In what is the largest Sikh gatherings on Capitol Hill in recent times, over 300 members of the community attended the Sikh American Heritage Dinner organized by the Washington, DC-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education.
The guest list of US lawmakers in attendance included Senators Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat; Congressmen Tom Davis, Virginia Republican and Joe Crowley, New York Democrat and former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.
In an address punctuated several times by sustained applause, Clinton said 'I am delighted to be the Senator from Punjab as well as from New York. It is always a pleasure and an honor to represent so many of my Sikh American constituents in New York.'
'I admire you for the way you all handled the challenges that the Sikh community faced after 9/11. The way the Sikh community responded so positively by educating people about the Sikhs and serving fellow Americans is a great tribute to the value of the Sikh community and that also helped us to get the message across.'
Congressman Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat and former co-chair of the India Caucus, lamented that the Sikhs had undergone tough times in the aftermath of 9/11. 'Unfortunately,' he said, 'many Americans tend to lump people together without understanding who they are and what they are. In my area, a Sikh was beaten and we quickly brought together a campaign called 'Hate Free Zone' which involved many people from civic organizations, churches and law enforcement forces.'
Speakers including Congressmen Crowley, Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, both New Jersey Democrats, lauded Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India's first ever Sikh Prime Minister, and praised his ongoing efforts to bring about peace with Pakistan.
Various awards were presented to members of the community; awardees included Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh actor who portrayed a Sikh, complete with turban and beard, in Steve Zissou's Hollywood movie, 'The Life Aquatic' and several members of the community who are have served in the US Armed Forces in Iraq. Specialist Uday Singh, 21, of the 34th Armored Regiment, who was killed December 1, 2003 in Habbaniyah, Iraq and whose remains were buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery, was also remembered.
Dr Rajwant Singh, founder and president of SCORE, said the plan was to make the event an annual affair, and added that the community was on a learning curve 'as to how we could make our voice heard and articulate our concerns and express them to the highest levels of the American government.'