A 37-year-old tourist from India died Tuesday morning as the result of smoke inhalation from a three-alarm fire March 8 that destroyed the Sikh Cultural Society temple in Richmond Hill.
Harvinder Singh Rattan was removed from life support a week and a half after the three-alarm fire broke out at 95-30 118th St., even though his wife and children were denied visas that would have allowed them to see him before he died, said Harpreet Singh Toor, chairman of the Sikh Cultural Society.
Smoke from the fire exacerbated a pre-existing heart condition, said Assistant Chief Joseph Callan of Engine Co. 303. Rattan was taken to Jamaica Hospital where he was placed on life support until his father arrived from London.
He was taken off life support Tuesday and was pronounced dead soon after, Toor said. Although Rattans father was at the hospital, his wife and two children were not granted visas and Rattan remained on life support while they fought with the U.S. consulate in India, Toor said.
I never expected that kind of answer coming from the American consulate, he said of the office in New Delhi. We were just asking to give permission for his wife and children to see him.
The consulate rejected the visas because they were afraid Rattans widow and children would stay in America rather than return to India, Toor said.
Christopher Lamora, a spokesman for Consular Affairs, the bureau in the U.S. State Department in Washington that issues visas, said that especially after Sept. 11 the nations visa restrictions must be adhered to closely.
U.S. immigration law is very specific as to criteria a person needs to meet in order to obtain a visa, he said. If they do not meet the criteria, they do not get a visa.
The Richmond Hill Sikh community is still deeply upset at the destruction of their temple, or gurdwara, which served as a cultural and religious epicenter, Toor said. The fire broke out just after midnight March 8, and injured eight people, including Rattan. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Toor said.
Makeshift daily services have been held outside the gurdwara, and Sundays service took place down the street at the St. Benedict Joseph Labre Church at 94-24 117th St., Toor said. But seeing the temple site has become a sort of pilgrimage, he said.
Even on Sunday when we conducted services at the church school, they came first to the gurdwara and they looked on it and cried on it, Toor said. They used to come to the gurdwara and they still come gurdwara.
The churchs indoor basketball court held more than 1,000 worshipers at Sundays service and to some the unusual setting made it all the more meaningful.
We are grateful to the church for helping us, said P. Singh Ajrawat, who came with a group from Washington, D.C. It makes it even more special.
The society is already working to rebuild the temple, which was the oldest and largest gurdwara on the East Coast, Toor said. He estimated it would cost about $10 million to reconstruct the gurdwara. The group has already received at least $15,000 in contributions, and more come in every day from both inside and outside the Sikh community, he said.
In whatever way they can, they are helping, Toor said. Its like a stamp of approval on it, that we are with you, too.
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.
©2002 Community News Group
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