Sikh Americans, who were ecstatic that United States President Barack Obama will make a stopover in Amritsar and visit the Golden Temple, are still hopeful about him doing so despite rumours that he may forego this visit because of ‘logistic issues’. Some reports indicate that Obama may have been advised that wearing a head-scarf inside the temple may lead to image issue misperceptions and give the conservative Christian right-wing even more fodder to pound him with allegations that he is not really a Christian.
Dr Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education and executive director of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, said the head priest of the Golden Temple had informed him that the Obamas can wear anything on their head when they enter the temple and this should not be an issue at all.
Singh told rediff.com, “I have just talked to the president of the highest Sikh organisation and the people who make the decisions and talked to the highest priest of the Golden Temple about President Obama’s visit, and they have categorically stated that there is no problem in President Obama wearing any kind of head covering.”
They had informed him that “it could be a hat or baseball cap or anything of his choosing or Mrs (Michelle) Obama’s choosing to visit the Golden Temple.”
“This is a total misunderstanding and there is no restriction,” Singh said, and claimed that “the New York Times and various other news agencies have interviewed the temple authorities and this has been completely clarified.”
He said that “there will be a statement by the head priest on Wednesday in the media saying that President Obama and the First Lady can wear anything of their choosing on their head when they enter the Temple and that there is absolutely no restriction.”
Administration sources had also acknowledged that there was ‘a strategic component’ to the decision to visit the Golden Temple, and that the President “has such great respect and admiration for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and this is shared by everyone in the administration from Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton to Vice President (Joe) Biden, who all really look up to him (Prime Minister Singh) as a man of immense wisdom and counsel.”
Thus, the sources implied, President Obama creating history as the first American President to visit the Golden Temple would be a major boost to the Indian prime minister in the eyes of his own community, not all of whom have looked upon him favourably. “It has definitely played a role in this decision,” one source said. “No doubt about it.”
Sikh leaders said that if indeed it was an image issue and Obama capitulated to the right wing conservatives and cancelled the visit to the Golden Temple, it would be extremely unfortunate because it would only reinforce the stereotyping of Sikhs in America.
Sikh Americans continue to face difficulties due to issues of racial profiling, mistaken identity and harassment at airports and other security barriers, particularly after the 9/11 attacks.
But sources acknowledged that if Obama decides not to visit Amritsar, it could also be due to security reasons and on the advice of the Secret Service, because it straddles the Pakistan border and could pose a potential risk.
Thus, sources told rediff.com, even though the reports indicated that Obama may cancel his visit to Amritsar and the Golden Temple because of a reluctance to wear a head scarf, “this could be way off the mark, and the decision could be strictly for security reasons on the advise of the Secret Service.”