Sikh temple fire takes Indian tourist’s life

Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

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 Rattan’s 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 Rattan’s 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 nation’s 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 Sunday’s 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 church’s indoor basketball court held more than 1,000 worshipers at Sunday’s 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. “It’s like a stamp of approval on it, that we are with you, too.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like TimesLedger on Facebook.

Reader Feedback

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

This week’s featured advertisers

CNG: Community Newspaper Group