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Rochester Gurdwara Trustees to Lift Ban on Kirpan
Defendants Also Want Them to Retract False Affidavits

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 10:13 am

The April 1 letter summoning Santokh Badesha, head trustee at the Gurdwara of Rochester, in New York, to the Akal Takhat for imposing a Kirpan ban at the gurdwara.

Photo Source: Akal Takhat

With immense pressure from the Akal Takhat, the Gurdwara of Rochester trustees have asked a New York court to lift all restrictions on Kirpans at the gurdwara, but have stopped short of retracting harmful statements they made to the court about Kirpans, which led to the original ban two years ago.

The trustee-plaintiffs and Amritdhaaree-defendants became involved in a lawsuit over the governance of the gurdwara in 2009. In an effort to keep the defendants from coming to the gurdwara, the trustees asked the Supreme Court of New York, in May 2010, to bar them and to ban Kirpans from the premises.

When the Akal Takhat jathedar was alerted to the Kirpan ban, the trustees then went back to court and asked for restrictions on Kirpans longer than six inches, which the court agreed to in January 2011.

That scenario also was not acceptable to the Akal Takhat. In a scathing March 2011 letter, the jathedar took particular aim at the head trustee, Santokh Badesha, and formed a special seven-member committee to investigate the case.

In their February 2013 report to the Akal Takhat, committee members also chastised the trustees, particularly Badesha, and recommended the Akal Takhat take strong action.

During the March meeting of the five-takhat jathedars, they decided to summon Badesha to appear at the Akal Takhat in person, with all the court documents. Their April 1 letter was mailed to Badesha, said Jaswinder Pal Singh, assistant to Akal Takhat Jathedar Gurbachan Singh. And, Badesha had to come within one month, he told SikhNN by phone.

Maghar Channa, a trustee who is also their spokesman, was asked several times about Badesha’s plan. But SikhNN did not receive a response until last week. The trustees’ new spokesman, Harbans Lal, of Texas, told SikhNN that the Akal Takhat’s letter did not indicate a date or time limit, so Badesha has not yet travelled to Amritsar.

An Akal Takhat spokesman said the jathedars usually give several opportunities for those they summon. “We’ll see,” he said.

Badesha has no plans to go to Amritsar. He and the trustees have sent a letter instead.

“We are in full agreement with your decision that the limitations on our religious symbol should be lifted and have taken concrete steps to remove all remaining court-imposed limitations on Kirpan at GOR, unconditionally and as soon as legally possible,” the trustees wrote.

Their attorney, Warren Rosenbaum, has asked the defendants to co-sign a request to the court to lift all restrictions on Kirpans, which would be “the fastest way to achieve our and your goal,” they said.

“The proposed additional modification would eliminate all remaining limitations on the Kirpan at the GOR,” Rosenbaum said in an April 16 letter to the defense attorney.

But the defendants would not agree unless Badesha also retracted statements he made about Sikh practices, including claims that the Kirpan is a dangerous weapon.

Many of his statements were made in a Nov. 12, 2010, affidavit, including one in which Badesha said he was a “baptized and life-long practicing Sikh,” even though he does not keep his Kesh or carry a Kirpan.

He also said: “Over the more than 300 years later, baptized Sikhs only carry a small 4-6” Kirpan customarily as an article of faith. A longer Kirpan, some of which are greater than 3 feet in length, is only carried during wedding ceremonies by the groom and/or religious leaders of the 5 Sikh shrines.”

And, “…Even most baptized Sikhs do not wear ceremonial swords for practical reasons.”

The Amritdhaaree-defendants want these and other statements removed. Their attorney, Michael Masino, conveyed their condition to Rosenbaum. The trustees did not agree. Rosenbaum filed a unilateral request to the court on April 18 to lift the ban, a more time-consuming process. In an April 19 letter, Masino explained the failed negotiations to the judge.

The trustees complained to the Akal Takhat that they did not know why the defendants declined to lift the ban. “We are at a loss to understand why would the defendant be working against your directive to remove the restriction on Kirpan in the gurdwara,” they said in their April 20 letter.

“The concern is… that the affidavit is a matter of public record, which can be accessed by others,” Masino said, by email last week to SikhNN. “My clients are concerned that the affidavit contains statements that are inaccurate regarding Sikhism, and therefore have urged that the statements be retracted at the same time that the ban on the carrying of Kirpans at GOR is removed.

“To be clear, my clients want the ban on Kirpans at GOR to be completely removed, and also want Mr. Badesha to retract his statements, which originally led to the issuance of the ban.”



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