local Sikh community concerned about divisive lawsuit

by Gursant Singh ⌂ @, Yuba City California USA, Thursday, February 25, 2010, 15:41 (4557 days ago) @ Gursant Singh

By Sherri Buri McDonald and Rebecca Woolington

The Register-Guard

Posted to Web: Friday, Feb 12, 2010 12:07AM
Appeared in print: Friday, Feb 12, 2010, page A7

Members of the local Sikh community said Thursday they’re concerned about how a divisive lawsuit in Multonomah County is affecting their spiritual community.

Some fear that the legal dispute over Golden Temple, a global food manufacturer based in Eugene, could harm the business, as well as the local religious community it has helped support for more than 30 years.

Others say they want the conflict to end, and that it doesn’t reflect the service-oriented nature of Sikh practices.

One group of Sikh believers has filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County against another group, which includes Golden Temple CEO Kartar Khalsa.

Hearings on several motions in the case have been moved to next Thursday. The hearing on the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit is scheduled for April 2.

The group of plaintiffs, none of whom reside in Oregon, accuse Kartar Khalsa and four others in Oregon of grabbing control of the Sikh community’s businesses and enriching themselves at the expense of the greater religious community, following the 2004 death of their spiritual leader, Yogi Bhajan.

Gary Roberts, the defendants’ attorney, disputes those allegations, saying his clients have done nothing wrong, and that they’re simply carrying out Yogi Bhajan’s wishes.

A spokeswoman for Golden Temple’s Yogi brand of cereal and teas said the company doesn’t comment on legal issues.

Krishna Khalsa, a member of the local Sikh community for the past 40 years, recently brought the legal dispute to the attention of Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy and the Lane County Board of Commissioners.

His action upset some local Sikhs who said he didn’t consult with them and does not speak for the Sikh community of about 100 people.

Some local Sikhs, however, said they share Krishna Khalsa’s concerns, including Ravitej Khalsa, who runs a marketing firm in Eugene and has been a member of the local Sikh community for 35 years.

He said he has known Kartar Khalsa and the other defendants for many years, and has watched them lose their way.

“They had some values and they’re discarding those values for money,” he said.

Ravitej Khalsa claims that the defendants have distanced themselves from traditional Sikh practices, such as keeping hair long and covering it in public, and that they’re distancing Golden Temple from its Sikh origins through rebranding.

As a marketing professional, he said, “I’ve primed several businesses for sale, and I can see they’re priming the business for sale,” referring to Golden Temple’s recent creation of the Yogi brand for both cereal and tea, and removing Yogi Bhajan’s image from Yogi tea packaging.

“They’re mainstreaming it, and they’re making it more attractive,” he said. “I’m afraid one day he’ll move the business to Portland, or he’ll sell the business to a big corporation like General Mills.

“There’s nothing wrong with making a profit … with making money and being paid well for what you do,” Ravitej Khalsa said. “Sometimes it slips over into greed. It’s a common pattern, and it goes into the realm of the financial problems this country has had.”

A 21-year-old University of Oregon student and member of the Sikh community, who asked not to be named, said she thinks Kartar Khalsa has made some great business decisions as CEO of Golden Temple, and that he’s done a great job of leading the business through the recession. She said he has put everything into the business and finds the allegations against him hard to believe.

“I like to think the best of people, and I’m optimistic,” she said.

The bitter dispute, she said, doesn’t reflect the service-oriented nature of Sikh beliefs. She described the Sikh community as a place where anyone is welcome — the opposite of what she sees the lawsuit symbolizing.

“To be honest, I think it reflects negatively on our community,” she said.

When the battle is all over, she said she hopes the community will be as strong and as tight-knit as it is now. She said she’s confident that will happen.

Sat Pavan Khalsa, second-generation Sikh and dance teacher at Yoga West in south Eugene, said the lawsuit is not affecting how she lives her life, her spiritual practices or how she is raising her two children.

Sat Pavan Khalsa, who along with her husband once worked for Golden Temple, said she sees the situation as “an unfortunate side note.”

She said the lawsuit won’t affect the Sikh lifestyle.

“The lifestyle is so much older and stronger than all this shallow, surface stuff,” she said. “The Sikh lifestyle is resilient. This is not going to affect the lifestyle of the Sikhs in the community. It’s only affecting some business people.”

She said she isn’t surprised there is conflict surrounding who owns and controls Golden Temple.

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