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Obama’s visit to Golden Temple

21 October, 2010

By Ishaal Zehra


The Golden Temple in Amritsar

According to the New York Times, US President Barack Obama has cancelled a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar — Sikhism’s holiest shrine —  where he would be required to cover his head in line with the religion’s practices.       

During his state visit to India early next month, Obama was scheduled to tour the Golden temple in India, which is supposed to be cancelled over apparent (rather weird) concerns that photos of him with his head covered would revive claims he is a Muslim.

The Golden Temple of Amritsar got the world wide fame after the 1984 Sikh Massacre by the then government of India headed by Ms Indira Gandhi. This golden temple issue along with the 16th-century Babri Mosque’s demolition (which was once famous for its Mughal architecture) followed by huge Muslim massacre back in 1992, are the nastiest jewels in the crown of Indian democracy. Not very far behind them is the unforgettable anti Christian violence in Orrisa back in 2008.

For Mr. Obama, who seems to be seeking to cement the crucial but sometimes testy relationship between two of the world’s biggest democracies, the temple and the Babri mosque in Ayodhiya could supposedly be two of few possible milieu that could be intended to convey America’s kinship with India’s minorities.

The President`s visit to India in November has been marked with heightened jubilation, especially from the Sikh community but to the dismay of Sikhs in Amritsar, according to informed sources, though the American leader’s programme in India was still being finalised, he was unlikely to visit Amrtisar.

The Sikh community in India, on the other hand, expressed disappointment.

“We do expect people to cover their heads. Obama is welcome inside the temple. He could just wear a cap,” said Gurubachan Singh, a senior official from the Golden Temple management trust.

As per the recent press release of UNITED SIKHS, Avtar Singh Makkar, the President of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), told the President of UNITED SIKHS, Kuldip Singh, that they imposed no restrictions on how President Obama could cover his head.

Mr. Makkar further stated that: "The only requirement is that his head is covered and that his shoes are removed inside the Darbar Sahib complex, as is the custom for all visitors. It is to remember that most tourists use simple squares of cloth sold outside the temple.

The Sikh community in India believes President Obama not visiting Harmandar Sahib would be a missed opportunity to educate the world community about rights of minorities generally, and specifically, the distinctiveness of the Sikh identity.In the past, both the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Queen of England covered their heads while visiting Harmandar Sahib.

Moreover, the rampant misinformation is in direct contrast to the President`s actions of championing religious tolerance and diversity.  For example, President Obama has always been comfortable and respected the customs of other faith traditions, as exhibited by his trip to the Wailing Wall in Israel where he wore a yarmulke.  Thus, the recent news must be viewed with some skepticism.

During his visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, President Obama wearing a yarmulke.

Earlier, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, SGPC made it clear that US President Barack Obama may sport anything on his head, a golf cap if he likes, as and when he enters the Golden Temple.

For a religious minority group that has often remained invisible to the world, the Sikh community in India had the enviable opportunity to welcome for the first time a head of state from the United States, which is now seems to get impossible. But the question is why this cap issue is being taken so seriously? If president Obama can wear a yarmulke which more or less looks like a cap then what is the issue of covering head with a piece of cloth or something? Or is it really the Indian government who does not want their cruel face to be shown to the president hence avoiding his trip to the golden temple and not having a trip to the 16th century Babri mosque residue left after its demolition by the fanatic Hindus in 1992. Or may be the Indian government is keen to the idea of declaiming ‘All is Well’ again and again with closed eyes hence does not want the president Obama open the grey chapters of Indian history by visiting such controversial places.

Americans are likely to inform the Indian side about a change in the President’s plan when the US Under Secretary of State William Burns and chief point person for South Asia Robert Blake visit New Delhi for a final round of talks to set the agenda for Obama’s visit. but a solemn request to the president Obama is that when Obama, who is likely to arrive in Mumbai on November 6, is supposed to stay at the Taj Hotel, which was one of the places attacked on November 26, 2008 and is also scheduled to visit other spots that were attacked by the terrorists that night, apparently to express solidarity with India in its fight against terrorism, then why cant he express harmony to the Indian minorities of Sikhs and Muslims by visiting their Holy places, none the less they make a part of India too.

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