White House Celebrates Guru Nanak's Gurpurab for the third Time amidst applause from US Sikhs

Washington DC, USA December 11, 2012: Birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was celebrated by the White House in the presence of 160 Sikhs from across the United States. Senior officials from the Obama Administration turned up to welcome Sikhs who were dressed proudly in their traditional Punjabi attires, colorful turbans and business suites. Paul Monteiro, Associate Director at the Office of Public Engagement, welcomed all the attendees with Sikh greeting, "Waheguru ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh! This was received enthusiastically from a room packed with Sikh representatives. He further stated, "The White House welcomes the Sikh community and this is our third celebration during President Obama's presidency and we will continue on this path." Gautam Raghavan also from the White House Public Engagement office, said, "This seems like a family event for all of us." All of the speakers especially acknowledged the presence of the families of victims of Oak Creek Gurdwara who were invited to be part of the event.

The program started with an opening prayer by Amarpreet Kaur Everest, a young girl from a pioneer family of Yuba City, California. She ended the prayer with a Sikh calling, Bole So Nihal with a thunderous response from all the Sikhs, 'Sat Sri Akaal.' Joshua DuBois, Head of the White House's Faith Based Initiative and who counsel Obama on spiritual matters, said, "There is not any week which goes by when we do not think about the Sikh community. Just as we focused on Sikhs weeks immediately after the Wisconsin tragedy. I want to assure you on behalf of President Obama that we have deep commitment for the families of all those were affected." He further stated, "We are so proud of our great relationship with the Sikh community on Job training and environmental issues and we will continue to expand our relationship."

This was followed by a hymn celebrating the advent of Guru Nanak by famous Kirtan singer from Punjab, Bhai Niranjan Singh who was accompanied by Tabla Maestro Sucha Singh of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Maryland . He sang ’Mitee Dhund Jag Chanan hoya, Satgur Nanak pargatiya’. The walls of the Old Executive office building of the White House were reverberating with the melodious voices of kirtan. Niranjan Singh sang two other hymns written by Guru Nanak in the Sikh scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib. In addition, a talented 20 year Sikh young man, Raginder Singh from California, presented a musical number on violin in raag Bhairavi. Grande Lum, Director of the Community Relations at the Justice Department, declared, "We are proud of what we have been doing with the Sikh community in the last ten years. I have spent more time on the issues of the Sikhs than any other issue. Guru Nanak ji stood for equality and justice and that is what our department stands for."

Paul Monteiro further stated that “Due to the immense tragedy of Oak Creek Gurdwara, a lot of focus of today's event is civil rights but we are continuously working on many comprehensive issues. He asked how many of the attendees were Medical professionals and how many were from the field of IT or education. We want your participation and we would like you to spread the word all around the nation and Sikhs should apply to serve the nation through the federal government as White House is seeking new applicants." Amardeep Singh, who serves on the White House initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and an official of Sikh Coalition, thanked Obama Administration for their support to the community. He stated, "This administration has provided us an unprecedented access in the aftermath of Oak Creek tragedy."

Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, who played a key role in organizing the event at the White House, said, "This is a proud moment for the entire community to celebrate this great occasion at the White House especially in light of the tragedy of Oak Creek and also while we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of our first gurdwara in America. Sikhs ought to be involved in all fields and all areas of the American society." He challenged that Sikhs must resolve to elect a Sikh with full identity to US Congress in the next twenty five years which was received with a resounding Jaikara, a Sikh calling. A book on Golden Temple Pavneet Singh, an official at the National Security Council at the White House, said, "I am extremely proud to see this large presence. It is important that we acknowledge that we are not single issue people and we are not only Sikhs but we are involved in everything. We not just Sikhs in America but we are so much capable and active participant in the every sphere of this nation."

Others who addressed the audience were: Congressman Jerry McNerny from Stockton, California, Mazen Basrawi, Eric Treene (Special Counsel for Religious Discrimination) and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Prez. Representatives of various Sikh organizations also spoke and among them were: Sapreet Kaur of Sikh Coalition, Dr. Seema Kaur of United Sikhs and Jaswant Singh Hothi of the American Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.

Some of the prominent Sikhs who traveled long distances to be part of this historic celebration were: Sarbjeet Singh Sandhu of San Jose Gurdwara, Rana Sodhi, Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev from Phoenix, Kamal Kaur Chahal of Be Proud organization and Harbir Kaur Bhatia from San Francisco, Dr. Harcharan Singh Gill from Wisconsin, Dr. Darshan Singh Sehbi from Ohio, Master Mohinder Singh from NY, Karam Bains from Yuba City, Amarpreet Sawhney from Boston, Dr. Jasbir Singh Bhatia from Florida, Harpreet Singh Sandhu from San Francisco, Chattar Singh Saini from Maryland and Ranjit Singh Kaler from Virginia. There were five representatives from the deceased/seriously injured victims's families from Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara. The representatives were Ravinder Kaur, Surinder Kaur, Lokinder Kaur, Raghuvinder Singh (Son of Baba Punjab Singh), and Gurmail Singh (Son of Baba Santokh Singh).

Some comments from the attendees:
Jasbir Singh Bhatia from Orlando, Florida, said, "It was my second opportunity to participate in this program. It was indeed very exciting. I was particularly encouraged by a strong support and enthusiasm shown by president Obama administration. Paul Monteiro, Tom Perez and all other speakers made excellent remarks, particularly Paul's encouragement for more Sikhs to participate in the administration. Meeting the people from Oak Creek Milwaukee was very sobering."
Simran Jeet Singh, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Religion at Columbia University and Executive Director for the Sikh Spirit Foundation, said, "I really appreciated the opportunity to celebrate Guru Nanak's Gurpurab at the White House. The event focused on issues of achieving equal rights and justice in America, a pair of central ideals shared by Sikh and American ideologies. Guru Nanak consistently engaged in society and politics, and it’s important that we carry on this tradition through events like these."
"Guru Nanak's commitment to public service and social justice was celebrated at the White House event honoring his life. As community leaders and public figures spoke of Guru Nanak's mission and contributions, they also put their words into context by highlighting the importance of applying this mission in the modern world. In my mind, there is no greater tribute to Guru Nanak than to keep this vision alive."
Amar Sawhney, President and CEO, Ocular Therapeutix, Inc. from Boston, said, "There is a heartwarming similarity between the message of Guru Nanak Devji and the founding fathers of the United States, in that both strived for a world where all humans were equal and there was no discrimination based on cast, creed, or religion. The celebration of Gurpurab at the White House was thus a befitting celebration of these common ideals."
Harbir Kaur Bhatia from San Francisco, a business woman and one of the organizers of Sanjh, a national Sikh youth retreat program, said, "I had the honor of leading the declaration of November as Sikh Awareness monthin San Jose with the San Jose City Council. We don't have to be leaders of organizations or otherwise to take action and be a lead. It's up to each of us to do the same all around the country. Guru Nanak’s message is meaningful to all and can be applied by all. That's where we come in. So I hope one day we'll be able to have Sikh Awareness Month at the Federal level. So everyone will get a chance to learn from Guru Nanak Dev ji, just as I did from other role models like Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, and leaders from the other traditions. Because the message isn't only for Sikhs, it's for all people to apply, irrespective of their faith, cultural association, country, or otherwise.
Sarbjit Sandhu, representative of Sikh gurudwara San Jose, while addressing the audience said, "We are honored to celebrate Guru Nanak’sbirth anniversary at the most important place in United States. Iextend thanks to President Obama and his entire administration on behalf of the Sikh community of San Jose, California."
Rana Sodhi from Phoenix, Arizona, thanked the White House and said, "it was nice that ceremony honored the families of the Oak Creek shooting victims and also my Brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a hate Crime victim after 9/11. May God bless the entire nation." Dr. Darshan Singh Sehbi from Dayton, Ohio, said, "Recent tragedies, like the Oak Creek Gurdwara shooting, brought enormous support from all walks of life, especially from the Obama administration and the First Lady. This strengthens our belief that during times of tragedy and difficulties all Americans are one and stand united. I extend my gratitude to Dr. Rajwant Singh, Mr. Paul Monteiro, Office of Public Engagement, and prominent Sikh leaders who were instrumental in organizing this memorable event. I look forward to this tradition of Observance of the Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji being maintained for years to come".
Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev, a Sikh leader of Phoenix, said, "We, a group of six Sikh members of Phoenix, Arizona,had the proud privilege of joining one of the most historical events in asserting Sikh Identity and creating Sikh awareness at the highest level of United States Government."
Kamal Kaur Chahal, Director of BeProud.org, from San Francisco, said, "With multitude of religions, cultures, and nationalities present in the United States, it is reassuring to see the White House not only acknowledge the importance of different communities make to the growth of this country, but also take a keen interest to end the bigotry and prejudice faced by them. The last Friday’s event hosted in the honor of Guru Nanak Dev ji’s birth anniversary is a huge step forward in acknowledging the importance of Sikhs in the States. These events not only raise awareness of the Sikhs in the States, but also our belief in peace and unity among all."
"In light of the events that happened in Wisconsin, it is reassuring to know the presence of Sikhs in the United States is not only acknowledged by the President Obama & his administration, but also that our voices hold meaning. Through the celebrations of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji, it is an opportunity for us to speak and inform the world who Sikhs are and what we stand for - that though we wear turbans, we are not advocates for violence. We are proud Americans of the Sikh faith, striving for the same American dream". Kamal Kaur Chahal, Director of BeProud.org.
Dr. Harchran S. Gill, from Oak Creek Gurdwara Sahib in Wisconsin, said, "There were more than 100 people from the Sikh community that joined us, along with representative from the Obama Administration and the Indian Embassy. We had the opportunity to meet First Lady Michelle Obama as she welcomed us and was glad to see we could be part of the celebration. She also shared condolences as she hopes and prays for our healing."
Raginder Singh, a talented violinist from California, who mesmerized the audience with his musical number, said, "Playing at the White House was one of the biggest opportunities of my life. It was an honor seeing people from different communities coming together to celebrate. I am glad to be a part of this historical event. It was a wonderful experience and I would love to perform again." Jarkarn Singh Johal, a leading member of Sewa Group of Young people from Yuba City, said,"It has truly opened my eyes and made me actually love this country more because I actually feel Sikhs have a voice and we are recognized at high levels. I did not feel that way in the past. This was such an amazing experience. I never thought that I would be in the same room with all the people that who have worked so much for the Sikh community."

A book on Golden Temple is being presented by NY and Washington area Sikh Representatives

Representatives of the Justice Department, Assistant Attorney General on Civil Rights, Mr. Tom Perez and others being honored by Sikh children

Young Leaders from Yuba City, California, presenting a momento to Paul Monteiro. Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (in left) was recognized for her instrumental work in helping enact the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 in California (A.B. 1964)

Representatives from Florida and Arizona

Family members of Oak Creek Sikh Victims and Rana Sodhi presenting a Siropa to Paul Monteiro

Washington area Sikhs and representatives of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Guru Nanak Foundation and Sikh Foundation of Virginia

Director of Community Relations at the Justice Department, Grande Lum, speaking at the event

Sapreet Kaur of Sikh Coalition

Paul Monteiro Speaking

Representatives of Justice Department speaking. Paul Monteiro and Dr. Rajwant Singh on the left

Raginder Singh playing violin along with Sucha Singh on Tabla


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