The Sikh community in Houston and around the world is mourning the loss of Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal, the trailblazing sheriff’s deputy in Harris County, Texas, who was shot and killed during a traffic stop Friday.
At the Sikh National Center in Houston, the gurdwara Dhaliwal attended, preparations are underway for the funeral.
“It’s a huge loss to our community and the younger generations that we hoped he would inspire,” Hardam Singh Azad, the chairman of the board at Sikh National Center, told CNN.
Thousands of people are expected to gather at the Berry Center in Houston on Wednesday to honor the fallen deputy’s life and legacy in a ceremony open to the public. The event will start with an hour of Sikh prayer, followed by a ceremony led by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Sikh funeral traditions will soon take place at the local gurdwara.
Beginning Monday at 3 p.m. (4 p.m. ET), the Sikh National Center will hold an Akhand Path, a non-stop front-to-back reading of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book. The Akhand Path will conclude 48 hours later, on Wednesday.
Dhaliwal will be cremated at a local funeral home later Wednesday afternoon, according to Sikh tradition. The cremation service will be for family and members of the sheriff’s office, and final prayers will be said afterward at the Sikh National Center.
Dhaliwal always wanted to help others
Members of the congregation at the Sikh National Center said they were still in shock over the death of Dhaliwal.
“We’re thinking that something like this couldn’t happen,” Amrik Singh, a leader at the gurdwara, told CNN. “Even now, we feel that (he) will come back.”
Singh described Dhaliwal as a religious man who proudly wore his turban on duty with the sheriff’s office. Dhaliwal gained national attention when he sought and received special permission to wear the Sikh articles of faith as part of his uniform.
“The elders in the community feel like they lost their son. Those his age feel like they lost a brother,” Singh said.
Dhaliwal was someone who always wanted to help others, Singh said. He recalled the deputy telling him that he wanted to start a free food bus to feed homeless people in Houston because he couldn’t bear the thought of anyone in his community going hungry.
Gurvinder Singh, international director of Sikh Aid programs for United Sikhs, said he got to know Dhaliwal through the deputy’s countless volunteer efforts with the nonprofit organization.
Dhaliwal served as the director of homeland security for the organization, helping advise Sikh communities on dealing with potential hate crime threats and advocating for their religious rights.
Dhaliwal helped coordinate disaster relief efforts to communities affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. He helped lead a team of volunteers that delivered water and other necessities to farmers surviving a drought in his ancestral village in Punjab, India.
He also assisted at-risk youth in Houston, Singh said.
Anytime Dhaliwal was on vacation, Singh said, he would reach out to United Sikhs and ask about what programs they were working on in the area so he could help.
“That goes to show the character of the man Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal,” Singh said.
Dhaliwal is inspiring others
Dhaliwal’s loss is being felt both at home in Houston and in communities around the world.
Sunday, the NFL’s Houston Texans honored the deputy in a moment of silence before their game against the Carolina Panthers.
A local Chick-fil-A restaurant honored Dhaliwal with a missing man table, a memorial typically found in military dining facilities in memory of fallen service members.
Communities in New York, New Jersey and even Punjab, India, where Dhaliwal is originally from, held vigils in his memory, according to United Sikhs. Congregations in gurdwaras as far away as Melbourne, Australia, honored Dhaliwal in their Ardas, a formal Sikh prayer that asks God for strength.
A GoFundMe campaign set up to help his family cover unforeseen expenses and help pay for his three children’s education had raised nearly $400,000 as of Monday. United Sikhs has also set up its own GoFundMe campaign, as well as a Facebook fundraiser for the family.
Dhaliwal continues to inspire others.
Since Friday, United Sikhs reports it has received an uptick in volunteer registrations for its various humanitarian projects.
The organization also told CNN that it plans to launch an emergency fund Wednesday to assist first responders – a project Dhaliwal had hoped to start after he witnessed a first responder who didn’t have the financial resources to repair his own roof after Hurricane Harvey.
“We will make sure that United Sikhs keeps his legacy alive, that we activate his dream and we turn that into a reality,” Gurvinder Singh said.