[Homestead] Sikhs, Law and Order Cats

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Tue Sep 28 15:20:24 EDT 2004


Look like Arabs, but aren't---a real sales advantage in the security 
contract world.


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Rick Scibelli Jr. for The New York Times
Daya Singh Khalsa, a co-founder of Akal Security, which is run by a 
religious group based in Espanola, N.M.


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Mukta Kaur Khalsa, left, an official of the Sikh Dharma religious group, 
and Daya Singh Khalsa of Akal Security with President Bush last 
September. Akal has donated generously to political campaigns.




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    Sikh Group Finds Calling in Homeland Security

*By LESLIE WAYNE*

Published: September 28, 2004

ESPANOLA, N.M. - At the end of a dusty road, behind a barbed-wire fence, 
is the Sikh Dharma of New Mexico, a religious compound with a golden 
temple of worship, a collection of trailers used for business and a 
quiet group of people wandering the grounds wearing flowing white robes 
and turbans.

	
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In the New Age culture here, the Sikh Dharma community, founded in the 
early 1970's, provides a place where admirers of Yogi Bhajan, a Sikh 
spiritual leader and yoga master, can live in harmony and follow their 
beliefs in vegetarianism, meditation and community service. Except for 
Yogi Bhajan, who was born in India and came to the United States in 
1969, most members of the Sikh Dharma are American-born converts who 
moved here to pursue their way of life.

The compound is also home to Akal Security, wholly owned by the Sikh 
Dharma and one of the nation's fastest-growing security companies, 
benefiting from a surge in post-9/11 business. With 12,000 employees and 
over $1 billion in federal contracts, Akal specializes in protecting 
vital and sensitive government sites, from military installations to 
federal courts to airports and water supply systems.

Despite Akal's unusual lineage, Sikh Dharma members say they are 
following an ancient Sikh tradition of the warrior-saint - as well as 
showing deftness at the more modern skill of landing federal contracts.

"Our customers look at who we are and filter it all out,'' Daya Singh 
Khalsa, Akal's co-founder and senior vice president, said in an 
interview in his office here. "They couldn't be less interested in our 
religion and what we look like.''

Among Sikhs "there is no stigma in being financially successful,'' Mr. 
Khalsa added. "Prosperity does not take away from spiritual net worth. 
You can have both."

Akal certainly bears that out. It is the nation's largest provider of 
security officers for federal courthouses, with contracts for 400 
buildings in 44 states, including the federal courthouse in Manhattan.

The company just won a major contract to guard Army bases and munitions 
dumps in eight states, and also provides guards for the Ronald Reagan 
Building in Washington, blocks from the White House. It handles security 
at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, as well as at four 
new detention centers run by the Homeland Security Department where 
foreigners await deportation.

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.

It has also not hurt that Akal has been a generous campaign contributor 
to both Democratic and Republican candidates at the federal level, and 
that Mr. Khalsa has met with President Bush both in the White House and 
in New Mexico. Local New Mexico politicians have also benefited from 
this largess - and responded with friendship and support.

Four former New Mexico governors stopped by Yogi Bhajan's recent 
75th-birthday party; Gov. Bill Richardson was last year's keynote 
speaker at the group's International Peace Prayer Day.

"We play in the political arena like everyone else," Mr. Khalsa said. He 
and his wife, Sat Nirmal Kaur Khalsa, who is Akal's chief executive, 
have given more than $30,000 to both Democratic and Republican federal 
candidates since 2000.

Mr. Khalsa, who was once known as Daniel Cohn, was given his name by 
Yogi Bhajan after he moved here in 1971, soon after graduating from 
Amherst College. Like other members of the 300-family Sikh Dharma 
community, he has adopted the name Khalsa, which refers to a group of 
orthodox Sikhs.

The Sikh Dharma community here blends New Age values and orthodox 
Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that originated in the Punjab region of 
the Indian subcontinent in the 15th century.

"We are not used to non-Punjabis joining our religion; it is a curious 
development," said Gurinder Singh Mann, professor of Sikh studies at the 
University of California, Santa Barbara, who explained that many of 
these new converts are more devout than those born into the religion.



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