FREMONT, California, USA—Fremont might be a small city located in the Bay Area of California, but its one and only Gurdwara has been the center of Sikh religious and political affairs throughout North America for decades. Be it oppression by the Indian Government or hate crimes in the United States, Fremont Gurdwara has provided a platform for Sikhs to raise their voice. In California, control of Fremont Gurdwara is a symbol of power and strength and for this very reason, different organizations have tried to take over control of the Gurdwara from time to time.
Although today Fremont Gurdwara offers a very peaceful atmosphere, the situation has not always been this way. In fact, not too long ago, the same Gurdwara was once a home for murky politics, and violence. After intense efforts by local Sikh Sangat and Panthik groups, the Gurdwara has been able to achieve its current harmony.
The current committee of Fremont Gurdwara Sahib—Sikh Panchayat—has alleged that if the opposing party comes into power, the ambiance and sense of community at the Gurdwara will change. The current committee members have put forward serious concerns against the opposing committee by alleging that some members may be supported by the Indian Government. In a public post, Fremont Gurdwara Sahib committee has challenged the opposing “Bay Area Sikh Alliance” (BASA) for an open debate, stating that in the past, members of the BASA have held meetings at the Indian Consulate General in San Francisco.
In addition, the following status was shared by the Sikh Panchayat, “We have posted picture of Charhdi Kala directors with Indian Consulate… We all know they did fundraiser for Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana too. It’s very hard to understand on which side they belong to. People think they raised over $93,000 but Bhai Rajoana received $37,000. We do not want to accuse for any wrong doing but why don’t they issue a list of contributors so people see their names and amount to see their transparency about Bhai Rajoana Fundraising.“
The Indian Consul is an official of the Indian Government which has discriminated against Sikhs for some time. The office is known to have denied visas to and profiled Sikhs. If allegations by the current committee are true, the Indian Consulate might be trying to infiltrate Gurdwara control to oppress the voice of the Sikh community.
There are concerns from many in the community that If BASA comes into power, it will definitely allow anti-Sikh preachers to hold programs from the Gurdwara. Currently, the Gurdwara adheres to all mandates by the Akal Takht Sahib; however, some BASA committee supporters are known to oppose the Supreme Sikh Authority. Although BASA has promised to implement Rehit Maryada approved by Akal Takht Sahib, it should be remembered that Fremont Gurdwara has a very diverse sangat and despite their differences, everyone is happy to do seva together. A forceful implementation of any differing maryada may cause issues within the sangat.
The current committee is young, non-partisan, and very educated. They have started physics, algebra, trigonometry, and calculus tutoring programs. In addition they have held public speaking classes, Gurbani memorization competitions, children’s Raag darbars, and monthly Gurmat camps. Students travel from as far as El Sobrante to attend weekly kirtan classes held at Fremont Gurdwara.
However, there is always room for improvement and Fremont Gurdwara could also benefit from positive changes. If the current committee stays true to its promises of improving the Khalsa School, Langar Hall facility, and dire parking situation, that will benefit the Sikh Sangat greatly. In the past, there have also been concerns that the Fremont Gurdwara Committee has allowed weddings or “Anand Karaj” with a lack of Gurmat maryada, or Sikh principles. It allows families to partake in non-Sikh practices such as varmala and wearing of kalgi during weddings. The current committee has also received flak for using the “Shaheed Sant Bhindranwale” hall for party type banquet setups where caterers with waiters are brought in for a standing group of diners—many of these practices go against the spirit of Langar, or Guru’s free kitchen. Facilities for sevadars at the Gurdwara also need much improvement.
For their part, BASA claims that Fremont Gurdwara doesn’t have a need to invest into additional facilities as multiple cities are working on building new Gurdwaras. BASA has claimed that when cities likes Union City, Dublin, and Livermore will have their own Gurdwaras, parking and kitchen expansion projects at Fremont Gurdwara will serve no purpose. BASA has also demanded that Fremont Gurdwara shares its finances transparently with the sangat.
Fremont Gurdwara Committee has already published its finances online. And with all the positive changes, sangat has grown noticeably, thus requiring the parking and langar expansions. One of the biggest reasons for the need is on major holidays and gurpurabs such as New Years and Bandi Chor Diwas (Diwali) as well as other large programs.