Kirpan ban lifted in Rochester
gurdwara, but dispute continues
Though Judge Mathew A Rosenbaum, Supreme Court Justice in State of New York, lifted all restrictions on
carrying the kirpan — the ceremonial Sikh
sword — at the Gurdwara of Rochester,
New York, June 6, the mediation efforts by
him to settle other disputes did not succeed.
The judge ordered a trial in the case, staring October 15.
The gurdwara, founded in the 1980s on
an 8-acre land, was following the Sikh
order till a few years ago, according to
Parminder Soch, one of the defendants in a
case filed by the seven trustees. The
trustees changed the constitution to make
it a religious organization as per Article 9 of
New York State Law, which deals with free
churches. It allows self perpetuating
trusteeship, said Soch. Some of the members challenged this, demanding to reinstate the old constitution and democratic
Following this, the trustees approached
the court to ban some members from coming to the gurdwara in 2010. They also
asked to ban carrying of the kirpan inside
the gurdwara complex. The lawsuit had
termed the kirpan as dangerous weapon.
The court agreed, but the move was
opposed by Sikhs everywhere.
“Usually, the aggrieved party files cases
against the officials. Here it happened the
other way,” Soch said.
The ban order was modified January 11,
2011 to allow congregants to carry kirpans
not bigger than 6 inches.
It also allowed ‘full size kirpans to be
worn by the groom in wedding ceremonies
and that out of town dignitaries could
wear full size kirpans with the approval of
gurdwara general secretary, provided
that all such kirpans remained fully
Santokh S Badesha, one of the trustees
and founders, disputed the defendants’
claims. He said the gurdwara was original-
ly constituted as a religious corporation
under Article 9. “We bought land, built
buildings and facilities and there were no
problems,” he said.
By 2001, new members joined and there
was tension building between fundamen-
talists and moderates, he said. In 2009, one
of the defendants went to court questioning
the incorporation under Article 9; the court
threw away the suit. The defendants and
their supporters then began to disrupt the
functioning of the gurdwara; the police
were called more than 10 times. The plain-
tiffs wanted to restrict the entry of two fam-
ilies, as they were allegedly creating prob-
Abuilding that used to be home to the Ansche Chesed Synagogue in New York but has 19th century Gothic interiors seemed like an odd location for an evening
of Indian food, a bhangra performance, and an Indian-inspired show fashion modeled on a runway.
But beneath the soft glow of pink and blue lighting and gold curtains hanging from balconies
overlooking the floor and stage, the Angel
Orensanz Foundation provided an elegant setting
for Molecule Communications’ fundraising event
for the Women’s Education Project.
The event, Fashion Fiesta for a Cause, drew a
crowd of 250 and raised $32,000 for the organization.
“I really like the idea of cross-cultural events,”
said Ajay Shrivastav, director of Molecule. “I’m
from India, but I live here, and I love both coun-
tries. I want to bring these two cultures together,
and if you look at the crowd, it’s a total blend of
India and the West.”
Every year, Shrivastav identifies a nonprofit that
he would like to help by creating a night of enter-
tainment, cocktails, food, and big names. He met
Zoe Timms, founder of the Women’s Education
Project, last year, and found her work inspiring.
“A lot of times genuine nonprofits and small
organizations struggle for recognition, so our goal
is to pick one each year, help them raise funds, and
bring celebrities together to expose the organization to a bigger audience and donor base,” he said.
“It’s a full house, as you can see. And next time Zoe
approaches somebody, she won’t be an unknown
woman trying to run this small organization.”
Bollywood-themed New York event
raises money for women’s education
The event included comedy by Sandra
Bernhard and Taylor Negron, dance performances by Rioult Dance NY, and Bollywood style
by Betsey Johnson. Guests were dressed in a mix
of Eastern and Western wear. Cassie Hardwood,
who was hosting a table, had her blond hair tied
into a knot on top of her head and her face decorated with tiny shimmering dots along her eyebrows. Her bindi and bangles matched her red
salwar kameez. Her friend had garland of large
orange flowers hanging from his neck.
“We were told it was Bollywood-themed, so we
took it to the next level,” Hardwood said.
The money raised is can support 100 students
for a year at the Women’s Education Project’s
centers in India, which was Timms’ goal for the
event. She founded the organization in Madurai,
Tamil Nadu, in 2002, after realizing that she
wanted to work in grassroots education and help
women from the poorest socioeconomic backgrounds get to college.
“It really just started off,” Timms said, “because
I had a friend who I had thought was from a
middle-class background. It turned out that she
was living in real poverty with her family, that
From left, Betsey Johnson, Zoe Timms, Ajay Shrivastav and Sandra Bernhard