As part of the celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev — the founder of Sikhism — the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC hosted an event and reception on Capitol Hill on the philosophy and teachings of Guru Nanak, where there was unanimity that his principles were even more relevant today in the current environment of polarization and divisiveness.
Indiana Senator Todd Young, a Republican, who kicked off the event at the Hart Senate building on Nov. 12 that was attended by nearly 300 attendees, said, “While radical for his day some 500 years ago, the teachings of the first Sikh guru who we celebrate today were consistent with our nation’s founding principles and teaching that everyone, regardless of gender, regardless of class, regardless of creed, everyone has been created equal.”
Young, who had also introduced a resolution in the Senate on the occasion of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary, and lauded both his large Sikh American constituency and the historical, cultural, and religious significance of the Sikh Americans and their contributions to the United States, observed this profound impact across the U.S. by Sikh Americans was because of their undying fidelity to the teachings of the faith’s first guru.
Democratic U.S. Representative Judy Chu of California, the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and also a founding member of the Congressional Sikh Caucus, said, “Guru Nanak’s life was a true example to all of us and one whose lessons we would do well to heed today.
“Guru Nanak was a true humanitarian champion in the face of entrenched discrimination. He preached against prejudices based on race, caste and status. He called it the equality of all individuals no matter what religion they practiced or caste they belonged to. He promoted the equality of all women during a time when women had low status and little respect within society,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Greg Pence (R.-Ind.), who had earlier in the day taken to the House floor to recognize the day, said that “Indiana is proud to be home of over 10,000 Sikhs that enrich our communities, embody the meaning of Hoosier values. Hoosier Sikhs are one of the fastest growing business communities in Indiana.” Hoosier is a reference to someone who is a native or inhabitant of Indiana.
Celebrating Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary, three influential Democratic U.S. Senators — Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Ben Cardin of Maryland, introduced a resolution in the US Senate recognizing the historical, cultural, and religious significance of Sikh Americans and their contributions to the United States.
“Sikh Americans have added to the social, cultural, and economic diversity of the United States, including by serving as members of our Armed Forces and have contributed to fields as diverse as agriculture, information technology, hospitality, trucking, and medicine,” Durbin said.
“I’m honored to introduce this resolution with Senators Menendez and Cardin recognizing the many contributions and accomplishments of Sikh Americans and the 550th birthday of Guru Nanak.” Menendez added, “The Sikh community has made countless contributions to civic life in New Jersey and the United States across so many endeavors in the public and private sectors,” and noted, “As this resolution describes, America is a better country thanks to Sikhs from all walks of life.”
Cardin, for his part, also spoke of how “Sikh-Americans have been a proud part of the American story for generations and they continue to enrich our nation and the communities in which they live.”
“I thank the Sikh community for their ongoing social, cultural and economic contributions, and for their courage to stand up against racial and religious discrimination against their community and others,” he added.
India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, speaking at the Nov. 12 event, said, “We are very happy of course, that on this particular day we have at the Capitol Hill such an important event that involves not only discourse on Sikh religion and history, but also the disproportionate contribution of Sikh American community to your country of citizenship.
“We are very happy that we are celebrating this historic occasion in the Senate, in Congress,” he said, and added, “It is pertinent that we are celebrating this in the U.S. which has been a beacon of the values of equality and freedom of all human beings, values that are at the core of Sikh philosophy”.
He also noted that the opening of the Kartarpur corridor between India and Pakistan was “a historic day,” and that the Indian government has taken several actions to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, both in the U.S. and across the world, in addition to the celebrations in India.
The event also featured an exhibition on the life and message of Guru Nanak, two panel discussions on the life and philosophy on him, andthe contributions of Sikh Americans to the United States.
There was also screening of a documentary on the first Indian American elected to the U.S. Congress, Dalip Singh Saund, a Sikh, who won on the Democratic ticket to represent California’s District 29 in the House of Representatives in 1956, and served from Jan. 3, 1957 to Jan. 3, 1963.