LOS ANGELES, USA—On November 10, an all-day seminar claiming to honor Guru Gobind Singh at Loyola Marymount University was interrupted at the outset when a Singh raised his voice in protest as the event organizers attempted to place a turban on Indian Consul General Ambassador Venkatesan Ashok.
“Dr. Sahota would like to come up and honor Ashokji before we begin,” said the mistress of ceremonies, referring to Harvinder Sahota.
“I protest this activity,” declared Bhajan Singh as Sahota reached for the turban. Speaking to Ashok, he continued, “Guru Gobind Singh is a warrior. You are a coward. You have killed so many people near New Delhi. We are suffering. You are coming here representing the government. You say Guru Gobind Singh is defender of truth. You are, right here, representing untruth. You say Guru Gobind Singh represents equality. You represent caste. You are casteist. you belong to the Hindutva forces. You have no business coming here to represent Guru Gobind Singh. We condemn you for coming here.”
The seminar was co-sponsored by the Consulate General of India, the Indian Government’s Ministry of Culture, and the Sikh & Jain Professorship of Loyola Marymount University. As Singh protested, organizers called security and threatened him with arrest.
“I don’t mind, you can arrest me, but you cannot put a turban,” said Singh. “That’s disgraceful to put a turban on this consul…. Take the turban away!”
The sparsely attended seminar soon broke into disorder as organizers called a break, encouraged the audience to drink chai, and people filtered out. Meanwhile, a few people sat beside Bhajan and tried to physically restrain him. “Don’t touch me,” he shouted. “Take your hands off me.” One woman sitting in the row in front of him reached back and slapped him with a brochure.
Most of the audience appeared to be members of 3H0, a sect founded by Yogi Bhajan and considered by most Sikhs to be a cult. In his protest, Singh referenced sexual abuse allegations leveled against the yogi, who died in 2004.
As security guards and seminar organizers surrounded him, Singh would not be deterred and continued raising slogans of “Raj Karega Khalsa,” “Mulnivasi Zindabad,” and “Hindutva Sikhs Murdabad.”
The week before the seminar, other Sikh leaders spoke out against the Indian Consulate’s participation.
“This November, we remember the 33rd anniversary of the genocide of Sikhs in Delhi by the Indian government,” said Balbir Singh Dhillon, President of West Sacramento Sikh Gurdwara. “The genocide was openly orchestrated by the Indian government, but the perpetrators have never been brought to justice. Meanwhile, while we mourn the memory of the greatest tragedy in living memory which our community ever suffered, the same government which organized it has the arrogance to organize a seminar about our Guru.”
Additionally, Jaswinder Singh Jandi, the former president of Fremont Sikh Gurdwara, remarked, “Guru Gobind Singh, like his predecessors, made it his mission to ally with and empower the lowest of the low, especially those treated as Untouchables and known today as Dalits.” Jandi concluded, “When the Hindu nationalists in power in Delhi today are doing everything they can to preserve the caste system and suppress the liberation of Dalits and other downtrodden people, it’s deeply offensive that they would seek to co-opt the legacy of our Gurus.”