Obama and Sikhs — Off to a Bad Start?

The press, unsurprisingly, has paid significant attention to Barack Obama’s inauguration. The importance of Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency — in terms of its symbolic and historic significance as well as the substantive policy changes that will follow — cannot be overlooked. Interestingly, the Sikh aspect of Obama-mania also has reached the pages of prominent press outlets. Those reports contain some good news, and even some bad. First, the good….

Gachoke.jpg Obama gained points when he took the time to provide answers to a questionnaire about Sikh interests and concerns. Indeed, a Harvard professor on religion and the religious diaspora in America, noted: “The Sikhs heard from you too. Your response to the questions… made it clear that you know your Sikh constituents and have a real concern for the issues of discrimination, hate crimes, and profiling they have faced. Your thoughtful response to the Sikhs stood in stark contrast to that of your opponent: ‘No Response.'”

Also, the Sikh Inaugural Ball — however viewed by some Sikhs themselves (see here and here for our previous coverage) — generally has been favorably seen by non-Sikhs. The Washington Post, for example, profiled a Sikh woman’s journey from California to Washington, DC, to attend the ball. The overarching theme of the piece was how Obama’s election has reinvigorated the Sikh woman’s conception of politics and her place in America. “Now,” she said, “I feel I can call this country my home.” [Aunty Ji, Gulshan Gachoke, is pictured at right.]

The Wall Street Journal, another respected publication, reported from the ball itself. In addition to discussing the details of the ball, the Journal offered this observation: “Several people at the event drew a comparison between Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh, the first Sikh prime minister of India, a country where only 2% of the people identify as Sikh.” (I haven’t drawn this connection in my own mind, but a healthy debate may be had about whether a meaningful link between the two may be made on the basis of their minority status and respective places in the American and Indian governments.)

And now the “bad”….

The National Review Online suggests that, in saying “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and nonbelivers,” President Obama may have claim to “the first Hindu shoutout in Ameircan inaugural history[.]” The New York Times responds, half-jokingly, that the Sikhs were left out of this message of religious diversity — “imagine how Americas Sikhs must feel….” At the Huffington Post, Obama was a bit more seriously criticized for leaving out Sikhs and others from the speech.

Indeed, a Sikh is taking this oversight to heart. According to sikhsangat.com, Jaspal Singh said he was “saddened that [Obama] made no reference to the million Sikhs that live in America, surely he should have mention[ed] th[e] fifth [largest] religion as he made reference to the other religions.”

In my view, this omission should not be perceived negatively — it’s impossible for Obama to mention every religious element in American society and there’s no evidence that his failure to mention Sikhs was the result of any animus or indifference towards Sikhs.

In another oversight, the Washington Times reports that Sikh clergy were not initially invited to the National Prayer Service, which took place the day after the inauguration. But Dr. Rajwant Singh of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education contacted the administration to ensure that Sikhs were represented at the interfaith event.

It seems that Obama’s start with respect to Sikhs may not have been ideal, but it has not diminished my belief that Obama will work diligently to bring all voices to the table at the appropriate times and will significantly improve the government’s position on issues of Sikh interest, including civil rights and bias crimes. That said, I am pleased that Sikhs are at least part of the national conversation about the Obama presidency, as demonstrated by the aforementioned articles in prominent non-Sikh publications.


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19 Responses to “Obama and Sikhs — Off to a Bad Start?”

  1. Parminder Singh says:

    Honestly, I was kind of disappointed when he didn't mention Sikhs in his speech. As one of the most harrassed communities before and after 9/11, it would have been nice to be mentioned.

    I guess a sikh being the prime minister of one of the largest nations in the world, known as a "democracy," has done nothing to bring forth the acceptance and understanding of the sikh people on the world stage.

    All this reinforces the Panthic agenda of a sovereign sikh homeland, the same agenda which has been demonized by Indian propaganda.

    We will continue to be unrepresented on the world stage until the kesri nishan sahib waves amongst the other sovereign nations of thr world.

    And as for having any expectations of Obama, How can we? We have a Sikh prime minsiter of india who didn't even mage to soothe the wounds of the sikhs nation by prosecuting murderous members of his own party who led mobs killing innocent sikhs in Delhi and across India. His only attempt was him apologizing for it, a Sikh apologized to Sikhs that innocent sikhs in the thousands were massacred.

    So, no, I don't have any expectations. Our religion doesn't want us to expect anything from anyone. Our destiny is in our hands. Our people are being proactive and that is the only thing which is getting results so far and will get results.

    Akal Sahai.

  2. Parminder Singh says:

    Honestly, I was kind of disappointed when he didn’t mention Sikhs in his speech. As one of the most harrassed communities before and after 9/11, it would have been nice to be mentioned.

    I guess a sikh being the prime minister of one of the largest nations in the world, known as a “democracy,” has done nothing to bring forth the acceptance and understanding of the sikh people on the world stage.

    All this reinforces the Panthic agenda of a sovereign sikh homeland, the same agenda which has been demonized by Indian propaganda.

    We will continue to be unrepresented on the world stage until the kesri nishan sahib waves amongst the other sovereign nations of thr world.

    And as for having any expectations of Obama, How can we? We have a Sikh prime minsiter of india who didn’t even mage to soothe the wounds of the sikhs nation by prosecuting murderous members of his own party who led mobs killing innocent sikhs in Delhi and across India. His only attempt was him apologizing for it, a Sikh apologized to Sikhs that innocent sikhs in the thousands were massacred.

    So, no, I don’t have any expectations. Our religion doesn’t want us to expect anything from anyone. Our destiny is in our hands. Our people are being proactive and that is the only thing which is getting results so far and will get results.

    Akal Sahai.

  3. Phulkari says:

    WOW … go Auntiji and she looks hella young at 63 … either she is aging REALLY-WELL (which is a possibility) or there was a mix-up of the pictures at "The Washington Post"! Auntiji isn't wearing saffron in this picture! :)

  4. Phulkari says:

    WOW … go Auntiji and she looks hella young at 63 … either she is aging REALLY-WELL (which is a possibility) or there was a mix-up of the pictures at “The Washington Post”! Auntiji isn’t wearing saffron in this picture! :)

  5. MUST KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MISTAKES AND THE BLUNDERS

    By Balbir Singh Sooch*

    THE REPORTS CONTAIN SOME GOOD NEWS, AND EVEN SOME BAD

    The reports contain some good news, and even some bad. The analysis published of the news is very balanced on your website: thelangarhall.com.

    But some individuals and organizations are only active and interested to project some bad news by always pointing out mistakes, incidents of common nature as is the case now to let down the new President of America, Mr. Barack Obama and American administration to justify and cover up the discriminatory blunders committed and being committed, deliberately and intentionally, through the mal-functioning and the unchecked, uncontrolled arbitrary-governance of administration in their own country daily.

    Who are such one sided actors active from the within and whose instance they are active and why? It is not difficult to find out and trace such elements, at least, for the country like America.

    Some are interested only to highlight the mistake and saddened that “[Obama] made no reference to the million Sikhs that live in America, surely he should have mention[ed] the fifth [largest] religion as he made reference to the other religions”, deliberately and intentionally, ignoring his past references to Sikhs.

    For me, the good news is as under, which would help developing countries to understand as to what the yardstick of justice and the action should be in a law abiding countries?

    “New York, Jan 23 (PTI) An American security company has agreed to pay USD 24,000 as compensation to a Sikh man who had complained that he was discriminated against for wearing a turban.

    Sukhdev Singh Brar, working in a Texas based security company had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for being discriminated against for wearing a turban.

    The EEOC filing an employment discrimination action against the security company has sought compensatory and punitive damages for Brar.

    The company acknowledged the discriminatory policy and has agreed to post anti-discriminatory notices on all employee bulletin boards and pay Brar USD 24,000 as a part of settlement of the case, United Sikh, an advocacy group which helped settle the case, said today.

    United Sikh said it explained to EEOC the edicts of the Sikh religion concerning Kesh (long hair) and turban.

    The company has also agreed on a change in the policy with continued Sikh awareness training, to be provided by United Sikh.

    "Sometimes discrimination that does not stem from direct hostility is nevertheless unlawful because a business has sought to satisfy prejudiced preferences projected on its clients," said Robert Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC's Dallas Office.

    "This was a situation in which accommodating the religious observance or practice presented no hardship to the business objective of providing private security," he added. PTI”
    http://www.ptinews.com/pti%5Cptisite.nsf/0/6BA366
    I have come across a news report that Mr. Barack Obama was to take oath again due to a mistake i.e. a word spoken in a wrong place while taking the oath of office by him as the president of America.

    To my mind, the mistakes and the incidents of common nature could be corrected but not discriminatory blunders committed and being committed in the developing countries daily.

    Though the corrections of the mistakes and the incidents of common nature are equally important but more important is that the discriminatory blunders committed and being committed in the developing countries daily should not be allowed to covered up and justified with the help of the forces having vested interests to act in the manner.

    For Example: Indian government says, “The Army attack on Sri Durbar Sahib (Golden temple), Sri Akal Takhat Sahib and other Gurdwaras of Punjab in June 1984 and thereafter ‘Bloodbath and Carnage of Sikhs’ in Delhi and elsewhere in November 1984, were mistakes but the whole world agrees that these were blunders committed, deliberately and intentionally, for the political reasons against Sikhs as a community in minority by the government of India. Here is not the end though style is changed.

    *www.sikhvicharmanch.com
    January 24, 2009

  6. MUST KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MISTAKES AND THE BLUNDERS

    By Balbir Singh Sooch*

    THE REPORTS CONTAIN SOME GOOD NEWS, AND EVEN SOME BAD

    The reports contain some good news, and even some bad. The analysis published of the news is very balanced on your website: thelangarhall.com.

    But some individuals and organizations are only active and interested to project some bad news by always pointing out mistakes, incidents of common nature as is the case now to let down the new President of America, Mr. Barack Obama and American administration to justify and cover up the discriminatory blunders committed and being committed, deliberately and intentionally, through the mal-functioning and the unchecked, uncontrolled arbitrary-governance of administration in their own country daily.

    Who are such one sided actors active from the within and whose instance they are active and why? It is not difficult to find out and trace such elements, at least, for the country like America.
    Some are interested only to highlight the mistake and saddened that [Obama] made no reference to the million Sikhs that live in America, surely he should have mention[ed] the fifth [largest] religion as he made reference to the other religions, deliberately and intentionally, ignoring his past references to Sikhs.
    For me, the good news is as under, which would help developing countries to understand as to what the yardstick of justice and the action should be in a law abiding countries?
    New York, Jan 23 (PTI) An American security company has agreed to pay USD 24,000 as compensation to a Sikh man who had complained that he was discriminated against for wearing a turban.

    Sukhdev Singh Brar, working in a Texas based security company had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for being discriminated against for wearing a turban.

    The EEOC filing an employment discrimination action against the security company has sought compensatory and punitive damages for Brar.

    The company acknowledged the discriminatory policy and has agreed to post anti-discriminatory notices on all employee bulletin boards and pay Brar USD 24,000 as a part of settlement of the case, United Sikh, an advocacy group which helped settle the case, said today.

    United Sikh said it explained to EEOC the edicts of the Sikh religion concerning Kesh (long hair) and turban.

    The company has also agreed on a change in the policy with continued Sikh awareness training, to be provided by United Sikh.

    “Sometimes discrimination that does not stem from direct hostility is nevertheless unlawful because a business has sought to satisfy prejudiced preferences projected on its clients,” said Robert Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas Office.

    “This was a situation in which accommodating the religious observance or practice presented no hardship to the business objective of providing private security,” he added. PTI
    http://www.ptinews.com/pti%5Cptisite.nsf/0/6BA3662058E450FA6525754700541D8C?OpenDocument
    I have come across a news report that Mr. Barack Obama was to take oath again due to a mistake i.e. a word spoken in a wrong place while taking the oath of office by him as the president of America.
    To my mind, the mistakes and the incidents of common nature could be corrected but not discriminatory blunders committed and being committed in the developing countries daily.
    Though the corrections of the mistakes and the incidents of common nature are equally important but more important is that the discriminatory blunders committed and being committed in the developing countries daily should not be allowed to covered up and justified with the help of the forces having vested interests to act in the manner.
    For Example: Indian government says, The Army attack on Sri Durbar Sahib (Golden temple), Sri Akal Takhat Sahib and other Gurdwaras of Punjab in June 1984 and thereafter Bloodbath and Carnage of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere in November 1984, were mistakes but the whole world agrees that these were blunders committed, deliberately and intentionally, for the political reasons against Sikhs as a community in minority by the government of India. Here is not the end though style is changed.
    *www.sikhvicharmanch.com
    January 24, 2009

  7. Harinder says:

    Transfer of any thing from Virtual to Reality is a function of “TIME”.

    For any religion to evolve from virtual to reality it take on an average 1000 years.

    In next 500 years “SIKHI SHALL SHINE” to unparalled heights.

    The president oF USA then shall mention us in his speech then.

    In any event SIKHS dont need a certificate from any one one to prove that “GOD “exists

  8. Harinder says:

    Transfer of any thing from Virtual to Reality is a function of “TIME”.

    For any religion to evolve from virtual to reality it take on an average 1000 years.

    In next 500 years “SIKHI SHALL SHINE” to unparalled heights.

    The president oF USA then shall mention us in his speech then.

    In any event SIKHS dont need a certificate from any one one to prove that “GOD “exists

  9. HHkaur says:

    Since when did sikhs have a clergy???

  10. HHkaur says:

    Since when did sikhs have a clergy???

  11. bdb says:

    since when did we need recognition from the president of the US. We sound like a bunch of whiny wimps ‘obama said nothing about us’.

  12. bdb says:

    since when did we need recognition from the president of the US. We sound like a bunch of whiny wimps ‘obama said nothing about us’.

  13. Nick says:

    I am quite sure that Obama included Sikhs in his Hindu statement. Whether extremist Sikhs like it or not, the Sikh and Hindu religions are heavily intertwined in India. Most people do not know the difference.

  14. Nick says:

    I am quite sure that Obama included Sikhs in his Hindu statement. Whether extremist Sikhs like it or not, the Sikh and Hindu religions are heavily intertwined in India. Most people do not know the difference.

  15. Publius says:

    Nick, are you contending that Sikhism = Hinduism, or that Sikhism is subsumed under Hinduism? Further, are you contending that only “extremist” Sikhs would posit that Sikhism is a separate and distinct faith?

    Please clarify.

  16. Publius says:

    Nick, are you contending that Sikhism = Hinduism, or that Sikhism is subsumed under Hinduism? Further, are you contending that only “extremist” Sikhs would posit that Sikhism is a separate and distinct faith?

    Please clarify.

  17. Citizen Singh says:

    that's great clarification there Nick, nice one…

  18. Truthful says:

    There's not a million Sikh's living here, not even close to a million….

  19. Jaspreet says:

    Nick, you religion always tries to gobble up other religions. Unlike India, other nations do respect the right of people to a separate religious identity. Idon't think people like you have any concept of rights. All you care about is asserting your faith over others. You are no different than folks like the Taliban who can't accept difference .