WASHINGTON, D.C. - The White House invited a large group of Sikhs to celebrate the 545th birth-anniversary of Guru Nanak. Ashley Allison, the associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, welcomed the group. The celebration, which included langar in honor of the founder of Sikhism,
Tina Tchen, Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady, conveyed the greetings from the First couple and said, “I had the privilege of working with the Sikh community since I have joined the White House and I would like each one of you to stay in touch with us.”
Congressman Mike Honda from California, who fought a fierce election battle to be re-elected, joined the celebrations. He reflected on the importance of the day and said, “What Guru Nanak taught is very much relevant today. Your community has a glorious history in America and you have contributed immensely to this nation. “
The main event began with a kirtan performance by Mata Mandir Kaur, Sat Kartar Singh and Bibi Amarjit Kaur. This was followed by a musical presentation by young Gagandeep Singh from Portland Oregon playing mandolin accompanied by Jashon Singh from New York on the tabla. Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education and President of EcoSikh, said, “We are thankful to President Obama for opening the doors of the White House to the Sikh community to make us feel that our religion and our community is well-respected in America.”
Simran Jeet Singh, PhD candidate at Columbia University and senior fellow at the Sikh Coalition delivered the keynote speech. Singh spoke about the influence Guru Nanak’s words has had on his own life and how the teacher’s wisdoms on equality and service to others ring true today. In addition to the keynote, two panel discussions were organized. The first focused on school bullying and was paneled by Alice Yao from the White House Initiative on Asian-American and Pacific Islanders and Rajdeep Singh of The Sikh Coalition. The panelists spoke on their organizations’ efforts to combat bullying of young Sikhs in school.
The next panel was composed of EcoSikh President Dr. Rajwant Singh and Dr. Rucha Kavathe of United Sikhs. Dr. Singh acknowledged the landmark agreement between the U.S. and China, which outlines a track for the world’s largest polluting nations to reduce their greenhouse emissions over the next 20 years. He declared, “As we are celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday, we need to commit ourselves to really work on his vision which was to hold earth and God’s creation with reverence. Climate change is a moral issue and people of faith need to take a stand and work with our leaders to make the right decisions on this critical issue.”
Dr. Singh spoke of the impact climate change has had so far on our environment. Dr. Singh also spoke about EcoSikh’s partnerships with interfaith organizations to create youth workshops on environmental issues and his work with the Department of Energy to create a special liaison for faith leaders concerning climate change. Dr. Singh was accompanied by Dr. Kavathe, who spoke on issues of wellbeing, the Affordable Care Act, and universal healthcare.
“A life saving procedure shouldn’t cost your life savings,” said Dr. Kavathe. United Sikhs has been a health-focused organization that has run blood drives and informational sessions on health issues that plague the Sikh community, such as diabetes and hypertension. The evening was brought to a close with remarks from Indra Kaur Alhuwalia, Member of the Board of Directors for the Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF). “Guru Nanak Dev Ji modeled how to live in a diverse and material world. He showed us how to fully cooperate with others, no matter his or her religion or occupation, and to build an existence based on equality and service,” said Alhuwalia. Other attendees of the celebration included Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, who was a Bronze Star medal recipient, Gurwin Singh Ahuja from the White House Trade office, as well as representatives from Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE), Sikh Coalition, National Sikh Campaign, and many active members of the Sikh community from Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.