News / USA

Profile: Harmeet Dhillon, Sikh American, Republican Leader

David Byrd
​Harmeet Dhillon was born in Chandigarh, India, the daughter of a Sikh physician and the granddaughter of a four-star general in the Indian Air Force.  Now she's making her mark as the head of San Francisco, California's Republican Party. 

While personally a social conservative, Dhillon has taken some controversial stands - she believes that government should not interfere in personal decisions - including gay marraige and abortion.

Northern India to America's deep South
 
Though Harmeet was born in India, she did not stay there long – her family moved first to London and then to the United States so her father could finish his training as an orthopedic surgeon. Dhillon started her schooling in New York City, during her father’s residency. 
 
Shortly thereafter, they moved to the small, southern town of Smithfield, North Carolina, where there were very few Asians, and even fewer Sikhs. Some of her father’s colleagues were starting a medical practice and the opportunity was too good for her father to pass up.
 
Harmeet says the cultural change took some getting used to.
 
“So a lot of immigrants looking to have a life that was sort of a self-starter, your own business, and a balanced life as opposed to living in a city, chose some of those rural areas to bring services to places where, like where I grew up, they didn’t have an orthopedic surgeon in the entire county,” Dhillon said.
 
“There were whites and there were blacks and they lived in different parts of town and there really weren’t many people of different backgrounds,” Dhillon said.
 
“But, I was six almost seven years old at the time and so, you know, when you’re a kid you kind of roll with the punches and you don’t really analyze things too carefully. But we definitely suffered some discrimination during the years we lived in that small town,” she added.
 
Early graduation
 
Dhillon says she found refuge in her studies.  She attended the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, graduating at age 16.  Her mother also made sure Harmeet and her brother went back to India each summer to learn about the Sikh religion, and to maintain ties with her grandparents.
 
Harmeet enrolled in Dartmouth College, where she edited the conservative Dartmouth Review. During her time as editor, she also got a taste of winning a legal victory. Her actions caught the attention of the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes.

“I was featured in a story concerning a previous brouhaha that had occurred where the previous editor had been suspended indefinitely from school for essentially publishing a story that was critical of a music professor,” Dhillon said. “Litigation ensued – which was the subject of the 60 Minutes piece – and we ultimately prevailed.”
 
Marriage, Abuse, and Rebirth
 
Shortly after she earned her degree in classics, Harmeet entered an arranged marriage. That relationship ended when her first husband abused her.
 
“I graduated from Dartmouth and got married a week after graduation to a doctor from India who had been introduced to me by my family and our marriage was arranged so I didn’t meet him before we got married,” Dhillon said.
 
“And he seemed like a good solid candidate and unfortunately it did not go that well. I was a victim of domestic violence and managed to leave the marriage after a year and went to law school two weeks after I left my husband,” Harmeet added.
 
Dhillon received her law degree from the University of Virginia and later married an orthodox Sikh physician.  But the couple’s high-pressure careers on different coasts ended the marriage in 2003.
 
“We were married for almost 10 years, but both of us had very high-flying careers and lived in different countries from each other at times, or different coasts and unfortunately it didn’t work out over time,” Dhillon said.
 
After returning briefly to North Carolina to help her mother battle breast cancer, Harmeet moved to San Francisco and started her own law firm there in 2006. She also discovered politics. Dhillon became the head of the San Francisco Republican Party in January of 2011.
 
Diverse viewpoints

Harmeet Dhillon when she was appointed the San Francisco Republican Party Chair.Harmeet Dhillon when she was appointed the San Francisco Republican Party Chair.
x
Harmeet Dhillon when she was appointed the San Francisco Republican Party Chair.
Harmeet Dhillon when she was appointed the San Francisco Republican Party Chair.
While personally a social conservative, Dhillon says she does not believe in mixing politics and religion.
 
“I happen to be personally very conservative socially,” she said. “I would never have an abortion and my religion does not recognize gay marriage.  What I believe though is that the government should not interfere in most private choices by individuals,” Dhillon added.

“I also don’t think the government should be taking a position on promoting particular religious values.  I think that the idea that a social contract between a pair of consenting adults should be governed by religious themes and religious concerns, I think that’s anathema to a secular society such as we have,” Dhillon said.
 
The Caravan
 
Inside her office on San Francisco’s Post Street, Harmeet Dhillon has a tapestry that features several women on horseback.  There is one man at the head of the caravan, but Dhillon says that doesn’t necessarily mean the women are following him.
 
“Well I think what you’re seeing is a snapshot of a caravan so it could very well some women leading a bunch of men that are just not in the picture,” she said. 
 
“And I think you have to look at life that way.  At any given point in time a snapshot will give you a certain perspective but you never get the full picture without looking further,” Dhillon added. 
 
Harmeet Dhillon says she would encourage other women to follow their dreams, even if it means making difficult – and painful – choices.
 
“It takes courage to make those choices that go against the grain, but I have made both types of choices in my life and the most rewarding ones have always been the ones where I followed my own heart,” Dhillon said.
 
Harmeet Dhillon’s next challenge comes in November - she is running against long-time Democratic politician Mark Leno for a seat in the California State Senate.​

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More