The Hindustan Times – ‘I am going back to Sikhism’: Many disillusioned ‘premis’ renounce Dera

While a few stay loyal, some feel confused in the face of disgrace. Some of the Dera followers say they are waiting for the dust to settle.

Snigdha Poonam

Sirsa-Haryana/Bhatinda-Panjab, 2 September 2017. “I am going back to Sikhism,” said Manjit Singh, a 29-year-old follower of the Dera Sacha Sauda in southern Punjab who is disturbed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction for raping two disciples 15 years ago.

A Dalit man who operates a bus stand in Salabatpura, Singh joined the sect two years ago, guided by the noble things he had heard about it. “I heard how it rids people of alcoholism, meat consumption, arranges weddings for poor women.

So, I started to visit the Dera. I began to like Baba ji’s preaching,” said Singh, who was himself an alcoholic before he took on the surname ‘Insan’.

“Some friends used to talk about these cases against him, but every time I saw Baba ji, I thought those were complete lies.” Now, Singh said he saw “truth in the charges”. “This morning, I read in the newspaper that 18 girls have been rescued from the Sirsa Dera and sent for medical examination.

Vishwas uth gaya hai (I have lost my faith in him). I can’t trust a godman again.” On August 29, the Akal Takht invited the predominantly Dalit followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda, who have long been marginalised by mainstream Sikhism, back into its fold.

Since the day of Singh’s conviction when thousands of his angry supporters ran riot across Punjab and Haryana, the young, male mob has become the face of a sect that claims a following of 60 million.

While many Dera followers remain loyal to the 70-year-old institution because of its place in their social and economic lives, some feel confused or conflicted in the face of their leader’s disgrace. There are a number of factors that attracted people to Singh’s cult; their reactions to his fall are equally diverse.

“It was after I saw a film of his, the one in which he plays an adivasi in Chhattisgarh, that I became inspired to follow him,” said 21-year-old Pooja Insan, who was leaving the sect’s Sirsa headquarters on August 30 with her mother at the urging of Haryana police.

Enraptured by Singh’s larger-than-life movie persona in MSG 2, Pooja persuaded her mother to travel from their home in Rohtak to the Dera’s Sirsa estate within days of the film’s release in 2015. “We felt so good.

We were first given the naam (Insan), then there was a satsang and dance performances by children.” Since then, she has visited the Dera at least once a month. Now headed back home, Pooja and her mother said they didn’t know if they were ever coming back.

“We didn’t know anything about the rape charges. We have never spent a night inside the Dera. We don’t want to be a part of any controversy,” she said.

Ramji Insaan, a 35-year-old engineer, isn’t a recent follower. Like most Dalit families in Bajeka village of Haryana, he has followed the sect since its founding in 1946. “I took the name 15 years ago. The Dera is a big part of the village’s life. Hundreds of young men are employed by it.”

Since August 25, the day of Singh’s conviction by a CBI court, though, most of them have been avoiding the subject.

“We are waiting and watching,” said Ramji, playing cards with his friends under a shed in the village. Asked if he is going to return to the Dera for the usual satsang, he said, “Abhi kuch nahi kah sakte. Aage dekhenge (Can’t say anything now, will see how things go).”

Advertisements – California Vigil Commemorates Pastor Assassinated in Punjab

Sikh leader says Pastor Sultan Masih was assassinated “under the guise of Hindutva”

By Arvin Valmuci

Sacramento-California-USA, 1 September 2017. ”We are here to honor Pastor Sultan Masih,” said Bhajan Singh as he spoke to a group of 30 Sikhs, Christians, and others who gathered in the northern Californian city of Roseville for a candlelight vigil on the night of Monday, August 28.

Singh, the Founding Director of Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI), continued, “Why honor him? Because of his sacrifice, because of his testament to his faith and belief, he was killed. He was assassinated.”

Pastor Sultan Masih, 47, was gunned down outside his church in Ludhiana, Punjab on July 16. His murder sent shockwaves through the Punjabi Christian community. His family and colleagues reported that Masih had recently been threatened by members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group, who ordered him to stop preaching.

The Roseville vigil was led by Father Joshua Licker of Incarnation Anglican Church. “I wanted to hold this vigil, tonight, in the town where I live and worship, because Pastor Sultan was killed in the town where he lived and worshipped,” said Lickter.

“I wanted to hold this vigil in the town where I encourage people to care for the poor and needy, because Pastor Sultan was killed in the town where he encouraged people to care for the poor and needy.”

Speakers linked Masih’s murder to other recent attacks on minorities by adherents of Hindutva ideology. Pieter Friedrich, an analyst of South Asian Affairs, explained that Hindutva teaches that all non-Hindus are foreign to India. “We’ve all heard about Charlottesville,” said Friedrich.

“It was an attempt to reawaken a dead ideology. To reinvigorate a Nazi movement. To unfurl the Swastika banner. But we know it was an aberration. What if I told you there’s a place where a movement like this is not fringe?”

“India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is a member of the RSS,” explained Friedrich. “Hindutva is the core philosophy of the BJP, which is the political party currently ruling India. It is also the philosophy of the BJP’s parent organization, the RSS.”

He described how V D Savarkar, who coined the term Hindutva, and M S Golwalkar, who was the longest-serving leader of the RSS, both praised Nazi Germany and Hitler’s treatment of the Jewish people.

“India belongs to all,” stated Gary Singh, a local community leader. “All the Indians have to know what the hell is going on in their country.”

“India touts itself as a democracy,” said Fr Lickter. Yet, he explained, “There is a growing movement to enforce anti-conversion laws that limit freedom of speech and religion. There is an increased persecution, nationwide, of any religious minorities, be they Christian, Muslim, Sikh, or even Atheist.

Attacks on non-Hindu religious leaders, like Pastor Sultan, are becoming more and more common. And they occur with the approval of those in authority: all the way to the very top Government officials.”

Commenting on the motivation behind Masih’s murder, Bhajan Singh said, “The people who assassinated him simply did it because they said, ‘We do not agree, nor do we allow, nor do we want you to believe in what you believe.’

Just for that.” He warned that attacks on minorities are spiking in India. “India has become the land where the most persecution of Christians and minorities is rampant today. India is now commonly called the lynching land.”

Friedrich described the dominance of the RSS in India. “Picture columns of thousands of men parading through your town all the time,” he said. Calling the RSS a “uniformed, paramilitary organization,” he said that it sponsored genocide against Muslims and Christians in Gujarat in 2002 and against Christians in Odisha in 2008.

“The date of August 28 may be familiar to many of you. It is the night we are gathered here. It is also the 9th anniversary of the conclusion of a three-day pogrom against Christians in Kandhamal, Odisha.”

Lickter repeatedly asked participants to picture similar violence in their own town. “Imagine what it would be like if something like this happened to you, in the town where you lived and worshipped. Wouldn’t you want others to speak up to make sure this kind if thing did not happen again?”

He was joined by several other Christian leaders who urged against apathy.

“Fight your apathy with deep and intense love for others, no matter their social standing, skin color, or last name,” said Tyler Dumont. “This is not an insignificant death on foreign soil, but an example of the systematic oppression of humans in India.

This is not just a problem of warring ideologies, but a fight for something that is so basic and fundamental to human existence: human worth…. Pastor Sultan Masih’s blood spills over my soul, and I cannot help but to scream out.”

Dumont was echoed by Father George Snyder of St Clare Parish, who stated, “The greatest sin of humanity is the sin of indifference.”

Brandon LaTourneau, a Catechist at St Augustine Anglican Mission, saw light in the darkness as he quoted 3rd-century Christian writer Tertullian, who said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” LaTourneau encouraged people to follow the example of Jesus in responding to the violence in India.

“I believe that it is fitting that the hate which is encountered so often in India should be responded to by the sheer love of Christian charity…. The many pastors and Christians, nuns and fathers of the faith who have given up their life for the sake of the Gospel in this distant land: they have followed after the passion of our Lord.”

As he spoke about Masih’s murder, Bhajan Singh was reminded of the execution of a 17th-century Sikh Guru. “Another brave soul, the fifth Guru, Guru Arjun, stood up and said, ‘I am with the poor, I am with the oppressed, I am with the downtrodden.’”

Before Singh sang a short prayer written by Guru Arjun, he said, “Fr Xavier, a Jesuit priest who was there preaching Christianity, documented the tortures of Guru Arjun. Through him we learned the horrific traditions of this vicious ideology that is brutalizing the Untouchables and the downtrodden.”

All of India’s minorities and Depressed Classes are jointly suffering attacks from the same source, suggested Singh.
“Devious forces that want to have my way or the bullet, these forces of evil and darkness, under the guise of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, they have come and they went after the Christians, they went after the Muslims, they went after the Untouchables, they went after the Sikhs.”

At the conclusion of the event, the group gathered together to light candles in memory of Masih. They sang a song written by a martyred Indian Christian. Then they paused for a moment of silence to remember the death of Pastor Masih and others who have recently suffered in India.

“Please educate yourself about what his happening in India right now,” urged Lickter in his final remarks. “Please regularly include the people of India in your prayers. Pray that the corrupt leaders would either repent, or be brought to justice.

Pray that the caste system would be overturned, and that no one would be persecuted based on race or creed.” He added, “Let your voices be heard. Pastor Sultan cannot speak anymore, but you can speak for him. Whether you are a Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, or Atheist, you have the ability to let the voice of the oppressed be heard.”

The candlelight vigil was co-sponsored by OFMI and Incarnation Anglican Church. It was joined by members of Gurdwara Sahib Roseville, Shri Guru Ravidass Temple Rio Linda, St Augustin Anglican Mission, St Rose of Lima Catholic Church, and St Clare Parish.

Dilbeek – Christians for Socialism

Four day Bible study

Pebbles with names of previous visitors

Here we vainly tried to get connected to the internet

Newspaper clippings collected by one of the organisers
The vulnerable voice from the grassroots

Newspaper clippings collected by one of the organisers
It is all about Mammon / Maya

Newspaper clippings collected by one of the organisers

Newspaper clippings collected by one of the organisers

To see all my pictures:

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Firstpost – 1984 anti-Sikh riots: Supreme Court panel to review SIT decision to shut case

New Delhi, 1 September 2017. The Supreme Court has constituted a supervisory body comprising two of its former judges to examine the decision of the Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) to close 199 cases relating to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

The apex court named its former judges, Justice JM Panchal and Justice KSP Radhakrishnan, as members of the supervisory body and asked them to start functioning from 5 September.

The court said the supervisory body would scrutinise the SIT decision to close 199 riots related cases and would also examine whether it was justified.

“We constitute a supervisory body of two former judges of this court, namely Justice JM Panchal and Justice KSP Radhakrishnan, who shall scrutinise the 199 matters which have been closed and express the view whether there was justification to close the cases,” a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra said in its order of 16 August, before he was elevated as the Chief Justice of India.

The apex court, in the order uploaded on Friday, asked the panel to file a report in the matter within three months.

“The supervisory body is requested to file a report within three months. The said the supervising body shall be given requisite assistance by the Union of India. The supervisory body shall start functioning from 5 September, 2017. The members of the said body shall get all the financial benefits as permissible in law,” the bench said.

The apex court had on 24 March asked the Centre to place before it the files pertaining to the 199 cases of the anti-Sikh riots which the SIT, set up by the Home Ministry, had decided to close.

The SIT is headed by Pramod Asthana, an IPS officer of 1986 batch, and has Rakesh Kapoor, a retired district and sessions judge, besides Kumar Gyanesh, an additional deputy commissioner of Delhi Police, as its members.

The anti-Sikh riots that broke out after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had claimed 2,733 lives in Delhi alone.

Dawn – Hasty departure of an ex-general

Abbas Nasir

Op/Ed, 2 September 2017. A news item that didn’t seem to get any traction at all in Pakistan this week was the filing of war crimes charges in Brazil and Colombia against the former chief of the Sri Lankan army General Jagath Jayasuriya who is reported to have fled from Latin America.

The charges relate to the alleged war crimes, including summary execution of surrendered/captured Tamil Tiger cadres, rape and torture of men and women, disappearances, and then mass-scale targeting of civilians in ‘no-fire-zones’ recorded in eastern Sri Lanka using rockets and artillery.

Jayasuriya was the operational commander as a major-general in northern Sri Lanka during the last stretches of the war which saw the army finally crushing the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and declaring victory in May 2009, bringing to a close the quarter century-old conflict.

Later, after his elevation as army chief which was followed by his retirement from the army in 2015, Jayasuria was posted as his country’s envoy to Brazil with simultaneous accreditation to Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Chile and Suriname based in Brasilia.

The charges were filed by the South Africa-headquartered International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) in partnership with human rights organisations in Latin America. They were represented by Spanish lawyer Carlos Castresana Fernández.

Charges relate to Jayasuriya’s role in the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war when the UN estimated between 40,000 and 70,000 Tamil civilians were killed.

In 1996, Mr Fernandez was among the Spanish lawyers who filed cases against Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet in the Spanish National Court. As head of the Commission Against Impunity in Guatelama (CICIG), he indicted Guatemala’s former president Alfonso Portillo and a number of other Guatemalan war criminals including members of organised crime.

He was also involved in the cases against Argentine dictator General Rafael Videla for crimes committed during his tenure from 1976 to 1981. “I am shocked to see there is even more evidence of grave crimes in this lawsuit than in the cases we started against Gen Pinochet or Videla,” said Castresana, according to the ITJP.

“Nobody believed at first that the Pinochet case would go anywhere or that the Argentinian courts would ever be able to make the military juntas accountable; nobody believed the Guatemalan security forces could be held accountable, but with a handful of good, committed people I want to tell you that it is possible to deliver justice for the victims.

I don’t care that he fled Brazil; the case is just starting. He has made things easier for us, because fleeing he will not enjoy immunity anymore.”

The ITJP says the charges relate to Jayasuriya’s role in the final phase of the civil war in 2009 when the United Nations estimated between 40,000 and 70,000 Tamil civilians were killed and a 2015 UN Investigation found reasonable grounds to conclude the Sri Lankan military had committed systematic and widespread violations of international humanitarian law.

The lawsuit filed in Brasilia and Bogotá on Monday alleges that Jayasuriya bears individual criminal responsibility as the commander of units that committed repeated attacks on hospitals, carried out acts of torture and sexual violence and were responsible for enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Jagath Jayasuriya was the Vanni Security Force commander from 2007-09 and, by his own admission, overseeing the entire conduct of the final phase of the war during which Tamil civilians were indiscriminately shelled and bombed and hospitals targeted.

He oversaw the offensive from one of Sri Lanka’s most notorious torture sites, known as Joseph Camp. The ITJP has collected testimony from 14 survivors of torture and/or sexual violence in this camp that occurred while General Jayasuriya was in command of the site.

Joseph Camp had purpose-built torture chambers, equipped with manacles and chains, pulleys for hoisting detainees upside down, bars for handcuffing them to the ceiling and underground holding cells. Victims describe hearing other detainees screaming at night, which the general would also have been able to hear from his house in the camp.

The lawsuit also alleges Jayasuriya, who went on to become Sri Lankan army commander, had command responsibility for acts of extrajudicial execution and the enforced disappearance of hundreds of those who surrendered at the end of the conflict.

The Sri Lankan government, for its part, rejected the charges against one of the country’s war heroes and described them as part of the Tamil diaspora’s ‘propaganda’ against Colombo and its forces. It has also said it is happy to investigate any credible charges of such crimes.

Having read through the details of testimonies of some of the survivors a picture of immense horror emerges of brutal torture and sex crimes against the detainees before their summary execution.

In many cases, soldiers involved in the actions were making videos of the whole exercise on their phones, lending credence to charges that this was an orchestrated effort.

One is, of course, not naïve about how vicious this war was and how nearly insane was the LTTE’s founder-leader Vellupillai Prabhakran as his quest for a separate Tamil homeland in the north of the country included using child soldiers and deploying suicide bombers.

He also spurned a credible peace effort a few years before being killed in the final phase of the conflict.

But that a country’s trained armed forces would so systematically disregard the law and trample on human rights is shocking to say the least. Whether Jayasuriya is ever brought to court anywhere in the world one can’t say.

What one can say is that such cases should serve as a warning to other autocratic governments and officials that one day their horrible crimes will chase them and leave them with no place to hide. Look at the Sri Lankan general’s fate.

From representing his country in several countries in South America, he will now live the rest of his days on his small island state, too fearful to step out let alone travel abroad for fear of facing justice.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn