Sikhs embraced by the Political Leaders in Washington at the SCORE dinner

   May 17, 2005 held at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, the Capitol Hill
  

  

  Republican Senator Richard Lugar with K.P. Singh of Indiana and Dr. Rajwant Singh

  

  Picture of Senator Hillary with Sikhs at the Sikh American Heritage Dinner Event

  

  Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia being honored at the Sikh dinner

  

  Picture of Senator Clinton with Waris Ahluwalia, an Hollywood actor and Dr. Rajwant Singh

  Sikhs receive an embrace at the Capitol Hill by the political leaders of America
  

   Washington May 18th - “I am delighted to be the Senator from Punjab as well as from New York” said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and the former first lady of the United States of America. She received a standing ovation and thunderous applause from the Sikh Americans who had gathered in the Senate side of the Capitol Hill on May 17th for the Sikh American Heritage Dinner Event in Washington, DC. The Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), based in the nation’s capital organized this event.

Senator Clinton added, “I am here to express my thanks to you all for being here. It is always a pleasure and an honor to represent so many of my Sikh American constituents in New York. I also know that the Sikh Community is a growing community. You had come here four years ago in a much smaller event and now you have grown quite a bit.” SCORE had organized the three-month anniversary memorial event at the Capitol Hill in December 2001.

Lawmaker after lawmaker welcomed Sikhs at the Capitol Hill and appreciated their efforts to make their presence in the capital of the nation. Dirksen Senate Office building reverberated with the sounds of ‘Bole so Nihal, Sat Sri Akaal’, the Sikh greeting throughout the evening.

“This event would send a very important signal to the lawmakers and political leaders of this country that Sikhs are politically conscious and would like to participate in the political and social process of this country. This would ensure an important presence of the Sikhs at the American Political Nerve center,” said Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), which has organized this event at the Hill.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana, who is the Chairman of the most powerful Senate committee – Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a close friend of President Bush, said, “This celebration of the Sikh Americans is extraordinary especially efforts to bring everyone together tonight. I admire Sikh people and a Sikh (K.P. Singh from Indiana) has been a mentor for last 37 years. I have known Sikhs since I was a Mayor of Indianapolis.”

After four years of the tragedy of 9/11 which affected the Sikh community, Sikh men and women attired in colorful turbans and glittering traditional clothes gathered from different corners of America to raise issues of concern to their congressional representatives. Sikh community in U.S. faced hate crimes and prejudice in the aftermath of 9/11 due to their outer appearance. Following the American political tradition, this was clearly a demonstration of Sikhs of intermingling with lawmakers of the land and to raise their profile in the political landscape. Sikh population has been growing in America and there are approximately 500,000 Sikhs in this country presently.

Over 225 guests and Sikhs participated in the event. The program started with the Opening prayer by Chaplain Daniel P. Coughlin, Chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives, Clark Lobenstine, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, and Richard Foltin of the American Jewish Committee. Bhai Gurdarshan Singh led the audience in reciting a hymn from the Sikh Scriptures praying for the well being of the entire humanity. In addition, there was Tabla presentation by tabla maestro Rajinder Pal Singh Jindi.

Dr. Rajwant Singh added, “This will be an annual event and this is the just the beginning of our continuous journey. The room is full and we are confident that we will get double the room next year. We have received encouragement from the community from all across the nation.”

Senator Clinton further stated, “I admire you for the way you all handled the challenges which the Sikh community faced after 9/11. The way the Sikh community responded so positively by educating about the Sikhs and serving fellow Americans is the great tribute to the value of the Sikh community and that also helped us to get the message across.”

“I am also grateful about the outstanding contributions the Sikh community has made in all fields. I know a number of Sikh Americans are being honored tonight but you could practically fill the whole room with Sikhs who in every aspects of American society and economy are leaders and also proud to be Sikhs.” Said Senator Clinton.

She also acknowledged the leadership of the first Sikh Chief of Staff of Indian Army. In response to a question, Senator Clinton reiterated that the future of the Sikh community is very positive one in America.

Congressman Tom Davis, the third ranking and very influential Republican in the House were the first lawmaker to speak and he said, “ I have always had a great admiration for the Sikh community. The Sikhs are strong- minded and compassionate and thrive in business and many different fields. Your fundamental values of family is your greatest strength .”

  

  Congressman Mcdormatt with Maninder Singh Walia of Indiana

   Congressman Jim McDormatt from Seattle area, said, “I came to know about Sikhs in 1972 and since than I have had great friendship with Sikhs. America is the land where people can have Equality and Justice but unfortunately in the aftermath of 9/11 the Sikhs went through very tough time in this country. Unfortunately many Americans tend to lump people together without understanding who they are and what they are. In my area, a Sikh was beaten and we quickly brought together a campaign called ‘hate free zone’ which involved many people from civic organizations, churches and law enforcement forces. He added, “I have known How Sikhism came into being in response to injustice and the Sikhs know how to deal with difficult situations.”

Other members of U.S. Congress who spoke at the dinner were, Rush Holt, Joe Crawley, Frank Pallone and Sheila Lee Jackson. Speakers also lauded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, and his efforts to bring peace with Pakistan.

  

  Congresswomen Sheila Lee Jackson being honored by Mrs Hariraj Singh from Baltimore

   Many speakers expressed support for the entry of Sikhs in the police force and said that they are willing to take up the cause of allowing Sikhs in the U.S. Armed Forces without any restrictions on their identity. Sheila Lee Jackson raised her hand and said, “let it be known that I am going to be your champion for this cause.” SCORE also circulated material to all members of Congress seeking their support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act introduced by Senator John Kerry and Senator Rick Santorum. This bill would help Sikhs and other religious communities to work freely without unnecessary restrictions.



  

  Chattar Singh Saini giving an award to Waris Ahluwalia

   This thrilling evening was chosen to award those who have made outstanding contribution in any sphere of life. Among the recipients were Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh actor, who played a major role as a Sikh (with a turban and a beard) in a Hollywood produced movie by Steve Zissou 'The Life Aquatic’ starring major actors. This year FBI showed a commercial at the beginning of the Super Bowl showing a Sikh guy with a turban prominently talking about the Agency. FBI was also recognized for their efforts to promote Sikhs.

In addition, Navneet Singh Chugh from Los Angeles, founder of the North American South Asian Bar Association was also honored. He was the first South Asian to be selected as the Annual Bar leader for 2004 by the 350,000-member American Bar Association. He is also a Director on the Board of Directors of the American India Foundation (AIF), an organization headed by President Clinton.



  

  Navneet Singh Chugh being honored by Surinder Singh Raheja and Amrit Kaur

   Ranbir Kaur, a 19year old Sikh woman from California, who is being deployed to Iraq as part of the U.S. Armed Forces was also honored. Navdeep Singh Virk, first South Asian to be a U.S.Marine sniper was in Iraq ‘s Operation Enduring Freedom, Mandeep Singh Grewal and Hardeep Singh Saini were also recognized for their active service in Iraq and Kuwait. Uday Singh, the Fallen hero who was killed in action in Iraq, was also remembered.



  

  Ranbir Kaur speaking at the Sikh Dinner

  

  Sikh guests from Cleveland with two marines Mandeep Grewal (left) and Navdeep Virk (right) who had served in Iraq

   SCORE was able to secure the endorsement and support from some of the most powerful players in the American political scene. Honorary committee for this Dinner included Senator Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and on the Republican side Senator Rick Santorum who is quite powerful in the Republican Party and leans on more conservative side and Senator John Cornyn. On the House side includes Congressmen Tom Davis who is the whip of the Republican Party, and Joe Wilson, and Jim McDormatt, Mike Honda, Dennis Cardoza, Van Hollen from the Democratic side.

K. P Singh, SCORE Advisor and a community activist from Indiana said, “It was great to see and hear from some distinguished guests and friends and feel the positive energy, constructive dialogue, and interaction and networking among the guests. This is an important learning curve as to how we could make our voice heard and articulate our concerns and express them to the highest levels of the American government.”

Amrit Kaur, Secretary of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation Maryland, said, "This has been a very exciting and eventful evening. The Awards ceremony was almost like the Oscar Night .The Sikhs should do these kinds of programs more often. It is primarily our responsibility to make Lawmakers aware about our concerns and issues and also recognize those who have achieved something.”



  

  Sikhs with Senator Clinton at the Dinner event - From left to right Dr. Komal Kaur Dang, Meenu Kaur, Senator Clinton, Sukhdev Darhele (back) Meeta Kaur Saluja

   Gurcharan Singh, a World Bank official and a trustee of Guru Nanak Foundation of America, said, “Indeed it was an excellent program. After going through this -- I feel we are heading to something great in the coming years.”

This gathering also paid tributes to thousands of Sikhs who died in the World War II and their sacrifice as part of the Allied Forces. This is in connection with the 60th anniversary of the ending of the war, which was recently commemorated in Moscow last week.

Sartaj Singh Dhammi, Outreach Coordinator for the SCORE Team which put the dinner together, said, ”The Capitol Hill dinner was such a huge success and a major accomplishment for the Sikhs in our Country. Not because the dinner itself was held on the grounds where the Nation's legislation is created, but the fact that for the first time ever Sikhs celebrated their contributions to America in the new post 9/11 world.

Tonight we saw the diversity of how Sikhs are serving our great Nation. Whether it was in the arts, law, military, or intelligence, it easy to see how integrated Sikh contributions are to our society. If anything, one thought was continuously relayed through out the night by both Congressional and Sikh speakers - that the Sikhs of this Nation are indeed as American as anyone else, and they stand proud of it.”

The other members of the SCORE team, which presented this program, were, Preet Amrit Kaur, Parambir Singh Gill, Mandeep Singh, Manpreet Singh, Daman Kaur, Gagandeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Navjeet Kaur, Sunmit Singh and Harjot Singh.

SCORE released a brochure ‘Sikh Americans and Their Religion’ at the occasion and the first copy was presented to Senator Clinton.

Sikhs came from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Indianapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore, Atlanta, Boston, New York, and the state of New Jersey, Texas, Delaware, Mary Land, Virginia and Washington, DC.



  


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