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Sikhs at the 57th Presidential Inauguration

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 | 12:13 am

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National Guards with Humvees guarded all closed intersections to Capitol Hill.

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The Capitol at 5 a.m.

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Early arrival to the front ticketed area where several Sikhs were seated.

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View of the podium.

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More ticket holders arrive.

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Many celebrities were seated nearby, including actress, Kerry Washington.

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An abortion protester voiced his opinion perched in an evergreen tree.

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Harpreet Singh Sandhu, of Richmond California, came with three guests.

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Top of one of three news photographers' risers.

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More ticket holders arrive.

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Program is about to begin.

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President Obama and Vice President Biden are seated.

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Vice President Biden takes his oath of office.

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The vice president and his wife, Jill, embrace.

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President Obama takes his oath of office.

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President Obama takes his oath of office with his family standing next to him.

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The president delivers the inaugural speech.

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The president delivers the inaugural speech.

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Singer, Byonce, lip syncs the national anthem.

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The masses rush to leave but get nowhere.

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Reporting from Washington - Sikhs were among the more than 800,000 people who attended President Obama’s inauguration swearing-in ceremony this morning on Capitol Hill.

“I’m excited to be here for the second time,” said Harpreet Singh Sandhu of Richmond, California. “It’s exciting, it’s early, it’s cold, (but) not as bad as last time.”

Harpreet Singh was on the Obama campaign's finance committee, and was one of about 20 Sikh delegates to attend the Democratic National Convention last September. His service earned him highly coveted tickets in a prime location at the inauguration, in the front seated area below the president’s podium.

“It’s exciting to be here because this president means a lot to me because of what he’s done over the years,” he said. “(It is) what I’ve been affected directly in terms of healthcare for my kids, education, for them, and also for my mother who now is under disability, and what it provides for that. And moving forward, there are things that need to happen… But today we’re very excited about celebrating this beautiful event.”

Harpreet Singh came with three other Sikhs, coincidentally seated in the same area as SikhNN. While no other Sikhs were in this area, Harpreet Singh said he had seen others in the standing areas behind him and on the National Mall, the large area between the Capitol and the White House.

Amardeep Singh, of the Sikh Coalition, later told SikhNN that he and three others were in the standing area on the other side of the podium, and that other Sikh advocacy groups probably also had tickets to attend the ceremony but he did not know where they were.

The entire area around the mall was blocked off to vehicle traffic, and some parts also blocked off to pedestrian traffic. The area closest to the podium was divided into multiple smaller ticketed areas with seated sections in the front and standing sections in the back.

Behind the reflecting pool, quite a distance away, began the general ticketed area, which covered less than one-fourth of the mall. And the rest of it was open to the non-ticketed public.

The large crowds, security and the fenced-in sections made it difficult to move around. It became impossible to search for other Sikhs.

Harpreet Singh was accompanied by Amarjit Singh, head of Khalistan Affairs Center in Washington; and Balwinder Singh Chatha, secretary of the Sikh Gurdwara of Greater Washington in Gainesville, Virginia, and his wife, both representing United Sikhs.

“The response of the Obama administration (to the Oak Creek shooting) was such that American flags were at half mast for a week… and Obama said, ‘Today all America is Sikh,’” said Amarjit Singh. “I think that gave more sympathy in the Sikh circles in this country for the Obama administration. And this time Sikhs have overwhelmingly voted for Obama and Joe Biden.

“That is one of the reasons that I wanted to make sure that I should be present here during this ceremony.”

Major intersections to the National Mall began closing on Sunday. By 5 a.m. Monday morning, National Guard troops were guarding every closed intersection with Humvees. Secret Service personnel and police officers were clearly visible everywhere. And many official vehicles being escorted by police to the Capitol slowed down traffic that was just beginning to swell.

Massive numbers of pedestrians crisscrossed the outskirts of mall and began to form lines at security checkpoints that already were long. Security gates opened for the VIP press at 6 a.m. Other news media and everyone else entered at 7 a.m.

The temperature stayed steady in the low 30-degrees. Most people were dressed in heavy coats, boots, hats and gloves.

It was a race to get the best spot. The lucky ones in the front watched as celebrities were escorted to their seats. Many were surround by admirers taking pictures. Yet, even from the Sikhs’ section, it was difficult to see behind the podium area. Everyone relied on the huge screens that flanked either side of the podium to see public officials, members of Congress, the president and vice president, and their families, as they walked out to their seats.

But everything on the podium, including the swearing-in ceremonies, were clearly visible.

“I’m here to join the inauguration of a great president, Obama,” said Balwinder Singh. “It’s a great pleasure for me…”

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