The trustee-plaintiffs and Amritdhaaree-defendants became involved in a lawsuit over the governance of the gurdwara in 2009. In an effort to keep the defendants from coming to the gurdwara, the trustees asked the Supreme Court of New York, in May 2010, to bar them and to ban Kirpans from the premises.
When the Akal Takhat jathedar was alerted to the Kirpan ban, the trustees then went back to court and asked for restrictions on Kirpans longer than six inches, which the court agreed to in January 2011.
That scenario also was not acceptable to the Akal Takhat. In a scathing March 2011 letter, the jathedar took particular aim at the head trustee, Santokh Badesha, and formed a special seven-member committee to investigate the case.
In their February 2013 report to the Akal Takhat, committee members also chastised the trustees, particularly Badesha, and recommended the Akal Takhat take strong action.
During the March meeting of the five-takhat jathedars, they decided to summon Badesha to appear at the Akal Takhat in person, with all the court documents. Their April 1 letter was mailed to Badesha, said Jaswinder Pal Singh, assistant to Akal Takhat Jathedar Gurbachan Singh. And, Badesha had to come within one month, he told SikhNN by phone.
Maghar Channa, a trustee who is also their spokesman, was asked several times about Badesha’s plan. But SikhNN did not receive a response until last week. The trustees’ new spokesman, Harbans Lal, of Texas, told SikhNN that the Akal Takhat’s letter did not indicate a date or time limit, so Badesha has not yet travelled to Amritsar.
An Akal Takhat spokesman said the jathedars usually give several opportunities for those they summon. “We’ll see,” he said.
Badesha has no plans to go to Amritsar. He and the trustees have sent a letter instead.
“We are in full agreement with your decision that the limitations on our religious symbol should be lifted and have taken concrete steps to remove all remaining court-imposed limitations on Kirpan at GOR, unconditionally and as soon as legally possible,” the trustees wrote.
Their attorney, Warren Rosenbaum, has asked the defendants to co-sign a request to the court to lift all restrictions on Kirpans, which would be “the fastest way to achieve our and your goal,” they said.
“The proposed additional modification would eliminate all remaining limitations on the Kirpan at the GOR,” Rosenbaum said in an April 16 letter to the defense attorney.
But the defendants would not agree unless Badesha also retracted statements he made about Sikh practices, including claims that the Kirpan is a dangerous weapon.
Many of his statements were made in a Nov. 12, 2010, affidavit, including one in which Badesha said he was a “baptized and life-long practicing Sikh,” even though he does not keep his Kesh or carry a Kirpan.
He also said: “Over the more than 300 years later, baptized Sikhs only carry a small 4-6” Kirpan customarily as an article of faith. A longer Kirpan, some of which are greater than 3 feet in length, is only carried during wedding ceremonies by the groom and/or religious leaders of the 5 Sikh shrines.”
And, “…Even most baptized Sikhs do not wear ceremonial swords for practical reasons.”
The Amritdhaaree-defendants want these and other statements removed. Their attorney, Michael Masino, conveyed their condition to Rosenbaum. The trustees did not agree. Rosenbaum filed a unilateral request to the court on April 18 to lift the ban, a more time-consuming process. In an April 19 letter, Masino explained the failed negotiations to the judge.
The trustees complained to the Akal Takhat that they did not know why the defendants declined to lift the ban. “We are at a loss to understand why would the defendant be working against your directive to remove the restriction on Kirpan in the gurdwara,” they said in their April 20 letter.
“The concern is… that the affidavit is a matter of public record, which can be accessed by others,” Masino said, by email last week to SikhNN. “My clients are concerned that the affidavit contains statements that are inaccurate regarding Sikhism, and therefore have urged that the statements be retracted at the same time that the ban on the carrying of Kirpans at GOR is removed.
“To be clear, my clients want the ban on Kirpans at GOR to be completely removed, and also want Mr. Badesha to retract his statements, which originally led to the issuance of the ban.”
Masino, as well as Akal Takhat committee members, also took issue with the trustees’ reason for lifting the ban, which does not mention the their troubles with the Akal Takhat.
“Since your clients have been worshiping at their own gurdwara, the circumstances, which led to the court’s limitation on the Kirpan, no longer exist,” Rosenbaum wrote to Masino.
“I feel that the ban on Kirpan must be lifted unconditionally, and not because the defendants do not attend that gurdwara,” said Satpal Singh Khalsa, head of the Akal Takhat committee, from California.
“Independent of whether the defendants have a different gurdwara or not, this is a dangerous reason to give for lifting the ban,” said Satpal Singh, another member of the Akal Takhat committee, from New York. “This argument leaves the basic premises for the ban on Kirpan in place. It implies that there are conditions, such as particular persons coming to the gurdwara, that justify the ban, and when those persons no longer come to the gurdwara then the ban is unnecessary.
“It's a dangerous argument.”
The defendants had been asking for the trustees to lift the ban since the first court order was imposed two years ago. The trustees’ move to finally do that comes weeks before the trail was to begin.
“It is clear from its timing that this current request is being prompted by the religious pressure that your clients are enduring from the highest levels of Sikh authority, in India, due to the stance that your clients have taken both generally in this litigation and specifically as it relates to the carrying of Kirpans,” Masino wrote to Rosenbaum.
“Your clients are not prepared to unconditionally agree to a lifting of all further limitations on the Kirpan at the GOR,” Rosenbaum responded. “The conditions which you have specified for your clients’ agreement are neither acceptable or workable…”
The trial was supposed to begin this week, but the trustees have asked the court to postpone the date, which is expected to be set for October. But today, both parties are scheduled for a conference with the judge to possibly mediate a resolution to the Kirpan issue and the governance case.