Akaal Takhat Forms Committee to Represent US Sikhs
Appoints Yogi Bhajan follower as head; VIPs make contentious stops during US visit
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | 12:13 am
Sikh VIPs arrive in New York for a week-long tour announcing a US committee to address Sikh grievances on behalf of the Akal Takhat. From left to right, Satpal Singh Khalsa, convener of the committee, Giani Ranjit Singh, head granthee of Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Mohinder Singh Taneja, a committee member, Akal Takhat Jathedaar Gurbachan Singh, and far right, Jathedaar Patna Sahib Ranjit Singh.
Photo Source: Satpal Singh Khalsa
The Akaal Takhat has formed a seven-member US committee to address the large volume of gurdwara disputes and also to advocate for all issues affecting Sikhs in the US, including hate crimes, school bullying and airport-security profiling.
The committee was announced during a late August trip to the US by three Sikh dignitaries from India – Gurbachan Singh, jathedaar of the Akaal Takhat; Iqbal Singh, jathedaar of Takhat Patna Sahib; and Ranjit Singh, head granthee of Gurdwara Bangla Sahib.
In an exclusive interview after his return to India, Jathedaar Gurbachan Singh told SikhNN that the need for such a committee emerged from the Rochester court case. He had been working with the New York sangat for a long time to reverse the Kirpan ban at the Gurdwara of Rochester, imposed by its trustees in 2010. He formed an independent committee of US Sikhs to study court documents, to talk with players on both side of the lawsuit, and to report its findings and recommendations to him.
As a result, Santokh Badesha, head of the board of trustees was summoned in April to appear before the Akal Takhat to answer for his actions. Badesha never went to Amritsar, but the pressure was enough for the trustees to have the court lift the ban.
When the jathedaar arrived in New York on Aug. 24, he met with Parminder Singh Soch, a plaintiff in the Rochester case, who advised him of other issues in the ongoing case.
“I will not let them go like this,” the jathedaar told him, Parminder Singh said. “I will definitely take care of this when I go back.”
Like in the Rochester case, the Akal Takhat receives many complaints from sangat members from other states requesting guidance or intervention, Gurbachan Singh said by phone.
The calls kept coming even during his US visit, said Satpal Singh Khalsa of New Mexico, head of the Rochester committee, who travelled with the VIPs. The jathedaar made several stops to address the most egregious cases.
He met with the parties in the Tierra Buena Sikh Temple dispute, in Yuba City, California, that ended with a stabbing last November. He advised that Didar Singh Bains, the ousted head of the gurdwara, should be respected for his 50 years of contributions to the community, Satpal Singh Khalsa said. He also mediated a conflict at the El Sobrante Gurdwara in California.
But the jathedaar cannot personally come for every dispute.
In the continuing success of the Rochester committee’s service as a liaison between the Akal Takhat and the local sangat, the jathedaar envisioned a more effective strategy: Let the committee do the leg work in these cases and present the facts for a final decision from the Akal Takhat. Perhaps these disputes can be resolved before the parties go to court and spend an excessive amount of the sangat’s money, Satpal Singh Khalsa said.
The jathedaar told SikhNN that he would advance the role of the Rochester committee to now take charge, on behalf of the Akaal Takhat, of all issues facing Sikhs in the United States.
And he is not limiting the committee’s scope to gurdwara management issues. The Akal Takhat “receives many other calls on many other matters,” Satpal Singh Khalsa said. The committee also will address advocacy issues such as hate crimes, school bullying, and airport-security profiling.
Satpal Singh Khalsa was appointed as the convener of the committee. He has been a US representative of the Akal Takhat since 2000, when he was first appointed by then Jathedaar Joginder Singh Vedanti. Gurbachan Singh continued the appointment, he said.
As a card-carrying representative of the Akal Takhat, the highest temporal authority of the Sikhs, he has been able to wield his authority recently with Transportation and Security Agency officers in one airport-security situation in which he saved a Sikh man from a turban search.
But the committee’s role would be more proactive, he said.
“We will go especially to law enforcement and police departments,” he said. “We will be working with all the advocacy groups. They are doing a fine job but we want to go a step further and educate them (law enforcement, public officials and the mainstream) before these things happen.”
The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and United Sikhs, did not return requests for comment. The response from the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh advocacy group, which has been lobbying and litigating these issues for more than a decade, was not enthusiastic.
“We welcome all assistance in addressing the very real concerns of bias and discrimination endured by Sikhs in the US,” said Sapreet Kaur, executive director of the coalition. “However, we feel that that Sikhs face much bigger issues in India. We hope that the Akal Takht will focus its resources on addressing urgent issues in India, including the lack of justice for crimes against Sikhs, (such as) murder, torture, and disappearances at the hands of Indian state agents, as well as apostasy, substance abuse, and farmer suicides.”
Daljit Singh Sawhney, head of the Sikh Gurdwara DC, who recently asked for representation of the American panth at the Akal Takhat, expressed concern about the committee’s priorities.
“The biggest problem we are facing (here) is that we are losing our youth and young generation,” he said. “The committee’s job should be how to keep them together and motivate them and learn from them… That is the biggest problem Sikhs are facing in the US.”
The jathedaar listed the following names of committee members for SikhNN: Mohinder Singh Kalsi, former president of the Sikh Foundation of Syracuse, New York; Satpal Singh of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the World Sikh Council – America Region; Mohinder Singh Taneja of Westbury, New York; Inderpal Singh Dhall, president of Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center in Plainview, New York; Harbans Singh Dhillon of Richmond Hill, New York; Gurnam Singh Pamma of Live Oak, California; and Satpal Singh Khalsa of New Mexico.
All except Gurnam Singh were members of the original Rochester committee.
Having a committee in the US is a way for the American panth to voice their grievances to accessible representatives of the Akal Takhat, Parminder Singh said. “For me, I welcome this committee.”
But not everyone is convinced that it is a representative body.
“How can they represent me, …we have to be part of the process of electing them,” Daljit Singh said. He agreed with the idea of the committee but would have preferred a process of vetting candidates from around the country, nominating members and having a national vote. And he would have preferred at least one member under 50-years-old, and one who was a woman, he said.
Daljit Singh also questioned Satpal Singh Khalsa’s appointment to the committee. He is the late Yogi Harbhajan Singh Khalsa’s son-in-law and also a representative of his dharma, which is considered a cult by at least two US experts.