First Sikh Event at the White House
Sikhs celebrate the 400th anniversary of their Scriptures at the White House
For the First time in 100 years, the White House marked a Sikh event-
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 18, 2004 - Washington -"Bole So Nihal" was the Sikh greeting called by Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services while welcoming Sikhs gathered to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Guru Granth Sahib at the White House. "Sat Sri Akal" responded the room full of Sikhs with thunder completing the Sikh greeting which means - 'whoever calls the Timeless Being is true, is blessed'.
"You have strengthened America and we can count on you to play an important role in making this country strong. Your religion was founded to bring justice. Your religion was founded to defend the weak and oppose tyranny. I congratulate you on the 400th anniversary of Guru Granth Sahib on behalf of President Bush who has high regard for your community." Said Bush's Cabinet member Tommy Thompson to high-profile Sikhs* from around the United States gathered at this historical occasion.
10 Sikhs were also invited by the White House in the morning to be present while President Bush was to leave for Minnesota for an election meeting. Bush waved at the Sikhs and greeted them with thumbs up. A picture of the Sikhs waiving while Bush's helicopter is leaving has been posted on the official website of the White House. Click here to view
High officials of the White House greeted Sikhs at the entrance to the White House complex. The program, which began at 3:15 pm, started with a Sikh prayer by Singh Sahib Darshan Singh, former Jathedar of Akal Takhat, the highest seat of Authority in Sikhism, based in Amritsar, India. Traditional Ardas (Prayer) in the Punjabi language followed with the recitation of hymns and comments by Darshan Singh signifying this auspicious occasion and the translation of which was provided.
Singh Sahib Darshan Singh, a prominent spiritual leader of the Sikhs, said "The mission of the Sikh scriptures is to connect humanity with God and spread love and justice, peace in the world. The relevance of this has become urgent now more than ever. The Sikhs should rise to the occasion and help make this world more lovable and livable."
He added, "This gesture of the White House is historical and Sikhs are thankful to the American government. The most significant thing is that it is the White House that organized this occasion."
Walls of the Historic Indian Treaty Room at the White House reverberated with the sounds of Sikh Kirtan (Singing of hymns) by the Sikh Choir Group of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Rockville, Md. They sang the hymn conveying the universality of the Sikh Scriptures.
A commemorative coin depicting the White House on one side and the handwriting of Guru Arjan Dev, the compiler of the Sikh Scriptures, on the other side was released and presented to Tommy Thompson by Prof. Darshan Singh. A special booklet was also released describing the history and the message of the Sikh Scriptures and which traced the 100-year history of the Sikhs in America.
Secretary Tommy Thompson lauded the Sikhs for their contributions and challenged them to support his efforts to improve the health of Americans. He particularly mentioned the 5 symbols important to Sikhs. Other speakers from the White House were Susan Ralston, Special Assistant to the President and assistant to Carl Rove, senior Political Advisor to President Bush, Jeremy White, Special Assistant at the office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative, And Uttam Singh Dhillon, Associate Attorney General from the Department of Justice.
Susan Ralston conveyed the greetings from Rove who is traveling during the election season. She said, "The White House is ready to serve you. Please help us help you. The President is very sensitive to your needs."
Dhillon, whose ancestors came to the U.S. in the early 1900s from Punjab, the homeland of Sikhs in India, said, "The founding principles of this nation and declaration of Independence were preached much earlier by the Founders of the Guru Granth Sahib. This is a great heritage and we add much to this nation."
Jeremy White invited Sikhs to seek funding from the Office of the Faith-Based Initiative at the White House for the programs directed at newer immigrants and for after-school programs at their gurdwaras (Sikh house of Worship and gathering).
Wednesday, September 1st marks the 400th anniversary of the compilation of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scriptures, and its installation at the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib), located in Amritsar, India, in 1604. The scriptures are the guiding principle for the Sikh community since that time.
Dr. Rajwant Singh, National Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE)**, who helped organize this event, said " The Sikh community in the United States is extremely pleased with President Bush's invitation on this auspicious occasion. Sikhs have been in America for over 100 years and this definitely sends a strong signal that this White House recognizes the Sikh presence in the U. S."
Dr. Rajwant Singh stated, "Sikhs are highly gratified at this recognition. Sikh contributions to American political developments, the American economy, and American culture have strengthened this country. They stand ready to build on the foundations previously constructed, and to continue their far-ranging contributions to American life."
Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah, a prominent Sikh leader from Los Angeles who came to the U.S. in 1956, said, "It is a privilege that Sikhs had the celebration at the White House. These moments come rarely. This is not only a historical occasion for people of Sikh origin in the United States but all Sikhs worldwide."
Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang from Yuba City said, "This occasion will go down in the history of Sikhs in this country as a milestone. It makes us proud and it will reinforce a positive feeling in our younger generation that we are an important part of the American mainstream."
Satinder Singh Rekhi, Ceo of a Multimillion dollar company in California, and who heads the Board of SCORE, said, "We will continue to make our presence felt at the upper echelons of American political establishment and this will be hopefully a continues tradition at the White House."
Harshamir Kaur Gill, a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and a second-generation Sikh said, “This event has made me very proud of being a Sikh and I will continue to serve this country.”
There are close to half a million Sikhs in the U.S. and they have now established a thriving community in the United States and continue to make significant contributions to American society as physicians, high-tech professionals, academics, entrepreneurs, cab drivers, and convenience store workers. They are amongst the most hard-working, educated, and prosperous groups of Americans. The first Asian American to be elected to U. S. Congress in 1962 was a Sikh from California.
Dr. Singh further added, "President Bush and his administration have been extremely prompt in responding to the needs of the Sikhs. We always remember his leadership immediately after 9/11 and his words of assurance to the Sikh community facing tough times during those days. It is our conviction that President Bush will continue to welcome Sikhs and other diverse groups to the White House signifying that the highest political office of this land belongs to all people."
After 9/11 Sikhs have faced hate crimes with their uncut beards and turbans. Four days after 9/11, a Sikh was gunned down and killed in Mesa, Arizona. President Bush had invited Sikh leaders to a special meeting at the White House days after 9/11 to assure the community of his administration's support.
The majority of people in America who wear a turban are in fact Sikhs. Many in America are unaware of the Sikh traditions and observances and due to this Sikhs have and continue to face harassment at airports and high-security areas.
"We are looking forward to a constructive dialogue and engagement with our government and hope to alleviate situations faced by Sikhs in the U.S." Dr. Singh added.
Some of the other Sikhs who attended were: Harshamir Kaur Gill, a lieutenant in the U. S. Air Force, Charanjit Singh Bath, the Largest grower of Raisins in the U.S. and perhaps in the world, Gurbax Singh Bhasin from Los Angeles, Master Mohinder Singh from New York, Dr. Darshan Singh Saluja from Baltimore, Dr. Rajinder Singh Sidhu from Potomac, Maryland, Bibi Inderjit Kaur, wife of Harbhajan Singh Yogi, from Espanola, New Mexico, Dr. Gurpal Singh Bhuller from Richmond, Virginia, Lakwinder Singh Sodhi from Phoenix, Arizona whose brother Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed after 9/11 in a hate crime, Dr. Tara Singh from Virginia, Jagmeet Kaur from Freemont, California, Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang from Yuba City, California, Chattar Singh Saini from Virginia whose son is serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, Manjit Singh Dasuha from New York and Manjit Singh of SMART from Maryland.
*Guru Nanak founded Sikhism in the 15th Century and his teachings are based on a deep faith in God, truth, justice, and equality for all including men and women. The cornerstones of the Sikh faith: remembering the name of God through prayer and meditation; living a truthful, honest life; and sharing the fruits of living with the needy. All Sikhs, males, and females do not cut their hair, reflecting symbolically the spiritual commitment to God. They cover their head with either a scarf or turban. Sikhism, with 25 million adherents, is the fifth-largest religion in the world
**Founded in 1998, SCORE's mission is to present the Sikh perspective in public forums, interfaith discussions, and throughout government agencies and to promote community understanding and a just society for all. SCORE pursues harmony and mutual respect among different religious communities and people through interfaith dialogue and activities. SCORE is based in the Greater Washington area, and has represented Sikhs on many national and international platforms.