The Nation – 1,898 Sikh pilgrims return to India

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 22 April 2019. As many as 1898 Indian Sikh pilgrims after celebrating Baisakhi festival in Punjab went back to India through Lahore Railway Station.

Sikh pilgrims arrived on April 12 to take part in the annual Baisakhi celebrations held at Gurdawara Hassan Abdal.

The pilgrims were headed back to India in three phases through a special train carrying. 624 Sikh pilgrims left for India on Sunday morning followed by another special train carrying 834 pilgrims, while the third train carried the remaining pilgrims.

Pilgrims paid visits at Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur Sahib and participated in Baishaki festival which marks the beginning of harvest season.

Talking to media, Sikh pilgrims lauded all the arrangements from accommodation to food and from transport to the security measures.

The Hindu – A time of deep turmoil for the Supreme Court

“Whether you like it or not, My Lords, you have seriously eroded the independence of the judiciary from within by such acts. It does not need outsiders to do it, it seems”

Dushyant Dave

New Delhi – India, 21 April 2019. Speaking for the Gauhati High Court in 2006, Justice Ranjan Gogoi said in the matter of Ganesh Electric Stores vs. State of Assam & Ors: “Law will reach its most glorious moment when ‘men’ can be made wholly free from the shackles of arbitrary and despotic power, however subtle the exercise of such power may be.

However, over the years, two basic principles have been recognised as fundamental in the doctrine of natural justice. The first is ‘nemo judex in causa sua’, that is, ‘no man shall be a judge in his own case’; the second is ‘audi altarem partem’, that is, ‘hear the other side’.”

In 2018, speaking for the Supreme Court of India in Lok Prahari v. State of UP & Orissa, Justice Gogoi recognised the seven principles of public life in the report by Lord Nolan and recapitulated them as “Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, and Leadership.”

Disturbing development

But what happened in the Supreme Court of India on the morning of Saturday is just the opposite. The constitution of the bench, of course in the exercise of the power of the Master of the Rolls, Chief Justice Gogoi himself styling it as ‘a matter of great importance touching upon the Independence of Judiciary’, and permitting mention by the Solicitor General are all acts done by the CJI contrary to ‘nemo judex in causa sua’.

The proceedings of the court, or rather the Bench, are even more disturbing. There was no cause, no matter, no petition, and no reason for the court to take upon itself the perceived duty to protect its reputation.

More puzzling

The order issued thereon is even more puzzling. If the Bench comprised three judges, how in God’s name did the order come to be issued in the name of only two judges? Was it to get over the salutary principle referred above? Surely it could not have been, after all that happened in the open court hearing.

Under no circumstances could and should the Supreme Court have done what it did on Saturday morning. It is an institution to uphold the majesty of law, not to undermine it. It is a temple of justice, not an instrument to cater injustice. It is the highest court of this great land to protect the basic human values and fundamental rights.

It has to protect the most cherished of those rights, the freedom of speech and expression and protect the true guardians of democracy, the media.

It has no power to stop them from doing their duty, much less to advise them “to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of Judiciary.”

Saying that, the court kindly requests the media “to take off such material which is undesirable.”

Surely the Supreme Court of India does not have any advisory jurisdiction except on a Presidential Reference. In fact, time and again, judges are heard telling lawyers and litigants when requested to advise on what to do while matters are being dismissed: “it is no part of our function to advise you.”

The order so made has itself seriously damaged the reputation of the Supreme Court of India. Judges so concerned about the reputation of the court should have refrained from undertaking this slippery exercise.

My Lords, you have acted against every known judicial norm and practice. You have acted against your law which you have brilliantly and rightly declared over decades. Please remember, the law so declared binds Your Lordships too.

Government’s hand

The entire set of events seeks to overpower independent media and discourage reporting on a matter which I consider to be of a far greater ‘importance touching upon [the] survival of democracy.’

Involvement of the government through its top law officers to initiate the process when the government is the biggest litigant before the court (including in some cases like Rafale, and the CBI Director’s matter besides matters involving virtually all opposition leaders) is certainly objectionable and negates the court’s independence by itself.

In present times, the government and the party in power would like to muzzle whatever little independent media that is left out. So was the court right in allowing itself to be protected at the instance of a law officer? I don’t think so.

What is even sadder is that the Chief Justice of India has done what was objected to by four senior judges of the Supreme Court of India, including Justice Gogoi himself, on January 12, 2018, and that is constituting a bench in the most selective way (and that too on a Saturday morning, during holidays).

There have been repeated wrong moves in this regard by previous Chief Justices of India, and that too in their own ‘causes’. Whether you like it or not, My Lords, you have seriously eroded the independence of the judiciary from within by such acts. It does not need outsiders to do it, it seems.

Let me make one thing clear, citizens, including lawyers who stand up to defend the underdogs, respect the institution the most. They do nothing to damage its reputation. In fact, they help in building it by their own courage, which results in courageous judgments by the courts.

The judiciary comprises outstanding judges and its reputation remains intact despite odd judicial conduct from time to time. It does not need self-serving individuals or the government to enhance it.

But then those good judges must also be aware that the institution belongs to all and each of those within it, judges and lawyers alike, must work to protect it from attacks from within. If they fail, the institution will fail, and it appears to be failing.

Public confidence

Remember what the Court said in the K. Veeraswami case: “The judiciary has no power of the purse or the sword. It survives only by public confidence and it is important to the stability of the society that the confidence of the public is not shaken.”

What prompted the court to hold such an extraordinary hearing in more extraordinary fashion is a mystery. Surely, the court is not constituted by the framers of the Constitution to protect one of its own. It is not my purpose to go into allegations that have surfaced against the Chief Justice of India, I earnestly hope they are proved to be wrong upon fiercely independent inquiry.

But that definitely is not the matter touching upon the judiciary, much less its independence or reputation. There can be no doubt that Saturday’s proceedings have shaken public confidence, and quite badly so.

The author is a Senior Advocate and a former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association

The News – PM Imran assures Hazara community for action against hostile elements

Quetta – Balochistan – Pakistan, 21 April 2019. Prime Minister Imran Khan has assured Hazara community in Quetta for action against hostile elements, saying he stood with people of Hazara community.

PM Khan met with the members of Hazara community during his visit to Quetta. He gave a loud message to hostile elements that their efforts of creating chaos and anarchy will not be tolerated, adding that it will all go in vain and strict action will be taken.

PM Khan announced 5 percent quota for the families of Shuhadahs in the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme. Prime Minister Imran Khan has assured Hazara community in Quetta for action against hostile elements, saying he stood with people of Hazara community.

PM Khan met with the members of Hazara community during his visit to Quetta. He gave a loud message to hostile elements that their efforts of creating chaos and anarchy will not be tolerated, adding that it will all go in vain and strict action will be taken.

PM Khan announced 5 percent quota for the families of Shuhadahs in the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme. – “Reinstate IG Kanwar Vijay Partap Singh as SIT member,” Panthik leaders ask Chief Election Officer

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 21 April 2019. A delegation of Panthik leaders headed by Simranjit Singh Mann staged a peaceful sit-in-strike at Sector-17 of Chandigarh to protest against the removal of IG Kanwar Vijay Partap Singh from the Special Investigation Team appointed to crack the Kotkapura and Behbal Klan firing incidents.

The Panthik leaders, who were in large number, lodged a protest by showing black flags.

Later, these Panthik leaders submitted a memorandum to the Chief Election Officer Dr. S. Karuna Raju seeking reinstatement of IG Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh as a SIT member.

Interacting with the media, Simranjit Singh Mann said that there is a sharp wrath among the Sikh masses against the removal of IG Kunwar Vijay Partap Singh from the SIT.

He added that the SIT was working in the right direction and it was about to make major breakthroughs with its honest working. “The Chief Election Officer has promised us to convey the demand of the Sikh community to his upper authorities,” he informed.

Bhai Dhian Singh Mand, Gopal Singh Sidhu, Paramjit Singh Saholi, Iqbal Singh Tiwana, Baba Mohan Singh, Gurnam Singh Sandhu, Ranjodh Singh, Ranjit Singh Santokhgarh, Fauja Singh etc. were present on this occasion.

Bosnia: Blagaj and Mostar

Tekija Blagaj
Tekke Derwish House
09 April 2019

Sufi Dervish House

The footbath to the Tekija

Top text in Bosnian, top right Turkish, bottom right Serbian

The river emanating from the mountain,
which joines the Buna a bit further down

Our Belgian yatris

The Dervish House

More Bosnian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

A S C – American Sikh Council delegation meets Governor of Punjab expressing concerns over Heritage Destruction in Kartarpur Sahib, Pakistan

Toronto – Ontario – Canada, 17 April 2019. A Sikh delegation representing the American Sikh Council (ASC) met with Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar of Punjab, Pakistan and his staff to share their concerns over the destruction of the Sikh heritage due to new construction over the fields and forests at Kartarpur Sahib, associated with Baba Guru Nanak and seek his intervention.

Gurmeet Kaur, a USA based community activist lead the ASC’s heritage committee and presented its concerns and requests to the Pakistan Government regarding Kartarpur Sahib in particular and the Sikh heritage in general.

Gurmeet Kaur started with discussing the currently proposed plans to cater to an onslaught of expected visitors and how it would destroy the 500 years old heritage by doing an irreversible damage to the sacred fields of Baba Nanak where he farmed with his own two hands for 18 long years.

“Constructing on this acreage destroys the sanctity, the spirit of the sacred site and any chances of archeological revival of the lost heritage associated with Baba Nanak,” she stated.

She then mentioned of the voices against this destruction and how they have been trying to reach out to the Pakistan Government at all levels from the Prime Minister to the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC) via written correspondence, personal meetings with the Pakistan Embassy, High Commission and via press for four months.

She mentioned that this campaign has a backing of over 17,000 petitioners worldwide, the ASC representing 74 gurdwaras in the USA, the Global Sikh Council (GSC), the Supreme Sikh Council of Australia, Mr Navjot Singh Sidhu (Minister – East Punjab), other organizations and individuals including the Pakistan PTI MPA Momina Waheed.

Ripsodak Singh the Principal of the Khalsa Community School said, “We are asking that Kartarpur be setup as an ecological heritage village of Baba Nanak and all new construction be done at least a kilometer away from current Gurdwara, outside of Baba Ji’s fields and align with the Guru period architecture and not be in the form of modern, unsightly hotels and shopping malls that destroy the spirit of the space”.

Gurmeet Kaur stated, “Despite our untiring efforts, we have no formal acknowledgement that our concerns are taken into consideration, no access or say in the current construction plans, no voice in the status and saving of 200+ other Sikh heritage sites that may be disturbed in the name of religious tourism, the very tourism that you are counting on us, the Diaspora Sikhs!”

She showed evidence of two historic Gurdwaras in Nankana Sahib that were recently demolished to the ground in the name of beautification and expansion and raised concerns that several others would go through the same fate if they were not protected as national heritage sites.

Harpreet Kaur, an educator and an activist made everyone emotional, pointing to her two year old son and declaring that she would love to bring him to Kartarpur only to touch and feel the soil of Baba Ji if his fields were preserved and the nature which he revers in Gurbani was honored and not to touch their forehead to the marble slabs that covered our real heritage.

Sher Singh a renowned Sikh writer concluded the delegation’s concerns by saying that the onus of preserving the Sikh heritage in Pakistan was on the Pakistan government. He said that this heritage is an asset to Pakistan and by utilizing foresightedness and keen judgement they may make Sikhs who already love this land, their friends forever.

Harpreet Singh, Principal of the Khalsa Montessori School brought a folder full of letters of heartfelt appeals by children from his school to share with the Governor in which they had pleaded the Prime Minister to save the heritage fields of Baba Nanak for the future generations.

The Governor said that he shared the concerns but since he was brought in very late to preside over the work in Kartarpur, was unable to alter the plans in progress and would have to approach the Prime Minister in this matter.

On reminding that the Prime Minister has forwarded their correspondence to the Governor, he said he will arrange a meeting with the Prime Minister immediately upon his return. The ASC delegation thanked the Governor and hopes he keeps his promise.

The American Sikh Council is the umbrella organization representative of Sikhs in the United States. It is an elected body of Sikh Gurdwaras and institutions. Currently 74 Gurdwaras and other Sikh institutions across the nation are members of ASC. The major governing purpose of the organization is to represent the collective view of Sikhs in the United States. ASC works to promote Sikh interests at the national and international level focusing on issues of advocacy, education, and well-being of humankind.

Dawn – Death toll from Easter Sunday blasts in Sri Lanka rises to 207; 450 injured

The death toll from a devastating series of eight bomb blasts that ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday has risen to 207, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said. At least 450 people were injured in the attacks.

Colombo – Sri Lanka, 21 April 2019. A manager at the Cinnamon Grand, near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, said a suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel’s restaurant.

“He came up to the top of the queue and set off the blast,” he told AFP.

Another suicide bomber killed three police officers as they raided a house in a northern suburb of the city.

Gunasekera said the police were investigating whether suicide bombers were involved in all of the blasts.

The government said eight people had been arrested and investigators would look into whether the attackers had “overseas links.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks, the worst act of violence since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war a decade ago, as “cowardly”, and said the government was working to “contain the situation”.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attacks in a country which was at war for decades with Tamil separatists until 2009 during which bomb blasts in the capital were common.

Christian groups say they have faced increasing intimidation from some extremist Buddhist monks in recent years. And last year, there were clashes between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and minority Muslims.

At a glance:

  • Four hotels ─ Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Tropical Inn ─ targeted in Colombo
  • One church each targeted in Colombo (St Anthony’s Shrine), Negombo (St Sebastian’s Church) and Batticaloa
    (Zeon Church)
  • At least 47 killed in Colombo blasts: police
  • At least 25 killed in Batticaloa blast: police
  • At least 67 killed in Negombo blast: police
  • 35 foreigners, including Dutch, US and UK citizens, dead: police
  • At least 450 injured
  • Curfew, ‘temporary’ social media ban imposed

Three churches, one each in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, and three Colombo hotels were targeted in the initial series of blasts. Another hotel and an unspecified location in Colombo were struck by two more blasts two hours later.

The death toll included worshippers and hotel guests. The injured flooded into local hospitals, where officials reported hundreds of wounded were being admitted.

Hospital sources said British, Dutch and American citizens are among the dead, with Britons and Japanese also injured. A Portuguese man also died, the country’s LUSA news agency reported. Four Pakistanis were among the injured, according to the Foreign Ministry.

After the eighth explosion, the government declared a curfew with immediate effect and said it would last “until further notice”.

A social media ban was also imposed across the country. Government officials said major social media networks and messaging apps, including Facebook and WhatsApp, have been blocked to prevent misinformation and rumours.

The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear, but an official speaking on condition of anonymity said police suspects the initial blasts at the churches in Colombo and Batticaloa were carried out by suicide bombers.

Trail of terror

The first explosions were reported at St Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.

Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in the town of Batticalao, in the east of the country. Police immediately sealed off the attack sites. Sri Lankan security officials are investigating the attacks.

A person identified as Alex Agieleson who was near St Anthony’s at the time said that nearby buildings shook with the impact of the blast, and that he saw a number of injured people being carried away in ambulances.

An AFP photographer at the scene at St Anthony’s saw bodies lying on the floor, some draped with scarves and clothes.

Much of the church roof was blown out in the explosion, with roof tiles, glass and splintered wood littering the floor along with pools of blood.

St Sebastian’s appealed for help on its Facebook page. The explosion ripped off the roof and knocked out doors and windows at the church, where people carried the wounded away from blood-stained pews, TV footage showed.

Local TV showed damage at the Cinnamon Grand, Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in the capital. The Shangri-La’s second-floor restaurant was gutted in the blast, with the ceiling and windows blown out. Loose wires hung and tables were overturned in the blackened space.

A police magistrate was at the hotel to inspect the bodies recovered from the restaurant. From outside the police cordon, several bodies could be seen covered in white sheets.

Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast. The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood. Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries. The images could not immediately be verified.

Hours after the first series of blasts, a seventh blast struck at a hotel in Colombo’s Dehiwala area and killed two people, police spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekera said.

“There was an explosion in a hotel in Dehiwala near the zoo,” a police official told Reuters adding that there were no further details available. An eyewitness on local TV said he saw some body parts including a severed head lying on the ground near the hotel. Zoo officials declared Dehiwala zoo closed after the blast.

Shortly after, an eighth blast hit the suburb of Orugodawatta in the north of Colombo, police said, without providing additional details on what was targeted.

Police chief warned of threat 10 days ago

According to a document accessed by AFP, the Sri Lankan police chief had warned of possible suicide attacks targeting “prominent churches” in a nationwide alert 10 days ago.

Police chief Pujuth Jayasundara sent an intelligence warning to top officers on April 11 setting out the threat.

“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo,” said the alert.

The NTJ came to notice last year when it was linked to the vandalisation of Buddhist statues.

Sri Lanka PM calls emergency meeting

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe condemned the attacks and called an emergency security council meeting, sources told Reuters.

“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” Wickremesinghe said in a Tweet. “Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, tweeted: “Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway.”

He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St Anthony’s Shrine, where he described “horrible scenes”.

“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners”.

“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.

President Maithripala Sirisena, in an address following the attacks, said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, writing on his verified Twitter account, said the attacks had killed “many innocent people” and appeared to be a “well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy.”

The Pakistani Foreign Office retweeted contact information for the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo for Pakistani nationals in Sri Lanka.

Embassies in Colombo warned their citizens to shelter in place, and Sri Lankan Airlines told customers to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of flights because of ramped-up security in the wake of the attacks.

Sri Lankan Christians targeted by discrimination, violence

Only a small fraction of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.

Last year, there were 86 verified incidents of discrimination, threats and violence against Christians, according to the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which represents more than 200 churches and other Christian organisations.

This year, the NCEASL recorded 26 such incidents, including one in which Buddhist monks allegedly attempted to disrupt a Sunday worship service, with the last one reported on March 25.

Out of Sri Lanka’s total population of around 22 million, 70pc are Buddhist, 12.6pc Hindu, 9.7pc Muslim, and 7.6pc Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.

In its 2018 report on Sri Lanka’s human rights, the US State Department noted that some Christian groups and churches reported they had been pressured to end worship activities after authorities classified them as “unauthorised gatherings”.

The Catholic Church in the Holy Land voiced support for Sri Lanka’s Christians and condemned the attacks. A statement issued in Jerusalem said the blasts were particularly sad as they “came while Christians celebrate Easter.”

“We pray for the souls of the victims and ask for speedy recovery of the injured, and ask God to inspire the terrorists to repent of their killing and intimidation,” the statement said.

“We also express our solidarity with Sri Lanka and all its inhabitants in their various religious and ethnic backgrounds.”