The Statesman – New India-Bangladesh railway line to be commissioned by 2018-end

Agartala (Bengali: আগরতলা), capital of Tripura, 30 August 2017. The new India-Bangladesh railway project along Tripura would be commissioned by next year-end and would be operational by January 2019, officials said here on Wednesday.

Senior officials of India and Bangladesh held a two-day meeting in Dhaka on Sunday and Monday, and visited the proposed locations of the railway project on Wednesday.

“The Dhaka meeting has decided to commission the Agartala (India)-Akhaura (Bangladesh) railway project by next year-end and it would be operational by January 2019,” Tripura Transport Secretary Samarjit Bhowmik said here.

Bhowmik, who was part of the 14-member Indian delegation, said: “For the 15-km India-Bangladesh new railway line, land acquisition has already been completed on the Indian side and 50 per cent completed on the Bangladesh territory.”

“Work order has been given to the concerned agency to start the physical work of the project.”

West Tripura District Magistrate and Collector Milind Ramteke, who is personally supervising the land acquisition and related work, said that of the total 72 acres of land, 49 acres has already been handed over to the railway authorities to start the work and the remaining land would be handed over soon.

The government-owned Indian Railway Construction Company (IRCON) would lay the five-km track on the Indian side while the remaining 10-km would be laid by the Bangladesh Railways on their side. The Indian government would bear the entire cost of the project.

In the Dhaka meeting, the Indian delegation was led by External Affairs Ministry’s Joint Secretary M Subbarayudu while the Bangladesh side was headed by the country’s Railway Ministry’s Secretary-in-Charge Mohammad Mofazzel Hossain.

The Agartala-Akhaura railway line would facilitate carriage of goods to and from both the countries and greatly benefit India’s land-locked northeastern states.

Also, the journey time between Agartala and Kolkata, via Bangladesh, would be reduced by a third, from 1,613-km through mountainous terrain to a mere 514 km.

Ramteke said that the Union government had released Rs 97.63 crore to acquire the land for the project, for which the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) is the nodal agency.

The existing railway line from Guwahati passes through Lumding in Nagaon district (in central Assam) and southern Assam connecting Agartala and parts of Manipur and Mizoram with the rest of the country.

Advertisements – America belongs to all of us: Sikh tells white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan

Sikh24 Editors

Washington DC, USA, 29 August 2017. Rajwant Singh, co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign, spoke at a rally in Washington DC yesterday, where clergymen of various faiths gathered in thousands to condemn and voice there unity against white supremacists and organizations like the KKK.

The National Sikh Campaign was setup by numerous American Sikhs to help swing the imbalance of awareness of the Sikh faith in the USA. Their mission is to promote a better understanding of the Sikh community in America and other Western countries, and to project a positive image and profile of the Sikh community.

Rajwant Singh spoke at the rally to cheers of supporters. “Let me tell all the white supremacists and KKK and everybody that America is a multi-faith country. Do you all agree?” Singh asked, which resulted in cheers from the crowd. “America belongs to all of us”, he finished.

Gent Gurdwara: Anand Karaj – Gentbrugge

Gent Gurdwara
Anand Karaj
05 August 2017

After walking around the Guru Granth Sahib

Bride and Groom

Bride and Groom – Granthi doing Ardas (prayer)

Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara
Kortrijksepoortstraat 49
B-9000 Gent – Oost-Vlaanderen

Walking in Gentbrugge
06 August 2017

Gentbrugge NMBS station

Gentbrugge NMBS station

Vlaamse Kaai
Strong sunshine

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Hindu – Dera through the Punjab lens

There is a need to urgently address disquiet over multiple crises

Amandeep Singh Sandhu

Op/Ed, 30 August 2017. It was a decade ago that the shroud of banality ‘Saint Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan’ spun fell on Punjab, in particular the Sikh community. I saw it first-hand in the summer of 2007 when my mother lay dying from stage IV cancer in Mandi Dabwali, south Punjab, 40 km from Sirsa where he is the head of a Dera.

Soon after Baisakhi that year, Gurmeet Singh, whose rise remains shrouded in mystery and who was already charged with rape and accused in the murder of journalist Ramchandra Chhatrapati, had imitated the tenth Sikh Guru Gobind Singh’s clothing and ritual Khande di Pahul while conducting the initiation for the followers of his cult, the Dera Sacha Sauda.

The Sikh faith disallows the use of the term Sacha Sauda and anyone dressing up as a guru, the term because it is associated with the first guru, Guru Nanak. When he was younger, Guru Nanak’s father gave him some money for trade, which he used instead to feed the poor and hungry.

When his father asked if the deal was good, he answered it was a true deal, a sacha sauda. Though no one knows how Guru Gobind had dressed in the year 1699 at the inauguration of the Khalsa, the 20th century painter Sobha Singh had formalised the look of some of the gurus and the Sikh community had accepted the pictorial representation as an article of faith.

When the self-styled godman parodied this, the Sikhs reacted. The Dera followers, called Premis (lovers), were at war against the Sikhs. The police stepped in. Curfew was imposed.

Desperately and helplessly trapped, I could not leave my mother’s side. Punjab remained frozen for weeks. The community took this matter to its own court, the Akal Takht.

The rise of Gurmeet

In the last decade, the rise of the banality of Gurmeet Singh has known no bounds. He has taken on every available moniker, saint, doctor, Ram, Rahim, Insaan, and parrots messages of peace and harmony while leading a degenerate life.

He has amassed Guinness world records for the largest vegetable mosaic, highest number of birthday greetings, eye scan and blood donation camps. His biography lists over 50 talents in the arts and sports. His atrocious self-promotional movies succeeded at the box office and further established the strength of numbers of his followers.

Owing to his reach in the political constituencies of south Punjab and Haryana, political parties of all hues, the Akalis, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, have patronised him.

Groups of Sikhs and Premis clashed, there were attempts on his life, but he seemed above the law, a power not only unto himself but a power broker in Haryana and Punjab.

In autumn 2015, the State froze over incidents of sacrilege of the Sikh Holy Book.

Again Gurmeet Singh was involved, for two reasons: one was his Dera’s alleged involvement in the stealing of a Granth Sahib from Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village, random posters appearing in villages saying the Dera would target the Sikhs; the second was the Akal Takht, under the influence of then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal-controlled Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, finally pardoning Gurmeet Singh for the incidents of 2007, even though he never presented himself to the Takht.

When Sikhs protested, the Akal Takht revoked the pardon but the anger of community against their institutions falling prey to the shenanigans of politicians led to the Sarbat Khalsa (plenary meeting) which remained inconclusive. Even the probes into the 150-odd incidents of sacrilege remained inconclusive.

Change in the air

Yet, something remarkable was unfolding. Whether it is river waters or lack of disclosure of the reasons to conduct Operation Blue Star or justice for victims of the anti-Sikh carnage of 1984 or probe into extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances during the militancy period of 1978-93, the Indian state has spectacularly failed in any attempt towards truth and reconciliation in a post-conflict Punjab society.

But defying the dominant perception of the nation, even as the State was inflicted with desecrations, the people of Punjab, including Hindus and Muslims, curled up in anger. There were some provocations, but they were minor.

Social media rage turned to black flags, large gatherings took place, local gurdwaras supported the protesters, but Punjab displayed extraordinary restraint.

It did not spiral into violence. Once could be an exception but Punjab repeated it last week. The Dera Premi incidents in Panchkula left 38 dead and damage to properties in Haryana but not in Punjab.

Punjab is sending out a signal: it is shunning violence. Do not mistake this shunning of violence as an absence of disquiet. I see my mother in Punjab, multiple maladies, desperately waiting for medication and healing, which remains unavailable.

The disquiet looms large in its agrarian and industrial crises, the utter lack of social and economic healing despite the change of governments.

Now that the courts have acted, locked away one Baba, the next step should be to strengthen the people’s belief in systems of justice and address other long-standing grievances. It is only by establishing systems of individual and social justice that we can address post-conflict societies.

Amandeep Sandhu is working on a book on Punjab

Dawn – More ominous disappearances

I A Rehman, former ambassador to Iraq and Turkey

Op/Ed, 31 August 2017. Pakistan observed the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances yesterday (August 30) at a time when this form of attack on life and liberty has acquired a new and more sinister dimension.

Sindh is in the grip of a wave of abductions. According to Sindh Human Rights Defenders, a body that has been monitoring cases of missing persons, out of the 120 or so victims identified since 1 January this year, 84 disappeared this month (until Aug 22).

Enormously more worrying is the fact that eight of the persons wrongly described as missing were known to be striving for the recovery of victims of involuntary disappearance.

They are: general secretary Voice of Missing Persons, Sindh, Punhal Sario from Hyderabad; Abbas Lund from Dadu; journalist Ghulam Rasool Burfat; writer Inamullah Abbasi; Raza Jarwar; Partab Shivani from Mithi; Naseer Kumbhar also from Mithi; and Shoaib Korejo from Hyderabad.

The last mentioned three have returned home but the fate of the other five was unknown till the time of writing.

As is usual in such cases those who have returned home are not talking. They communicate through their relatives in the fewest possible words. It is possible they wish to keep quiet out of fear of reprisal.

Anyway, the authorities and civil society organisations both have a duty to carry out a Supreme Court directive about recording the statements of all those victims who survive the ordeal of enforced disappearances.

The identity of the state functionaries responsible for disappearances is no secret. What the authorities must do now is to ascertain whether the victims were picked up for their views or political affiliation. The impression that the space for freedom of opinion and association is shrinking must be removed.

Pakistan continues to attract harsh notices from international organisations

Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to attract harsh notices from international organisations. It has not sincerely and adequately addressed the issues raised over several years by the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

Last month, the UN Human Rights Committee, in its concluding remarks after hearings on Pakistan’s initial report under the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, made a pointed reference to disappearances and called upon Pakistan to criminalise the act of causing a person’s disappearance, ensure protection to the victims’ families and create a mechanism for offering them due compensation.

Once again Pakistan has been advised to strengthen the authority and capacity, financial and personnel-wise of the Commission of Inquiry into Enforced Disappearances. The justification for this recommendation will become clear if we take a fresh look at what this commission has been doing.

It had inherited only 138 cases of disappearance from the commission of three retired judges who had dealt with the issue in 2010. This new commission though headed by Javed Iqbal, a former judge of the Supreme Court, is not as powerful as its mandate demands.

Neither a statutory nor a judicial commission, it is only a commission of inquiry created under a notification of the interior ministry. The law-enforcement authorities treat it with scant respect.

Since March 1, 2011, when it started functioning, the commission received till the end of June this year 4,059 cases, out of which it has disposed of 2,801, leaving 1,258 cases pending. Incidentally the commission had slightly fewer cases, 1219, on 31 December 2016. That alone tells us a story that is none too complimentary.

The figures of cases decided conceal, as has been noted before, a strange pattern of disposal. For instance, during June this year 45 cases were decided. This does not mean that 45 victims of enforced disappearance rejoined their families; it only means the present status of the 45 individuals concerned was confirmed.

While 22 persons were reported to have returned home, 23 were not. Out of these 23, two were found to have died away from home, five were under detention at internment centres, seven were facing trial on criminal charges, and nine cases had been dropped for various reasons.

The highest number of cases received from a province since 2011 came from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (1,555) followed by Sindh (1,047), Punjab (858), and Balochistan (284).

The case disposal pattern is quite interesting. Sindh has the best disposal rate, 756 cases out of 1,047, or 72.2 per cent; were disposed. Sindh was followed by Punjab, 440 cases out of 858 or 51.30pc; KP, 657 cases out of 1,555 or 41.2pc. Balochistan has the lowest disposal rate at 104 cases out of 284 or 36.6pc.

There is a need to look deeper into these figures. In nearly all cases of persons who returned home the information was provided by the police. Why can’t the commission ask police officials to produce the victims traced by them? The commission could then record the dates of a victim’s disappearance and his recovery and other much-needed information.

The urgency of a review of the whole set-up has become manifest. What is needed is a high-powered, properly staffed and financially well-supported commission not merely to trace the victims of enforced disappearance but also to identify their tormentors for prosecution, and to determine compensation due to the families.

Before that, however, the government must ratify the international convention on disappearances and make disappearance a penal offence. Further, the report of the judges’ commission of 2010 must be made public.

If it contains classified matter that the government does not wish to share with the public that may be presented in parliament at a closed session. If the judges’ commission had suggested a practical way of freeing the state of the stigma of tolerating disappearances, that should not be left to be consumed by moths in record rooms.

PS. The family of a missing Lahore woman, social activist-journalist Zeenat Shahzadi, was again told last Thursday to keep waiting, to keep hoping against hope.

Gent Gurdwara: Anand Karaj

Gent Gurdwara
Anand Karaj
05 August 2017

Tabla wala, Granthi Singh, groom

The bride arrives !
The groom arrives late, the bride later again !

Bride and Groom standing together in front of Guru Granth Sahib

Master Ranjit Singh recites one verse,
then granthi sings the same

and the couple walks around the Guru Granth Sahib
This is done four times

Guru Granth Sahib, Master Ranjit Singh
Bride & Groom
The theme of the verses is ever closer union between bride are groom

Walking around the Guru Granth Sahib

Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara
Kortrijksepoortstraat 49
B-9000 Gent – Oost-Vlaanderen

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

BBC News – How a divided India fuelled the rise of the gurus

Soutik Biswas India correspondent

New Delhi, 25 August 2017. The followers of a popular Indian guru* in northern India have rampaged through towns, vandalising property, setting railway stations on fire, smashing cars, setting media vans alight and clashing with security forces. Several lives have been lost in the violence.

They are angry because a court found Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh guilty of raping two women at the headquarters of his religious group, known as Dera Sacha Sauda, in 2002.

To his millions of supporters, mostly underprivileged, lower caste men and women, Singh is a protean leader of his flock. He mutates effortlessly from spiritual leader to flashy entertainer.

He talks about a life lived in “reasonable restraint”, but himself lives opulently. The guru of bling, as some call him, is the main actor in garish, self-produced films and the lead singer in noisy open air concerts packed to the gills by a captive audience of devoted follower-fans.

His first music album was curiously titled Highway Love Charger and apparently sold millions of copies.

The guru’s social outreach is equally intriguing. Singh runs charities, and so-called movements to promote blood, eye and cadaver donations.

He campaigns for vegetarianism. But he also makes gay men sign declarations vowing to “give up homosexual behaviour” under his “holy guidance”, and was once accused of forcing followers to undergo castration to “get closer to god”.

A journalist who visited the sprawling headquarters of Singh’s dera, a religious group, Punjab has more than 100 of them, told me she was struck by buildings with human ear-shaped windows and high turquoise walls topped with multi-coloured fruit-shaped water tanks.

“It seemed to me,” she told me, “that he’s a guru who lives out his dreams and fantasies, movie star, rock singer, do-gooder, political influencer, through his group and his devotees. In the process, he also helps his followers to dream big.”

India has always had gurus for as longer as one can remember. There are global gurus like the flamboyant Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to whom the Beatles turned to for spiritual salvation in the 1960s. And there are domestic gurus for rich and poor with huge followings.

The gurus count politicians, film and cricket stars, bureaucrats and ordinary people among their devotees. They run schools and hospitals. They peddle influence as superstitious politicians run to them for advice and votes of their devotees.

Proximity to a guru legitimises a politician and adds to his power. Gurus like Singh virtually run parallel states, providing services to followers.

The 50-year-old Singh, who will be sentenced on Monday, is one of the more controversial ones. In the past, gurus – or “godmen” as they are called in India, have been accused of murder, rape, trafficking, assault, sexual abuse and fraud.

Singh himself has been accused of mocking Sikh and Hindu figures, and investigated for murder and rape. Although the bulk of his devotees are lower caste, poor and underprivileged, his core group include highly-educated professional followers.

Many believe that millions of people flock to the dozens of religious groups like Singh’s because they feel that mainstream politics and religion have failed them. In what they feel is an increasingly inequitable world, they feel let down by their politicians and priests, and turn to gurus and shamans for succour.

“In many ways the rise of gurus like Singh tells us something about how conventional politics and religion have been failing a large number of people. So they turn to unconventional religion to seek some dignity and quality.

Such groups have arisen in many parts of the democratic, modern world. They find equality by sharing common spaces and ceremonies with millions of fellow followers,” sociologist Shiv Visvanathan told me.

Not without reason Singh’s followers share a common invented surname, Insan (Human), as opposed to an individual surname which reveals your caste and place in society.

Clearly, the rise of the gurus and religious groups tells us how deeply divided and hierarchical India remains. Friday’s violence once again showed how such gurus can end up running a parallel state, and the seeming powerlessness of the state itself.

  • Guru means bringer of light into darkness, the Bling Guru did the opposite !

The Tribune – Granthi booked for ‘cooking’ meat in shrine

Why is this the business of the police ?
Man in Blue

Faridkot, 29 August 2017. The police today booked the granthi of a gurdwara for hurting religious sentiments. He allegedly cooked meat in the kitchen of the gurdwara.

In a complaint to the police, Bhola Singh, president of the gurdwara in Romana Ajit Singh Wala village alleged that in view of the tense situation in the state, some youths were on night vigil around the gurdwara.

Around midnight, these youths entered the gurdwara to procure milk to make tea. When they opened the refrigerator, they found a bowl of cooked meat in it.

The youths told the gurdwara management about the meat. When questioned, granthi Bharpoor Singh admitted he had cooked the meat, said Bhola Singh.

The police have registered a case under Section 295A of the IPC against the granthi. He has not been arrested.

India Today – Mumbai rains: How Ganesh pandals and gurdwaras are extending help to locals

As heavy rains lash Mumbai, Ganesh pandals and langars have extended help to people in Maximum City

New Delhi, 29 August 2017. Heavy rains have lashed Mumbai once again after 12 years, flooding several parts of the city. On this occasion, the rains have come when the city is celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganesh pandals have come forward to help out people stranded in the rains. And so have langars run by Sikhs.

Social media is full of messages where people have offered help to the needy. The hashtag “rainhosts” was trending on Twitter. Mumbai residents were volunteering help in the form of shelter, food, tea and even beds for the needy.

Contributing to the help extended by locals are Ganesha pandals and the langars.

A resident Yogesh Pawar wrote on Facebook: “Dear All, those stranded near Dadar, Matunga, Sion and Parel can move towards G S B Sarvajanik Ganeshotsava Samiti Pandal at Ram Mandir Wadala. Food and water have been made available. 9821595432 // 8879114932”.

He was quoting Subhash Pai, convenor (PRO) of the GSB Sarvajanik Ganeshotsava Samiti, Ram Mandir Wadala.

“The gurdwaras in Sion are offering shelter too,” Seema Kamdar said.

Pawar went on to invite people to his house. “Anyone stuck on the highway between Andheri and Goregaon. Please come home. Piping hot sambar rice and pickle dinner and dry bed to rest… Call/text/WhatsApp.”

He also asked people who were stranded in SoBo to go to Sydenham College, Government Law College, Boys’ Hostel and Telang Girls’ Hostel.

‘Do not panic Mumbai, let us help each other’

One Surryakant Tyagi wrote: “All the gurudwaras in Mumbai are open for langar and shelter for everyone who is stuck in any part of the city… Please fwd to as many as u can… BMC alert…If the rain doesn’t stop or recede, the electricity will be cut off. Please charge up your cellphones and inform all.”

People on social media have learned lessons from the July 27, 2015 heavy rains in which several lives were lost. They have also been putting social media to maximum use.

For instance, Smita Deshmukh offered suggestions on Facebook: “Guys, keep your car windows open if you have the automatic system. Lessons from 26/7/2005 #MumbaiRains”

She further wrote: “If possible, avoid Ganesh visarjan today. Bappa will understand. Do not panic, Mumbai. Let us help each other #MumbaiRains.”

She also shared the emergency numbers such as 1916 helpline number as declared by BMC.

The Hindu – The man who exposed Dera chief paid with his life

Suvojit Bagchi

Kolkata, 28 August 2017. On Monday when the court decides the quantum of punishment to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the family of one man, killed long back, would be praying for “maximum punishment” to the guilty.

The man, Ramchandra Chhatrapati, a Hindi language journalist from Sirsa, on the western border of Haryana, was the first to publish the anonymous complaint of one of the female followers of Ram Rahim Singh.

The report was eventually sent to many papers, officials and politicians. The complaint-letter, now a public document and circulating on the social media, explained how the self-styled godman exploited women.

Basis for verdict

It was on the basis of this letter, that was subsequently published in newspapers, along with other evidence, that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) judge Jagdeep Singh finally held Ram Rahim Singh guilty on Friday.

“We hope that maximum punishment will be given to Ram Rahim Singh,” said Anshul Chhatrpati, the eldest son of Ramchandra Chhatrapati.

Fatally shot

Within months of publishing the anonymous letter of the female follower, known to Ramchandra, in 2002, he was fatally shot on October 24 of the same year. The letter was published in Mr Chhatrapati’s four-page Hindi eveninger, Poora Sach [Complete Truth]. Mr. Chhatrapati, who suffered five gunshot wounds, died on November 21 in hospital.