The Times of India – Tongas make a comeback in Amritsar

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 20 November 2017. Fun to ride, cheaper to hire and eco-friendly, tongas seem to be making a comeback in Amritsar. The horse-drawn carriages driving through the congested bylanes give an ample view of the glorious past of the old city.

The tongawalas are happy that from a little over a dozen tongas, the number has nearly doubled within a year.

“About four decades ago, there were around 500 tongas in Amritsar. Dedicated ‘tonga’ stands were earmarked by the municipal corporation. But now they operate from near Ghee Mandi, which is closer to the Golden Temple,” said president of Amritsar Tonga Union Surinderpal Singh.

He said even a few years ago, there were 15 tongas and now the number has crossed 24. He wants the government to come forward and support the tongawalas and construct a dedicated tonga stand. “The royal transport can add to the glory of the city,” he said.

He also said that tongas are the “nonpolluting taxis” and the tourists visiting Amritsar love riding these carriages. “Many a times, hotels make advance bookings for the foreigners and tourists,” he said.

Meanwhile, the tongawalas said that most of the horses complain of medical problems, especially because the animals inhale toxic fumes emitted by diesel-powered rickshaws in the city. Surinderpal also said that a major chunk of their income goes into the medical expense of horses.

Tongawala Tara Singh has been in this business for the past 40 years. He complained that the modern means of transport has ruined the business. However, he is happy that the tourists love taking a ride in these carriages. “Tourists prefer riding the tongas over e-rickshaw and auto,” he said.

Singh also said that this light curricle drawn by two horses do not cause any pollution. “The horse waste is used as manure. Traffic has increased manifold on the streets. But we obey the traffic rules,” he said.

Tongawalas take the tourists to the Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, Durgiana Temple and Vaishno Mata temple. They don’t go to Attari international border despite repeated requests from the tourists. Surinderpal said most of the tongas plying in Amritsar are ‘old’ and need urgent repair.

Yati, a tourist from Jaipur, was thrilled after a tonga ride. “Rickshaws, e-rickshaws and autos are everywhere but it is a unique experience to ride a tonga,” said Yati.

“I had heard about tongas and had seen them in movies. This is my first experience of riding a tonga and I am thrilled,” said another tourist Taran Bansal. He suggested that there should be several tonga stands and a dedicated lane for tongas too in Amritsar.


The Times of India – Dal Khalsa wants refugee status for plane highjacker Gajinder Singh

Bharat Khanna

Patiala-Panjab-India, 19 November 2017. Remembering its founder leader Gajinder Singh on his 66th birth anniversary, the Dal Khalsa wants United Nations (UN) to give refugee status to its patron since, in international parlance, he is a stateless person. For this, they are all set to appeal to UN too.

Notably, Gajinder Singh along with his colleagues hijacked the Indian plane on September 29, 1981 and is living in self-exile in some undisclosed country.

“It is ironic that he has to spend his life in oblivion despite the hard fact that he has undergone the life imprisonment for hijacking”, said party’s senior leaders H S Dhami and Kanwar Pal Singh.

In a statement, they didn’t mention as to where he was based now. However, he said Gajinder Singh remains the patron of the Dal Khalsa, which unfailingly continues to uphold the spirit of the ‘mission for independence’ started by him.

Some believe that Gajinder Singh has settled in Pakistan after his release from jail in November 1994.

The leaders of Dal Khalsa said the case of Gajinder Singh is fit for the refugee status as he is a person who cannot live in his homeland as despite having undergone long imprisonment for hijacking and despite the fact that he is entitled to the legal defense of not to be tried for the same offence twice under the notion of ‘double jeopardy’.

“Earlier, we were reluctant to write to world body but now we have decided to approach UNHCR (The UN Refugee agency) to get the status for him” said, Kanwarpal Singh.

Taking a dig at Indian establishment, they wondered if India can give asylum to Tibetan leader Dalai Lama and has initiated process to give the same to Pakistan’s rebel Baluchistan leader Brahumdagh Bugti presently living in Switzerland, why New Delhi has been creating diplomatic obstacles to Gajinder’s settlement in any country of his choice.

To drive their point home, Dal Khalsa alleged that India thwarted Gajinder’s effort to settle down in Germany in July 1996 and it did the same again in late 90’s in UK. “The then government shot off a letter to our local party office informing that Gajinder Singh won’t be given asylum if he enters UK.

The decision was unilateral as Gajinder never applied for asylum there. Although it’s altogether a different matter that UK has granted asylum to Pakistan’s rebel and MQM chief Altaf Hussain.”

They further said, “In 2001, India placed his name on the most wanted list, however his name has not been mentioned in the latest list of India’s most wanted.

Continue with its witch-hunting attitude, Indian government allowed the re-opening of the hijacking case after 36 years and currently two of the members of hijacking team who have returned to India are facing the sedition charges afresh at Patiala House, Delhi. The next date of hearing is November 21.

They added that Gajinder wasn’t involved in any terror case other than the 1981 hijacking one to which he has already undergone life sentence in Pakistan.

Dawn – Religious freedom

Huma Yusuf

Op/Ed, 20 November 2017. The State Department recently missed its legal deadline for designating ‘Countries of Particular Concern’, a list of nations that violate religious freedom in a “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” manner.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the body that recommends which countries should be designated, criticised the State Department for the oversight, stating that it “tells violators of religious freedom around the world that the United States is looking away”, and is unlikely to take rights violations seriously.

Pakistan is among the 16 countries that the USCIRF has recommended feature on the list, not surprisingly, and not for the first time. However, the State Department has yet to designate Pakistan as a CPC, presumably to avoid tackling the sensitive issue of religious freedoms as part of an already fractious bilateral relationship.

What would make us stop maltreating minorities?

Anyway, it is unlikely that a designation would motivate Pakistan to check the blatant violation of religious minorities’ rights.

Souring relations with the US, the astute recognition that religious freedom violations are not a high priority issue for the Trump administration, and a growing reliance on China for support at international fora mean that the designation, in the unlikely event that it were to occur, would be ineffective.

So what would motivate Pakistan to tackle the escalating persecution of religious minorities? This question is particularly pertinent as the hostility against religious minorities intensifies with state complicity, whether in the form of legislation, parliamentary discourse or unchecked street agitation.

External pressure in the form of the CPC designation or other condemnation from powers that can offer inducements (defence cooperation, trade deals, aid) has been the most effective in making states behave themselves: think of Turkey keeping human rights violations in check and respecting press freedom while still aspiring for an EU membership.

But in a multipolar world in which some of the ‘poles’, China, Russia, have little regard for human rights, external pressure is less compelling.

The fact that countries where rights violations are routine are signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and similar rights treaties is also meaningless. Institutions such as the UN that uphold such treaties are weakening, and their credibility has eroded in the face of multiplying humanitarian crises in places such as Syria and Yemen.

The argument that religious freedom promotes peace by reducing the likelihood of faith-driven or sectarian conflict also falls short in Pakistan’s case. Our country is wracked by lawlessness, and religion-related violence is just one of many security challenges.

A decade of indiscriminate terrorism has also made sectarian violence comparatively palatable.

Moreover, our state’s blunt way of dealing with conflict in the form of para/military operations hardly distinguishes between religiously motivated violence and other forms of conflict.

In Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen argued that economic and social development is facilitated by freedom, and that any form of ‘unfreedom’ hampers progress and prosperity. By this argument, states should promote religious freedom to facilitate an overall environment in which freedom is respected and protected, in other words, rights beget rights, which in turn beget growth.

But Sen’s premise will have few takers in Pakistan where too many vested interests benefit more immediately from rights violations, whether in the form of extrajudicial killings, abductions, worker rights violations or religious persecution as a rent-seeking activity.

When moral, social and diplomatic drivers fail, money usually succeeds. Many countries have been spurred to improve their human rights record in order to attract foreign investors who fear the reputational risks of handing over wealth to rights violators.

However, as Pakistan embraces CPEC as its big growth plan for the coming decades, this aspect can become increasingly irrelevant. Chinese companies are unlikely to ask the state to improve its track record on religious freedom or other human rights.

In the absence of any compelling reason to check religious persecution, Pakistan’s minorities are falling victim to political expediency whereby the short-term gains for political parties and other power brokers of taking aggressive positions against the most vulnerable are too attractive to overlook.

Ultimately, as a nation, we will have to find an internal motivating factor to support religious freedom. That motivating factor will have to be the realisation that if one group’s rights can be trampled today, then our rights (whoever ‘we’ may be) can be trampled tomorrow.

Since there is no predicting who will hold power, whether political or institutional, in the decades to come, we can only take ease in the idea that our religious and other freedoms are protected no matter who’s in charge. Sadly, such insight is hardly our forte.

The writer is a freelance journalist

The News – Nawaz criticizes judges in Abbottabad rally

Abbottabad (Urdu ایبٹ آباد)-Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa-Pakistan, 19 November 2017. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday took an exception to judges who he said took oaths of allegiance to dictators but failed to deliver justice in his case.

“Those who are talking about minus one formula don’t know Nawaz Sharif is the name of an ideology” said he while addressing a rally in Abbottabad district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Today I have brought my review appeal (against disqualification) here. Pakistani nation will decide on my review petition,” he said.

“Pakistan has once again been destabilized,” the former prime minister said and asked the participants of the rally whether they would support him in restoring sanctity of vote. The crowd responded in affirmative.

The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz leader arrived in Murree from where he travelled to Abbottabad.

TV channels aired photo of the former prime minister shaking hands with Pashtoon Khawa Milli Awami Party leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai whom the former met at the Islamabad’s Benazir International Airport.

During their brief encounter, both the leaders discussed current political situation of the country.

The rally is being held at the College Ground where organizers have placed 10000 chairs and huge panaflaxes carrying images of the former prime minister.

Earlier in the day, Muslim League Nawaz leaders Pervaiz Rashid and Asif Kirmani visited the venue to review the preparations for the rally.

Speaking to media, Rashid said Imran Khan was calling for early election because he was scared of PMLN.

PMLN’s provincial leaders Sardar Mehtab Abbasi and Amir Maqam also visited the College Ground in the morning. – Twenty-two SGPC members rebel to form new “Panthik Front”

Sikh24 Editors

Jalandhar-Panjab-India, 18 November 2017. A Panthik front under leadership of former SGPC General Secretary S. Sukhdev Singh Bhaur has come into existence.

Official information about it was shared with media following a meeting of twenty-two current SGPC members and seven former SGPC members at Gurdwara Dukh Niwaran situated in Guru Teg Bahadur Nagar of Jalandhar.

SGPC member S Sukhdev Singh Bhaur has been appointed as convener of this new Panthik Front and S Gurpreet Singh (Fatehgarh Sahib) & Jathedar Jaswant Singh have been appointed as spokespersons.

Beside them, a seven member team has been also constituted to chalk out agenda in relation to election of a new SGPC President on November 29 and other affairs in future.

Interacting with media on this occasion, S Sukhdev Singh Bhaur said that there was a sharp wrath among Sikh masses over SGPC’s failure in tackling desecration row and imposition of amended Nanakshahi calendar.

He added that the SGPC appointed Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh also needs to give clarification about the former Jathedar of Takht Sri Damdama Sahib Giani Gurmukh Singh.

SGPC members Bibi Kuldeep Kaur Tohra, Baba Gurpreet Singh Fatehgarh Sahib, S Surjit Singh Garhi, S Jaswant Singh Pudain, S Shingara Singh Lohian, S Surjit Singh Tugalwala, S Inder Mohan Singh Lakhmeerwal, S Kuldeep Singh Nathupur, S Mohinder Singh Hussainpur, S Sarbans Singh Manki, S Nirmail Singh Johal Kalan, S Amrik Singh Junaitpur, S Harpal Singh Pali and Baba Gurmeet Singh Trilokewal were present during the meeting and have given support to the new front.

The Independent – Scottish Sikh ‘faces further torture’ after being taken back into police custody in India, campaigners say

Jagtar Singh Johal tells lawyers he has been tortured with electricity

Lucinda Cameron, Hilary Duncanson

London, UK, 19 November 2017. A British Sikh man arrested in India and allegedly tortured by police has been returned to police custody, campaigners have claimed.

Jagtar Singh Johal was moved to judicial custody after appearing in court in Punjab on Friday, sparking hopes the “physical torture” will come to an end, the Sikh Federation UK said .

However, the federation said he was later returned to police custody for the next two days without charge after he was taken to an area magistrate by police from another district.

His legal team are said to be concerned this period will be used to try and “falsely link him” to unsolved cases in the area.

Mr Johal, from Dumbarton in West Dunbartonshire, was detained in Jalandhar in the state of Punjab on 4 November.

The federation says no official charges have been brought against him, but local media reported Mr Johal’s arrest was linked to the killing of Hindu leaders in Punjab.

Mr Johal, 30, who got married in India last month, has told lawyers he has been tortured with “body separation techniques and electrocution to body parts”.

The Sikh Federation said that following his court appearance in Punjab, he was sent to jail until 30 November, when he will reappear in court.

It said he has had a brief meeting with his in-laws and a UK official, but business cards from his lawyers and the British High Commission representative were later taken off him.

He is also being denied fresh warm clothing, it is claimed.

His lawyers are said to have applied for an independent medical examination of Mr Johal.

Bhai Amrik Singh, chair of the Sikh Federation UK, said: “Many are asking why Jagtar was not allowed the business cards for his two lawyers or for the British High Commission representative or allowed to accept clothes from his family.

“The Indian authorities clearly have much to hide and the British and Scottish governments must do much more to secure his release.

“We will be challenging the Foreign Secretary next Tuesday when he appears in the Commons to answer questions from MPs.”

Hundreds of Sikhs held a demonstration outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London in support of Mr Johal on Thursday.

An FCO spokesman said: “Our consular staff in New Delhi have visited a British man who has been detained in Punjab. We have met his family to update them, and have confirmed that he now has access to his lawyer.

“We take all allegations or concerns of torture and mistreatment very seriously and will follow up with action as appropriate.

“When considering how to act, we will avoid any action that might put the individual in question or any other person that may be affected at risk.”

The Hindu – Manmohan wins Indira Gandhi Prize

Jury led by Pranab Mukherjee makes the choice

Special Correspondent

New Delhi, 18 November 2017. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be the recipient of this year’s Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development.

A jury headed by former President Pranab Mukherjee made the decision on the award given out annually to individuals and organisations in recognition of creative efforts toward promoting international peace, development and a new international economic order, ensuring that scientific discoveries are used for the larger good of humanity, and enlarging the scope of freedom.

The award, comprising a cash prize of Rs 25 lakh and a citation, was instituted by the Indira Gandhi Memorial trust in 1986 and previous recipients include the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former USA President Jimmy Carter, former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, and organisations such as the United Nation’s Human High Commissioner for Refugees and ISRO.

Indira was not peaceful, nor disarming and she mainly developed her own personal power
Man in Blue

The Asian Age – Sasikala ’s family responsible for raids: Tamil Nadu CM

Edappadi Palaniswami on Saturday squarely blamed the ‘Mannargudi Family’ for the raids at a bungalow

Madurai/Chennai-Tamil Nadu-India, 19 November 2017 Declaring that the Income-Tax searches at the Poes Garden residence of late chief minister J Jayalalithaa has caused “great pain” to 1.5 crore cadre of the AIADMK, chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Saturday squarely blamed the ‘Mannargudi Family’ for the raids at a bungalow which is revered as a “temple” by millions across Tamil Nadu.

A combative Palaniswami, who spoke to reporters at the Madurai Airport on Saturday evening, termed rebel leader TTV Dhinakaran as a “media creation” seeking to know his “sacrifices” for the AIADMK and punched holes in his statement that he became the Chief Minister only due to the efforts of the Sasikala family.

“Everyone knows who is responsible for these raids at Poes Garden. It is the duty of the Income-Tax to raid those who evade Income-Tax, be it businessmen or those related to the government.

Only on that basis, the I-T sleuths had raided family members of Chinamma (Sasikala) and those related to them and now they searched Poes Garden after seeking permission of the courts”, Palaniswami told reporters, pinning the blame on Sasikala’s family.

“The searches have been conducted at the residence where Amma stayed. Amma’s rooms were not searched. Only due to the mistakes committed by a few people, Amma’s residence has been raided and the very same people have brought disrepute to the AIADMK as well.

All of you know who those people are”, he said, asserting that Tamil Nadu Government had doing to do with the raids.

Maintaining that the Income-Tax department was not under the control of the State government, the chief minister said the searches at Poes Garden have caused “great pain” to all 1.5 crore cadre of the AIADMK.

“We all considered and revered Poes Garden residence where Amma lived as a temple and today that temple has been searched. Only some people are responsible for this”, the chief minister said. Except for Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai and Rajya Sabha MP V Maitreyan who appeared to criticise the raids indirectly, the EPS-OPS camp spoke in one voice.

The Tribune – Bangladesh Gurdwara Management Board comes of age

Shubhadeep Choudhury, Tribune News Service

Kolkata-West Bengal-India, 18 November 2017. The fledgling Kolkata-based Bangladesh Gurdwara Management Board, which made a wobbly start in 1972, has organised yet another successful pilgrimage. Pilgrims, numbering 200, reached Bangladesh on November 9. The last batch returned home recently.

Two dignitaries, including Obaidul Quader, the Bangladesh minister for roads, transport and bridges, visited the historic Nanakshahi Gurdwara at Dhaka and promised the pilgrims support for any programme organised at the shrine.

“Hands folded and eyes shut, he stood in front of Guru Granth Sahib and prayed,” said an evidently pleased Harbhajan Singh, a resident of Amritsar and follower of the Kar Sewa sect headed by Sukha Singh of Tarn Taran.

Sukhdev Singh, also from Amritsar, recalled how the “nagar kirtan” in Dhaka on November 10 had drawn an overwhelming response.

“We were looked after well. People from all religions attended the gurdwara functions. It seemed we were celebrating communal amity,” said Bhai Gurbux Singh of Takht Hazur Sahib, Nanded, Maharashtra. “Awami League MP Quazi Rosy also visited the gurdwara and interacted with the pilgrims,” he added.

The Sikh pilgrimage circuit in Bangladesh consists of five gurdwaras, two each in Dhaka and Chittagong and one in Mymensingh. As Bangladesh does not have any Sikh population, there is no Sikh on the Dhaka-based Gurdwara Management Committee.

Headed by a Hindu, Parashuram Begi, and with local Hindus, Muslims and Christians as its members, the committee looks after the gurdwaras as well as pilgrims visiting the shrines during Baisakhi and Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary.

Controlled by Kolkata panel

The Bangladesh Gurdwara Management Committee is controlled by Kolkata-based Bangladesh Gurdwara Management Board.

Members and office-bearers of the Kolkata board are chosen by the Jathedar of Takht Patna Sahib. Pilgrimage to two Dhaka shrines associated with Guru Nanak and Guru Teg Bahadur began in 2008.

The National – Fresh concerns over arrest in India of Jagtar Singh Johal

Kirsteen Paterson

Edinburgh-Scotland-UK, 18 November 2017. A Scot “tortured” in India was almost completely covered up when British officials met with him in an Indian facility, a leading Sikh MP claims.

Preet Kaur Gill, the first female Sikh elected to the House of Commons, says detained Jagtar Singh Johal has been classed as “vulnerable” amidst serious concern about his treatment by police in the Punjab.

The 30-year-old Dumbarton man was with his new wife and his cousin when he was arrested on the street on November 4.

Local reports state that he is accused of funding the purchase of weapons connected to the targeted killings of high-profile Hindus, and of “influencing the youth” by publishing material related to the deaths of thousands of Sikhs in pogroms in 1984.

His local MP Martin Docherty-Hughes has accused authorities in the Punjab of treating Jagtar as an “easy target” in a clampdown on critics of human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, his older brother Gurpreet Singh Johal has branded the arrest “opportunist” and says it has “broken” his family.

No charges have yet been brought and yesterday Jagtar, known as Jaggi, appeared for a third court hearing after claims of torture emerged.

He attended a lower court in Bagha Purana, Moga, flanked by a contingent of police officers. According to his lawyer, he has been subjected to electric shocks and “body separation techniques” while being held by police.

The internet marketer has been transferred out of their custody and into jail to await another court date on November 30, according to the Sikh Federation, which is running a #freejaggi campaign.

The organisation’s chair Bhai Amrik Singh said: “Hopefully the physical torture will now come to an end, but the mental torture of false imprisonment continues”.

The case has drawn strong criticism of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and British Consulate after no officials appeared at Jagtar’s first hearing.

Gurpreet said the UK Government had given the case “no attention” and failed to meet with him before these sessions.

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland yesterday, MP Gill said officials had frustrated the judicial process by failing to turn up. She said: “Because of the British arriving late to court, that date was extended and so he had a further hearing date, to which they didn’t attend.”

On Thursday the FCO confirmed that staff had now met with Jagtar. Discussing this and torture claims, Gill, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Sikhs, said: “When they met him he was in the presence of two police officers. He was covered up and quite well padded up. All they could see was his face and his hands.

“Jagtar did ask that he wanted to see them on his own. They said they would try and do that.

“They assessed him as being vulnerable, which is really, really concerning.”

A coachload of Scots travelled to London to join a protest of around 400 people outside the FCO on Thursday, with the case attracting interest throughout the UK. Gill said: “There is a significant diaspora of Sikhs in this country. They want to know that they can come back and forth to their homeland”.

External Relations Secretary Fiona Hyslop says the Scottish Government is “deeply concerned” about the case, and that the First Minister has requested updates as more information is made available.

Meanwhile, Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP), which is headed by Sikh Jagmeet Singh, has contacted his foreign affairs minister to suggest that the Canadian Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains could intervene.

In a letter, NDP politician Cheryl Hardcastle suggests Bains, who is in India, could “offer his assistance on the ground”.

Hardcastle says this would be justified because Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, adding: “We hope that Jagtar Singh Johal is allowed to have a fair trial, [and] is provided with access to an independent medical examiner as requested by his legal team.

“It is crucial that he not be subjected to any further torture while in custody of Punjab Police.”

Acknowledging international interest in the case, Docherty-Hughes said: “There has been an incredible response to the campaign to help Jagtar, with messages of support pouring in from people all over Scotland and across the world.

“Thanks to the strength of this campaign, the Foreign Office and British High Commission is now taking action to provide consular support to Jagtar. Whilst this is welcome news, concerns remain about the possible torture of my constituent during his detention in India.