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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Open Letter to Minister Conor Lenihan

Minister Conor Lenihan T.D.
Leinster House, Dublin 2
Phone: 459 6285
Fax: 451 2002
conor.lenihan@oireachtas.ie

August 16th, 2007

Sartaj Singh Dhami
Washington, DC

Minister Lenihan:

Thanks to the power of the Internet, recently I read in the news how a Sikh male in your country (link 1, link 2) of Ireland wished to volunteer as a reserve in your police force of Garda Siochana. Unfortunately, this Sikh was not allowed to due to his distinctive identity of wearing a turban which is mandate of the religion Sikhism.

Furthermore, news reports have stated your comment about social integration that “If we are to take integration seriously, people who come here must understand our way of doing things.” You went on to add that “When the president and ministers travel to the Middle East, they accept cultural requirements of the country and the culture they are operating in. It is a vice versa situation with regard to Ireland.”

I wanted to share with you some thoughts as you potentially work towards resolving this matter positively:

1. The literal translation of Garda Siochana, as I understand it, means the Guardians of the Peace of Ireland. As you learn more about the Sikh history and culture, which I’m sure you’ve had some experience as you were a reporter in London for some time, one of its core essence is to promote peace and social harmony throughout society. As both Canada and the UK have learned, having Sikhs in the police force can be an asset (whether it be cultural understandings or language translations) especially when targeting areas that have a high population concentration of Indian/Pakistani descent.

2. On your comments of Middle East cultures, you should understand that Sikhs are not from that area of the world. Although some still continue to confuse this, Sikhs originate from Punjab which is now a portion of land split between Pakistan and India. Many Sikhs migrated to East Punjab and now call India their home. So it is a bit unfair to impose the cultural influences of the Middle East to Sikhs who are not from that area. If anything, you’ll come to learn that a strong Punjabi cultural trait is to welcome and love guests as if they family members. Another trait of Punjabis, and strongly embraced by Sikhs, is to promote good will wherever they go. This trait has benefited many countries as Sikhs have formed their own Diaspora around the World.

3. Indeed the Sikh population of Ireland has made great strides to understand Ireland’s way of life as well as accept the cultural requirements of your Country. In particular, Sikhs have participated in various high profile parades in Ireland demonstrating their love for your Country as well as their cultural pride. Under the banner of the Irish Sikh Council, Sikhs have participated in both the Saint Patrick’s Festival Ireland and the Festival of World Cultures. In both of these events, Ireland is promoting its duty towards integration by highlighting its unique diversity. You can see photos of the Irish Sikh Council’s participation at the following web link:

http://news.restoringthepride.com/2007/03/sikhs-in-ireland-cool.html

4. Final thought: I’d argue that a central theme that Ireland has shared with the world is to promote good will and harmony for all. One of Ireland’s greatest Sons is Paul David Hewson, better known as U2’s singer Bono, who shares this theme with the world with his various humanitarian and social goodness based efforts.

Personally I feel that as we start to learn about various world cultures, democratic establishments need to work towards integration efforts versus easily accepting ideals of assimilation. Unfortunately as experienced by this sole Sikh who wanted to participate in Ireland’s civil service by volunteering, the incorrect principles of segregation cannot be tolerated in this new modern era.

As Integration Minister, I encourage you to find a proactive solution that will make the Sikh Diaspora feel even more welcomed in Ireland.

Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts. Although I am not a citizen of Ireland, I felt inclined to share my thoughts thanks to the digital email revolution that we live in.

Very Respectfully,

Sartaj Singh Dhami
Washington, DC

Sikhs in Ireland
Sikhs love Ireland. Why not love them back?

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sikhs in Ireland? Cool!

Irish Sikh community participate at St Patrick’s Festival Parade in Ireland

Gurvinder Singh and Jasvir Singh carrying the penant.Gurvinder Singh and Jasvir Singh carrying the penant.

Dublin, 22 Mar 2007:

Irish Sikh Community displayed their rich cultural heritage this weekend by participating at the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, one of the most celebrated events in Ireland.

The Sikh pageant was organised by Irish Sikh Council. With the theme of the parade being ‘Legendaries’, the Sikh community pageant was titled “Portraits of Courage” displaying the sheer valour and the vibrant cultural beauty that marked the golden era of Sikh rule in Punjab.

The two hour parade route was flocked by millions of spectators. Parade was kick-started at Parnell Square on a very positive note and the response received was outstanding. The outfits of both the gatka players and dancers were a fresh addition to the diverse assortment of costumes at the event and did not fail to engage the interest of onlookers. Parade was also watched by Honourable President Mrs Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Mr Bertie Ahern.

All the participants gave brilliant performance and despite the fact that both the Gatka demonstration and the dances were a bit more physically demanding than merely strutting along in the parade, as they required continuous expert body movement and synchronisation, all the participants had trained hard enough and were prepared to deliver their best. The performance also included a 9 feet Sikh warrior puppet and a float carrying the Nagara (Drum) that was specially brought over from UK for the event.

Fortunately enough, the rain too kept off for the two hours, while the cooling light drizzle was rather welcome. The parade drew over half million spectators and was broadcast live in Ireland and Germany. Over 70 TV channels from around the globe including Channel Punjab covered the event.

For a community just establishing itself, the pressure was immense to live up to the expectations of the parade, which is famous for its elaborate floats and colourful performances. Irish Sikh Council collaborated with Baba Deep Singh Gatka Akhara (Ireland), Baba Ajit Singh Gatka Akhara (UK), Soul of Punjab (Ireland) and Asli Baharan Punjab Diyan (UK) to
present well choreographed performance.

A lot of ground work went into preparing the performance. As per Harpreet Singh, President of Irish Sikh Council, “Preparations started from the Day 1 when we submitted application for participation at the parade in September last year. From drafting the theme on paper to presenting the performance at the parade, every member of Sikh community put lot of efforts in making this event a big success. Young children aged 5 and above enthusiastically practiced Gatka, every weekend regularly for nearly 6 months. After- school sessions were demanding on them, yet their enthusiasm and excitement was enough to ward off any lethargy.”

The skills of Irish Gatka team were brushed up by Surinder Singh and Gurmeet Singh Gill of Baba Deep Singh Gatka Akhara. The Bhangra team lead by Jagroop Singh from Soul of Punjab having already given over 60 stage performances were in equally high spirits as their Gatka counterparts in rehearsing for the parade.

Generating finances for the parade participation was another challenge for Irish Sikh Council. “We were provided 50% of funds by the St Patrick’s Festival Office. Raising another 50% was a big challenge. But we were surprised to see the immense support of the Sikh community. The
remaining funds were raised with in days” said Hardip Singh, treasurer for Irish Sikh Council.

“It was not work of a single person. Voluntary service by number of community members and support of the St Patrick Festival Office went a big way in helping organise the pageant. Designing of floats, arranging PA systems, booking training halls, choreography and a lot of other efforts went into preparing for the day”, Satwinder Singh, PR Officer, Irish Sikh Council.

“Sikhs are a law abiding, hardworking and vibrant community and have always given more then their capacity to the countries they live in. Irish Sikhs feel proud to have been part of the national festival of Ireland and thank everyone who helped achieve this.”

## END ###

For more information please contact:

Harpreet Singh
President, Irish Sikh Council
Phone: +353 (87) 260 5410
Email: hsingh@irishsikhcouncil.com

Satwinder Singh
PR officer, Irish Sikh Council
Phone: +353 (85) 729 4425
Email: ssingh@irishsikhcouncil.com

Irish Sikh Council
Office: 2 Tullyhall Court, Lucan, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Postal Address: PO Box 9828, Dublin 2, Ireland
Email: info@irishsikhcouncil.com
Website: www.irishsikhcouncil.com

About Irish Sikh Council (ISC):

Established in July 2004, Irish Sikh Council is a wholly independent and non-profit making organisation that aims to:

  • Advocate, campaign and make representations on the concerns and aspirations of the Sikh population, primarily of Republic of Ireland, onmatters of education, race equality, spiritual development, communityrelations and other matters of relevance to the status and development of the Sikhs in Ireland.
  • Promote good relations and harmony between the Sikhs and other communities in Ireland; and inform and guide Sikhs in Ireland to contribute and participate actively in the life and development of Ireland.
  • Promote responsible ethical and moral values in society.

Irish Sikh Council is involved in

  • Working with public bodies and public institutions to create understanding, inclusion and provision for the concerns and aspirations ofSikhs.
  • Disseminating and delivering accurate and useful information about Sikhs and Sikh lifestyle to public, voluntary and private bodies primarily in Republic of Ireland and if within scope and resources permitting, internationally.
  • Promoting understanding and practice of ethical lifestyle amongst Sikh population in Ireland, based on teachings of Guru Granth Sahib.
  • Initiating and supporting projects and activities in partnership with other groups and organisations (public, voluntary or private) which share the same aims and objectives as ISC.

About Sikhs in Ireland:

Sikhs over the years have migrated from Punjab to a number of countries all over the world, and clearly the Republic of Ireland happens to be one of them. Immigration of Sikhs to Island of Ireland started in early 1900's. The earliest immigrants to Northern Ireland were Sikhs who were mainly former members of the British army who arrived in the late 1920s from India via East Africa and Britain. They settled in the city of Derry. There are presently over 219 Sikhs in Northern Ireland (2001 Census), most have come from the Punjab. In 1990 the Northern Ireland Sikh Association was formed and shortly afterwards the Northern Ireland Sikh Cultural and Community Centre was established in the Waterside district of Derry.

In the Republic of Ireland there are about 800-1000 Sikhs, mainly living in and around Dublin, ranging from toddlers of a few months of age to the very elderly. Most are from the migrant generation and have settled comfortably, contributing to Irish society. There is also a small but
significant second generation of Sikhs, born and educated in Ireland. The Gurudwara in Dublin is the main centre, for community get together, prayers and community activities. In year 2004, Irish Sikh Council was established to represent and communicate needs of Sikh community in Republic of Ireland.

Sikhs are well known for their honest hard work and sincerity, two principles given them due regard in all professions. Thus in Ireland, Sikhs hold respectable positions in the areas of medicine, IT, business, the hotel and catering industry and only recently, a considerable number of Sikhs have shown a lot of interest for recruitment in An Garda Siochana. A sizeable portion of Sikhs here, also happen to be the third-level students pursuing various courses in universities such as Trinity College, the Royal College of Surgeons, DIT, Griffith College etc.

Sikhs have integrated exceptionally well in Ireland and have struck quite a good rapport with he Irish people. Ask any Sikh the reason for their smooth transition to the Irish society and the answer inevitably will be, the easy-going nature and warmth common to both the Irish and
Sikhs alike.

Infact, the blend of the Sikhs and Irish culture is more evident in the second generation of Sikhs - who may speak Punjabi at home but perfect their Irish at school; love chips and beans as much as they enjoy Allo-Gobhi and are as busy in their hurling practice as they are in Gurbani
(hymns in Guru Granth Sahib) lessons. All these children are proud representatives of two cultures at the same time -proof enough that the Sikh and the Irish culture do not contradict each other, but infact go hand-in-hand and serve to beautifully complement each other.

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