Dawn – Asma Jahangir: The street fighter

Saroop Ijaz

The Contrarion

Op/Ed, 11 February 2018. Immediately after the horrific Quetta terror attack on August 8, 2016, Dr Danish, a television anchorperson, tweeted pictures of Asma Jahangir with a caption in Urdu which translates as: “When lawyers were being killed in Quetta, the so-called leader of the lawyers was enjoying herself in the northern areas.”

The post was enthusiastically retweeted, shared on Facebook and distributed through WhatsApp groups.

Asma Jahangir was not “enjoying herself in the northern areas”. She was in Gilgit-Baltistan on a human rights fact-finding mission when the attack happened. There was no way she could travel to Quetta the same day.

She took to Twitter and responded to the anchorperson: “Shame on you for exploiting facts even when people [are] in grief … Ask [your] spy friends not to stoop to the lowest levels of viciousness.”

A picture of her from a March 2008 meeting with Bal Thackeray, the now deceased leader of Mumbai’s Hindu chauvinist Shiv Sena party, created a similar furore. Nationalist websites and media persons wrote thousands of words to denounce her for sharing the same space with one of Pakistan’s most vicious detractors.

It did not matter that she had met Thackeray in her capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, investigating violence against Muslims in India.

Indeed, many people go ballistic every time her name is mentioned. Haroon Rashid, an Urdu-language columnist with a large fan following, wrote in 2013, “warning” that he would lead a march on to Islamabad if Asma Jahangir was appointed caretaker prime minister. She had said earlier that she had no intention to accept the post.

Asma Jahangir’s earliest recollections of activism are from her time in school at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, a church-run school in Lahore.

If anything, these examples suggest a pattern: often wild, unsubstantiated allegations are levelled against her. Often she, too, responds to her detractors in a no-holds-barred manner.

In 2012, in typical Asma Jahangir style, she accused intelligence and security agencies of trying to eliminate her. National and international concern and outrage poured in with such vehemence that the plan, if there was any, had to be dropped.

It seems Asma Jahangir seeks controversy, her critics attribute it to a search for glory. The Lebanese-American writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a word for it: “antifragile”, that is, things and people that benefit from volatility, shock, disorder, risk and uncertainty.

Asma Jahangir does not agree. She argues that she does whatever she does in order to adhere to her core principles, not to seek glory, not to benefit from adversity.

In September 2015, the Lahore High Court ordered the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to black out the coverage of Altaf Hussain, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) supremo.

Very few, if any, lawyers in Lahore were willing to represent him due to his alleged involvement in acts of violence in Karachi and his volatile speeches and media statements.

Asma Jahangir was perhaps the unlikeliest lawyer he would get: the two had never found themselves on the same side of the political divide.

In May 2007, MQM had called Asma Jahangir a “chauvinist lady” who should form her own “chauvinist party”. An MQM statement had also accused her of having a secret affiliation with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

But she agreed to represent him.

Her opponents took to the streets. A small group of lawyers in Lahore brought out a demonstration, demanding the cancellation of her licence to practice law.

Her supporters in bar rooms were also uncomfortable with the idea but they knew she could not be swayed against fighting for someone’s freedom of speech, no matter if the person concerned was a serial abuser of that freedom. “Well, that is how she is,” says one of her supporters, shrugging their shoulders.

When Asma Jahangir decided to contest the election for the Supreme Court Bar Association’s president in 2009-2010, she faced stiff opposition from many sections of the society, including newspapers and television channels.

The media campaign against her was led by the Jang Group’s senior reporter Ansar Abbasi and it focused on projecting her as anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam. Six years later, the same media group engaged her as a counsel to represent it before the Supreme Court.

To read the full article on Asma Jahangir, fearless defender of human rights, click on the link below.



The Asian Age – Kashmiri students assaulted in Haryana; Mehbooba Mufti urges demands probe

Irked Mehbooba said, ‘Shocked and disturbed to hear reports of Kashmiri students being assaulted in Mahendargarh, Haryana.’

New Delhi-India, 3 February 2018. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has urged the Haryana government to take stringent action against the perpetrators for assaulting Kashmiri students and demanded a probe into the case.

Mehbooba made the statement on Friday, hours after reports of the Kashmiri students of the Haryana Central University being assaulted surfaced.

The victims were beaten up while returning to the campus after offering congregational Friday prayers in Mahendragarh town.

Irked Mehbooba took to Twitter and said, “Shocked and disturbed to hear reports of Kashmiri students being assaulted in Mahendargarh, Haryana.”

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet and said that the incident goes against the spirit of his outreach for Kashmiris.

“This is terrible and goes against the spirit of what @PMOIndia @narendramodi ji said from the ramparts of the Red Fort. I hope the authorities in Haryana act quickly against this violence.”

The reason behind the attack is yet not known.

Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Shesh Paul Vaid has been coordinating with his Haryana counterpart to ensure the safety of the Kashmiri youths.


Scroll.in – Has Supreme Court censured Modi government by reopening the 1984 Sikh massacre cases its SIT closed?

It has, says the senior lawyer Harinder Singh Phoolka, who has fought for justice on behalf of many victims of the anti-Sikh pogroms

New Delhi-India, 16 January 2017. In June 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Army to storm the Golden Temple to flush out armed Sikh separatists who had turned it into a fortress. Apparently angered by the assault on this holiest of Sikh shrines in Amritsar, Punjab, Gandhi’s two Sikh bodyguards shot her dead four months later.

The assassination set off a pogrom against Sikhs, especially in Delhi. Nearly 3,000 Sikh men, women and children were killed in what is widely seen as a state-sponsored massacre, with the police colluding with murderous mobs. Yet, 34 years later, there has been little justice for the victims.

New investigation

Last week, however, the Supreme Court ordered a new investigation into the massacre. It decided to set up a three-member Special Investigation Team to look afresh at 186 cases that have been closed by another three-member SIT appointed by the Narendra Modi government in 2015.

The government’s SIT was to examine the evidence in criminal cases relating to the 1984 carnage and, if needed, reopen cases that the Delhi police had not investigated or had closed for lack of evidence. It looked at 293 cases and decided to seek trial in 12. As many as 241 cases were closed, reportedly without investigation.

In August last year, the Supreme Court appointed a supervisory committee to examine whether the SIT’s decision to close the 241 cases “was correct or not”.

“We have perused the report of the supervisory committee,” the court said in its order last week. “On perusal of the same, we find that the SIT has not done further investigation in respect of 186 cases. Regard being had to the nature of the case, we think it appropriate that a fresh SIT should be constituted for carrying on the further investigation.”

This raises the question: how effectively has the government’s SIT done its job?

H S Phoolka, a senior lawyer who has represented many victims of the 1984 carnage, argues that the Supreme Court’s intervention was necessary. “The government’s SIT did not do its work properly,” he alleged, speaking to Scroll.in in his chambers at the Delhi High Court.

“It was originally set up for six months. It has been three years but they have concluded the investigation in only 12 cases. In only 12 cases, the SIT has held that there is sufficient evidence to go for trial.”

It was because of the SIT’s low success rate, Phoolka said, that the matter went to the Supreme Court. “The SIT itself told the court that out of 293 cases, they have closed 241 and 12 will go for trial,” he said. “Hence, the court appointed a supervisory panel of two retired Supreme Court judges.

They went through the SIT records and submitted a report in which they mention that 186 cases have not been investigated by the SIT. The court decided that they will not send these cases back to the SIT since they had not done anything…[and] decided to appoint its own SIT.”

What does the Supreme Court’s intervention mean? “This is an expression of no confidence in the Union government’s SIT by the Supreme Court,” Phoolka said. “The SIT was not interested in the case. One of the judges [on the SIT] was also the president of a district consumer forum at the time [of the carnage]. They took the matter lightly.”

Lack of evidence

The SIT, however, dismissed the allegation that it has not done its work competently. “It is not that the cases were summarily closed,” said Rakesh Kapoor, a retired district and sessions judge who is one of the SIT’s members.

“These cases were investigated. The SIT scrutinised them and came to the conclusion that further investigation was not warranted because of lack of evidence.”

Phoolka rejected the contention that cases cannot be prosecuted because of an apparent lack of evidence. He pointed to cases reopened in 2005 that resulted in the conviction of five people in 2013, including a former legislator.
“That conviction was why there was a demand, since evidence is available, that the other 1984 cases should be reopened too,” said Phoolka. “It is for this purpose that the Union government formed the SIT in 2015.”

As to the argument that the Supreme Court has shown a lack of confidence in his team, Kapoor said, “The SC order, in fact, says the SIT is functioning very well. The new SIT is not a reflection on the working of the earlier SIT.”

Phoolka, meanwhile, is confident about the new SIT making progress where the old one did not. “The head of this new SIT, Justice Dhingra, had sent Congressman H K L Bhagat to jail,” Phoolka said.

Shiv Narayan Dhingra, as an additional sessions judge in Delhi in the 1990s, had conducted trials in several cases relating to the 1984. He is said to have been so tough with the accused, The Times of India reported that Bhagat, a former Union minister, asked for his case to be transferred from Dhingra’s court.

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The Indian Express – Chief of Sikh charitable body in ‘objectionable’ viral video, he files FIR

President of 115-year-old prominent Sikh body debunks purported video as fake and an attempt to blackmail him

Kamaldeep Singh Brar

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 27 December 2017. The President of Chief Khalsa Diwan Charitable Society (CKDCS), Charanjit Singh Chadha (81), found himself at the middle of a major controversy after a purported video showing him in a compromising position with a woman went viral on social media.

Chadda claimed that video was fake and made to extort money from him. Jalandhar police has now registered an FIR on the complaint of Chadha alleging blackmail.

Founded in 1903, CKDCS is one of the biggest institutions of the Sikh community that works all over the world in the field of education.

Also a member of Khalsa College Governing Council, Chadha is considered a close aide of the Badal and the Majithia families. A picture of Chadha with former CM Parkash Singh Badal was seen hanging on wall in the alleged video.

Earlier, former SAD Cabinet minister Sucha Singh Langah was excommunicated by Akal Takht after his purported video with a woman had gone viral. In his case, the woman was also a complainant. In Chadha’s case, the woman in the alleged video has not come forward so far.

The video that vent viral on social network was allegedly captured in the office of a hotel owned by Chadha, and was reportedly recorded by an employee of Chadda.

Former CKDCS member and Khalsa College Governing Council president Bhag Singh Anakhi and incumbent CKDCS member Professor Hari Singh has demanded Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh to excommunicate Chadda from the community as was done in case of Sucha Singh Langah.

Meanwhile, Chadha released a statement on the letter pad of Chief Khalsa Diwan Charitable Society claiming that video was false.

He said, “It has come to my notice that certain fake video is being made to go viral on social media by certain mischievous elements. It is brought to notice of all concerned that a false video with an intent to extract money from me was made in connivance with certain political opponents of mine.”

“I was threatened by conspirators while sitting in my office at Jalandhar on 20 September 2017. Immediately, FIR number 120 was registered by me. After investigation by police, four persons have already been arrested till now. Today morning, another key person Gursewak Singh has been arrested by Jalandhar police”, said Chadha.

He added, “The video was made viral as the conspirators know that they will be exposed and arrested. The video is totally false and has been made viral to spoil my image because I refused to pay ransom to the blackmailers.”

Anakhi, however, said, “It is a big embarrassment for the historical organisation like Chief Khalsa Diwan. He should be sacked from the body immediately and all members should protest against him. Akal Takht should excommunicate him from community,”

“I demand Akal Takht to excommunicate Chadha from community as he has committed a huge violation of Sikh code of ethics,” said Prof Hari Singh.

Chadha is president of CKDCS since 2004. It was during Chadha’s tenure that Chief Khalsa Diwan Society was converted into Charitable Society.

Chadha was instrumental in setting up of three Adarsh Schools of the Punjab government on the behalf of CKDCS, a brain child of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

According to CKDCS website, “Charnjit Singh Chadha introduced numerous innovations in transport which was his family profession and also diversified into allied branches like real estate, financing, import-export, hospitality industry, malls, multiplex and so many other areas, and whatever he touched, it became gold, thanks to his penetrative understanding, futuristic outlook and hard work.”

Although I do not trust associates of the Badals and Majithias very much, I hope that a proper unbiased investigation will be undertaken
Man in Blue

Chief of Sikh charitable body in ‘objectionable’ viral video, he files FIR

FirstPost – RJD’s Bihar bandh on 21 December will not affect Sikh pilgrims, assures Lalu Prasad

Patna-Bihar-India, 18 December 2017. RJD chief Lalu Prasad has said his party would go ahead with its decision to observe a Bihar bandh on 21 December and assured the Sikh pilgrims coming to the state to take part in the closing ceremony of the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh that it would not cause any problems for them.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has called the bandh to protest against the sand mining policy of the Nitish Kumar government.

Prasad’s assurance to the Sikh pilgrims comes in the backdrop of the JD(U) questioning the bandh, with only two days to go for the “Shukrana Samaroh”, the closing ceremony of the 350th birth anniversary of the 10th Sikh Guru.

The event is slated to be held in the state capital from 23 December to 25 December.

“We have great respect for the Sikh community. We had participated in the opening ceremony of the 350th birth anniversary (of Guru Gobind Singh) function in January. I had sat on the ground and bowed my head to Guru Gobind Singhji Maharaj,” the former Bihar chief minister told reporters.

The sand mining policy of the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in the state had caused a slump in construction activities and led to loss of jobs among the workers, who were migrating to the other states in search of work, he claimed, adding, “Our fight is against a government which is indifferent to the plight of the common people.”

Stating that his party was well aware of the sentiments of the Sikh pilgrims, the RJD chief said the places associated with the celebrations such as the gurdwaras, bypass road, tent city would be exempted from the bandh and hence, the pilgrims would not face any problems.

Instead, RJD workers would help the pilgrims reach their destinations, he added.

On account of the “Shukrana Samaroh”, it was also decided to exempt the emergency services, including ambulance, train and flight services, from the bandh, Prasad said.

Bihar JD(U)’s chief spokesman Sanjay Kumar Singh had on Saturday questioned the RJD’s decision to observe the bandh in view of the “Shukrana Samaroh”. “Nitish Kumar has deferred his Vikas Samiksha Yatra, keeping in mind the Shukrana Samaroh, while the RJD has called for a bandh to protest against the sand mining policy,” he had told reporters.

The erstwhile grand alliance government in the state, comprising the JD(U), RJD and Congress, had organised the “Prakash Parv” on a grand scale in the first week of January to mark the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh.

The event was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi among others. Patna Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh, is considered one of the holiest places by Sikhs across the globe, besides being a major tourist attraction.


The Asian Age – Rajasthan man shot dead for transporting cows, body thrown on railway track

The Meo Muslim community has, meanwhile, alleged an attempt to cover up the incident

Sanjay Bohra

Jaipur-Rajastan-India, 12 November 2017. A Muslim man, transporting cows in Alwar in Rajasthan, was shot dead allegedly by gau rakshaks on Friday, seven months after a dairy farmer named Pehlu Khan was lynched in a similar incident in the district.

The incident took place in the early hours of Friday. But no FIR has been registered in the case even after two days.

Ummar Khan, Tahir Muhammad and Tahir Khan were transporting cows to Bharatpur when they were waylaid by the mob and assaulted.

Ummar, 32, died of a bullet wound. His body was found on the railway track around 12 km from the Ramgarh police station. His body has been kept in a mortuary. He is survived by his wife and eight children.

The two others got minor injuries and ran away from the scene. Muhammad is being treated at a hospital in Haryana.

“The attack took place around five on Friday morning,” said Sher Muhammad, sardar (President) of district Meo panchayat.

He alleged that Ummar was killed by gau rakshaks, who threw his body near a moving train after shooting him. The family members recognised Ummar with the help of his slippers.

The Meo Muslim community has, meanwhile, alleged an attempt to cover up the incident. Several members of the community gathered outside the district hospital in Alwar and demanded action against the cow vigilante groups.

Ummar’s relatives filed a complaint against the assailants and alleged that Khan was shot dead by gau rakshkas.

“We won’t accept the body till the case is registered and copy of the FIR is given to us,” said Maulana Hanif, vice president of Jamait-Ul-Rajasthan.

Alleging cover up, Maulana Hanif said that two bullets were shot at Ummar – one in his chest and the other went through his left shoulder but the doctors now say that they can’t trace bullet marks in the body. “To remove evidence, they have disfigured the body,” he alleged.

However, the police remained tight-lipped about the incident. Superintendent of Police Rahul Prakash and SHO Govindgarh did not respond to repeated phone calls from Asian Age, while in-charge of the police control room said he has not received any information from the Govindgarh police station about this incident.

The latest incident comes months after Pehlu Khan, the dairy farmer, and at least four others in Alwar were brutally beaten to death by a mob of 15 cow vigilantes from Haryana on April 5. Pehlu Khan was transporting cows in vehicles on the Behror highway in Alwar.

In September, the Rajasthan Police had given a clean chit to six people named in the Pehlu Khan lynching incident.

Following this, his family had sought a court-monitored probe into the killing and said the case must be shifted out of the state.


Sikh24.com – Police Complaint Lodged Against Historian Harjinder Singh Dilgeer

Sikh24 Editors

New Delhi-India, 11 December 2017. Speaking with Sikh24, the acting president of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee Harmeet Singh Kalka said that he has lodged a formal complaint against Sikh historian Harjinder Singh Dilgeer.

“I submitted a police report on December 8 in the Police station of North Avenue against Harjinder Dilgeer for hurting religious sentiments of the Sikh community. I am hoping the police will take action against Mr Dilgeer at the soonest,” he told Sikh24 earlier today.

Kalka’s complaint has been lodged on the basis of some objectionable facts found in the books penned by Harjinder Singh Dilgeer.

Speaking to Sikh24, S Harmeet Singh Kalka said that Harjinder Singh Dilgeer has challenged the sacred visit of Guru Nanak Sahib to Mecca and has also objected on the historic incident of letting a blind and mute person read Hindu Scripture Geeta by placing a stick on his head.

Kalka further told Sikh24 that Harjinder Dilgeer was trying to detract Sikh youths from Sikhi by challenging spiritual aspects of the religion.

Responding to Kalka’s allegations, Dilgeer told Sikh24 that similar complaints need to be filed against Giani Pinderpal Singh, Bhai Banta Singh, Paramjit Singh Rana, Manjit Singh GK and others who speak from the stages of the DSGMC.

“Their stories also raise doubts within the minds of the Sikh community, why aren’t they being challenged,” Dilgeer said in a statement published on his Facebook account.

“I wonder if the Delhi police are going to laugh at the complaint filed by DSGMC or actually take any action”, Dilgeer posted. “DSGMC has filed similar complaints with the court and police in past; however, till date, they have not found any success. “If there was any questionable content in my books, why did the SGPC or DSGMC publish them?”

The DSGMC want us to belief in a Guru who did miracles
The Guru Granth Sahib teaches about the Guru who speaks truth and lives truth
Man in Blue


Scroll.in – The revolutionary Udham Singh is just one of the many faces of Punjabi identity

The colonial era saw two Punjabs, one revolutionary, the other loyal to the crown. The identity has fragmented further since then.

Op/Ed, 24 November 2017. Facing murder charges, Udham Singh was presented in a court in London in 1940. On March 13 that year, he had shot dead Michael O’Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of Punjab on whose watch the Jallianwala massacre had taken place.

Twenty-one years ago on April 13, 1919, soldiers of the British Army in India had opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protestors in a walled public garden in Amritsar and killed over 1,000 of them. The lieutenant governor had called it “correct action”.

Udham Singh, a revolutionary inspired by the Marxist Ghadar movement of Punjabi Sikhs against British rule and by Bhagat Singh, sought to avenge the massacre. After killing O’Dwyer, he courted arrest.

At the court, a copy of the Granth Sahib was presented to him so he could take oath before the trial. Turning it down, he offered to instead take oath on Waris Shah’s Heer-Ranjha, the fabled love story of Punjab, a copy of which he had already procured from a gurdwara.

Much like Bhagat Singh before him, Udham Singh became a symbol of the Indian nationalist struggle. During the trial, he noted his name to be Ram Mohammad Singh Azad to emphasise how all the major religious communities of India were fighting for the country’s independence.

On one hand, Udham Singh through his Marxist political leanings had an international revolutionary outlook that he wanted to channel into the Independence struggle, which he refused to view through narrow communal or ethnic lens, as had started happening in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

On the other hand, he was still rooted in Punjabi cultural ethos.

Shah’s Heer-Ranjha, now widely known because of its frequent references in the Indian film industry, is a Punjabi folk story, deeply ingrained in its culture and also one of the most important symbols of Punjabi identity.

While Udham Singh wore his Indian identity beyond the confines of any ethnic or religious group, by choosing to take his oath on the Heer-Ranjha, he also depicted his proud Punjabi identity. For him there was no conflict between these two identities.

Revolutionary Punjabi identity

All symbols of Punjabi identity are revolutionary in essence: Heer, who revolted against the institution of marriage and chose her true love; Ranjha, who rebelled against the institution of religion when it tried to take him away from his true love.

The Punjabi Sufi poet Shah Hussain blurred the distinction between the devotee and the divine, challenged conventional religion in favour of unrestrained religiosity, expressed through dance and music, an individualistic act of rebellion.

Similarly, the Punjabi poet Bulleh Shah spoke vehemently against religious clergy, Hindu and Muslim alike. The truth lies within you, he insisted.

Every January during the festival of Lohri, Punjabis celebrate Punjabi folk hero Dullah Bhatti, a landlord from Pindi Bhattian who took up arms against the mighty Mughal emperor Akbar to protect the revenue from his land. Any discussion on Punjabi identity is incomplete without Guru Nanak, who sought to dissolve fixed religious identities.

I am neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, he reiterated. And there is, of course, Guru Gobind Singh who sought to fight for the honour of his people against the Mughal emperor Aurganzeb, the Guru Gobind Singh who could inspire a sparrow to defeat a hawk (as a famous pre-Partition Punjabi verse goes).

This Punjabi identity was deeply rooted in Bhagat Singh. He makes references to this Punjabi culture, to the revolutionary politics of the Sikh gurus in his collection of essays. Udham Singh, also a proud Punjabi, was following in his mentor’s footsteps.

The fragmentation

However, in the colonial era, soon after the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-1849), a new Punjabi identity was forged, the loyalist, pro-empire Punjabi. This image was reinforced during the 1857 war when a Punjab-dominated British Army helped defeat rebels in Delhi and other parts of North India.

Many Punjabi ethnicities and communities were honoured as “martial races”, a title that bestowed upon them a higher position in the race hierarchy and implied that they were loyal to the British.

The colonial era, therefore, saw a conflict between these two Punjabs. One was revolutionary in its essence, the Punjab of Dullah Bhatti and Ahmad Khan Kharral, another landlord who fought against the British during the 1857 war, leading one of the only major rebellions from the province.

The other was the Punjab of chiefs and aristocrats who had been given the titles of Rai Bahadur, Khan Bahadur and Sardar for their loyalty to the crown.

The former Punjab was further fragmented in the early 20th century as education and urbanisation spread throughout the province. Punjabis were no longer Punjabis but Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs fighting for recognition from the British state.

Urdu became the symbol of the Muslims while Hindus fought for the right to use Hindi. Punjabi remained confined to the Sikhs, who eventually emerged as the sole inheritor of this Punjabi heritage.

This conflict between Muslim Urdu and Hindi for Hindus aggravated after the creation of India and Pakistan, as Pakistani Punjab emerged as the symbol of Pakistani nationalism.

Urdu became the language of the Punjabis, keeping up with colonial tradition, while Punjabi symbols such as Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Guru Nanak and Heer-Ranjha slowly started receding to the periphery.

On the other side of the border, as Punjab was further carved up making it a Sikh dominated state, a new Punjabi identity emerged that was synonymous with the religious identity.

While symbols of Punjabi identity were appropriated, they became relics of the past, out of sync with the contemporary Punjabi identity. It is this latter Punjab that both India and Pakistan would rather deal with.

Haroon Khalid is the author of three books – Walking with Nanak, In Search of Shiva and A White Trail

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in


The New York Times – In a city of firsts, Hoboken elects a Sikh as Mayor

Sharon Ottermannov

Hoboken-New Jersey-USA, 8 November 2017. Hoboken is a city of firsts, its proud residents like to say. Some historians say the first organized baseball game was played there in 1846. The first zipper was believed to have been invented there, too.

And now the city of some 55,000 people on the Hudson River can boast another first: Councilman Ravi Bhalla on Tuesday became the first Sikh elected mayor in New Jersey, and one of only a few Sikhs to become mayor of an American city.

“I feel exhilarated,” Mr Bhalla, 44, said in an interview on Wednesday. “I didn’t have any expectations one way or another of victory or defeat, I was prepared for both. And I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to serve Hoboken.”

Mayor-elect Bhalla, a 17-year resident of the city, had won elections in 2009 and 2013 to the City Council and twice served as its president. He was endorsed for mayor by the incumbent, Dawn Zimmer, who announced in June that she would not seek re-election. Mr Bhalla and Ms Zimmer are both Democrats, though Hoboken’s mayoral elections are nonpartisan.

But even his deep roots and prior success among the city’s voters did not make Mr. Bhalla immune from racist attacks. On Friday night, doctored campaign fliers appeared on car windows in Hoboken featuring a picture of Mr Bhalla, who wears the turban that is traditional to his faith.

Above his picture was the message: “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!”

The implication was one that is familiar to many Sikhs, who are part of a separate, monotheistic faith that is neither Hinduism nor Islam, but who are often mistaken for being something that they are not.

Particularly after 11 September 2001, Sikhs have found themselves the target of hate crimes that often appear to be based in a belief that they are Muslim.

Mr Bhalla said that the public reaction to the fliers was largely a desire to refute the hate they represented. The police are investigating the matter as a bias incident.

“It is not what Hoboken is about, it is not reflective of our community,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate.”

He went on to win Tuesday, with 34 percent of the vote in a six-way race. Of the 14,000 votes cast, he received 4,781, according to the Hudson County Board of Elections. There are no runoffs so a plurality was enough to win.

“Is there something special about his victory? Without a doubt,” said Chief Kenneth F Ferrante of the Hoboken Police Department. “This is already an exciting city. His victory just gives it more character.”

Mr. Bhalla was stopped by a steady stream of well-wishers in Hoboken on Wednesday. Some said they considered his win a victory for multiculturalism and a rejection of the forces that propelled President Trump to victory a year ago.

Mr. Bhalla, the child of Indian immigrants who was born and raised in New Jersey, said that his victory was because of his stance on the issues: pushing for more open space, holding the line on taxes, and working to solve the flooding problem, particularly after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy five years ago.

It certainly wasn’t because of a Sikh voting block. There is only a tiny Sikh community in Hoboken of about 15-20 families, he said, including his brother, whose family lives next door to Mr Bhalla. (The Bhallas live on the same street where Frank Sinatra grew up as a teenager.)

Mr Bhalla and his wife have two children, ages 5 and 10, who attend a local charter school.

While Mr Bhalla, who is a lawyer, was humble in talking about his victory, it has resonated well behind Hoboken. His campaign was covered by newspapers as far away as India. And his victory brought a surge of joy on social media from some of the approximately 500,000 Sikhs in America.

Sikhs, who largely hail from the Punjab region of modern-day India and Pakistan, have lived in America for about a century. In that time, they have often felt frustrated because they are “constantly perceived as people that they are not,” said Simran Jeet Singh, senior religion fellow at the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights organization based in New York City.

Still, Sikhs have risen in public life, particularly in Canada, where the current defense minister is a Sikh. In the United States, there have been at least two Sikh mayors in recent years, according to the Sikh Coalition. In 2009, Kashmir Gill was elected mayor of Yuba City, California, but he did not wear a turban.

In 2012 and again in 2014, Satyendra Huja, who wears a turban, was selected by the Charlottesville, Virginia, City Council to be mayor.

But Mr Bhalla’s election felt like a milestone because it is believed to be the first time a turban-wearing Sikh has been directly elected by voters to lead an American city, Mr Singh said.

“This, in many ways for the community, marks a signal shift,” he said, “that now we can maintain our distinct identity, we can practice our faith, and still be seen as part and parcel of the American experience.”

In Hoboken on Wednesday, Mr Bhalla was stopped by a steady stream of well-wishers. Some said they considered his win a victory for multiculturalism, and a rejection of the forces that propelled President Trump to victory a year ago.

“People are upset, but we now have a medium, the electoral process, to express that,” said John Bredlin, 54, a college professor. “They are rejecting Trump”.

Mr Bhalla said that while he is happy to talk about his faith, he is a mayor for all Hoboken. He has big plans for the city after he officially starts his term on 1 January, particularly to improve its infrastructure and public transportation.

“I didn’t run as the Sikh candidate,” he said. “I ran as the candidate who happened to be Sikh.”

Jeffery C. Mays contributed reporting.

Walking in Gent and Gentbrugge

Walking in Gent and Gentbrugge


Vlaamse Kaai

Cycle and pedestrian route across the locks

This is supposed to be the Schelde,
if it is so the river ain’t flowing !

Bassijnstraat Gentbrugge

Published in: on October 18, 2017 at 6:09 am  Leave a Comment