The News – Hope for a religious corridor

Tridivesh Singh Maini

New Delhi – India, 15 August 2018. The Sikh community the world over is getting ready to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary in November 2019 of the First Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev.

Many would-be pilgrims wonder whether they will be able to visit their holy sites in Pakistan, including the historic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Narowal district, where the Guru spent the last years of his life.

Reviewing the preparations to commemorate the Guru’s 550th birth anniversary, Chief Minister of Indian Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh said he would write to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, requesting that Sikh devotees be granted free access through a special corridor connecting Dera Baba Nanak on the Indian side to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan for at least a week during the main celebrations for Guru Nanak Dev.

Over the past two decades, civil society activists from Punjab, India, US organisations like the Institute of Multitrack Diplomacy as well as large sections of the Sikh diaspora, have called for visa-free access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.

In 2010, India’s Punjab assembly passed a formal resolution in support of a ‘religious corridor’ from India to Pakistan to facilitate visa-free pilgrimages.

The Pakistani government’s response has been positive. In May this year, Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner to India, speaking at a function in Ludhiana stated, “We are considering India’s request to develop a corridor between the two religious sites”. However, a formal decision is awaited.

India too understands the relevance of the demand for the religious corridor, but cites ‘security issues’ as the main obstacle. Shashi Tharoor, head of the Parliamentary Committee on External Affairs and former minister of state for external affairs had visited Dera Baba Nanak, India, in May 2017.

Commenting on the demand for such a religious corridor, the committee stated that there was a: “….long-pending demand of people for establishment of an exclusive corridor from the Indian side to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib through which pilgrims can pay homage without any visa or passport.”

Tharoor had commented that, given the current tensions between both countries, going ahead with this corridor appeared impossible.

As India and Pakistan celebrate 71 years of independence, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, is just one illustration of how Partition led not just to mass migration and personal tragedies, but also how communities were separated from their historic religious shrines.

Sikhs in their Ardaas (daily supplication) continue to pray for access to gurdwaras in Pakistan. In 2006, they received a glimmer of hope when a bus service was launched between Amritsar-Nankana Sahib, under the regime of former Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

The Sikh diaspora has also continued to lobby with the Pakistani government to renovate the gurdwaras, as well as for easier access – which has been impeded by tensions between India and Pakistan.

As a new government led by former cricketer Imran Khan takes oath, it remains to be seen how ties between India and Pakistan will shape up. In recent years, Sikh pilgrimages to Pakistan have been largely unaffected except for more than three occasions in 2017, when religious pilgrims were sent back at the last minute.

The Guru’s 550th year celebrations provide a good opportunity for both the Pakistani and Indian governments to work together and set up a religious corridor for a week, as requested by the Sikh community worldwide.

Joint seminars could also be held where scholars from both sides may discuss the relevance of Guru Nanak Devji’s philosophy not just in the context of Punjab and the Sikh community, but all of South Asia, which is afflicted by similar problems of poverty, and intolerance and militancy in the name of religion.

The Pakistani government could also move ahead on the Baba Guru Nanak International Project that was initially to be set up at Nankana Sahib. The project was shifted to Islamabad, with the EPTB citing land acquisition as the main impediment.

Indian Punjab’s minister for culture and tourism, Navjot Singh Sidhu who has been invited for Imran Khan’s swearing in, himself a former cricketer, at a press conference on August 2 this year had rightly suggested that celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary could begin from Pakistan.

Said Sidhu: “That is where I see hope. I am seeing an ‘umeed ka suraj’ (dawn of hope). I see him (Imran Khan) as an instrument of realising the dreams. I want to take my Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh to Nankana Sahib to start the celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.”

To begin with, India and Pakistan could allow Sikh pilgrims access to Kartarpur Sahib as well as other religious shrines. Cultural links between the people of both countries are currently largely restricted to movies, TV dramas, ghazal concerts and cricket.

In this scenario, the Sikh heritage of Pakistan (especially the legacy of Guru Nanak Dev) is an important component that has been captured very well by books like ‘Walking with Nanak’ by Haroon Khalid and ‘Lost Sikh Heritage in Pakistan’ by Amardeep Singh.

The next step would be to start easing the visa process. One of the reasons the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service has not been successful is because it is so difficult to secure a visa for the other side. In this respect, setting up consulates in Amritsar and Lahore would be an important step.

Many believe that Guru Nanak Dev’s humanitarian philosophy can bring both countries closer. At this point, all eyes are on India and Pakistan to see whether they will make a break from the past to grab this opportunity – or continue to allow other issues to take centre stage.

The writer is a Delhi-based policy analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India.


The Tribune – Sydney gurdwara asked not to serve langar on tables

Amritsar, 28 July 2018. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh has warned the management of Austral Gurdwara in Sydney against serving langar to the sangat on tables and chairs as it was against Sikh traditions.

In according with the “Gur-maryada”, he said, it was necessary to partake of langar in “pangat” (sitting in a line on the floor).

He said Sikh Gurus had directed their followers to partake of langar while sitting on the floor. He said it was highly objectionable that a group of Australian Sikhs were insisting on serving langar on tables and chairs, thereby changing a centuries-old tradition.

I prefer eating langar sitting on the floor, but the main principle that applies is: are all sitting together as equals ?
Many Gurdwaras now have high tables for eating standing, tables and chairs for elderly and disabled and mats on the floor for the main body of the sangat. If in this Gurdwara in New South Wales all are sitting as equals on chairs and at tables, might that not serve the Guru’s purpose better than the three tiered langar in Southall ?

Sikh Mission Centre
170 Ninth Avenue
, Austral –  New South Wales 2179
Australia – Ashes of Afghan Sikh leaders immersed at Kiratpur Sahib

Sikh24 Editors

Kiratpur Sahib – Panjab – India, 24 July 2018. The ashes of 12 deceased Afghan Sikh leaders and a Hindu leader were immersed in a tributary pouring into the Nangal Hydel Channel at Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib in Kiratpur Sahib on July 23.

The ashes were brought from Gurdwara Guru Arjan Dev Ji of New Mahavir Nagar (Delhi) where these were being kept for glimpse since July 19.

SAD leaders Dr Daljit Singh Cheema and Bhai Amarjit Singh Chawla paid homage to the departed Afghan Sikh leaders while immersing their ashes in a tributary pouring into the Nangal Hydel Channel at Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib.

The SGPC had made robust arrangements for the relatives of deceased Afghan Sikh leaders at Gurdwara Kiratpur Sahib on this occasion.

Former Cabinet Minister Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema said on this occasion that the Shiromani Akali Dal understands the pain of Afghan Sikhs and is committed to help them in every possible way. He also prayed for the spiritual relief of departed Afghan Sikh leaders.

It may be recalled here that the ashes of Afghan 12 Sikh leaders and a Hindu leader, who were killed in a suicide bomb attack on July 1 in Afghanistan’s eastern town Jalalabad, were brought to India in a special air ambulance on July 19.

Beside it, the six injured Sikhs were also brought to India for providing them ailment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

Sikh Federation – UK Sikhs on verge of securing Sikh ethnic tick box for Census 2021

London – UK, 22 July 2018. In the Census 2011 more than 83,000 Sikhs rejected all the existing ethnic tick boxes, including ‘Indian’ and chose instead to tick ‘other’ and write Sikh. This provided the strongest indication possible that Sikhs who complete the census form wanted a Sikh ethnic tick box and not to be labelled Indians.

In the official Office for National Statistics (ONS) consultation in 2015 and 2016 for the Census 2021 it received requests for 55 additional ethnic tick boxes, including requests for a Sikh ethnic tick box from leading Sikh organisations, like the Sikh Federation (UK), linked to Gurdwaras, the main religious institutions that Sikhs regularly attend.

The findings of the UK Sikh Survey 2016, the largest survey of Sikhs that had over 4,500 respondents, was conducted by The Sikh Network and shared with ONS. It found 93.5% of all Sikh respondents wanted the inclusion of a separate Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021.

In September 2017 in just one week nearly 140 MPs signed a letter to John Pullinger, Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority, who is also responsible for the ONS calling for the inclusion of Sikh as an ethnic group, as well as a religion, on the 2021 census form.

MPs indicated the number of MPs could easily have been doubled or tripled given the level of cross-party support for the Sikh community on this issue.

After national and international publicity surrounding support by MPs a handful of individuals in the Sikh community no doubt encouraged by the Indian High Commission, including one un-elected member of the House of Lords, woke up to the fact that the ONS were to make a decision in 2018 on whether or not to introduce a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021.

There was no opposition to a Sikh ethnic tick box in the official consultation, but ONS entertained the idea there might be some opposition that resulted in the ONS hosting a large meeting in London on 23 October 2017 regarding a Sikh ethnic tick box.

The ONS write up of the meeting states “at the meeting there was strong support for option 1 (to include a Sikh tick box in the ethnicity question and the religion question) over the other options suggested. In a vote taken at the end of the meeting only two (the Lord and his assistant) people voted against option 1.”

Following a stakeholder event at the QEII Centre on 13 December 2017 ONS stated it had reduced the number of groups being considered for an additional ethnic tick box to four groups (Jewish, Roma, Sikh and Somali), but ONS said it needed to undertake further work before making recommendations for the Census White Paper 2018.

At a meeting with ONS in February 2018 Iain Bell, the Deputy National Statistician confirmed to Preet Kaur Gill MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs, that the need for Sikh ethnicity data had been identified and ONS were taking further advice on their legal duties.

MPs have repeated Sikhs were declared a distinct ethnic group following the historic unanimous 5:0 judgement 35 years ago in the Mandla v Dowell Lee case (1983) in the House of Lords and this could not be ignored by the ONS.

Furthermore, the census categories determined by ONS and associated advice given by the ONS to public bodies on monitoring meant Sikhs were being discriminated against as they were deliberately being overlooked by decision makers, as highlighted by the Prime Minister’s first annual Race Disparity Audit that confirmed in October 2017 no data was being collected on Sikhs.

Iain Bell confirmed that the only question that remained to be confirmed was the degree of ‘public acceptability’ within the Sikh community. The APPG agreed with Iain Bell that the best way to do this was to write to the management committees of each of the 250 Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship in the UK) asking them to indicate whether or not they supported the proposal for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box.

Iain Bell suggested if 60% or more of Gurdwaras that responded were in favour this would be sufficient for the ONS.

MPs belonging to the APPG are due to meet John Pullinger the National Statistician on Monday 23 July to discuss the responses to the ‘public acceptability’ question.

The APPG wrote to around 250 UK Gurdwaras asking them to indicate whether or not they supported the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021. 112 Gurdwaras have individually responded to the request by the APPG. The APPG asked each Gurdwara to complete a return and indicate its official membership and the approximate size of their Sangat (or congregation).

All 112 Gurdwaras, that include all the largest Gurdwaras in the UK, have indicated they are in favour of a separate Sikh ethnic tick box.

Gurdwaras large and small have responded from all 12 regions of the UK, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and cover the widest spectrum within the community e.g. Singh Sabha Gurdwaras, Ramgharia Gurdwaras, Bhatra Gurdwaras and Ravidas Gurdwaras.

The 112 Gurdwaras have indicated they have a combined official membership of more than 107,000 Sikhs over the age of 18 and total weekly congregations or Sangat of nearly 470,000.

This information means the ONS will almost certainly recommend to the Cabinet Office that a Sikh ethnic tick box must be included in the Census White Paper 2018.

Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said:

“The ONS cannot overlook the huge protest by over 83,000 Sikhs in the Census 2011 who rejected all existing options and wrote Sikh.”

“The official consultations by the ONS in 2015 and 2016 showed there was a demand for a Sikh ethnic tick box and no one objected.”

“We have the support of at least 250 MPs from across the political spectrum for our demand.”

“The ONS has taken legal advice and they know they cannot simply ignore the legal recognition of Sikhs as an ethnic group.”

“The final ONS test was one of public acceptability and our main religious institutions have spoken with one voice with 100% backing for a separate Sikh ethnic tick box.”

“ONS will now have to recommend a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census White Paper later this year.”

Gurjeet Singh
National Press Secretary
Sikh Federation (UK)
Sikh Federation <> – SAD leaders meet Rajnath Singh seeking conclusion of mercy petition for Bhai Rajoana

Sikh24 Editors

New Delhi – India, 19 July 2018. A delegation of SAD affiliated parliamentarians on July 18 met the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh seeking commutation of the death sentence of Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana to life sentence.

The SGPC president S Gobind Singh Longowal was also a part of this delegation beside the Akali parliamentarians Professor Prem Singh Chandumajra, S Ranjit Singh Brahmpura, S Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, S Balwinder Singh Bhoondarh and the former parliamentarian S Tarlochan Singh.

In the 15-minute meeting with the minister at Parliament House, the Sikh leaders raised apprehensions that the execution of the court’s order of death sentence had the potential to disturb peace in the state.

Sharing the development with media, S Prem Singh Chandumajra said that the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has promised them to conclude the mercy petition at the earliest by commuting the death sentence of Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana.

It is pertinent to note here that the death row convict Bhai Balwant Singh Rajoana is on hunger strike since July 16 in protest of the delay in execution of his death penalty.

The News – ETPB for foolproof security of Gurdwaras

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 21 July 2018. Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) on Friday issued a letter to all caretakers of Gurdwaras to intensify security of Gurdwaras at Lahore, Nankana Sahib, Hassan Abdal, Farooqabad, Narowal and Peshawar.

According to the letter, keeping in view the prevailing situation and threats particularly from internal and external anti-state elements to the minorities all the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) were unanimously requested to ensure foolproof security arrangements to protect minorities.

It is mentioned in the letter that security of Gurdwaras and temples is the prime responsibility of ETPB. No unauthorised person will be allowed to enter the security cordon of Gurdwaras.

Caretakers of the Gurdwaras were instructed to maintain complete record of persons visiting Gurdwaras. Concrete barriers are required to be provided at entrance of each Gurdwara through technical wing of Evacuee Trust Property Board to cope with any untoward incident.

They were instructed to install barbed wires and search lights on boundary walls of each Gurdwara through technical wing of Evacuee Trust Property Board. According to letter issued by ETPB, trained staff should be deployed at each Gurdwara. – Two rest houses of 2000 rooms to come up at Amritsar Sahib

Sikh24 Editors

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 18 July 2018. Keeping in view the rapidly growing arrival of devotees at the holiest Sikh shrine Sri Harmandr Sahib, the apex Sikh body Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee has planned to construct two rest houses of 2000 rooms in the holy city Amritsar Sahib.

Site for one of them has been selected while the site for another one is being searched by the SGPC.

Interacting with media in Sangrur on July 17, the SGPC president S Gobind Singh Longowal informed that one rest house will be constructed in Akali Market while the SGPC is searching space for another one.

It is noteworthy here that everyday more than 100,000 devotees come to pay obeisance at the sanctum sanctorum Sri Harmandr Sahib. Presently, the devotees from distant places often face problem in getting accommodation, especially on Gurpurabs when the score of devotees sometime crosses even 500,000.

News Shopper – Belvedere Sikh Temple [Gurdwara]: Plans in for new temple [Gurdwara]

Tom Bull

Bexley – London – UK, 18 July 2018. Plans have been submitted to demolish and rebuild a Sikh Temple [Gurdwara] in Belvedere.

If the scheme gets the green light from Bexley Council, a new traditionally styled Gurdwara will be built at the site in Lower Road.

The current Gurdwara is formed of a converted warehouse, which would be demolished in place of the new temple.

It is a revised scheme that the applicants say is friendlier to neighbouring properties than a previous 2015 plan.

They said in their application: “The scheme will not result in ‘overdevelopment’ of the site and will create a good standard of amenity for future occupiers, with access to a more than adequate level of private and useable amenity space.

“In reaching the design proposal, the fundamental principle has been to provide a new use that will ensure that this is an active site.

“It is proposed to replace the existing building with a new purpose-built Gurdwara containing a range of community facilities.”

The plans include room for classrooms that can be used for community activities.

Planning permission for the temple was first granted in 1979.

The scheme is being considered by planning officers at Bexley Council.

@TomBull Local Democracy Reporter – Bromley & Greenwich

Guru Nanak Gurdwara
31 Mitchell Close
Belvedere DA17 6AA, UK

The Tribune – Another SGPC delegation to visit Shillong

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 17 July 2018. The SGPC has decided to send yet another delegation to Shillong to take stock of the situation there.

Gurjeet Singh, president of the managing committee of Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in Shillong, met SGPC office-bearers here on Tuesday and apprised them of the tense situation Sikhs were facing in the Meghalaya capital.

He alleged that the Meghalaya Government was apathetic to the problems of Sikhs and the panel constituted to resolve the issue of dislocating Sikh families was biased.

Several indigenous Khasi civil society groups were pressuring the Meghalaya Government to relocate Sikhs living in Thom Metor, terming most of them as “illegal settlers”.

Around 300 Dalit Sikhs living in Punjabi Colony also felt insecure.

SGPC additional secretary and spokesman Diljit Singh Bedi said a delegation would be sent to Shillong soon and legal aid would be provided to affected members of the community.

“Our earlier delegation had held meetings with the CM and the Home Minister of the northeastern state, but the situation did not normalise yet,” he said. – Shillong’s Punjab Lane dispute: Minorities Commission orders status quo till final decision

Sikh24 Editors

New Delhi – India, 15 July 2018. Taking strong notice of the Meghalaya government’s attempt to displace Sikhs from the Punjabi lane area of Shillong, the National Commission for Minorities on July 13 ordered the Meghalaya government to maintain status quo till final decision on the matter.

Notably, the Commission member S Manjit Singh had taken observation of the situation by personally paying a visit to Shillong on 5 & 6 June.

Recently, the Commission had summoned the Meghalaya’s Chief Secretary Y Tsering, Meghalaya’s Urban Development Secretary Mr Donald Philips, Meghalaya’s Advocate General Amit Kumar and the President of Shillong’s Gurdwara Badaa Bazaar Committee S Gurjit Singh to Delhi.

After conducting hearing on the issue, the Commission member S Manjit Singh Rai ordered the Meghalaya’s state government to maintain status quo till final decision on the issue while deferring next hearing onto August 9.

It may be recalled here that the National Commission for Minorities had considered S Manjit Singh Rai’s report on June 13 and it was decided that the Ministry of Home Affairs may be requested not to withdraw the security force till peace is restored and chief secretary may be requested not to take any steps to relocate the Punjabi Lane residents since they had been staying there for over 200 years.