Sikh Americans agog over Obama’s Amritsar tripBy Arun Kumar, IANS
Sunday, October 17, 2010
WASHINGTON - To the delight of Sikh Americans, US President Barack Obama, the first chief executive to celebrate Guru Nanak’s birthday at the White House, is expected to visit Sikhs’ holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in India’s Amritsar city.
While Obama’s schedule for his visit to India next month has not been announced, he and First Lady Michelle Obama are expected to spend a few hours in Amritsar Nov 7, after an overnight stay in Mumbai in a tribute to the victims of the November 2008 terror attack.
“It’s really a dream come true moment,” Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education and executive director of Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, told IANS. He was at the forefront of community leaders urging Obama to visit the Golden Temple.
“This is absolutely a joyous moment for Sikhs not just in America but all over the world,” he said. “I have been receiving scores of e-mails and calls from not only all across America but from also people in Punjab and Delhi and everywhere - even from Australia and the Middle East!”
Analysts also see “a strategic component” to Obama’s decision to visit the Golden Temple as his administration has great respect and admiration for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom they look up to as a man of immense wisdom and counsel.
Rajwant Singh said he thought of asking Obama to visit the shrine when during the state dinner last November, the president told Manmohan Singh about the Guru Nanak birthday celebrations at the White House.
“This was such a complete surprise and such a wonderful and great gesture.”
Rajwant Singh said he wrote to the White House last July suggesting a visit to the Golden Temple, saying it would “be a wonderful gesture since it’s a symbol of inter-faith understanding”.
He pointed out that “the foundation stone of the temple was laid by a Muslim saint and the temple itself was constructed by Hindus and Sikhs and visited by people of all faiths from all over the world”.
“I also mentioned that Punjab shares 370 miles (592 km) of border with Pakistan and it will be a powerful message by the president to South Asia if he visits the temple.”
If Obama visits the temple, “Americans will come to know about Sikhs and what Sikhism is all about”, Rajwant Singh wrote. “This will hopefully help to remove some of the misunderstandings and misperceptions about Sikhs in America.”
Another reason for the Obamas’ visit to Amritsar could be Michelle Obama’s little known Punjab connection.
According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, her uncle Nomenee Robinson served in Punjab in 1961 as a volunteer of the Peace Corps started by former president John F. Kennedy to improve health, education and economic prospects of developing nations.
Life was hard for Robinson, then a young architect and city planner working in Chicago’s Water Department “with an itch for adventure and a desire to help others”.
“Robinson had to use bricks made of sand and straw and just a dab of cement. He was on constant guard not to offend his hosts with an easygoing joke. And once, while he was building trekking huts in the Himalayas, his pack horses were killed by wild animals,” the Tribune said.
Yet through every difficulty, his enthusiasm never flagged. “There was a challenge in understanding how to work with another culture,” Robinson, now 73, a retired businessman-turned Peace Corps recruiter, was quoted as saying. “That excited me.”
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)