American Sikhs land Homeland Security contracts

AmericanSikhs.jpg Remember how lots of Americans are suspicious of guys in turbans? Now we’re actually hiring Sikhs to tote firepower around U.S. Army bases. It plays in Peoria, though, because these American Sikhs are white:

In the straight-laced world of the security business, where most people have a police or military background, Akal stands out. It is the only security company that anyone in the business, including Akal’s own executives, can think of that is owned by a nonprofit religious organization. “If we are in a room with 50 other contractors, you won’t remember the other guy, but you will remember us,” said Mr. Khalsa, who wears a white turban, has a long beard and refrains from cutting his hair.

In all fairness, although the owners are turbaned Sikhs, the guards generally are not. American Sikhs are an enterprising group with a CEO from Harvard Business School (thanks, Ennis) and a consumer products empire pulling in $60M annually:

Akal is just one of several for-profit and nonprofit entities that are part of a larger Sikh Dharma financial empire. These include Golden Temple, a natural foods company that makes Yogi herbal teas, Soothing Touch health and beauty products, Peace natural cereals, dietary supplements and private-label products for Trader Joe’s, the specialty food chain.

Of course, that entrepreneurial impetus often comes by way of rejection:

… Gurutej Khalsa found that although he had graduated from several law enforcement schools, his beard and turban prevented him from getting a job. He turned to Yogi Bhajan for advice and was told that if he started his own company, the police would begin to work for him.

Daniel became Daya, Arthur became Avtar, so how did they land federal contracts? They did it the old-fashioned way: generous campaign contributions, dragon seeds from which spring a phalanx of politicians to their defense. Proof that they’re true-blue Americans! It warms the cockles of my heart.

15 thoughts on “American Sikhs land Homeland Security contracts

  1. Actually, they’re hiring Sikhs who run companies where gentiles (there isn’t a good word for non-Sikhs) carry firepower around:

    While federal courthouse guards wear United States marshals’ uniforms in nine districts, their employer is Akal, which hires mainly former police and military officers, almost none of them Sikhs. Akal’s contract with the guards prohibits them from wearing turbans or having facial hair, unlike the company’s Sikh officials, who are required to do so by their religion.
  2. I dunno guys – at least from the NYT article, this sounds like a success story rather than the depressing / alienation story you seem to make it out to be -

    Competition was based on ability, past performance and price, according to an Army official, who added that Akal’s religious ties were not a factor, nor did Akal benefit as a religious group. “We do not discriminate based on race, creed, religion or national origin,” the official said. “It was never really a factor.”

    The Fed contracts are pretty independent of campaign donations -

    “The federal government has created the fairest acquisition system in the world,” Mr. Khalsa said. He added that with the company’s low overhead – Mr. Khalsa, its top executive, earns a modest $90,000 – Akal is “very price-competitive” in the eyes of government agencies on tight budgets.

    in fact, the amounts described in the donations are paltry sums (10K’s).

    The group has built up trust at the federal level over a long period. When questions were raised after Akal landed its first big contract in 1986 to protect the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Senator Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico, rose to Akal’s defense. “People were saying, ‘How could you let these foreign whomevers take over a critical weapons testing site?’ ” Daya Khalsa recalled. “And he said that we were friends and that we’re good Americans doing a good job.”

    The whole article is more of a “ain’t it grand that in this country, even post 9-11, Sikh’s have a thriving, blue collar biz”?

  3. V — I agree. But the roots of it were in institutional discrimination. They started their own businesses b/c nobody would hire them. I knew a lawyer who had to drive a cab when he joined the 3H0, b/c in the 70s, nobody would hire a lawyer with a white turban and a long beard, especially if he was a white guy who had converted. So Manish is emphasizing triumph over discrimination, which is an American story.

  4. So, let me comment from experience in bidding for government construction contracts in NYC area,15 years ago when I was just coming out of college. So maybe its changed, but I doubt it. There really is no discrimination, its about several things 1) Who you know and in many cases not even about your contribution but how you leverage that contact. Go figure. 2) If the bids are low enough and effective you will also win and you do win. (from experience) There are (or probably were) significant % that are handed to minorities, but that is classified (or at least was) as black, hispanic, or american indian. As an desi, we are part of the non-minority fold.

    In NYC there are so many indians in a varity of businesses that Indians actually have leverage close to that of the Jews now. If this story was say in St. Louis or some po-dunk town in middle America or even San Francisco, it would be different. It would be a win for discrimination.

  5. Sikh Religion, is the only “One Universal God ” Religion in the world that in Holy Book grants women equal rights. Bans Caste System (wonder why the low caste Hindus don’t check it out instead of coverting to foreign faiths).

    And only Sikh Faith, belives in Pro Democracy, freedom and is a Pro Science and Technology faith.

    Fiber Optics was invented by a Sikh who is now a Billionaire!

  6. Linda Winston -

    Converting to Sikhism or any other religion is unlikely to better the lives of Dalits or other lower caste Hindus. When Dalits convert, they not only face persistent discrimination in their adopted religion/community but they are further unable to claim relief from the government (affirmative action/quotas for scheduled castes) because they’re no longer considered Hindus. It’s a double whammy for Dalits.

  7. How is Sikhism the only pro-democracy and pro-scitech faith? I dont understand that. You could apply that to any of the Vedic religions or Judaism.

  8. Linda, unless you’ve been to India I would cool it on claiming that Sikhism is into equal rights for women. Although the book the Sikhs consider holy may not say anything against women and may say something in favor, perhaps even granting them equal status with men in the community, it is not practiced. Like any other community in India you will find alot of gender inequality in the Sikh community. Despite religion, you will find that people continue with the type of culture they are born into. Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew women in the west have equal rights simply because our culture is like that. (Although each of those religions may not grant them equal rights within the sect, their Nation does grant them equal rights as citizens and the overall cultural ethos of the west is one of gender balance). If you go to India you will find the Sikh women in general taking on the traditional roles of women that you find all over that country. You will find mostly Sikh men taking on roles of “power” and influence in the Gurudwar, more than women. Exceptions are always there – I’m not addressing those.

  9. Sikh is a power. Power of being good, power of being close to Guru Gobind Singh ji & Power of being different.

    A sikh means no problem. If a sikh enters a hall where many people are discussing a problem, mostly a sikh will have the solution for it.

    Sikh which is a Khalsa & as our Guru Gobind Singh ji wrote that ‘Kalsa mero pind pran, Kalsa meri jan ki jan’. This means that our Guru is always with us at all the time.

    Life is mixture of goods, bads & worsts.

    Remeber Guru in Good time :- If we remeber guru in good time we are blessed with all the best in good time. We get a juice of postive work or energy to fight in the bad times.

    Remeber Guru in Bad time :- If we remeber guru in bad time it helps to fight the results of bad deeds.

    In last I will like to say that there has been noon in the history who is like Guru Gobind Singh ji. There has been no matching poet like him, there has been no fighter like him, there has been no saint like him, there has been no scarfier like him. I am thankful to Guru Gobind Singh ji who has given me a chance to be sikh & want my all next coming birth to be born as sikh & always close to him.

    Jagjit Singh

  10. ASR on May 10, 2005 01:53 PM
    How is Sikhism the only pro-democracy and pro-scitech faith? I dont understand that. You could apply that to any of the Vedic religions or Judaism.

    Somya on May 10, 2005 03:33 PM Linda, unless you’ve been to India I would cool it on claiming that Sikhism is into equal rights for women. Although the book the Sikhs consider holy may not say anything against women and may say something in favor, perhaps even granting them equal status with men in the community, it is not practiced. You will find mostly Sikh men taking on roles of “power” and influence in the Gurudwar, more than women. Exceptions are always there – I’m not addressing those

    FIRSTLY, poor Linda was just extolling the virtues of her religion, not attacking anyone else’s religion. You shouldn’t attack her like this for believing in her religion or try to insult her religion as retaliation. I feel obligated to come to her defence. I shall try to stick to the facts and not to insult any religion in the process. Please do excuse me if i inadvertently still do so.

    So let me answer you one at a time. To ASR, (since you insist on comparing) I am sure the vedic religions you mention were created for the better of mankind and to guide a then-barbaric man (for the want of a better term) to lead an innately “good” life. But unfortunately, possibly because they are so old (and I do not mean any disrespect by that), they are shrouded by enormous superstition and feed on man’s fear of the un-known elements by threatening man with “punishment” etc if he displeases any of the gods. Also, there are too many rituals & gods, fasts, casteism etc etc and their ramifications which of course are exploited abundantly by the pandits and other keepers of the faith. Let me give u a tiny example: my hindu girl-friends do not enter temples or do puja at mandirs at home when they have their period as they will make the place/ritual “impure”; another was instructed to buy a brass sun & worship it everyday, wash it and drink it’s water for a few months and then give it away as that would shoo away bad grahas hampering her marriage. The poor thing fell ill half way – it does leave you a little appalled that such practices continue in this time & world. There are numerous other examples I can give you but not possible here to tell u bout it. Coming back, Sikhism, on the other hand has the unfair advantage of being a relatively recent and modern religion founded at about the same time Columbus discovered America in the west, and has narrowed the 33 crore gods of the vedic religions & Hinduism to one. Secondly, it discourages openly ANY kind of superstitions and teaches man not to be afraid of anything unknown or its wrath -rather only try to understand it(scientific). As for the pro-democracy, it teaches not be under anyone or answerable to anyone except yourself and your god. Also doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sex or caste. Hence it is pro-sci/tech and democratic.

    To SOMYA – Sikhism is VERY much into equal rights for women and I understand your ignorance of the history as well as teachings of the religion. And kindly refrain from being disrespectful of other religions’ holy books – be it the Guru Granth Sahib as in this case or any other holy book like the Bible or Quran. I trust you have never read the Guru Granth Sahib or you would not have so rudely insulted “the book that the sikhs CONSIDER holy that might even say something in favor of women” as you put it. Well, I think you mixed up on things here. If you read what Linda has written you’ll see that she stated that the holy book grants women equal rights. She never once claimed what you are trying to imply. What she has stated IS a fact. You would have to read the Guru Granth Sahib to see for yourself. As for the men “holding positions” in Gurudwaras, you assume that that has something to do with power or equality because in Hinduism, women cannot be pandits. It is not so in Sikhism. You probably haven’t seen women in gurudwaras just for the simple reason that it is a difficult job to do and also not safe for a single woman to live on the Gurudwara grounds and fulfil all the rigorous duties required of a caretaker. It has nothing to do with “power” or “equality” as you choose to see. Numerous Gurudwaras are located on stretches that become deserted at night (like open fields in villages and closed marketplaces in cities) and anyone residing inside provides an easy target for attack, a woman more so. Women are religious leaders all over the world in Sikhism including India. They just don’t have to live in Gurudwaras to do so as there are infinite other ways to be religious. It’s more important to serve your people/humanity.

  11. I was having difficulty getting good quality turbans here in california. Got to know few weeks back about http://www.pagrihouse.com. They ship great quality with variety of colors from India.

    Girls in my office getting crazy about my turban colors now..