Date with Dayton Sikhs Amritsarite Sikhs in the USA on awareness mission about Sikh religion Varinder Walia Tribune News Service Keeping faith alive: Kirtan in progress at a church in the United States. Sikhs singing sacred hymns from Guru Granth Sahib in a church! It may sound strange. But the relentless efforts of some Amritsarite Sikhs have made this unique instance of communal harmony a reality. The recitation of hymns from Gurbani and the singing of Jagat jalandaa rakh lai aapne kirpaa dhaar and Jo maangeh thaakur apunay tay in an American church in the United States of America was a tribute to the spirit of communal harmony and brotherhood. In their endeavour to create awareness about the principles of non-violence, the Dayton Sikhs joined the 7th Annual Season for Nonviolence and Peace to remember Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi for their contribution in forging world peace. The programme was held in the Chapel of the United Theological Seminary. On this occasion, the Sikhs were invited especially to pray for the world peace. All present in the church thanked the Sikhs for being a part of this event, and expressed their willingness to learn more about Sikhism and visit the gurdwara in Dayton. It was indeed a great occasion for Sikh boys and girls. There is yet more. A small group of Amritsarite boys, including Sameep Singh Gumtala, Tejdeep Singh Rattan and Simarpreet Singh Rattan (all cousins), deserve kudos for getting Punjab’s Baisakhi – the famous festival — recognition from Americans. The joyous music and dance marking Punjab’s New Year is now celebrated on the soil of America with same fervour and zeal as in the land of its origin. The Sikh Exhibition on the occasion of Baisakhi was organised for the first time at Wright State University (WSU), Ohio. Dr Dan Abrahamowicz, vice-president of the Student Affairs and Enrolment Services, WSU, paid tributes to Guru Gobind Singh on the occasion and said that the exhibition had greatly increased his understanding about Sikhism. Visitors also enjoyed gatka (Sikh martial art) performed by young artistes Harjas Singh and Gurshan Singh of Cincinnati, and energetic Punjabi folk dance bhangra performed by student and guest artistes. While Sikhs have suffered due to many cases of ‘mistaken identity’ after 9/11 attack on twin towers, the scene of turban-tying session by Englishmen in America definitely came as a pleasant surprise to the community. The American girls did not lag behind; they also evinced keen interest in wearing turbans — thanks to the efforts of Amritsarites. Some of the American youths did not shave their beards for more than three months to present themselves as gabhrus (youths) from Punjab and attended their classes in the university. The Sikhs have been in the United States for almost a hundred years, and because of their multifarious qualities and open-mindedness, they have earned recognition at their work places. Despite their long and significant stay in the United States and the fact that the Sikhs have served the allied forces during World War I and II, many people still mistake a Sikh for a person from the Middle East. The Sikhs suffered the most during the backlash period of September 11th when they were mistaken as followers of Osama Bin Laden. The hate crimes claimed the life of innocent Sikh Balbir Singh Sodhi. This crime sent shock waves among the Sikhs. Realising the need to share the heritage, the Sikhs from Dayton decided to reach out to public in order to make people aware about the Sikh faith and culture, and to make them have a better understanding of the Sikh religion. Amritsar-born Dr Kuldip Singh Rattan, Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, along with Tarn Taran-born Dr Darshan Singh Sehbi, Assistant Professor, School of Medicine, approached the media to tell them that 99 per cent of the turbaned people living in the US were Sikhs and that they were peace-loving people and they had no connection with the 9/11 incident. They then participated in different inter-faith activities. Dr Rattan made a presentation on the “Manifestation of universal peace and the concept of universal brotherhood in Sikhism” at the Religious Founders’ Day on November 14, 2001, in Dayton. In March 2004, the Sikh Student Association, headed by Sameep Singh Gumtala, was formed at Wright State University with a purpose of introducing and promoting awareness of the Sikh faith, culture and identity among students and faculty of the university. The association planned events, seminars and lectures to highlight the Sikh vision and spirit, and engaged in dialogue with student representatives of other faiths to propagate acceptance, mutual respect and appreciation of other beliefs. The man behind these events has been Sameep Singh Gumtala, currently a PhD student in Electrical Engineering at Wright State University, and his cousin Tejdeep Singh Rattan, who is doing master’s degree in Human Factors Engineering from the same university. Simarpreet Singh Rattan, who also hails from Amritsar, received his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in June 2005. All three of them prepared exhibits covering wide ranging topics about Sikh history and culture, teachings of Sikh gurus, status and role of women in Sikh history, message of universal brotherhood, importance of sewa in the Sikh way of life, Sikh warriors, the contribution of the Sikhs in World War I, II and India’s freedom struggle, and distinctive quality of turbans worn by the Sikhs. Appreciating the efforts, Richard Perales, the then Mayor of Beavercreek, Ohio, said that he had enjoyed his close association with the Sikh community. Recalling his association with the Sikhs, he said he was impressed by the concept of langar. “It is inspiring to see people, irrespective of their status, partaking of the food during langar,” he said, while recalling his first visit to the Dayton gurdwara. He also said that he was amazed to see Amit Singh, son of Dr Kuldip Singh Rattan who played American football for Beavercreek High School, serving common kitchen (langar) to the congregation with humility and devotion. Interestingly, these days the Sikh wedding has also become a topic of discussion in the Wright State University Center for International Education (UCIE). The university’s coffee hour held every Friday provides students a platform to meet people of different countries and explore their cultures. One such coffee hour was about “Weddings in different cultures”. The presentation included Swedish and Sikh Indian weddings. Using power point slides, posters and videos, Simarpreet, an engineering student, highlighted various aspects of wedding, starting with elaborate pre-wedding preparations by families and relatives of bride and groom. Video clips of bhangra and gidha depicting the festive mood during a wedding were shown. The audience appreciated the presentation on anand karaj — the ceremony of bliss — which is something very unique and auspicious in a Sikh marriage.