UNITED SIKHS
October 21 2010
7th Katik (Samvat 542 Nanakshahi)
Press Release

UNITED SIKHS Seeks to Shed Light on Misinformation Regarding Obama's Trip to India: Sikhs Must Continue to Urge Obama to Visit Harmandar Sahib (Golden Temple)

Highlights

  • Clearing up concern over potential cancellation of President Obama's visit to Harmandar Sahib on his India tour
  • Potential visit to Harmandar Sahib, a chance for the U.S. President to stand as a champion for rights of religious minorities all over the world
  • UNITED SIKHS cautions the Sikh community and others to wait for the President's final agenda to be confirmed, but to also visit the White House's twitter and facebook account to let the President know the importance of his potential visit to Harmandar Sahib

NEW YORK: UNITED SIKHS, on behalf of the global Sikh community, is urging President Barack Obama to not cancel his visit to one of the most sacred and historically revered Sikh Gurdwaras, Harmandar Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple).  The President's visit to India in November has been marked with heightened jubilation, especially from the Sikh community.

For a religious minority group that has often remained invisible to the world, the Sikh community now has the enviable opportunity to welcome for the first time a head of state from the United States.  The importance of this visit should not be understated.  This moment could stand as the seminal educating moment for Sikhs to once and for all introduce themselves and their distinctive identity to the world.

Today, there has been a plethora of misinformation surrounding the President Obama's apparent cancellation of his trip to Harmandar Sahib and the alleged reason that he wanted to avoid being perceived as a Muslim.  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in a briefing today responded to a question regarding the President's visit, he stated:  "We pick sites on foreign trips based on what the President wants to accomplish.  We've not finalized the schedule for Asia, including India, yet.  We hope to do that over the course of the next week." Click here to read the complete Press Release.

UNITED SIKHS sought further corroboration that nothing has yet been finalized by talking with prominent members of the SGPC who clearly indicated that they have received no word about any cancellation and that there is no issue regarding the type of head covering Obama chooses.  Avtar Singh Makkar, President of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), told the President of UNITED SIKHS, Kuldip Singh, that they imposed no restrictions on how President Obama could cover his head.

Mr. Makkar further stated that: "The only requirement is that his head is covered and that his shoes are removed inside the Darbar Sahib complex, as is the custom for all visitors.  Sikhs have always welcomed people from all faiths and from across all geographic boundaries."  These statements echo what Harmandar Sahib represents and stands for, even its architecture reveals its true intent with the creation of four doors - one on each side of the holy building - to symbolize people of all different caste, class, or creed may enter into Harmander Sahib, but when they are inside, it symbolizes the equality and oneness of humankind in the presence of God.

Additionally, Mr. Makkar emphasized that the "doors of Harmandar Sahib have previously welcomed other Heads of State and foreign dignataries [see photos below].  And recently, we [SGPC] faxed a letter to the White House inviting President Obama and his family to Harmandar Sahib."  Furthermore, during talks with UNITED SIKHS Directors, the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), Paramjit Singh Sarna (President) and Daljeet Singh (Dharam Prachaar Committee), stated that President Obama would also be warmly welcomed at other Sikh places of worship in India, including Delhi.

UNITED SIKHS believes President Obama not visiting Harmandar Sahib would be a missed opportunity to educate the world community about rights of minorities generally, and specifically, the distinctiveness of the Sikh identity.  In the past, both the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Queen of England covered their heads while visiting Harmandar Sahib.

Moreover, the rampant misinformation is in direct contrast to the President's actions of championing religious tolerance and diversity.  For example, President Obama has always been comfortable and respected the customs of other faith traditions, as exhibited by his trip to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem where he wore a yarmulke (see below).  Thus, the recent news must be viewed with some skepticism.

 

Queen Elizabeth - (The source: UNP)

  Canadian PM Stephen Harper (Center) - (The source: My News )

In response to the potential cancellation of the trip to Harmandar Sahib, Hansdeep Singh, Senior Staff Attorney at UNITED SIKHS, says: " If these rumors are true, this is a tremendously disappointing moment for the entire Sikh community and religious minorities in general.  What was supposed to be affirmation and recognition of a young, vibrant, and growing religious minority, has devolved into a race to the bottom.  How long will we be beholden to ignorant and intolerant groups, while Sikhs who have faced the harsh reality of discrimination and mis-identification remain sidelined and silenced once again."

Harpreet Singh Sandhu, member of the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council in California, says: "I hope President Obama decides to make the visit to the Golden Temple. It would be a welcome indication of his continuing support for Sikhs and other religious minorities.  Specifically, it would highlight to the world, how Sikhism - often called a minority religion - has poignant, universal, and all-embracing messages for humanity at its core, that can appeal to all sensibilities."

When Obama visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem he wore a yarmulke - (The source to: The Right Perspective)

In August, a national survey by think tank the Pew Research Center found that nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Around 43% of Americans say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.

Sikhs in the United States have often been mistaken for Muslims. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs have been targets of anti-Muslim discrimination and violence. UNITED SIKHS has vigourously campaigned for Sikh and other minority communities' rights, who have faced a sharp increase in hate/bias-related crimes and incidents after 9/11. 

We implore the Sikh community and all others concerned with raising the visibility of religious minorities by writing and expressing, in a respectful manner, how important it is for President Obama to visit Harmandar Sahib, through the White House's Twitter and Facebook sites.

Please read about our work tackling hate crime and raising human rights awareness.

Please click here to read the complete Press Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Issued By:
Herpreet Kaur
PR and Media Associate
1-888-243-1690
law-usa@unitedsikhs.org

PROTECT OUR IDENTITY CAMPAIGN


Protect Our Identity (POI) is an ongoing international campaign launched by UNITED SIKHS in August 2010 . It focuses on the need to protect the Sikh community's right to express its religious identity.  Initiatives under the POI campaign include: 


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