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Three Stellar Speakers at Guru Nanak's Birth Anniversary

January 2005
Three Stellar Speakers at Guru Nanak's Birth Anniversary

The Sikh American Society of Georgia hosted a seminar honoring Guru Nanak on his birth anniversary on 5th December at Global Mall. The packed event turned out to be a thought provoking, poignant evening of shared memories, passionate appeals and a lesson in understanding the key values given by Guru Nanak

After a brief social networking session, an ardas by Bhai Karnail and the singing of a shabad written by Guru Nanak, Surinder Lalli, welcomed the audience reiterating SASGA's mission of creating political awareness within the Sikh American community and integrating the community into mainstream America without losing their Sikh identity. Lalli then introduced Valarie Kaur Brar, a dynamic 23 year old third generation Sikh American who has worked on many social justice issues and co-founded Stanford's first course on Sikhism. She won the gold medal for her honors thesis, on post 9/11 prejudice. Kaur, now attends Harvard graduate school and studies violence and its relationship with religion.

Kaur said growing up and coming to terms with her ethnicity and religion became easier when her grandfather gave her several books on Sikhism and she learnt that all religions lead to the same divine source, all are equal, and to reach God you must reach out to others through prayer; that salvation comes in this world itself through your deeds and actions. The turning point in her life came at age 20, watching the atrocities on Sikhs post 9/11 and the hatred that she saw in the eyes of a man who tapped her car window and asked contemptuously "are you Muslim"? The shooting of Balbir Singh Sodhi, as a result of mistaken identity sent her into depression. Then Nanak's words echoed in her ears "To realize yourself you must act," and she decided to do just that. Along with her cousin brother Amandeep, she traveled all over the country videotaping the experiences of Sikh Americans post September 11. She even went to Punjab to meet with the widow of Sodhi who told her to thank the American people for coming out in such large numbers at her husband's funeral. She chose to remember that love and not the hatred that took her husband's life. The documented footage is now being converted into a full length documentary and Kaur is trying to raise funds to make sure it is completed the way it has been envisioned.

Kaur reminded the audience that it took president Bush 10 days after September 11 to say the Sikhs are Americans too. It makes her believe even more strongly that the difference between speaking up and staying silent becomes the difference between life and death.

Valarie Kaur's poignant speech was followed by T Sher Singh's observation that if you look around there are so many little miracles, unexpected " barkat" to see in one's life. Sher Singh is not only one of Canada's most outstanding lawyers, a wonderful speaker and writer, but also one of the most philanthropic men around . He said that Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world today and also the simplest to understand. You hear God's name taken in 900 different ways ? he is called Hari, he is called Allah and not once does a Sikh feel anything is amiss. You don't need any special qualifications to lead a congregation ? that is what makes Sikhism and the teachings of Guru Nanak so universally appealing. All that Sikhism asks is that human beings lead a balanced life. It's the imbalance that causes the disharmony. Singh then recalled some personal miracles that had others nodding their heads as their own memories of similar experiences came back to them.

The final speaker Justice Mota Singh came from England to participate in the seminar and is the first Asian to have been appointed a judge in England. Mota Singh said true religion, has no boundaries and there is an even greater need for interfaith dialogue in the world today. It is a global world and people are so interdependent on each other. If religion is part of the problem, then religion must also be part of the solution. Mota Singh ended with the key message," "Either we live together in peace as God's children or we perish. We have to decide. It cannot be left to chance."

The thought provoking speeches were followed by a question and answer session, a vote of thanks by Dr Inderpal Singh and Mr. Manohar Singh, gifts of appreciation to the speakers and a sumptuous dinner provided by J.T. Ahluwalia of Bombay Caf�.

- Kavita Chhibber

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