Akal Takhat Committee Condemns Rochester Gurdwara's Kirpan Ban
Panj Jathedars’ Decision Expected This Month
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2013 | 11:13 pm
If Jathedar Gurbachan Singh wants to visit the Gurdwara of Rochester, he must ask for permission to wear his Kirpan. The image shows the seal of the Akal Thakat.
Photo Source: Akal Takhat
A seven-member committee appointed by the Akal Takhat recommended last month that the five jathedars discipline the trustees of the Gurdwara of Rochester for petitioning a New York court to impose a ban on Kirpans.
“The Judge approved the Kirpan ban after the (board of trustees) showed that it is a dangerous weapon,” said Satpal Singh Khalsa, coordinator of the committee, in a Feb. 15 letter to Jathedar Gurbachan Singh.
He took particular aim at the head trustee, Santokh Badesha, who does not keep his Kesh nor carry a Kirpan but gave affidavits in court that he is an Amritdhari Sikh, court documents state.
“His statements and affidavits are blasphemous and sacrilegious to the Sikh religion,” Khalsa said. “My humble recommendations, after discussing the matter with our committee members, is that (Badesha), along with his team members, must be brought to the book so that no other Sikh dares to insult the Sikh religion, its democratic values, baptized Khalsa Panth, the Sikh way of life and the core principles and foundations of our Sikh faith.”
The consequences of imposing any restriction – by a gurdwara – are significant not only in the United States but all over the world, committee members said. Sikhs are regularly involved in court cases for the right to wear Kirpans, whether it is in federal buildings, court houses, airports or schools.
“If we argue that a Kirpan is an article of faith and we should be allowed to wear it, it becomes more difficult to defend (our position) if a gurdwara itself has banned it,” said Satpal Singh, a committee member. He is not related to Satpal Singh Khalsa.
This also sets a precedent for other gurdwaras to ban Kirpans during litigation, Khalsa added. “That is why the Akal Takhat got involved.”
“If the fight is about the gurdwara, why attack the Sikh faith - that is what they did,” said Mohinder Singh Kalsi, another committee member. “It is very sad that… the next courts can use the outcome from this case. It is a huge setback.”
The committee’s findings were emailed in a letter to Jaswinder Pal Singh, the jathedar’s personal assistant, Khalsa said. He confirmed today that the jathedar’s office has received the letter.
A spokesman for the jathedar also told SikhNN that the matter would be considered when the five jathedars meet again on March 25.
The lawsuit began as a typical dispute over the control of a gurdwara. But, in this case, the trustees made a preemptive move to stop the opposition from disturbing the peace at the gurdwara, and to ban anyone form bringing Kirpans.
“In view of the frequent fights taking place in three nearby gurdwaras, (and) out of concerns for the personal safety of the congregation, our attorney sought a preliminary injunction on (three) families and Kirpan as long as the lawsuit was going on,” Badesha said in an email to SikhNN.
The judge granted their requests in May 2010.
“If in any case any of the Kakars not allowed, how can it be called a gurdwara?” Satpal Singh said. “For many people that means the Guru is not allowed.”
The Akal Takhat first stepped into the dispute in July 2010 and appointed a 15-member committee to evaluate the situation. The five jathedars’ only concern was that the trustees banned the Kirpan and individuals from the gurdwara.
“Members of this (first) committee visited the Gurdwara and had a meeting with the (trustees) around Jan. 20, 2011,” said Warren Rosenbaum, the trustees’ attorney, in an email to SikhNN. “It has been reported to me that they asked questions and observed the services and they had expressed their satisfaction…”
But because of a lack of cohesion and protocol among committee members, and because they never followed through with a report to the Akal Takhat, the first committee fell apart.
During that time, the trustees also went back to court to modify the injunction order from a total ban to a conditional ban. The January 2011 order requires the gurdwara’s general secretary to approve, on a case-by-case basis, Kirpans that are longer than six inches, including full-size Kirpans for Anand Karaj and visiting Amritdhari dignitaries. But Kirpans still must be fully sheathed at all times.
“(They) have to get permission from these people who are not Sikh,” Mohinder Singh said.
“They can keep on fighting but don’t bring this (ban) issue,” Khalsa said. “They should not have requested this, from the beginning.”
“I am further advised that there was a follow-up conference call with Singh Sahib Jathedar Sahib, including a trustee and some members of the investigating committee, as a consequence of which Jathedar Sahib had expressed his satisfaction…” Rosenbaum said.
But the jathedar was not satisfied.
“Exploiting the American judges’ lack of complete knowledge about the Sikh faith, you have made highly misleading and false statements to them about the fundamental principles and rules of the Sikh faith,” said Jaswinder Pal Singh, in a March 2011 letter to the trustees, on the Akal Takhat’s letterhead. “In these statements, you have mocked the holy Sikh Kakars with the selfish motive of winning your lawsuit. Presenting the Guru’s gift - the holy Kirpan (Siri Sahib) - as a demon in the court, you have done the despicable misdeed of getting a ban enacted on it.”