The Hindustan Times – Why the Indian government must help Italian Sikhs

Over the last 20 years, thousands of Indian Sikhs have migrated to Italy for work. Most found jobs in Italy’s dairy farm industry. And now they face a crisis of faith.

The Italian authorities make out that this is a matter of Italian values versus ‘eastern’ values. But the values that Guru Gobind Singh stood for are the same as the European ‘Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood’.
Man in Blue

Sunny Hundal

Op/Ed, 4 August 2017. Italian cheeses such as Parmesan and Mozzarella are known and eaten around the world. But how many people know these cheeses are alive today mostly because of Punjabi Sikhs? It sounds bizarre but it’s absolutely true.

This is a story not just of migration and globalisation but also how it impacts us in unexpected ways. Over the last 20 years, thousands of Indian Sikhs have migrated to Italy for work.

Most found jobs in Italy’s dairy farm industry, which was already facing a big shortage of workers since younger Italians were not as interested in farming. The influx of Punjabis saved the Italian dairy and cheese industry and even helped it grow.

“If you go to almost any dairy farm round here, you’ll find Sikhs working in the cow sheds,” dairy farmer Maurizio Novelli told the BBC recently. He was referring to the region of Reggio Emilia, the only place that Parmesan cheese can be made under EU rules.

Sikhs have become a success story in Italy. Thousands have stayed and built families in villages and towns across the country. There is even a huge gurdwara near the city of Milan, the Sri Guru Kalgidhar Sahib, which opened in 2011.

Up to 150,000 now live there, making it the largest Sikh community in Europe after the one in Britain. (Though the number of Hindus in Italy is thought to be larger, they keep a lower profile).

Italian Indians are like the economic cousins of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims who settled in Britain, like my parents, and North America. They are building a new life in a new country while keeping alive their heritage and culture.

But they now face a formidable challenge. Just a few months ago an Italian court ruled that Sikhs were not legally allowed to wear kirpans (the Sikh dagger), even for religious reasons. The court stated: “Attachment to values which violate the laws of the host country is intolerable, even if they are lawful in the country of origin.”

But Italian law already makes exceptions in matters of religion: for example, the Vatican Church is uniquely exempted from property taxes and gets a lot of money from the government every year. If Catholics can get special dispensation then why not Sikhs?

You might think that as a Catholic country, Italy should have the right to give them special preference. But this would be a mistake. In giving preference to one religion over others, Italy is saying that Hindus and Sikhs there are second-class citizens. It creates disharmony.

The Italians think that allowing Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims the freedom to practise their religion will make them less Italian. But other western countries have proven this wrong.

Sikhs in Britain and North America fought for and won the right to wear kirpans because these countries allow more freedom to practise religion.

Allowing them that freedom has made Sikhs even more proud to be British or Americans, not less. They are glad they live in a country that recognises and respects their beliefs, not treats them as a problem.

Italian Sikhs are now desperately trying to resolve their predicament. Last month they presented the Akal Takht, the highest temporal Sikh body (in Amritsar), with an alternative version of the kirpan. It was harmless, symbolic and approved by the Italian government.

But last week the Akal Takht rejected the modified kirpan, saying it went against the Sikh tenets. That leaves Sikhs in Italy in an unfortunate stalemate.

This is where the Indian government can help. It’s not for the centre to interfere in Sikh affairs, but the Prime Minister can certainly make the Sikh case to the Italian government.

Allowing people the freedom to practise their religion doesn’t hurt integration or the national character. In fact it strengthens it. Across the West, Sikhs Hindus and Muslims have demonstrated loyalty to their country while enjoying religious freedom. Italians need to understand the strength that comes from diversity, not dismiss it.

Sunny Hundal is a writer and lecturer on digital journalism. Follow the author

The views expressed are personal


Sikh – Supreme Court issues notice to the Indian Government regarding killing of 127 Kanpur Sikhs

Sikh24 Editors

New Delhi, 3 August 2017. Acting on a petition moved by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), the Supreme Court of India today issued notice to the BJP led Union government of India and Uttar Pradesh’s State Government in a case pertaining to killing of 127 Sikhs during the Sikh genocide in November, 1984.

It is notable here that thousands of innocent Sikhs were brutally massacred in all over India by Hindu mobs in November 1984 after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

In a press note shared with Sikh24, the DSGMC has informed that a three member Supreme Court’s bench headed by Justice Deepak Mishra, Justice Amitava Roy and Justice A.M Khanwilkar is hearing the case.

It has been further informed in the press note that more than 2800 criminal FIRs were registered by the UP police in November, 1984 but most of them were closed by the police itself.

DSGMC president Manjit Singh GK has informed that the DSGMC and Genocide Victims Relief Committee had sought reopening and reinvestigation of FIRs registered in police stations of Bajrian and Nazirabad by moving petition in the Supreme Court.

He further informed that the Indian Prime Minister, Union Home Minister and UP’s Chief Minister sent requests about the slow processing of UP police but the nil response from them compelled the DSGMC to move the Supreme Court.

GK has said that it was very unfortunate that the innocent Sikhs were begging for justice in the largest democratic country of the world even after 33 years of becoming victims of genocide.

He added that the victim Sikhs were fully innocent when they were subjected to communal massacre by the Hindu mobs in November, 1984 following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Den Haag: Wouwermansstraat and Mijtenstraat

11 July 2017

Tracks to/from Vrederust

Tram 11 to Leeghwaterplein

Tram 11 to Leeghwaterplein

Stichting Sanatan Dharm Mahila Samaj
13 July 2017

Hindu Mandir

Shri Ram Mandir

The Mandir’s garden

To see all my pictures:

More Netherlands pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

India Today – Retired Army officer’s Sikh family assaulted, asked to leave Bengaluru

A Sikh family was brutally attacked by their neighbours over a property dispute in Bengaluru

Bijin Jose

New Delhi, 4 August 2017. In what can be called a blot on Bengaluru’s cosmopolitan culture, an incident of brutal attack on a Sikh family has come to light. The family was brutally assaulted by their neighbours.

The family was just not attacked, but were also subjected to racial slur. The attackers allegedly threatened them to sell off their property and leave the place.

A property dispute led to the attack on the family. The neighbours reportedly wanted the Sikh family to sell them their property.

Adding to the woes of the family, policemen who rushed to the spot allegedly called them ‘Pakistanis’.

The family members were soon rushed to a hospital where they are currently undergoing treatment. The entire incident was caught on CCTV installed in the vicinity of the residents.

FIR does not reflect the gravity of the crime

“Me, my mother and my brother were badly assaulted by a group of people on May 13. However the FIR did not reflect the gravity of the crime,” said the victim Harpreet Uppal.

The family of mother and two sons suffered grievous injuries following the attack. Uppal is a retired Army colonel and they have been living in the locality for several years.

After the incident was reported, the police arrested few of the attackers. “Police arrested few people but they got bail immediately. There was a lot of video evidence but no action taken,” said Uppal.

Captain’s intervention

After the incident came to light, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh spoke to Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

“We thank Karnataka and Punjab chief ministers for taking interest in our case. We want a chargesheet to be filed correctly and IPC sections applied to be reflective of crime,” said Uppal.

Dawn – ‘Shahbaz made to miss golden opportunity’

Zulqernain Tahir

Lahore, 5 August 2017. A number of PML-N leaders in Punjab believe that Nawaz Sharif has ‘smartly deprived’ his younger brother of an opportunity to become prime minister in this tenure of the party and at the same time shattered the dreams of his nephew (Hamza) to take up the reins in Punjab.

According to them, Shahabaz has missed or made to miss a “golden opportunity” to succeed his elder brother as there is no guarantee he will make it to Islamabad to don the premier’s cap in 2018 in case the PML-N wins the election as more players from the elder Sharif family may be in the race for the top slot.

Nawaz’s wife Kalsoom may be there if his daughter, Maryam, gets entangled in the accountability process till 2018 election, they say.

“There will certainly be many a slip between cup and lip (prime ministership) for Shahabaz in 2018. He has either failed to convince his elder brother or the latter played smart politics to keep him in Punjab,” a PML-N leader who is close to Shahbaz told Dawn on Friday.

“Perhaps Shahbaz missed the golden chance of becoming premier. Who knows about 2018 election’s outcome and family politics then,” he adds.

Another leader said: “Nawaz played excellent family politics. First he announced Shahbaz his successor. Later a campaign within the PML-N was built that Shahbaz’s absence from Punjab would be disastrous for the party.”

According to him, Shahbaz had tried his best to convince Nawaz not to worry about Punjab and leave it to his son (Hamza). To consolidate his case, Shahbaz managed to send a request to him (Nawaz) from more than 300 PML-N MPAs from Punjab, endorsing father in the centre and son in Punjab.

“Once the decision was conveyed to Shahbaz, he asked his confidant Rana Sanaullah to tell the media that how most party members wanted him in Punjab. It was only a face saving for Shahbaz.”

A federal minister told Dawn that the decision to ‘retain’ Shahbaz had been finalised. “The extended cabinet of Mr Abbasi is a proof of it,” he said, adding the current arrangement suited the leadership as Nawaz Sharif would see matters in the Centre and Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab.

A mere “official” announcement is left from the PML-N about withdrawing Shahbaz from the NA-120 race. Nawaz had announced after his disqualification by the Supreme Court that his younger brother would be prime minister after an interim arrangement of 45 days for which Mr Abbasi was selected.

Some federal ministers including Khawaja Asif and Khurram Dastgir have already confirmed that the party wants Shahbaz in Punjab which is a stronghold of PML-N. “Since Shahbaz has good equation with all MPAs in Punjab and all ongoing development projects are on his finger tips, a larger section of the party is of the view that he should continue delivering in Punjab,” Dastgir told a private TV channel.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said: “The decision that Shahbaz Sharif will continue serving in Punjab is almost certain.”

Punjab government spokesman Malik Ahmad Khan told Dawn on Friday that the parliamentary party headed by Nawaz Sharif was authorised to announce reversal of its earlier decision (to nominate Shahbaz for prime minister’s slot).

Mr Khan however denied any differences in the Sharif brothers saying the crisis had even further united them and Shahbaz would follow his elder brother’s instructions.