by Shobana Muratee
HOUSTON – The well-recognized portrait of the ‘Man in Blue,’ stately in his blue turban and badge, was neatly placed on the table along with basket of rose petals. On the evening of Friday, Oct 4, the Indian American community held a solemn prayer vigil in honor of fallen hero Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal at the India House. A large gathering, including local elected officials and heads of Indo American organizations paid their respects to their ‘hero’, a ‘trailblazer’ who was killed Friday, Sep 27th in a traffic-stop shooting near Cypress. The prayer vigil was a show of support by the Indian American community and part of a fundraiser for bereaved family.
The program began with kirtan, the singing of hymns and ardas by a pair of Sikh priests. India House’s Executive Director, Col. (Retd.) Vipin Kumar welcomed the gathering, giving a brief outline of evening’s program.
In his opening remarks, Master of Ceremonies Bobby Singh, a prominent businessman and community leader said, “I think the conversation shouldn’t be about a Sikh we lost, or an immigrant we lost – that’s very narrow. The conversation should be that we lost an
American patriot among us.” Introducing Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, Singh recounted the time when the then Sheriff–elect of Harris County, in addressing a Sikh gathering on Dec. 14, 2008 had said, “Give me one of yours; come join the law enforcement.” Deputy Dhaliwal had heard that clarion call and the rest is history. “The more we hear these stories, the more I’m reminded of the fact of how an incident translates into action,” Singh said, lauding Commissioner Garcia for ‘introducing the change’ in the services as promised. It was under Garcia’s initiative that Deputy Dhaliwal made headlines as a ‘trailblazer’ in early 2015, when the sheriff’s office changed its policy to allow Dhaliwal to wear a traditional Sikh turban.
“He was an ambassador of the Sikh faith,” Col Raj Bhalla said in his tribute. Bhalla, a devote Sikh and highly respected Indian American community leader said, “We should be frank; there is an ignorance. People don’t know what the turban is, so he (Dhaliwal) was the one who told the people the significance of the turban, the importance of Sikhism, and he went by the faith of the religion, which meant love, compassion, helping anybody, and to be of service. Those were the traits which he
followed till the last.”
US Congressman Al Green compared Dhaliwal to the Mahatma. “I think of Gandhi when I think of Dhaliwal,” he said. “Based upon what I’ve seen and heard, he was a Peace Officer, a noble calling to want to bring people together,” he added, praising his efforts particularly during Hurricane Harvey.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, in her profound tribute to Dhaliwal said, “His end of watch on Sep 27, 2019 was not the end of his legacy.” She praised Commissioner Garcia and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez for opening opportunities for all. “Our counties and our country are better if people from all walks of life, all communities and all backgrounds, feel that calling, and rise to that calling, building opportunities for the next generation.”
In his emotional tribute to the deputy, Commissioner Garcia said, “If there’s comfort to be had from this tragedy, it is that the outpouring for Sandeep Dhaliwal and his family – from across the world, from across the country – has been fit for a king, and we have to focus on understanding that.” He also mentioned that when Dhaliwal’s father Piara Singh Dhaliwal had once told him, “You planted the seed,” and Garcia responded, “No Baba, no seed can grow if it doesn’t come from a good tree.”
Fort Bend County Judge KP George in his message said “You don’t see many police officers coming from a Indian or desi background. Sandeep decided to be a policeman; he had that in his blood coming from his heritage, his background.” He was referring to the service-minded Sikh community in India, the origin of Dhaliwal.
Among others who spoke on the occasion were: Houston Mayor’s representative, Deputy Consul General Surendra Adhana, Councilman Rodney Ellis, Interfaith Ministries representative and heads of Indo-American organizations: India House president Dr. Manish Rungta, ICC president Nisha Mirani, IACF president Venkat Iyer, IACCGH president Swapan Dhairyawan, and IAPAC president Hasu Patel.
Deputy Dhaliwal’s father Piara Singh Dhaliwal, his wife Harwinder Kaur Dhaliwal, and their two daughters and one son briefly met with dignitaries and few friends at the conclusion.