World Sikh News – Changing horizons of political parties and players on Panjab

Prabhdial Singh Saini

Published 2 weeks ago

The Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) has lost its credibility in Punjab after the Bargari sacrilege and Behbal Kalan police killings. The Sikhs in Punjab voted Congress in an act of revenge against the Badals. WSN columnist Prabhdial Singh Saini reflects upon the possibilities of political change in Punjab and points out that it would be interesting to see who will Narendra Modi and Amit Shah bless, overtly the Akalis or covertly Amarinder Singh?

In its upbeat mood, should the Bhartiya Janta Party break its alliance with the Badal Dal, in the coming times, the urban population in Punjab will shift towards the BJP. The equation may change overnight.

Notwithstanding the induction of one minister from the Akali Dal and one from the BJP in Punjab in the Narendra Modi cabinet, the BJP is already eyeing this and its thinking minions are working on this on the drawing board.

The per­formance of the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA) and of AAP has been pretty dismal. The AAP could have been an alternative but it is al­most finished in Punjab due to adamant attitude of Kejriwal and other Delhi-based leaders. Honesty alone does not win you electoral battles.

In 2022 assem­bly elections, the BJP may wipe out Congress from Punjab. The writing is on the wall. Already the RSS has made in­roads into many Sikh institutions. As the Badal Dal stands weakened and new Sikh leaders waiting in the wings to join the BJP, there is no stopping them.

Many known names are likely to become BJP or non-BJP but BJP-blessed-faces in Punjab, the first taste of which are likely to get in the SGPC elections, likely to be held before the Assembly polls.

If Punjab CM Amarinder Singh punishes the guilty of Behbal Kalan and Bargari Kalan, Sikhs may stay aligned with the Congress. There are indications of this in the charge sheet filed by the SIT, but still, we have to keep our fingers crossed till the final curtains are drawn.

The people in Punjab are now in a mood to support that party with full zeal and spirit, which will finish the Badals and reinvigorate the demands and interests of the people of the state. It may be the Congress or the BJP. There is some space for a third party but who will that be, depends upon many permutations and combinations of various groups.

With BJP in power at the centre and his pro-BJP stance, will the Punjab CM have the courage to do that? It appears that Amarinder Singh to is also waiting for a signal from Modi. Most probably, Modi will get the Badals finished politically only through Captain Amarinder.

SGPC Elections, whenever they happen, will be a good indicator of what the political scene will be in the coming times.

Changing Horizons of Political Parties and Players on Punjab

The Tribune – Manjinder Singh Sirsa: Centre has agreed to probe Kamal Nath’s role in ’84 riots

Tribune News Service

New Delhi – India, 15 June 2019. Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) president Manjinder Singh Sirsa today claimed that the Home Ministry agreed to ask the SIT to investigate afresh case against Madhya Pradesh CM and Congress leader Kamal Nath for his alleged involvement in the anti-Sikh riots.

The SIT was constituted by the Home Ministry to investigate closed cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He said the name of Kamal Nath was deliberately not mentioned in the FIR (601/84) registered on November 1, 1984, for killing two Sikhs in Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib.

Addressing the media, Sirsa said the DSGMC approached the SIT for FIR against Kamal Nath, but due to technical problems the FIR was not lodged. Now the Centre had agreed to initiate an inquiry.

NT Gent Roodkapje – Gent Zuid Park

NT Gent Roodkapje
Little Red Riding hood

01 June 2019

Full of parents and children

Most of the Hand-in-Hand members were sitting here on the left
Evi joined me later from her place opposite me

Gent Zuid Park
02 June 2019

Madeliefjes – Daisies

Trees and shrubs

Nice tree

I met an Evi in the park !

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue – Meet the British-born Sikh publishers whose books nurture the legacy of both the Punjabs

No publisher like Kashi House, focussing the entirety of its list on undivided Punjab, exists in either India or Pakistan.

In January 1706, Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru conferred the title of “Guru ki Kashi” upon the city of Talwandi Sabo in Punjab after spending several months there, marking it as a centre of intense literary activity.

Drawing inspiration from the Guru‘s scholarly legacy, Kashi House was founded exactly three centuries later in 2006 in the UK by British-born Sikhs who all shared a passion for the rich cultural heritage of their ancestral homeland.

Now, as then, it is the only mainstream publisher in the world focussed on the history and legacy of the Sikhs and the Punjab region (spanning both India and Pakistan). Kashi the illuminous, which in ancient literature is what the city of Benares is poetically referred to, lends itself to the company’s slogan: “Illuminating Books, Illuminating Minds”.

Unusually, this independent publishing house is a community interest company, which is a particular type of not-for-profit social enterprise operating in the United Kingdom. It has no owners and therefore no share capital, so, rather than being used to pay out dividends, all of Kashi House’s profits are reinvested in new projects for the benefit of society at large.

My first introduction to Kashi House was when my father decided to gift one of their most popular titles to the ageing father of an old Sikh friend. The book, The Golden Temple of Amritsar: Reflections of the Past (1808-1959), could well be mistaken for an artefact in itself.

Delicately gilded, ornately designed with a handsome white and gold emboss, it is a masterpiece of pedagogical and visual delight.

The unique volume highlights the Sikh’s very own “Vatican City” through documentation of a vast collection of paintings, sketches, lithographs and photographs painstakingly sourced from archives around the world.

They are complemented by intriguing quotes from 70 eyewitness accounts, ranging from a 1808 report by a one-legged British spy, right up to that of the Hollywood heartthrob, Lew Ayres, in search of the exotic and esoteric in 1959.

However, this was not Kashi House’s first title. One of its co-authors, Parmjit Singh, also a founding director and one of just three full-time members of the team (devoting almost 75% of their time as a volunteer effort to the company), describes how the very first book emerged as a result of his personal interest in Punjabi heritage.

Once an accountant, he dropped the profession in 2002 to pursue “the creation of books that shed light on areas that have previously been overlooked or remain undiscovered, to impact the reader in a way that is transformative.”

Thus, in 2008, to mark the 300th death anniversary of the tenth Sikh Guru, In the Master’s Presence: The Sikhs of Hazoor Sahib (Vol 1) was published.

It explored the history of “Hazoor Sahib”, the shrine in the Deccan, far from the traditional Sikh homeland and heartland of Punjab, where in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh, a warrior-poet who spent much of his life battling against the oppressive policies of the Mughal Empire, found his last resting place.

Drawing upon a wealth of written material and oral tradition to evoke a vivid account of empires, battles, ancient practices and manners of life, the book was co-authored along with Parmjit by Nidar Singh Nihang, regarded as the last great Indian swordsman alive, and the sole surviving master of a classical school of learning established in 1661 called the Baba Darbara Singh Shastar Vidya Akhara.

Several of the Kashi House books have since gone on to become collector’s items, celebrated for the time, effort, tireless research and production value that have gone into them.

As a historian and scholar whose interests lie in 20th century Punjab, I have benefitted greatly from these books, given the inclusion of extensive archival material, which is quintessential to their work. They focus almost always on the cultural preservation of events that have largely existed as oral narratives.

When I ask Parmjit whether the extent of visual material would more likely befit a digital archive rather than a printed book, he is quick to come to the rescue of the traditional codex. “There is power in books,” he tells me over Skype, “They are robust, perpetual and remain a core repository of information. Books are a medium that will endure time.”

He tells me that since Kashi House is based in the UK, their access to archives is vast, to the extent that they have uncovered a considerable amount of research material that has never previously seen the light of day.

Their strength and passion thus lies in the research and excavation of such items, and Parmjit and his editorial team get quite involved with all aspects of the book, at times, even gathering material to commission just the right author to work on a particular title.

With close ties to curators at the Victoria & Albert Museum, National Army Museum (London), Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections at the British Library, British Museum, Royal Collection, Royal Armouries and Wallace Collection, as well as the famed Toor Collection, it is no surprise that Kashi House’s niche list has come to include household names of historical and cultural research by the likes of John Keay, Charles Allen, William Dalrymple, Kim A Wagner and Amandeep Singh Madra.

The list currently runs to ten titles. However, the emphasis here is on quality rather than quantity. Parmjit notes that while he was growing up, people from the community were not keen to spend on books necessarily, apart from booklets in Gurmukhi brought across from India.

And though some of Kashi House’s books might seem more expensive than those offered by mainstream publishers (the more lavishly illustrated ones being heavily subsidised), he does believe that they are of the quality that the culture deserves.

The team is keen to build a patronage among its readership that regards the purchase of books as an investment in both historical preservation and generational education, centred on exploring one’s identity.

Each title is a valuable object in itself, uncovering a hidden history, a spiritual or philosophical tradition, a unique translation of a classical text, the artistic, architectural and military traditions of a region, and the many links with the empires of the Punjab, Britain, the Mughals and the Afghans.

Kashi House has never recoiled at publishing controversial titles such as Pav Singh’s 1984: India’s Guilty Secret (2017), based on harrowing victim testimonies and official accounts, revealing how the largest mass crime against humanity in India’s modern history was perpetrated by politicians, or the more recent Eyewitness at Amritsar: A Visual History of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre by Amandeep Singh Madra & Parmjit Singh, with a Foreword by Kim A. Wagner (2019), which has brought them deep into the heart of the conversation on an apology from Britain on Dyer’s actions.

Besides history, Kashi House has over the years, branched out into fiction, art books and prints, and well as their most recent release, Stories for South Asian Supergirls by Raj Kaur Khaira.

This anthology of 50 illustrated biographies of inspirational South Asian women brings together formidable characters from history like Jhansi ki Rani, Noor Inayat Khan and Cornelia Sorabji, alongside contemporary heroes like Jameela Jamil, Indra Nooyi and Sania Mirza.

Alongside its publishing programme, the Kashi House team has curated three major exhibitions at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS (London), extending its portfolio beyond literary endeavours. These have been on the history and traditions of the Golden Temple of Amritsar (2011), the contribution of Sikhs in World War One (2014) and, most recently, the remarkable story of the Empire of the Sikhs (2018).

The epic story of the latter was told through a glittering array of over a hundred works of art and objects, including stunning jewellery and weaponry belonging to a number of historic figures such as Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Maharani Jind Kaur and General Hari Singh Nalwa.

These were borrowed primarily from the Toor Collection and several major institutional lenders, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Royal Collection and British Library.

Like much of Kashi House’s work, the 11-week show attracted thousands of non-Sikhs, who were drawn in by national coverage in the media as well as from an explosion of social media interest. A key element behind the success of these exhibitions is that the story is brought to life for thousands of visitors with insightful, personalised gallery tours delivered by the curators.

An interesting aspect to note is that a publisher like Kashi House, focussing the entirety of its list on undivided Punjab, does not exist in either India or Pakistan. Its full-time, part time and even volunteer staff is comprised almost entirely of British-born Punjabis, who share a passion for their heritage and homeland.

“The United Kingdom has a particularly intimate history with Punjab,” Parmjit tells me, and then, within minutes, swept by enthusiasm, he transports us back from 2019 all the way to the beginning of Sikhism.

He had never even visited India before he was 24 years old, but now he seamlessly becomes a repository of his history, a living embodiment of the work that he and his team do. “It was very important for us as British South Asians to understand where we came from, who we were, what connections we had to the land our ancestors had left behind.

The UK’s social landscape is incomplete without the Punjabi piece, not just with the diaspora today, but also the longstanding history. But growing up, we heard only parts of that story and not in the most articulate or contextualised way.

Kashi House is about stories that create a doorway into ourselves; they illuminate Punjabi history in a way that is meaningful, balanced, well-researched and accessible, written by our people for the world.”

When I ask him how difficult it is to sustain an independent endeavour such as this publishing house, particularly when other large companies produce hundreds of books a year, he smiles warmly into the screen. “We’re on a mission, to try to propagate the history of a collective Punjabi identity, devoid of nationality or religion. It’s a difficult quest, but it’s worth it to establish something so much larger than our individual selves.”

Dawn – India deprives Sikh pilgrims of Jorr Mela yatra

Khalid Hasnain

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 15 June 2019. A number of Sikh pilgrims staged a protest demonstration at the Attari railway station on Friday against the Indian government after a special train from Pakistan was not allowed to enter its territory to pick them for Jorr Mela.

The irritated pilgrims despite carrying visa and travel documents remained stranded at the Attari railway station as they waited for hours for the special train to take part in the Jorr Mela, which is held every year to mark the death anniversary of Guru Arjun Dev.

“It is a matter of great displeasure that India once again behaved as it did in 2017,” said an official of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) while talking to Dawn.

On Friday, the official said, the special train reached the Wagah railway station at 9am to pick as many as 146 Sikh pilgrims.

Protest staged at Attari railway station against New Delhi for disallowing train from Pakistan to pick them

“Our authorities contacted their Indian counterparts again and again to accept and allow entry of the train to their territory for picking and bringing the Yatris to Lahore so that they could proceed to their destination for attending the 10 day long Jorr Mela festival.

“But it is very sad that at about 12.40pm they [Indian authorities] finally refused to allow the train to pick the Yatris,” the official explained.

“We all, senior ETPB officials, Sikh office-bearers of Pakistan Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, local administration and others concerned, remained present at Wagah to welcome the pilgrims. But India didn’t bother [to facilitate their travel], forcing the pilgrims to remain stranded at Attari for hours.”

An official requesting anonymity told Dawn that around eight pilgrims, however, succeeded in entering Pakistan on foot via Wagah-Attari border.

The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had issued visas to around 200 Indian Sikh pilgrims for attending the festival.

Under a bilateral agreement between the two countries, Pakistan can issue visas to as many as 500 pilgrims for this event. Last year, a meagre number of pilgrims (less than 50) visited Pakistan for this event. But in 2017, India disallowed 80 pilgrims after rejecting Pakistan’s request of sending special train to pick them on June 8.

Yet some 14 pilgrims, who had visa to enter Pakistan on foot via Wagah border, succeeded in crossing the border. Later on June 28, 2017, the Indian authorities once again did not allow 300 Sikh community members to attend the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, citing refusal by the Ministry of External Affairs to clear their names.

“This time, too, we had made extraordinary arrangements for the lodging, boarding, security, etc, of 146 pilgrims. On June 16, the main ceremony in this regard has been scheduled to be organised here. But India didn’t see this and forced the pilgrims to return home from Attari. It is really against the universally admitted fundamental rights of the people,” the official deplored.

There was an issue over the exact date of this event mentioned in the Nanakshahi Calendar (a calendar of Sikh pilgrims’ religious rituals in Pakistan), with a few people considering it to be June 6 as against the understanding of most of the Sikh pilgrim associations in both countries which agreed on the dates of indigenous months (Jaith, Harh), linking them to the English months, according to the official.

As most of the Sikh pilgrims considered June 16 as authentic date for this event, scores of them applied for visa.

“The Pakistan High Commission issued visas to them and this was already in the knowledge of the Indian authorities,” the official said.

Finally on Friday when the special train from the Wagah railway station was ready to travel to the Attari railway station to pick the Sikh pilgrims, the Indian government did not give it permission, depriving them of visiting Pakistan for attending the festival.