US Sikhs Celebrate Guru Gobind Singh's 350th Birthday and Army Rules Change

Ravi Chaudhary was honored by GGSF Chairman, Sarabjit Singh Sidhu.

Washington, January 10, 2017: Over 450 members of the Sikh community from across the Washington area came together to celebrate the 350th birth-anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru and the announcement of new regulations by Pentagon which will allow Sikhs to serve in the United States Army with their turbans and beards. The U.S. Army specifically announced a new policy that permits religious exemptions for uniform regulations, allowing for beards, turbans, hijabs and other signs of religious devotion.

The celebrations were held at the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation Gurdwara (GGSF) in Rockville, Maryland.

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Joining in the celebrations was Ravi Chaudhary, a former Pentagon official and who served as a member of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who said, "Guru Gobind Singh 350 years ago, Bhagat Singh Thind 100 years ago, and Dalip Singh Saund 60 years ago all knew this fact: We must, as a nation, remain exemplars in the principles of tolerance and inclusion. It is who we are, in communities all across this great land—and with the new regulations allowing Sikhs to serve in the Army with their articles of faith, we are better for it.

He added, "We must realize that there can be no dagger into the heart of bigotry and divisiveness than to see ALL of the world’s cultures, standing visibly in one formation, united against hate. Different in our appearance, but united in our principles. Those are the principles that brought my family to this nation, and principles that I have, and will continue to defend with my life if need be.

Dr. Rajwant Singh, Secretary of GGSF and the chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education said, “This is a historic day for Sikhs in the United States. Sikhs have been campaigning for quite some time to get the restrictions removed and we were pressing the White House to push the changes in the waning days of the Obama Administration. We are thankful to President Obama and the Secretary of Army Eric Fanning for making sure that these restrictions against religious articles are removed. Sikhs are thrilled and there are many young people who are eager to serve. This will provide an opportunity to people of faith who are loyal and patriotic Americans to serve this country with dignity and without compromising their faith.”

He added, “This is a well-timed policy change that the Department of Defense and the White House made for the Sikh community since it aligns with the auspicious occasion of the 350th birth-anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru, who taught us to stand up for who you are and work for the religious freedom of all.”

Rajwant Singh of the National Sikh Campaign (NSC) had pressed Obama twice during the holiday reception in 2015 and 2016 on this issue and NSC Policy Director, Jas Sajjan and Dr. Singh also lobbied Valerie Jarrett, top political advisor to Obama, Melissa Rogers, the Director of the White House Offie of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Cecelia Munoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Office at the White House, also visited the Sikh gurdwaras in Washington area and had informed the community that the administration is actively seeking the change of policy.

Rajwant Singh added, “The hard work of many Sikh organizations like Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, and United Sikhs ought to be appreciated which has resulted in this major achievement. Sikh service members who fought this battle while being part of the United States Armed Forces also deserve a salute from the community. Many members of U.S. Senate and Congress played a key role in pushing the Pentagon on the religious accommodation and Sikhs had a bi-partisan support on this issue.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Sikh Coalition, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and McDermott Will & Emery, had demanded that the Army accommodate articles of faith.

Sarabjit Singh Sidhu, Chairman of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, honored the guests on behalf of the attendees. He said, “Sikh community is proud to be part of this nation and we must practice our faith fearlessly and make sure others have the same opportunity. This would be the best representation of the values taught by Guru Gobind Singh ji whose life is being celebrated today.”

Gurpreet Singh Bhatia, Former Legislative Fellow, office of the US Senator Cory Booker, who organized a Sikh briefing recently at the Capitol Hill, said, "The US Army rule change allowing Sikhs and religious minorities to serve while wearing articles of faith is a great victory - but we must not become complacent as this is a long journey. We must use all means of redress to right any wrongs, actively participate in all venues, and have our voices counted. Let’s move forward, be inclusive, and grow together."

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Dilpreet Kaur Sidhu, an official from the National Security Council at the White House, who worked closely with the National Security Advisor to President Obama, also joined the celebrations. She said, “There is lot of work to be done. The administration worked really hard to achieving in what they did and there a lot more to be done. There are not too many Sikhs working in the Federal government. It is important that we encourage Sikh youth to opt for career in public service. This helps the long term interests of the community.”

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Manjit Singh, Chairman of SALDEF, said, “This is a huge accomplishment for Sikhs and lot of hard work has been going on for many years. This is the result of that continued struggle but we need to continue. Only one agency has changed the rules and we need to work on other agencies. This would be possible only with the support of the community. Our youth ought to step forward to utilize the policy which has been changed in our favor.”

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