Dawn – Laudable Saudi move

Editorial, 28 December 2019. Coming at the end of a year that has held quite a few shocks for Pakistani diplomacy, the news that Saudi Arabia is planning to convene a meeting of Muslim foreign ministers exclusively on the Kashmir issue deserves to be welcomed.

But some of the diplomatic jolts need to be recalled.

In March, the UAE invited the Indian external affairs minister to a meeting of foreign ministers of the OIC, without considering the opinion of Pakistan, an OIC founding member.

Then following 05 August, when India’s Hindutva government headed by Narendra Modi abrogated the special status of India-held Kashmir, there was no criticism of the move from the Arab side; those who condemned it included Malaysia and Turkey.

While the Arab stance reflected adversely on the acumen of Pakistan’s diplomats, it also underlined the cumulative mindset the Arab world has developed towards Muslims from other parts of the world. This mindset is one of indifference towards non-Arab Muslims even when they are victims of state brutality, as in occupied Kashmir and Myanmar.

Islamabad’s grief over Riyadh’s passivity was the greater because of the esteem in which Pakistan holds the Saudi leadership which is regarded as the Guardian of the Two Holy Places. For that reason, Riyadh’s reaction to Mr Modi’s criminality came as a blow to Pakistanis.

The media quoted official Saudi sources as saying that Riyadh wanted “the concerned parties in Jammu and Kashmir to maintain peace, and take into account the interests of the people of the region”.

Noting that Saudi Arabia was following “the current situation” in Jammu and Kashmir, it called for “a peaceful settlement in accordance with the international resolutions”.

While Riyadh, thus, walked a tightrope, Dubai’s response did it no credit whatsoever, for it said that Mr Modi’s Aug 5 action was “not a unique incident” in India’s history and that it was that country’s “internal matter”.

Against this background, the report that Saudi Arabia intends to call an OIC foreign ministers’ moot devoted exclusively to Kashmir comes as a breath of fresh air.

This can be called the most positive outcome of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan’s one-day visit to Islamabad.

The Saudi initiative could be interpreted in two ways: either it is a move to placate Pakistan, especially after Riyadh put pressure on Islamabad to distance itself from the Kuala Lumpur Summit, or it shows a genuine Saudi interest in the plight of the Kashmiris who early next week will complete five months of the lockdown in their homeland which has been described as “an open-air prison”.

No date or venue has yet been notified for the planned OIC conference, but let us hope it is held at the earliest and that Qatar and Iran, both Saudi rivals, are also, as they should be, invited to make it a proper gathering of Muslim countries.


Ieper Visit – Menenpoort

16 August 2019

Nepali memorial

Nepali memorial

Belgian (just visible) and Indian flag
Indian memorial

Ashoka lions
Indian memorial

India in Flanders ‘ fields
1914 – 1918
Indian memorial

The Indian national emblem
Ashoka lions
Indian memorial

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Published in: on September 1, 2019 at 5:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Hindustan Times – A little-known story of Nepal’s Sikh connection

The story of Sikh transporters is legendary in Nepal. In the early 1950s, hailing from the Jammu region, many of them personally navigated the newly laid tracks of the Tribhuvan Highway, and crossed rivers to haul their trucks to Kathmandu.  They also started the first public bus service in the country, and have been active in the setting up of modern schools in the country.

Manjeev Singh Puri

Kathmandu metropolitan – Nepal, 20 July 2019. Nepal has a small but a vibrant Sikh community that is best known for its role as transporters, who opened Nepal to the modern world. Not many, though, know that Nepal’s Sikh heritage dates to Guru Nanak Dev, who travelled through Nepal during his third udasi.

Marking his sojourn in Kathmandu is Nanak Math, which has a peepul tree marking the exact spot where Guru Saheb meditated. The math, like a few other shrines in Kathmandu, is linked to the Udasi tradition and has a mahant presiding over it.

The shrine is not well-known and remains neglected; this prompted author Desmond Doig to call it the “forgotten shrine of the Sikhs”. Nepal also boasts several handwritten copies of the Guru Granth Sahib, including a couple in the Pashupatinath Temple complex.

The Sikh connection with Nepal developed during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh when the armies of the Sikh and Gorkha courts fought inconclusively in the Kangra region. The valour of the Gorkhas led the Lahore Court to recruit them. Even today, Nepalese serving in the Indian Army are colloquially referred to as “Lahureys”.

Later, when Maharani Jind Kaur escaped from the British, she came to Nepal and lived in the country for several years. Accompanying her was a large body of Sikhs. When she left Nepal, many of them settled down in the area around Nepalgunj, bordering Uttar Pradesh.
Retaining their Sikh identity, including wearing unshorn hair and maintaining gurdwaras in the villages of their concentration, they are a community largely missing in the annals of the Sikh diaspora.

In modern times, Sikhs have played pioneering roles in Nepal not only as transporters but also as engineers, doctors, police officers, teachers, educationists, pilots, and even as fashion designers.

Indeed, the person credited with laying the first drinking water pipes in Kathmandu was a Sikh, Manohar Singh. And, of course, by setting up the first restaurants, they paved the way for popularising Punjabi cuisine in Nepal.

The story of Sikh transporters is legendary in Nepal. In the early 1950s, hailing from the Jammu region, many of them personally navigated the newly laid tracks of the Tribhuvan Highway, and crossed rivers to haul their trucks to Kathmandu. They also started the first public bus service in the country, and have been active in the setting up of modern schools in the country.

The Sikh community in Nepal in the 1980s totaled more than a few thousand and built a grand gurdwara in Kathmandu’s Kupondole neighbourhood, apart from smaller gurdwaras in Birgunj, Nepalgunj and Krishnanagar. It is further enriched by Nepalis like Sardar Gurbaksh Singh embracing Sikhism.

India’s diplomatic ties with Nepal also have a strong Sikh connection with Sardar Surjit Singh Majithia being the first ambassador and establishing the embassy in 1947. His arrival and departure, by air, saw the first uses of the landing strip that is now the runway at Tribhuvan International Airport.

As we celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the Sikh connection of Nepal will be further strengthened as Nepal has started minting three commemorative coins, two in silver with denomination of Nepali Rupees 2,500 and 1,000 and a cupronickel coin with a face value of Nepali Rupees 100, to be launched on this auspicious occasion. Nepal is one of few countries issuing legal tender featuring a Sikh connection.

Manjeev Singh Puri is India’s ambassador to Nepal and is a former ambassador to the EU, Belgium and Luxemburg


The Statesman – Tension prevails in Saharanpur district after Ambedkar statue desecrated

A crowd of angry Dalits gathered near the statue, demanding immediate arrest of those involved in the act.

Swati Sharma

Meerut – Uttar Pradesh – India, 03 February 2019. Tension prevailed in Talheri Khurd village of Deoband area in Saharanpur district on Sunday morning after a statue of Dr Bheem Rao Ambedkar was desecrated by unknown people.

A crowd of angry Dalits gathered near the statue, demanding immediate arrest of those involved in the act.

SP (Rural) Saharanpur Vidya Sagar Misra said that a case has been registered against unidentified people and the police have started an investigation. “Those involved in the act would soon be identified and arrested,” said the SP.

On Sunday morning, the villagers observed that one hand of the statue was damaged. This agitated them and they demanded an immediate arrest of those responsible for the act of vandalism.

As soon as the news of the incident reached the police, sub-divisional magistrate of Deoband Ritu Punia and circle officer Siddharth Singh rushed to the spot and tried to pacify angry Dalits. They assured the villagers of taking stern action against the miscreants and also promised to get the damaged statue replaced with a new one.

Saharanpur district has a notorious history of caste-related clashes, especially involving the Dalits who form a major chunk of the population here.

In May 2017, Dalit-Rajput clashes led to large scale violence in the district. The Bheem Army, which is a Dalit organisation, is also active in the district. Its chief, Chandra Shekhar alias Ravana, was arrested and booked under NSA at that time and was released a few months back.


The New Indian Express – First India-Nepal passenger train on broad gauge likely to begin from December

The train will run from Jayanagar in Bihar to Kurtha in Dhanusa district in Janakpur Zone of south-eastern Nepal, which is a 34 km stretch.

New Delhi – India, 04 November 2018. The first passenger train to run on broad gauge between India and Nepal is likely to run from December this year, sources in the railways have told PTI.

The train will run from Jayanagar in Bihar to Kurtha in Dhanusa district in Janakpur Zone of south-eastern Nepal, which is a 34 km stretch.

An immigration check-post is likely to be established at Jayanagar station manned by either the Bureau of Immigration or the state government.

No visa will be required for Indian and Nepalese nationals crossing the border through this stretch, a source said.

The Nepalese authorities have informed the railways that the section will be opened with four trips and will ply in eight to 16 hour shifts.

While the first train is to be a passenger train, the Nepalese have stated that they want to run both passenger and freight trains on this section.

Nepal will take rolling stock, rakes, coaches and others, on lease from India for the purpose, another source said.

The ministry of external affairs have had several inter-ministerial meetings with the railways, government of Nepal and other stakeholders on this.

More meetings to finalise logistics are likely to take place.

The move is being seen as part of efforts to counter China’s plans to forge rail links with Nepal.

After Beijing decided to extend its railway network up to Kathmandu, New Delhi proposed the construction of new railway links during Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s recent visit to India.

Nepal and India have plans for four cross-border railway links, including one to link Raxaul to Kathmandu.

The Jayanagar-Kurtha rail line was originally built during the British Raj to transport logs from forests at Mahottari to India.

At that time, the line from Jayanagar in Bihar to Bijulpura in Mahottari was 52 km long.

More than 15 years ago, floods swept away the Bighi bridge, disrupting railway services on the 29-km stretch from Janakpur to Jayanagar.

The Rs 5.5-billion (Nepalese Rs 8.8 billion) project is divided into three phases.

The first includes construction of a 34-km segment between Jayanagar and Kurtha, the second comprises construction of an 18-km segment from Kurtha to Bhangaha in Mahottari district, and the third comprises construction of a 17-km segment from Bhangaha to Bardibas.

Of the total length, only three kilometres is in Indian territory.

The sale of tickets, the source said, will be through an unreserved ticketing system and passenger reservation system in Nepal which will be facilitated by the railways.