Brother Of Slain Sikh Attended Obama Dinner

November 28, 2009

Author: Jim Walsh

Source: The Arizona Republic

He said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, threw her arms around him and said, "Rana, you are here in the White House. I can't believe it."

Singh Sodhi and his wife, Sukhbir Kaur, could hardly believe it, either. The exclusive dinner was attended by 338 people, mostly high-rollers and celebrities, including movie director Steven Spielberg.

The White House could not be reached for comment Friday, but the honor was bestowed upon the East Valley couple after Dr. Rajwant Singh, a Maryland dentist and chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, recommended them for an invitation and supplied an administration aide with a copy of "A Dream in Doubt," a PBS documentary shown a year ago across the nation.

"I think they feel deeply about all minorities, especially a conspicuous minority like ours," Rajwant Singh said. "It was a kind gesture extended to the Sodhi family and the Sikh community."

"A Dream in Doubt" documents how Rana and his three brothers immigrated to the United States from India in 1985 because the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion. Two of his brothers ended up being murdered.

Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, an east Mesa gasoline-station owner, was gunned down on Sept. 15, 2001, only four days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, by an angry gunman who wanted to retaliate against "Arabs."

Balbir Singh Sodhi was from India and wore a turban as a requirement of his Sikh faith. Frank Roque was sentenced to death by jurors, but his sentence was later reduced by the Arizona Supreme Court to life in prison without parole because of evidence he was mentally ill.

Suhkpal Singh Sodhi, 50, a cabdriver in San Francisco, was shot to death nearly a year later. Police never made an arrest and speculated that he may have been caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

"They invited me because my family got hurt, and they respect my family," Rana Singh Sodhi said. "You feel like you are in a wonderful country that people, after nine years, still remember."

He said the invitation was especially gratifying because he was born and raised in India and has great respect for the Indian prime minister but has carved out a life in the U.S. He and his wife have three children, all born in the U.S., and also owns some independent gas stations.

"These are my two mothers, and I'm standing there having dinner with both of them," Singh Sodhi said about the two countries he has called home. "One mother gave me birth, and one mother gave me my life."