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Kirpan Ban Lifted at Rochester Gurdwara

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013 | 06:13 pm

With immense pressure from the Akal Takhat, the trustees of the Gurdwara of Rochester succeeded in having a New York court, on June 6, lift the Kirpan ban that they had the court impose more than three years ago.

Photo Source: Sikh News Network

The Kirpan ban at the Gurdwara of Rochester, imposed three years ago by its trustees as part of their management lawsuit, was fully lifted last week by a New York supreme-court judge.

The board of trustees, led by Santokh Badesha, asked the Monroe County Supreme Court, in May 2010, to stop the sangat from bringing Kirpans to the gurdwara. They justified their action by stating in their affidavits that the Kirpan was a dangerous weapon that could be used for violence during heated situations, according to court documents.

The trustees became party to a lawsuit in 2009 over changes in the gurdwara’s governance, which enabled them to stay in control beyond their terms. The defendants, who are Amiritdhaarees, accused them of imposing the ban to keep them and other Amritdhaarees away from the gurdwara.

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.

In a scathing March 2011 letter, the Jathedar Gurbachan Singh took particular aim at the head trustee, Santokh Badesha, about the false statements he made about Sikhi, the Kakars and Amritdhaarees. Among those statements was one in which Badesha, who does not keep his Kesh or carry a Kirpan, claimed to be an Amritdhaaree.

The Akal Takhat formed a special seven-member committee to investigate the situation. In their February 2013 report to the Akal Takhat, committee members also chastised Badesha and the trustees, and recommended the Akal Takhat take strong action.

Badesha was summoned to the Akal Takhat in an April 1 letter from the five takhat jathedars. He was to appear there within on month, Jaswinder Pal Singh, assistant to Akal Takhat Jathedar Gurbachan Singh, told SikhNN.

Badesha never did go to Amritsar. He and the trustees instead asked the court, on March 15, to lift the ban on Kirpans, alleging that the defendants had their own place of worship and that the ban was no longer necessary.

The defendants initially did not support their request to the court, asking that the trustees also retract their affidavits. But during mediation hearings last month, the defendants agreed to also give their support, which allowed the court to move forward more quickly in granting the motion.

In his written decision, the judge took note of the defendants’ objection to the trustees’ reasoning that they wanted the ban lifted because the defendants have their own place of worship.

“Defense council states that plaintiffs’ true motivation to seek the modification is the result of continued significant pressure applied to plaintiffs by the Supreme Sikh authority and the international media for incorrectly portraying a Kirpan as a potential weapon rather than a sacred symbol of (the) Sikh faith,” Judge Matthew Rosenbaum said in his June 6 decision.

“Defendants contend that plaintiffs’ actions in obtaining the order… has caused negative publicity, and plaintiffs have been criticized for the position they took.”

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