I’ll admit…when I first saw emails and facebook posts titled “Save The Gurdwara”, I immediately dismissed it, thinking it was yet another mismanaged Gurdwara falling in to bankruptcy or one group trying to overthrow another. But after I read the website and confirmed some of the details with contacts in Austin, I was shocked by what had occurred.
By now most of you know that in 2007, the city of Austin, Texas approved the building of a permanent Gurdwara on land the Sikh community had purchased back in 2003 and where they’ve since been having regular weekly services in a makeshift home. Shortly after construction began, a couple who recently moved nearby the Gurdwara (the Bollier’s), filed an injunction to block construction on the grounds that it would be an eye-sore, increase traffic, and lower property value. In March 2009, a district court denied the couple’s injunction in favor of the Austin Sikh community and construction of the Gurdwara was allowed to proceed. Unfortunately, this victory would be short-lived. Sixteen months after the original victory and construction now complete, an appeals court has overturned the lower court’s ruling and has ordered the entire structure to be torn down – needless to say, the Austin Sikh community is devastated!
As many of us would, I immediately thought this was a blatant act of racism, but as I read the website several times, I noticed there is no accusation of this being racially-motivated. I applaud the Austin sangat for taking the “high road” and not pulling the race card until there is clear evidence of racism or bigotry, but I must say…it sure does smell like it! I mean, “Lower their property’s value?”…really?
Somewhere in all the disappointment and frustration of this situation, I am still impressed with how Sikhs manage to come together in a time of need. Emails are circulating through all the networks, people are dedicating their facebook pictures and statuses to the “Save the Gurdwara” movement, and some of our talented MC’s have written songs to help rally and inspire the community.
I appreciate how the Austin Sikh community has managed to re-group and pull themselves together after this upsetting news. Rather than being reactive, or publicly lashing out – they have instead decided to step back and collect funds. It is through these funds they can assemble a professional legal team that can best represent them in what is likely to be a long and ugly court battle. This is a very proactive and strategic approach, as I’ve seen other communities in similar situations only appeal for funds once the community is bankrupt and already begun to compromise the quality of their legal effort.
In a time where “ethnopphobia” is running rampant through politics and political discourse, it very likely this case will gain media attention throughout the state of Texas, and possibly the national stage. So in this relative calm before the storm, I think we must pause and ask ourselves…what would Guru Sahib do? How would he guide us? What does Baani tell us? What examples from the Guru’s life history can we reference?
One thing that always fascinated me about the sakhis of Guru Nanak was the way in which he influenced others. He did not use physical might, but chose words instead. But even more than his words, it was the love in which he expressed them, it was his uncanny ability to relate and connect with people from all walks of life. He had a personality and a “fragrance” about him that made people want to follow.
We now have an opportunity to share the Guru’s radiance.
We have an opportunity to show the world exactly who Sikhs are and how wonderful it would be to live near such a loving, compassionate, and socially active community.
I have faith that cooler heads will prevail. Let’s not forget, it was the Texas Board of Education who recently voted to include information on Sikhs and Sikh practices in the state-mandated curriculum for public school students.
The Austin Sikh community must be assured that the 25 million Sikhs all over the world stand behind them in solidarity. That said, the financial responsibility for this case should not fall on their shoulders alone…this is our fight…and I encourage everyone reading this to make their donation at http://www.savegurdwara.com/.
I’m sure that if we not lose sight of what this is all for, and keep the Guru as our guide – with His grace – the Sikhs of Austin will open the doors of its new Gurdwara to the public soon, and welcome the whole community with open arms to celebrate…even the Bollier’s.