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India Akal Takht Condemns Rochester Gurdwara's Kirpan Ban


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Akal Takhat Committee Condemns Rochester Gurdwara's Kirpan Ban
Panj Jathedars’ Decision Expected This Month

By Anju Kaur,


A seven-member committee appointed by the Akal Takhat recommended last month that the five jathedars discipline the trustees of the Gurdwara of Rochester for petitioning a New York court to impose a ban on Kirpans.

“The Judge approved the Kirpan ban after the (board of trustees) showed that it is a dangerous weapon,” said Satpal Singh Khalsa, coordinator of the committee, in a Feb. 15 letter to Jathedar Gurbachan Singh.

He took particular aim at the head trustee, Santokh Badesha, who does not keep his Kesh nor carry a Kirpan but gave affidavits in court that he is an Amritdhari Sikh, court documents state.

“His statements and affidavits are blasphemous and sacrilegious to the Sikh religion,” Khalsa said. “My humble recommendations, after discussing the matter with our committee members, is that (Badesha), along with his team members, must be brought to the book so that no other Sikh dares to insult the Sikh religion, its democratic values, baptized Khalsa Panth, the Sikh way of life and the core principles and foundations of our Sikh faith.”

The consequences of imposing any restriction – by a gurdwara – are significant not only in the United States but all over the world, committee members said. Sikhs are regularly involved in court cases for the right to wear Kirpans, whether it is in federal buildings, court houses, airports or schools.

“If we argue that a Kirpan is an article of faith and we should be allowed to wear it, it becomes more difficult to defend (our position) if a gurdwara itself has banned it,” said Satpal Singh, a committee member. He is not related to Satpal Singh Khalsa.

This also sets a precedent for other gurdwaras to ban Kirpans during litigation, Khalsa added. “That is why the Akal Takhat got involved.”

“If the fight is about the gurdwara, why attack the Sikh faith - that is what they did,” said Mohinder Singh Kalsi, another committee member. “It is very sad that… the next courts can use the outcome from this case. It is a huge setback.”

The committee’s findings were emailed in a letter to Jaswinder Pal Singh, the jathedar’s personal assistant, Khalsa said. He confirmed today that the jathedar’s office has received the letter.

A spokesman for the jathedar also told SikhNN that the matter would be considered when the five jathedars meet again on March 25.

The lawsuit began as a typical dispute over the control of a gurdwara. But, in this case, the trustees made a preemptive move to stop the opposition from disturbing the peace at the gurdwara, and to ban anyone form bringing Kirpans.

“In view of the frequent fights taking place in three nearby gurdwaras, (and) out of concerns for the personal safety of the congregation, our attorney sought a preliminary injunction on (three) families and Kirpan as long as the lawsuit was going on,” Badesha said in an email to SikhNN.

The judge granted their requests in May 2010.

“If in any case any of the Kakars not allowed, how can it be called a gurdwara?” Satpal Singh said. “For many people that means the Guru is not allowed.”

The Akal Takhat first stepped into the dispute in July 2010 and appointed a 15-member committee to evaluate the situation. The five jathedars’ only concern was that the trustees banned the Kirpan and individuals from the gurdwara.

“Members of this (first) committee visited the Gurdwara and had a meeting with the (trustees) around Jan. 20, 2011,” said Warren Rosenbaum, the trustees’ attorney, in an email to SikhNN. “It has been reported to me that they asked questions and observed the services and they had expressed their satisfaction…”

But because of a lack of cohesion and protocol among committee members, and because they never followed through with a report to the Akal Takhat, the first committee fell apart.

During that time, the trustees also went back to court to modify the injunction order from a total ban to a conditional ban. The January 2011 order requires the gurdwara’s general secretary to approve, on a case-by-case basis, Kirpans that are longer than six inches, including full-size Kirpans for Anand Karaj and visiting Amritdhari dignitaries. But Kirpans still must be fully sheathed at all times.

“(They) have to get permission from these people who are not Sikh,” Mohinder Singh said.

“They can keep on fighting but don’t bring this (ban) issue,” Khalsa said. “They should not have requested this, from the beginning.”

“I am further advised that there was a follow-up conference call with Singh Sahib Jathedar Sahib, including a trustee and some members of the investigating committee, as a consequence of which Jathedar Sahib had expressed his satisfaction…” Rosenbaum said.

But the jathedar was not satisfied.

“Exploiting the American judges’ lack of complete knowledge about the Sikh faith, you have made highly misleading and false statements to them about the fundamental principles and rules of the Sikh faith,” said Jaswinder Pal Singh, in a March 2011 letter to the trustees, on the Akal Takhat’s letterhead. “In these statements, you have mocked the holy Sikh Kakars with the selfish motive of winning your lawsuit. Presenting the Guru’s gift - the holy Kirpan (Siri Sahib) - as a demon in the court, you have done the despicable misdeed of getting a ban enacted on it.”

The five jathedars formed a second committee, in May 2011. Khalsa received correspondence from the Akal Takhat that he was to be its coordinator. As the ambassador of the dharma founded by Yogi Bhajan, Khalsa has a large number of legal and political connections at his disposal. Khalsa is from California but the other six members of the committee are from New York. None are members of the Rochester gurdwara’s sangat.

“We had one weekend and met in New York City and we sat together and looked at what was happening, whatever information each one of us had,” Satpal Singh said.

Committee members then decided to approach the two sides and tried to meet with them in Rochester. But the trustees kept insisting that they did not recognize the committee, committee members said.

Badesha told SikhNN that committee members wanted to arbitrate the legal case but they were advised by their attorney not to discuss the lawsuit.

Committee members replied that the trustees did not have to talk, just listen to what they had to say, Mohinder Singh said. “They did not listen, nor talk.”

The committee’s letter was written in English so that it could be used by the media or in a court of law, he said. “Everybody did due diligence. The conclusions were written by everybody.”

“We will fight that ban, person or Kirpan,” Satpal Singh added. “Ban any identity of the Sikhs, of course will fight that. Everything else is not our concern. Right now that is our concern.

“The damage has been done… but they can go back to court and ask the judge to remove it. Even now they are open to do that.”

But the trustees have no intention to ask the court to lift the bans until the lawsuit is decided.

They wrote to the jathedar on March 3: “At the conclusion of the court case, we will make every effort to get the U.S. courts to remedy any residual temporary restriction on Kirpan.”

The trial is set for April 12, a Monroe County court clerk said.

As a result of the Kirpan ban, the gurdwara cannot perform any Amrit Sanchar because the Kirpan cannot be unsheathed. And, if Jathedar Gurbachan Singh wants to visit the Gurdwara of Rochester, he must get permission to wear his Kirpan.

“That is absurd,” Khalsa said.


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
“In view of the frequent fights taking place in three nearby gurdwaras, (and) out of concerns for the personal safety of the congregation, our attorney sought a preliminary injunction on (three) families and Kirpan as long as the lawsuit was going on,” Badesha said in an email to SikhNN.

I would be curious to know more of the "frequent fights taking place in three nearby gurdwaras." If anyone knows of these, please feel free to post the story. How "near" is "nearby?"

Rochester is in the northwestern part of New York state on Lake Ontario. It therefore shares a boundary cutting through the lake with Canada; approximately 100 miles from Brighton and Prince Edward Canada. By land Rochester is about 50 miles from Canada to the west and 200 miles to the northeast.

With the exception of the cities of Buffalo and Albany, other New York State gurdwaras are found in the eastern part of the state about 200 to 250 miles from Rochester. Buffalo is about 50 miles from Rochester to the west, and Albany about 150 miles away to the east. Gurdwaras in Mississaugga, Brampton and Toronto, all to the west/northwest in Canada, are about 150 miles from Rochester.

Posted here is the link to gurdwaras in New York State http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gurdwaras_in_the_United_States#New_York
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