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White House celebrates Guru Nanak's birth anniversary

Last updated on: December 03, 2013 21:24 IST

White House celebrates Guru Nanak's birth anniversary

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Aziz Haniffa

For the fourth successive year, Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary was celebrated at the White House. Scores of Sikhs from across the country attended the event and were welcomed by key Obama administration officials from the offices of public engagement and the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships respectively.

A significant feature of this year’s celebration was the presence of a large number of second-generation Sikh Americans -- many proudly sporting traditional Punjabi attire with colorful turbans.

Major Kamal Singh Kalsi, the first turbaned officer in the United States Army, and Valarie Kaur, filmmaker and founder of Groundswell at Auburn Seminary, expounded on the theme of service, the armed forces, leadership and activism.

The program was kicked off with welcome remarks by Gautam Raghavan, White House office of public engagement, followed by the Charges D’Affaires at the Indian embassy Taranjit Singh Sandhu who conveyed a message from India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

Melissa Rogers, special assistant to the President and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, congratulated Sikhs on their activism.

Grande Lum, director, community relations service, department of justice, shared his experiences of interacting with the Sikh community and stated, “Guru Nanak’s life is an example for all of us that we can learn from to stand for truth and justice regardless of the risk.”

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Image: Major Kamal Singh Kalsi, (second from right)


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White House celebrates Guru Nanak's birth anniversary

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Aziz Haniffa

US Congressman Joe Crowley spoke of the invaluable contributions Sikhs Americans are making to American society.

“President Obama is the greatest friend of the Sikhs and so am I. You can count on me in Congress to stand for you and your issues,” he said.

A group consisting of Washington college students performed a kirtan. Dr Rajwant Singh, chairman, Sikh Council on Religion and Education, who has been instrumental in making Gurpurab celebrations a regular feature at the White House in recent years, said, “We are so thankful to President Obama for standing with the Sikhs and always making sure that our community is not only included, but involved.”

Romi Bhatia, senior advisor, US Agency for International Development, implored Sikhs to not only do service ‘for our own community but for the community at large, focusing on the importance of connecting to our neighbors healing while educating.’

Nitasha Sawhney, commissioner, California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander Affairs & Co-Chair, South Asian American Leading Together, applauded Sikhs in the US for keeping in touch with their roots and for Sikhism flourishing despite adversity and all of the racial profiling, hate crimes and bigotry they have experienced and continue to encounter.

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Image: A kirtan recital at the event


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White House celebrates Guru Nanak's birth anniversary

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Aziz Haniffa

The program concluded with closing remarks by Amardeep Singh, member, President’s advisory commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Harpreet Singh Mokha from the justice department and James Santelle of the US attorney’s office, who had worked closely with Oak Creek Sikhs immediately after the shooting, were recognised for their outstanding work.

President Obama said in a message, “I want to extend my best wishes to all our Sikh friends, across the United States and around the world, who this weekend are observing the anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak Devji, the first Sikh Guru.”

“Here in the United States,” the president noted, “we’re grateful to the many Sikh Americans who give life to these values and enrich our country every day, reminding us that these shared principles are not only at the heart of the Sikh faith, but they are central to who we are as Americans.”


Image: Members of the community at the White House


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