Obama Greets Sikhs on Guru Nanak's Birth Anniversary and hosts an event at the White House

  
Washington, Nov 20, 2010: The Obama White House for the second time celebrated Gurparab, Guru Nanak's birth anniversary on November 19, 2010, two days ahead of the actual date when millions of Sikhs will be celebrating this anniversary in their respective congregations in America and all over the world.
Sehejneet Kaur singing along with Rajdeep Singh and Guransh Singh, Sucha Singh at Tabla

President Barack Obama himself was not present, but he issued a statement through the press secretary.

President Obama said, “On Sunday, many around the world will observe the anniversary of birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. I send my best wishes to all those observing this extraordinary occasion. This is also an opportunity to recognize the many contributions that Sikh Americans have made to our nation, and to reflect on the pluralism that is a hallmark of America.”

“Sikhism’s principles of equality, service, interfaith cooperation and respect are principles shared by all Americans. As Sikhs celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak, people of good will everywhere can identify with his teachings on the equality of all humankind and the need for compassion in our service to others. “

Senior officials led by Christina M. Tchen, head of the White House office of Public Engagement, welcomed the guests to the executive mansion at the function. Welcome to the White House” she said to 120 Sikh men in colorful turbans and women in traditional Punjabi dress gathered from all over America. She continued, “President Obama has deep regards for the Sikh community and we are eager to work with you all.”


Group picturs of all Sikhs at the White House

The program started with traditional kirtan with harmonium and tabla was performed by Ragi Nirmal Singh Nagpuri, Sukhjeevan Singh and Sucha Singh of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, India. They sang a hymn in praise of Guru Nanak and a hymn written by Guru Nanak conveying the message of universality. Sehejneet Kaur, 16 year old Sikh singer, also sang a shabad written by Guru Nanak reflecting on the theme of doing selfless service in the world. In addition, Bandana Kaur Malik, Program Director of EcoSikh, spoke on Guru Nanak’s philosophy of equality, humility and service. Dr. Karandeep Singh from Pennsylvania spoke on Guru Nanak’s perspective of building society with respect and acceptance of all faiths and groups.


Kiran Ahuja speaking at the occasion
Mohinder Singh Taneja, a community leader from NY, Paul Monteiro, Representative of Education Department, Timothy Pearson, Inspector from NY area who works closely with the Sikh community, Dr. Rajwant Singh

Paul Monteiro Associate Director, Tina Tchen, Head of the White House office of Public Engagement and Dr. Rajwant Singh

Amardeep Singh speaking at the Event
Guru Jot Kaur presented a vote of thanks to the President and his White House staff
Bakshish Singh Saini, Harbhajan Singh, Harpreet Singh Sandhu, Paul Monteiro, Kiran Ahuja with Brothers of Balbir Singh Sodhi, Rana Singh Sodhi and Harjit Singh Sodhi 2nd and 3rd from right respectively and Jagmeet Singh Bedi.



Sikh Ladies with Paul Monteiro at the White House event.


Dr. Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), who helped organize this celebration, said: "We are thankful to President Obama for this kind gesture of organizing this celebration and issuing a message to the entire Sikh community. This is once again an acknowledgement of Sikh community’s vibrant presence in America. Sikh youngsters are proud of their community’s recognition by the highest institution of the United States. Dr. Rajwant Singh and Paul Monteiro, Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement were the MC of the event.



Ragi Nirmal Singh, Sukhjeevan Singh and Sucha Singh of Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) singing at the White House

Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, also spoke on the issues such as bullying in the schools against Sikh children, negative profiling and security barriers. In addition, Amardeep Singh, a Sikh appointee on the Asian Americans panel, also spoke.

Among senior Obama administration officials present was Kalpen Modi, an Indian-American actor and now associate director of the Public Engagement office. Aneesh Chopra, the Chief Technology Officer of the Obama Administration, Pradeep Ramamurthy of National Security Council and various other officials from the State Department, Justice Department and Education Department joined the celebrations. Representatives of Saldef, Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs were also in attendance in addition to representatives of various Sikh gurdwaras from across the nation.

The official speeches were interspersed by a series of Sikh greetings "Jo Bole So Nihal" and thunderous response of "Sat Sri Akal" which means - "whoever hails the Timeless Being as True, is blessed".

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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
November 19, 2010Statement by the President on the Anniversary of the Birth of Guru Nanak Dev JiOn Sunday, many around the world will observe the anniversary of birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. I send my best wishes to all those observing this extraordinary occasion. This is also an opportunity to recognize the many contributions that Sikh Americans have made to our nation, and to reflect on the pluralism that is a hallmark of America. Sikhism’s principles of equality, service, interfaith cooperation and respect are principles shared by all Americans. As Sikhs celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak, people of good will everywhere can identify with his teachings on the equality of all humankind and the need for compassion in our service to others. ###-----The White House · 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW · Washington DC 20500 · 202-456-1111

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This is what some had to say:

"I feel very thankful that 541 years after the birth of Guru Nanak, the Sikh flag still flies high even here in the White House!", said, Amardeep Singh, Commissioner, White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

He added, "In many ways, the Sikh American community is like a bird that is ready to spread its wings. As we do so, we are glad to know that we have the White House as a committed partner on our journey to claim our rights as Americans."

Dr. Rajwant Singh added, "President Obama has demonstrated that he is respectful of all religious minorities in America and he genuinely wants to help in highlighting their issues. He has created a level playing field when it comes to an access to the White House. Although there have been some level of disappointment among Sikhs that he visit to the Golden templesome how got scuttled but the White House has been stressing on ways to strengthen its ties with the Sikh community in America. We are thrilled that this is the first time, presidential message has been officially released by the office of the Press Secretary. President Obama also highlighted the positive contributions of the Sikhs in America and to the concept of Interfaith coexistence."

[Dr. Rajwant Singh and Paul Monteiro, Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement were the MC of the event. ]

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Dr. Kanvarjit Singh Bedi from Cleveland, OH, said, "It felt like a big honor to our sikh community as a whole to be invited to the White House to celebrate the 541st birthday of our guru, Guru Nanak . Also it was a occasion of great pride for our Sikhs to watch the Obama administration officials discussing the great principles of our Great Sikh Faith . I really felt honored to be invited to this celebration . These kind of events and celebrations bring awareness to the American public about our faith , our unique identity and our religion`s noble principles . I congratulate the SCORE organization as whole for this commendable success."

Dr. Karandeep Singh , an interventional cardiologist from Pennsylvania, said, "It is encouraging to see at least the administration and the political appointees in the institution of "The White House" acknowledge the sikh presence in this great country. He added, "It is only a matter of time when the celebrations achieve center stage with the presence of the President and the First Lady being expected."

Bandana Kaur Malik , Program Director of EcoSikh, said, "'It was an honor celebrating the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji at the White House. I am proud to know that Sikhs are being written into the civil rights history of this nation. The event also is a reminder that Guru Nanak Dev Ji upheld a commitment to equality, tolerance, and justice of the highest form, and, as a community, this is where our shared responsibility with the Obama administration lies."

Parminder S. Ahuja, Chairman of Guru Nanak Foundation of America, said, "It was wonderful that President Obama had invited the Sikh Community to celebrate the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It showed that he recognizes the contributions the Sikh Community has made and continue to make to America. Furthermore, his willingness to work with the community showed compassion and concern for the issues we currently face."

Gagan Kaur Narang, Technical Training & Development Manager at University of Maryland and Teacher at Gurmat School of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, said, "It is one thing to talk amongst ourselves about the problems Sikhs face in their day to day life but quite astounding to witness them being presented to the administration and watching the administration respond to them in a positive and promising manner. The importance and effect of political involvement was evident in every aspect of the program. It was heart warming to see a " sabat-saroop" ( full fledged Sikh identity) Sikh, Amardeep Singh, in a position to make a difference. Our dreams of gaining respect for our identity have started to come true. Gone are the days when we wondered how long the Sikhi saroop ( identity) can stay alive once you leave India. If anything, it is the other way round now. I applaud Dr. Rajwant Singh for pursuing the path of political involvement and leadership, despite all the obstacles. If you are knowledgeable, comfortable, confident and proud of who you are and the way you look, it is a matter of time before you convince others to admire (not just accept) who you are and what you stand for."

Dr. Baljit Singh Moonga, a Scientific Review Officer at NIH, said, "It was wonderful to be at the White House to celebration Guru Nanak's Birthday. This was a well organized event, the speakers and the invitees were very appropriate, time allotted to each speaker was perfect. I would say that this is one of the best events I have ever seen from the Sikh Community. "An amazing experience" Finally, I would like to congratulate to Dr Rajwant Singh and his colleagues for this great idea, events like this will definitely have a positive impact on the Sikh community, and I am glad I was there to witness this great and joyful day."

Sarabjit Kaur Bhutani from Maryland, said, "During the celebration, I couldn't help but think about my own children. Every year they see all of the excitement around the lighting of the richly decorated White House Christmas Tree. They hear about the lighting of the Menorah inside the White House. Now my children, Preetam and Akaal, can proudly say that the Birthday of their Guru Nanak Dev Ji is also an occasion for celebration at the White House. As a Sikh-American mother, I am grateful that this administration has taken notice of the Sikh community and has recognized this very important day."

Inder Paul Singh Gadh, Director of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, said, "Although it was exciting to have received the invitation, yet before going to the event, I had a mixed feeling. I was somewhat disappointed after seeing President not make a trip to Amritsar, yet felt obligated to make a small effort to celebrate the birthday of the Guru who had traveled miles and miles on foot to benefit the mankind without regard to how he would be received. The opportunity of celebrating the event at the White House therefore provided a healing touch. It was like being at the top of Mount Everest, politically speaking, and telling the world how proud we were as Sikhs.

The event itself was very well planned and organized. The Kirtan was thrilling and the speeches very appropriate. Contrary to my expectation, I was happy to have tasted some very delicious food at the end. It did not seem like we were there for almost three hours. Hopefully next year, we should perhaps get an elevated stage for Kirtan and an audio system for the audience at the back.

Hargurpreet Singh , an official at the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland, and Secretary of National Sikh Center, said, "Sharing message of Guru Nanak through his own words (Shabad) was highlighted well in English. Involvement of White Office, North American Sikh Organizations, timing and coordination of whole program was super. Comments made by White House officials were also very appropriate.

Dr. Darshan Singh Sehbi, Assistant Professor, Wright State University School of Medicine, Dayton, Ohio, said, “Thanks to the Obama administration for helping to organize this event second year in a row. Guru Nanak’s message of equality of mankind, peaceful living and respect for all is as relevant today for the whole world as it was five hundred years ago. I am grateful to Dr. Rajwant Singh for taking a lead in bringing together SCORE, United Sikhs, Sikh Coalition and many more for working towards the common cause of promoting awareness of the inherent beliefs of the Sikh faith including universal acceptance without man made barriers.”

Guru Jot Kaur from VA presented a vote of thanks to President Obama and all the White House officials for organizing this event.

In addition, Harpreet Singh Sandhu, a former council member from Richmond, CA and a Democratic party leader from Bay area from California also spoke at the event.



  


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