The intersection of Madison Avenue and 38th Street in Manhattan, turned orange, yellow and dark blue when hundreds of Sikhs accompanied by members of the New York City Police Department, gathered to start the 31st annual Sikh Day Parade in New York City. Walking down a mapped route, performing martial arts, or atop floats, celebrating Vaisakhi, and the founding of the religion, Sikhs strove to raise the visibility of this religious minority of Indian-Americans which has borne the brunt of post-9/11 hate crimes and is considered among the least understood in the country.
The Parade was headed by a contingent of the NYPD officers on horseback, followed by Sikh police officers from the NYPD; after that came Sikh officers from the New York City Department of Corrections. They were followed by Sikh women and men barefoot, holding long brooms and cleaning the street for the float carrying the revered Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs; The ‘Punj Pyaras,’ first disciples of Guru Gobind Singh preceded the Guru Granth Sahib float.
According to organizers from the Sikh Cultural Society of Richmond Hill, Queens gurdwara, which initiated the program, there were tens of thousands of people who participated as well as lined the streets to witness the color and pageantry.
“We still have to confirm attendance from the cops, but it looks like the crowd was in the range of 50,000,” Harpreet Singh, chairman of public policy and external affairs for the Sikh Cultural Society, told Desi Talk. He also said numerous big and small media covered the event according to feedback he has received from around the country, including from New York Daily News to Sacramento Bee, and major television channels.
This year, Sikhs had more to celebrate. Their political representation and visibility in the Tri-state area has increased exponentially with the election of the Mayor of Hoboken, N.J., Ravinder Bhalla, and the appointment of Attorney General of New Jersey Gurbir Grewal. Bhalla is the first Sikh to be elected Mayor in Hoboken, and Grewal is the first person of the Sikh faith in U.S. history to be appointed Attorney General of a state.
“Really enjoyed marching in the #Sikh Day Parade today alongside NYPD Sikh police officers and NJ Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. Thank you to the Richmond Hill Sikh Cultural Society for hosting and NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill for joining us!” tweeted Mayor Bhalla, who posted photos from the parade.
Participating gurdwaras and members of the community taking part in the march, gathered at the Parade’s starting point by with their floats and banners at 38th and Madison, by 11.00 AM. Numerous non-profit advocacy and service organizations like Seva NYC, United Sikhs, Sikhs For Justice, the Sikh Coalition, as well as individual volunteers, actively helped with organizing the parade.Free buses are hired by various Tri-state gurdwaras to bring participants in the Parade, to the starting point, according to the Sikh Cultural Society Facebook page.
The Parade dispersed at East 27th & Fifth Ave. near Madison Square Park where the thousands gathered to enjoy gatka (martial arts) performances by different teams, and where free food was distributed as part of the traditional langar.
The lively dances, bhangra or gidda, were noticeably absent. “I would have liked Bhangra and Gidda to be included in the festivities so that we could more successfully portray who we are,” Harpreet Singh told Desi Talk, adding, “That was how it was since we started the parade more than three decades ago.” He did not elaborate further on the reason for the absence.
Speeches were delivered by several leaders, including NYPD Police Commissioner O’Neill, NYPD Commissioner of Community Affairs Nilda Hofmann, as well as Indian-American leaders Mayor Bhalla and Attorney General Grewal.
Some 25-30 gurdwaras from around the Tri-state area were part of the parade, Harpreet Singh said. The 9 floats included those of Guru Granth Sahib, Amritsar’s Golden Temple, Guru Nanak, and Guru Gobind Singh.
The Parade caps numerous events through the month of April in New York City and surrounding areas, as well as around the country, to celebrate Vaisakhi and the founding of the religion by Guru Gobind Singh, and to reach out to the general public. The colorful nature of the Parade, can be partly explained by the call that went out from the Sikh Cultural Society days before the event, on Facebook, saying , “Are you ready? Sikh Day Parade on Saturday, April 28th, 2018. Wear Kesri Color Turban/Dupatta & Dress.”