India's Ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao, who immediately visited with the victims and families of the Sikh worshippers in the aftermath of the horrific massacre perpetrated by the white supremacist Wade Michael Page in the gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5, has exhorted the Indian American community to shed their differences of regionalism, ethnicity, religion, and unite to project a concerted front to protect itself from any future violence and discrimination.
Rao, who was the guest of honour at a gala banquet on August 26, organised by the Indian American community organisations of the Greater Washington Metropolitan region under the aegis of the National Council of Asian Indian Association to celebrate India's 65th anniversary of its independence, told more than 300 guests, including scores of Sikh Americans, senior State Department officials, senior state and local officials and legislators, "A few weeks ago, I was in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin, soon in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at the Oak Creek gurdwara, and I want to again extend my heartfelt sympathies to our Sikh brothers and sisters."
"I know that they have suffered a great deal," she said, and noted that "I saw the shock, the grief, writ large on their faces when I went to Oak Creek, and my heart really bled for them and I was so moved by that experience."
Rao said, "This again, is an opportunity for all of us to come together to consolidate. We are not just Sikh Americans, or Gujarati Americans, or Telugu Americans, or Malayalee Americans, or Kashmiri Americans."
"We are Indian Americans, and we must understand that," she added, to sustained applause.
Rao argued that "strength derives from those numbers, as in any democracy -- the larger the numbers, the larger the voice. So, we should understand that this is the time for us to speak up together against violence, against any feeling that we have that we are not being treated properly."
"This is a country -- America -- that upholds the rights of the individual, it celebrates enterprise, it celebrates talent, and all of you have flourished in this country for that reason," she said.
Thus, she reiterated, "Take strength from that and I am sure that as we saw, the manner in which the administration reacted to the tragedy in Oak Creek, it was very, very heartening, very encouraging."
Rao pointed out, "President Obama spoke out, and the administration reached out to the Sikh community in the aftermath of the tragedy."
She also recalled that in addition to Obama expressing his sympathy and condolences and lauding the contributions of Sikh Americans and declaring that they have enriched the United States and are a vibrant part of the fabric of America, he had also spoken with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the tragedy "and he spoke of the importance that the United States attaches to its relations with India."
Among the six worshippers who were killed, two were Sikh Americans, and four were Indian nationals working in the temple, including two priests.
Rao said, "I saw the warm sentiments expressed in the Independence Day greetings that President Obama sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and it spoke volumes, spoke so eloquently, about the strength and the importance and the validity of the India-US partnership."
"So let us take strength, let us take encouragement and let us draw sustenance from this fact -- the fact that this relationship has grown so much in strength and meaning, over the past few years," she said.
At the outset, Dr Sambhu Banik, the master of ceremonies, requested the audience to stand "and observe a moment of silence to pay our respects to our Sikh brothers and sisters, who lost their lives at the hands of a racist white supremacist hate-monger in the gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin."
Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Blake, the Obama administration's point man for South Asia, who was the keynote speaker, and followed the remarks of Rao, also at the outset of his speech, said, "Let me take a moment to honour the memory of the victims of the tragic and senseless attack on the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin earlier this month."
He said, "As President Obama noted in his call with Prime Minister Singh, the Sikh community is an essential and vibrant part of the American family."
Blake added, "As we celebrate and toast this evening, we should also remember those innocent victims, and our hearts are also with the families and friends of the temple, and with the Sikh community all over this country and all over the world."