Washington: In the wake of the Wisconsin gurdwara shooting that killed six worshippers, a US Congressional hearing on hate crimes would be held on Wednesday, a move welcomed as "unprecedented" and "monumental" by Sikh groups and human rights bodies in the country.
To be presided over by Senator Dick Durbin, Chairman of the Senate subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, the Congressional hearing is being held at the request of Sikh groups, human rights organisations and lawmakers who feel that the August 5 gurdwara shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was a result of hate crime.
On August 21, a diverse group of more than 150 organisations, led by the Sikh Coalition, had requested a Senate hearing on hate crimes and domestic extremism.
"We commend Senator Durbin`s leadership in calling for this unprecedented hearing," said Amardeep Singh, co-founder and Programme Director for the Sikh Coalition, the nation`s largest Sikh civil rights organisation.
"As the tragedy in Oak Creek reminded us, the threat of domestic extremist hate violence is real, ever-present, and growing. The topic of domestic extremist hate violence certainly needs a Senate platform," he said.
Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), said her organisation welcomes the hearing and "commends Senator Durbin`s leadership in addressing hate violence and bias against all Americans.
"We join our partner organisations in bringing light to the issue of hate violence which is on the rise, and in providing policy solutions that can make our country a safer place."
Describing this as a "monumental hearing", United Sikhs, a Washington-based Sikh advocacy group, said it is vital that representatives of the Sikh community attend this hearing and demonstrate support, solidarity and the personal interest the community holds regarding hate crimes.
"The Senate hearing is an opportunity for us to voice our opinions, express our concerns and recommend policy changes," it said.
Using testimony from the Justice Department, Homeland Security, the FBI, as well as outside experts, the committee will examine recent threats posed by extremist hate groups, hate crimes and the government`s response in these matters.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also welcomed the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on response to hate crimes and the implementation of the Matthew Shepard James Byrd Jr`s Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA).
"The horrible bias-motivated murders of Sikhs in their house of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin last month demonstrate, once again, the tragic impact of hate violence - and the critical importance of partnerships between government and community groups to prevent these crimes and respond effectively," said Michael Lieberman, ADL Washington Counsel.
Valarie Kaur, Director of Groundswell at Auburn Seminary, said the tragedy in Oak Creek highlights the need to have a national conversation about how to combat hate in America.
"As people from many faith traditions - Christian, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu and Humanist - we believe that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us," she said.
Noting that the attack on the Wisconsin gurdwara by a white supremacist marked a deeply disturbing escalation of hate violence against Sikh, Muslim, South Asian and Arab- Americans, Farhana Khera, Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, a leading Muslim civil rights organisation, said hate violence has now reached a crisis point in the nation, requiring the attention and leadership of the President and Congressional leaders.