American Lawmakers Vow to Support the Sikh Drive to Enter United States Armed Forces

Washington, May 21, 2009 - Sat Sri Akal, the traditional Sikh greeting, is how Congressmen from various states, one after the other, came to welcome the Sikhs and also commit to taking action to remove restrictions which preclude Sikhs from serving in the United States Armed Forces. The Sikh American Heritage Dinner, organized by the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), brought together over 225 Sikhs from all over the country to join in the political outreach to the leaders of America in the Hart Senate Office Building with a pristine panoramic view of the Capitol Hill and the Washington Monument.

Congressman Ed Royce, a highly-ranked Republican member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Jim McDermott, a Democrat and well known expert on Indian issues, powerfully gave their support to bring this issue on the House floor to press the Pentagon to admit Sikhs in the U.S. Military.  Both are co-chairs of the India Caucus.

Prompted by Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of SCORE, Congressman Ed Royce, said, I will work to make sure that Sikhs are admitted to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces without any restrictions. Three weeks ago he was part of the Congressional delegation, led by Houser Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Howard Berman, which went to the Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple. Ed Royce was honored with the Bhagat Singh Thind award by SCORE.

Congressman Ed Royce being honored by Dr. Hardam Singh Azad and others from TX.

The reception room was full to the brim and Sikhs from all over America felt elated with the responses they got from their elected leaders. Sikhs came on a weekday evening from Florida, Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, and New Mexico to make their presence felt. According to Dr. Rajwant Singh, "We are so glad that we are getting this support from these important leaders in Washington on the issue of Sikhs in the army. We must continue to press hard throughout the nation."

He added, "This event has become an annual feature of our community's presence in Washington and more and more Sikhs are recognizing the critical importance of this kind of outreach for the future of our community in this country. Many members promised that they will work hard in doubling the Sikh and the congressional participation next year."

According to the organizers, Over 25 Congressional leaders including few Senators had confirmed their presence ahead of the event but due to tough negotiations on the House floor on Obama Budget and voting, many were unable to attend but sent their staff representatives. Most notable were representatives were from the offices of two powerful members Congressman Howard Berman and Congressman Van Hollen.  Van Hollen is the third in the Democratic leadership and is the chairman of the influential House Democratic Campaign Committee which controls the financing of the campaigns of all the democratic house members.

McDermott said, Medical professionals in the military were told they had to shave their head and take off their turban and I thought to myself who in the world is in charge over in the Pentagon that made that decision? I know there have been discussions going on about the caring of the symbolic dagger and all of the things that are part of Sikhism but to say that these people cant operate in the US military is just plain silly.

Congressman McDermott being given book on Golden Temple by Mandeep Singh along with Maninder Singh Kohli from Philadelphia, Mandeep Singh from Austin, TX, Manpreet Singh, MD, Gurmit Singh Shergill from PA,  and Manjot K. Jassal, VA.

He added, I know there have been some difficult times and I am aware of the history of the Sikh community but the fact is that its important that we be allowed to be who we are, worship the way we want to, but not have to choose, or be picked on or excluded on any basis. This country needs to be the place where everyone has the right to participate to the fullest extent possible in their life.

He also reflected upon his role in forming a hate-free zone in Seattle, Washington, following an attack on a Sikh in the aftermath of 9/11.

McDermott stated, It is my belief that we are all one and although we may look different, or we may dress a little differently, or worship a little differently. Everywhere you go there are Sikh physicians in hospitals and operating all over the place and suddenly the military gets into an air thing and were going to change that. Come back to Washington D.C., be full participants in America, never take a step back for anybody.

Congressman Rush Holt, who has a large Sikh gurdwara in his constituency in Bridgewater, NJ, said, I believe Sikhs are serving America in many ways and they should be able to do it in the U.S. Army without giving up their personhood. Their patriotism and their confidence to serve is something we should welcome.

Mohinder Singh Taneja, Commissioner Mulvey, Congressman Nunes, Harry Gill and Others from Louisiana and Florida.

Congressman Devin Nunes (CA), who was introduced by Harry Gill of Sacramento, CA, said, The Sikh community plays a very important part in agriculture in California. About 200 different crops are grown and they play a major role in that. I have been to Punjab and have a great admiration for Sikhs in Punjab as well. I want to say I think that as a culture it always does well to invite members of congress to events like this because there are a lot of misnomers about the Sikh community. I think that the way the Sikhs have integrated themselves into the community in California is very fabulous because everybody works together. I am committed to being a leader for the Sikh community in U.S. Congress.

Amarjit Singh Sodhi, Harry Gill, Meeta Kaur Saluja, Congresman Nunes, Amarjit Singh Sandhu, and Ms. Kaur from NJ.

Congressman Ted Poe from Houston, TX, who serves in the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committee and has traveled in many hot spots in the world was introduced by Dr. Hardam Singh Azad of Houston. Poe prodded the Sikh community by saying You should use your political influence. When you travel and see your members of both parties, that makes a big difference and do not hesitate to use that influence. There are many issues related to religious freedom in the U.S. Military but I feel strongly that our military can certainly use Sikh community's services and they are very much needed.

Dr. Darshand Sehbi from OH, Jasmeet K. Ahuja from Congressman Howard Berman's office, Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev from AZ, Rana Singh Sodhi, Congressman Ted Poe of Houston, Harmit Singh, OH and Dr. Rajwant Singh

He also added, Most congressional offices have young people work in these offices. I would encourage young Sikh youth to work in the congressional offices. They can learn a whole lot working in different offices. The Constitution is such a noble document and it is built on treating people equally. Sikhs should get involve politically and run for all levels of public offices whether it is school board or a federal office.

Paul Monteiro, Representative of President Obama being given Darshan Singh Bajwa of Connecticut, along with Dilvir Singh of Baltimore, Darshan Singh of Pennsylvania, Madan M. Singh of Arizona, Balbir Singh Broca of Maryland.

Paul Monteiro, Associate Director of White House Office of Public Liaison, representing President Obama and the White House, welcomed the Sikh community's willingness to work with the Obama Administration. Mr. Monteiro has the important job of forming relationships with necessary constituencies of various religious communities in the United States for the young Obama Administration.

He said, We want to work with you in facing various challenges facing America.

There are issues which unite us as Americans and which require your participation. The President wants to fully engage the religious community in economic recovery and various policy debates. We know that during the economic recovery more people turn to their own churches and their places of worship, so we want to communicate with you and pass on the information which can help people in various ways like modify home mortgages, etc.

President Obama also feels that religious intolerance, religious freedom, and violence related to intolerance are other issues of utmost importance. H e would like to see various religious traditions engage in interfaith dialogue because in many places in the world and even in the United States this is a challenge. We are concerned about the Iraqi Christians, Sufis in Afghanistan and Sikhs in Pakistan. I passed on the letter from SCORE on safety and security of Sikhs to the President.  We will continue to meet your community and various organizations to educate ourselves and to form partnerships.

Micheal Wear from the White House being given book by Avtar Singh Pannu of NY, Kawaljit Singh Taneja of Maryland, Kanwal Kaur and Mrs Broca from Maryland.

Michael Wear, Associate Director of the White Houses Faith Based Initiative, also spoke on the various agendas under this office. He welcomed the Sikh community's participation in this particular area.

Congressman Wally Herger being given book by Dr. Pritpal Singh of TX, Dr. Kirpal Kaur Bajaj of Maryland, and Madan M. Singh of AZ.

Congressman Wally Herger of Yuba City, California said, There are 10,000 12,000 Sikhs in my district. I can boast that over 80,000 Sikhs gather in my area for an annual parade. They march to get her once a year which brings together people from all over the nation. It has been a pleasure to work with the Sikh community and especially to work on issues whether it is human rights or good government.

Congressman Ed Royce, acknowledging Sikh presence in America, said, If you look at who the Prime Minister of India is and who the First Asian congressman is, your presence outnumbers your overall total population both here and in India. It is astounding that 15 percent and 30 percent of the Indian Army is Sikh. Leadership that your community has produced has left a mark and it continues to do so. I want to acknowledge what you contribute to this country. Your stress on honesty, hard work and generosity is something of tremendous value and you have been mentors to many Americans. My visit to the Golden Temple was very fulfilling and I observed incredible vitality there and you see that also in the fields in Punjab.

He continued, We have to do more to explain to people in American and the world. Many Americans might think India is a Hindu nation but it is so important to explain how much diversity there is and how Sikhs have contributed even though you are only two percent of the population. Wherever you reside, I and lot of Americans will work to make sure that Sikhs are admitted to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces without any restrictions.

Congressman Wilson being given book by Harminder Singh Jassal, VA, Harjinder Singh Sandhu, MD, Harjit Singh Galhotra of TX, Hardish Singh Nandra, VA, and Harkishan SIngh Jassal of NJ.

Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, praised Nikki Haley Randhawa, a Sikh political leader who is now the majority whip in South Carolina state legislature. Randhawa is contemplating to run for governor of the state. Wilson also narrated how it was him who moved the resolution to include the portrait of Dalip Singh Saund in the Capitol building. Wilson said, To all my Indian American and Sikh friends, this portrait is hanging very proudly in the Capitol.  You can visit and see it. Also make sure that you visit your own Congressmen and Senators and reach out to them. He further stated, I will certainly do whatever necessary to support Sikhs drive to enter the U.S. Army.

Congressman Lujan being given book by Daya Singh, VP of the Akal Security along with Shanti Kaur Khalsa, Hargobind Singh, Dr. Rajwant Singh and others NM and VA.

Congressman Ben R. Lujan from New Mexico, who was introduced by Daya Singh, Vice President of the Akal Security, said, I am here to greet all my friends. I want to thank you for coming to educate us. While reflecting upon his family's long association with Yogi Bhajan and Bibi ji (Yogi Bhajans wife), he said, You have brought excellence in New Mexico and the success which Daya Singh or Akal Security and many others brought to New Mexico, is really incredible. I want to acknowledge that I am proud of what Sikhs have contributed in this county. They are part of government at all levels in my state and I admire their leadership. It is brain trust which Sikhs offer and is something we have to embrace. A large contingent of American Sikhs came from New Mexico.

Congressman Rush Holt being given book by Amrik Malhi along with Sukhjit Singh Gill, Sarbjit Singh Bakshi, Manpreet Singh, Dr. Gurmit Singh Chilana, Meeta Kaur Saluja, Herman Singh, Harveer Singh Anand of Los Angeles.

Rush Holt of New Jersey was introduced by Dr. Gurmit Singh Chilana of NJ,  said, I always feel very much at home with Sikh community. My association goes back to 30 years ago when I visited the Golden Temple. Golden Temple is indeed a matter of serving humanity. I must say20that it is very important that the Sikh Council (SCORE) organizes something like this at the Capitol Hill. The understanding is yet to achieve about what Sikhs brings to America and to our nation. We must continue to work in that direction.

Congressman Rush Holt center giving honor on behalf of SCORE to Commissioner Mulvey along with Sikh representatives from NY, MD, CA, and NJ.

Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey of Nassau County, the 11th largest police district in the nation, was honored for his call to the Sikhs to join police force without any restrictions on their religious observances.  His name to honor was introduced by Sikh Activist from Long Island, Mr. Mohinder Singh Taneja. While being honored, Mulvey said, We are proud of diversity in the police force under my jurisdiction. When the question was asked whether Sikhs with their turban and beard can serve, it was a quick and easy answer from me. My message to the Sikh community is that the goal is in your lap. You have to apply and consider becoming police officer. Get the word out to all of your community members.

Mulvey with Mohinder Singh Teneja and Ramneet Singh Rekhi of Sacramento, CA.

Sartaj Singh Dhami, an Outreach Director of SCORE said, The SCORE Dinner has become an annual stop by many of the elite Congressional leaders, which shows the strength of the annual event and the commitment America's leaders have to the Sikhs of America.

Representaives from AZ, MD, VA, NY, LA,FL,and PA.

Mohinder Singh Taneja, NY Director of SCORE, said, "It was inspiring to hear both Congressmen McDermott and Poe to motivate the Sikh American community to be more active in all aspects of America, regardless of whatever challenges may be encountered."

Sunny Randhawa of FBI, Bhupinder Singh Sodhi from FL, Rana Singh Sodhi from AZ, FBI representative, Rajdeep Singh Jolly from SALDEF, and Tejpal Singh, FL

Harjit Singh Galhotra, Houston Director of SCORE, said, " It's good to hear from aides from the Obama Administration assure us that they are willing to hear Sikh issues within our Country, and act on them as needed."

Bhupinder Singh Sodhi, FL, Bikram Bakshi, MD, FBI Representative, Bhupinder Singh Bhurji from NY

Harry Gill, Northern California representative of SCORE, said, "I feel great to know that America's leaders

know who we are and the importance of Sikhs to our Nation.  It's reassuring to know that our voice is represented in the halls of Congress, regardless if it makes it as a news headline or not."

This event provides an opportunity for Sikhs to interact with their elected leaders. Sadhu Singh Rikhiraj, President,Institute for Conflict and Peace Studies and the Past President, Sikh Religious Society,Chicago, said, "The program arranged by SCORE every year is very commendable. I enjoyed that evening with all friends and families. I also met with Senator Dick Durbin, Burris and Congress Representative Mellisa Beans from Illinois next day."

Another important feature of this yearly gathering is the honoring of few individuals who have made significant contributions towards the betterment of the Sikh community and those who have created good name for the community through their talents or actions.

Among those who were honored at the event this year were: Dr. Shamsher Singh, Founder of the Hemkunt Foundation, Ravi Singh of Khalsa AID in UK, Lakhbir Singh, head of the Nathan Associates, an international economic consulting company based in Arlington, Virginia, Arpinder Kaur, the first turbaned women Sikh pilot from Texas, Himmat Singh, a community activist from NY and Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey.Other who spoke at the event were Dino Teppera, former Chief of staff for Rep. Wilson, Jerry Krell, a filmmaker and Chris Byrnes of ECO-SIKH project from Alliance of Religions and Conservation and Amarjit Singh Sodhi of Sikh Human Development Foundation.

Those who helped organize this event were: Manpreet Singh Matharu, Bhavdeep Singh Bajaj, Ani Sandhu, Preet Amrit Kaur, Minoo KaurNandra, Amrit Kaur, Ramandeep Singh, Ruby Kaur Parihar, Harinder Singh Gill, Parminder Singh, Sehejneet Kaur, Aman Kaur Mangat, Manjot Kaur Jassal, and Kanwarpal Singh Chandhok.


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