes to middle and high schools to teach young people about peace. Kaleka talks about the shooting of his father by Page, while Michaelis describes his background in the white power movement.

“I think my father would be very proud of the work we have done. But I am under no illusion that this work is complete,” said Kaleka. “Gurdwaras are still open to all, but houses of worship have become the targets of hate violence. We have been forced to fortify our temples, mosques, synagogues, and churches, while trying to remain true to our faith.”

“We are facing some incredible challenges in our society today. Political lines are so divided, and our fears are being manipulated by politicians,” said Kaleka. “We need to see ourselves in each other, in the faces of strangers. The eight billion people on this earth must come together as one.”

India Currents’ Stop The Hate campaign is made possible with funding from the California State Library (CSL) in partnership with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by India Currents do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the CSL, CAPIAA or the California government.

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Sunita Sohrabji

Sunita Sohrabji is the Managing Editor of India Currents.