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Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh




Indianapolis, Indiana USA
July 29, 2009
Kanwal Prakash Singh

We are witnessing throughout the U.S.A. and around the world an unprecedented influx of new immigrants from distant lands and the remotest corners of the earth to advanced countries in search of a brighter future. These newcomers are bringing with them their hopes, talents, energy, experiences, proud cultural and spiritual heritage. They are engaged in building familiar anchors at these new and unimagined crossroads to create a sense of community, to nurture their spirit as they shape their future.

The horrific events of 9/11 and its aftermath have created many problems and unfortunate episodes of misunderstanding, harassment, mistaken identity, and unprovoked violence against some ethnic populations. Innocent Muslims, Arabs, and especially Sikh Americans with their faith-mandated turbans and beards, have faced many challenges on the streets, in workplaces, at the airports and some community gatherings. Some of the guaranteed freedoms have become an unfortunate victim.

This unacceptable stereotyping and repeated violations of civil and sacred rights of fellow Americans have generated outrage and alarm in some quarters. This unfortunate and misdirected anger against innocent Sikhs and others since 9/11 has called us to action. Major efforts are under way at the local and national level to know our neighbors, learn about other faith traditions, languages and cultures are underway at Local, State, and National level. Civic authorities, faith organizations, and media have rightly concluded that: unfounded suspicion, indiscriminate hostility or indifference toward a vital segment of our society is not the American way. It tarnishes our time-honored tradition when we violate or diminish another person’s legitimate rights and personal dignity. We must create an environment where we may enter into faith with another as an acknowledgement of our common humanity; build trust and healthy respect for one another by engaging in conversations, through interfaith and multi-cultural programs, and other helpful initiatives; address just concerns, assure the safety and peaceful pursuits of all Americans.

We can begin by making a rightful place for new ideas; learning about diverse cultures in our midst, and exploring ways as to best advance our shared hopes and worthy community causes. This enlightened approach to make the alien, the unfamiliar and once distant cultures a part our community fabric, our treasured assets and experience, is producing a gradual transformative change of attitudes towards our fellow citizens. The leadership in these groups: Sikhs, Muslims, Arab Americans, others need step forward to bring about positive change and not just be expectant sideline advocates.

This positive approach is leading to much interaction and cultural exchange: illuminating interfaith conferences and presentations; seminars and dialogues on faiths and communities; exhibits and films on history and heritage; informal visits across traditional faith and culture boundaries, multi-cultural weddings and ethnic festivals, service projects, international travel and studies abroad. These multi-faceted efforts are dispelling some unwarranted hurdles to our sense of belonging in new lands; building confidence, encouraging us to discover ways and opportunities to be partners rather than spectators to big dreams.

Sikh Americans have taken up this challenge seriously. We are witnessing many initiatives, critical projects, and successful networking at many levels. We are in search of our identity and destiny. We are participating in special events in our area. Some of the experiences leave deep imprints, valuable lessons, and grateful pride to be an American. In themselves, these activities may not be significant, unless we imagine the collective impact of thousands of peaceful endeavors across our world each new day. A dispassionate study of our efforts to connect, much like the generations of pioneers before us, are jolting our imagination, offering us lessons and direction to see our future in a new light and spirit:

Last October, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels paid a historic visit to the Sikh Temple (Acton Road) in Indianapolis to mark the Tercentenary Celebrations of the Ordination of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the Eternal Guru of Sikhs by Guru Gobind Singh in 1708. This was a welcome milestone.

In April 2009, interfaith leaders were invited by Archbishop Daniel Buechlein to attend the 175th Anniversary: The Golden Jubilee Celebration of Indianapolis Archdiocese at The Lucas Oil Stadium. In the prayers, songs, colorful pageantry, and ceremonies witnessed by some 30,000 Catholics, representing a multitude of cultures, ethnicities, and national origins, there were unmistakable echoes of Sikh faith and other spiritual traditions, and affirmations of our shared humanity and higher purpose.

In April 2009, while offering a word of inspiration at the “New Cultures at the Crossroads” Conference sponsored by the Indiana Committee for the Humanities, I saw a universal Truth at work: “No one is outside the Circle of God’s Love and Benevolence” and therefore must not be outside the realm of our understanding and thoughtful consideration.

In May, with pride and thanksgiving, the Sikh sevadars (volunteers) loaded a ton of canned food at The Sikh Temple in support of the Indianapolis Interfaith Hunger Initiative. We were witnessing the enshrined Sikh Commandment, “Sharing blessings from your righteous labor with the needy,” in action.

Later in the month, eighteen Hoosier Sikh men and women paraded their ethnic and American pride as a part of the Nationalities Council of Indiana Parade Unit in the nationally-televised 500-Festival Parade in Indianapolis. This was a welcome recognition by the 500-Festival Associates to showcase ethnic groups, nationalities that make up our Nation along with celebrities, race drivers, and famous bands.

An invitation by Venerable Arjia Rinpoche to participate in the Tibetan Mongolian Festival on the beautiful grounds of The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana, was a lesson in Buddhist spirituality and culture. We remember the recent visits of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to The Golden Temple and Guru Nanak’s visit to Tibetan Monasteries nearly 500 years ago. The 108-acre site of The Kumbum Monastery of Tibet (West) in Bloomington will be a major center for learning and preservation of Tibetan and Mongolian culture and a place of pilgrimage for everyone.

Attending the illuminating National Sikh Conference: “Taking Heritage into the 21st Century” at the magnificent Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. was a memorable and colorful affair. We felt proud to see so much talent in one place. We learned many new facets of the history and legacy of Sikh Gurus, our illustrious ancestors and our modern heroes. The Conference, sponsored by The Kaur Foundation of Potomac, Maryland, inspired a strong urge to share this heritage with the world.

July brought a busload of Indiana University-India Studies Program students and several faculty members to The Sikh Temple (Acton Road) for discussion and cultural insights into the Sikh faith and traditions of the growing Indianapolis Sikh community. We saw hope and promise in the American youth wanting to learn Indian languages (Hindi and Urdu) and about cultures different from their own.

AmeriCorp volunteers from the American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis, representing the interfaith outreach of the American Red Cross, visited The Sikh Temple to explore the possibility of The Temple serving as a designated Red Cross shelter during major disasters. We saw this as another sign that the values and commitment of the Hoosier Sikh community are finding resonance in American circles and the Red Cross sees us as good partners in their service mandate.

Being a welcome place for visitors from many traditions, The International Center of Indianapolis (ICI) brought three distinguished Muslim leaders from India accompanied by Gloria Scott (official hostess) and Juanita Galvis (ICI volunteer) to visit the Sikh Temple. The visiting leaders: Mohammed Younus Siddiqui, President, All India Muslim Unity Forum; R. Ruman Baig, Resident Editor, The Siasat Daily, Bangalore; Dr. Syed Mohammed Muqeem Ameen, President, Home for Poor Boys, Madrassa- I-Azam School; were guests of the U.S. Department of State, here to learn about the challenges of minority faiths in especially the post-9/11 U.S. They were interested to learn about the vision and programs of the Sikh Americans to educate the next generation about the culture, history, and practice of the Sikh faith; and the efforts of Sikh Americans to interface with other faith communities where they live.

The visit began with singing of a Sikh hymn and reading of the Hukamnama by Giani Pritam Singh, Head Granthi of the Temple. The participants in the discussions included: Sikh Satsang Trustees, Maninder Walia and Avtar Singh; Giani Pritam Singh; visiting Sikh musicians; and KP Singh, a community volunteer. We were joined by Dr. Callie Smith, Director of Faith Learning Initiative at The Christian Theological Seminary and Janice Singh, English Teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit and an ardent supporter of Punjabi and Asian cultures. The discussion continued over lunch at New India Restaurant where Baljit Oberoi, representing SAsiaOne Journal also joined. There was a frank exchange of ideas about the difficulties that arise from the multi-cultural and multi-faith tensions in India and many places around the world that we need to overcome with thoughtful consideration of our cherished ideals.

Our guests were amazed at the freedom of religion in America and about the growing interest in learning about the faith and culture of our neighbors; invitations to participate in projects such as Interfaith Hunger Initiative, Indianapolis Mayor’s Community Fair as a day of service and remembrance of the 9/11 victims. The inclusion of the once unfamiliar faiths and spiritual traditions in annual Interfaith Prayer Services and America’s growing interest in faith-based initiatives that serve and contribute to the well-being of citizens in the U.S. and beyond, where our material support can, and in the past has made a difference, is a welcome change. The fundraising efforts for Indian and Chinese earthquakes, Asian Tsunami, and Gulf Coast hurricane disasters in the U.S. were across faith and cultural divides. The words, networking, interfacing, peaceful dialogue and solutions, mainstreaming of cultures and communities, as possible alternatives kept reverberating throughout the visit. Continued unfounded suspicion, mistrust, confrontation and antagonism among faiths and ethnic communities, denials of basic rights and infringement of our sacred space has led to so much pain and suffering throughout history.

Each time we participate in activities that expand our cultural window to the world: attend a World Culture Club meeting in a local high school, teach Bhangra to enthusiastic Americans; share a perspective on faith and culture; enjoy ancient folk dances at the Chinese New Year Celebration, or Bharat Natyam at an Asian Festival; serve a common cause or fulfill a critical need; engage in constructive efforts with our elected officials and law enforcement agencies that may prevent future hate crimes or unwelcome episodes; triumph, achieve, contribute new gifts that enrich our national heritage, or strengthen community spirit, we open new doors to our own future. That is cause for optimism.

We know that the strong common threads embedded in our cultures can pave the way to our seeing ourselves as One America, as world citizens; creating a myriad of new avenues for our strengths and potential. It all begins by recognizing transcending frontiers, our responsibilities at new crossroads; developing healthy respect for one another and celebrating our time and place as a shared blessing.




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