The Indian Express – Panjab expo: Their visas rejected for last 2 years, Pakistan traders say they won’t participate

This time, exhibitors from Afghanistan, Turkey, Thailand and Egypt are also participating in PITEX. States like Jharkhand, J&K, Madhya Pradesh and the North-Eastern states will also be part of the event.

Kamaldeep Singh Brar

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 12 December 2019. Discouraged by their visas being rejected for the last two years, Pakistani traders have not sent any names for participation in the Punjab International Trade Expo (PITEX), 2019, which is set to begin in Amritsar on Thursday.

“In the past we had participation of more than 150 traders in this annual international trade festival. We organise PITEX in Amritsar to encourage trade between East and West Punjab. But our efforts are falling apart since the last two years as the Ministry of External Affairs does not give visa to Pakistani traders,” R S Sachdeva, mentor, Punjab State Chapter, PHDCCI, told The Indian Express.

The 14th edition of PITEX is being organised here by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI).

“This year too we had sent an invitation to Pakistan traders. But they replied that they will not apply for visa as they might be rejected again. They were discouraged as MEA didn’t approve any visa for last two years. It is the first time they have decided not to apply due to expected response of MEA,” said Sachdeva.

He further said, “On one side the Kartarpur Corridor has been opened and Pakistan government has set-up a market alongside gurdwara where devotees love to shop. But the same traders cannot sell their goods by crossing the border.

We have asked Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh to send a fresh note to the Union government to allow Punjab trade with Pakistan in a changed scenario after the opening of Kartarpur Corridor. Punjab has great trading opportunities with Pakistan. Punjab and Indian government must think about exploring these.”

However, Pakistani products will also be on display and for sale during the event. Five traders have been attending the event as they have SAARC visas.

This time, exhibitors from Afghanistan, Turkey, Thailand and Egypt are also participating in PITEX. States like Jharkhand, J&K, Madhya Pradesh and the North-Eastern states will also be part of the event.

Sachdeva said, “PITEX will be inaugurated on December 12 by Punjab Industries and Commerce Minister Sunder Sham Arora. Apart from leading corporates, PITEX will see participation from PSIEC, GMADA, Punjab Agro Industry Corporation, PEDA, Milkfed, Markfed, amongst others. A number of central government departments are also participating.”

Karan Gilhotra, chairman, Punjab State Chapter, PHDCCI, said there will be a session on ‘Tourism: Fuelling growth and goodwill’ which will be attended by the tour, travel and hospitality industry. Over 400 stalls have been set up in over 20,000 sq mts. Organisers said that there were around 3 lakh visitors last year and this year number is expected to cross 3.5 lakh.

Punjab expo: Their visas rejected for last 2 years, Pak traders say they won’t participate

The Tribune – Sikh activists barred from entering Kashmir

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 09 December 2019. Citing law and order, activists of the Dal Khalsa and Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) were today barred from entering Jammu and Kashmir. They were scheduled to go to Srinagar to hold a peaceful sit-in at Lal Chowk to observe Human Rights Day tomorrow.

Acting upon the orders of the Kathua magistrate, the police intercepted them at the Madhopur-Kathua interstate border.

The protesters were carrying placards to convey their message and sought release of political prisoners in Kashmir and Punjab.

Dal Khalsa leader H D Dhami said when Home Minister Amit Shah had announced that everything was normal in Kashmir, why were they not allowed to go there? “This prompts us to say that there is no normalcy in Kashmir and Union Government has been telling lies to hoodwink the world,” he said.

Dal Khalsa spokesperson Kanwarpal Singh, while speaking at the sit-in at the border, said, “It is ironical that even on the occasion of Human Rights Day, we were not allowed to talk and uphold human rights.”

The agitating Sikh leaders said it would be brought to the notice of the United Nations Human Rights Council how Kashmiri people had been reeling under state repression since the August 5 lockdown.

The Tribune – SGPC raagis to perform kirtan at Kartarpur

Committee to send them on rotational basis; also to complete their official formalities

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 04 December 2019. In a first, the Indian Sikh ‘raagis’ would recite gurbani kirtan at the Gurdwara located across the border regularly on a rotational basis. The SGPC has prepared a list of ‘raagi’ jathas (group of sacred hymn singers) to be deputed at Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan.

Under the plan, the first ‘raagi’ jatha will leave on December 16 morning through the Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak and return after offering their day-long services at the Gurdwara. There has been upsurge in the flow of pilgrims who visit the Gurdwara through the corridor but several shortcomings in arrangements were also observed.

It was felt that more number of ‘raagis’ were required to continue the regular gurbani kirtan at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur.

Sikhs in Pakistan are in micro-minority and consequently there has been shortage of professional ‘raagis’ compared to the number of Sikh Gurdwaras located in the Muslim-dominated country.

SGPC chief secretary Dr Roop Singh said for the day-long continuous flow of gurbani kirtan, the apex body had offered services of its ‘raagis’ at Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.

For the first day, Bhai Shaukeen Singh-led ‘raagi’ jatha would reach the Gurdwara on 16 December through the dedicated terminal and return the same evening. The following day, Bhai Gurmel Singh would take his jatha.

Though the duties would be designated by the SGPC, these jathas would go like the ordinary pilgrims, after furnishing their antecedents online and paying the service fee of $20 each. All this would be arranged by the SGPC well in advance.

The SGPC had earlier appealed to the Centre to take up the issue at the diplomatic level with its Pakistani counterparts so that special permission could be granted to the SGPC to send its ‘raagi’ jathas and sewadaars under a special category.

Now, the SGPC has decided to offer the service instantly through the ordinary channel. Dr Roop Singh said the plan of providing service of ‘raagis’ was offered in the backdrop of the feedback received from the devotees.

“The devotees who paid obeisance at Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib observed the shortage of ‘raagis’ which posed as a hindrance and cumbersome for a handful of Pakistani raagis in continuing with the gurbani kirtan the whole day at the Gurdwara.

We decided to send our jathas on our own through the available channel. They will go like other pilgrims and return after offering their services the same evening,” he said.

Golden Temple’s [Harmandr Sahib] additional manager Rajinder Singh Rubi said at present there were more than 70 ‘raagi’ jathas associated with the shrine. “We plan that the instruments like harmonium, table and other allied items that were required in reciting gurbani kirtan should be donated at Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib,” he said.

The Tribune – New SGPC team favours tech to propagate religion

G S Paul Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 01 December 2019. The newly elected SGPC team comprises a majority of academically sound members having progressive approach who advocate propagating religious activities with adoption of modern ways.

The general house held on 27 November has nominated four office-bearers, including the president, senior vice-president, general secretary and junior vice-president, besides the 11-member executive body for the next annual term.

While there are eight members who possess post-graduate degrees, one JBT degree-holder, two have passed higher secondary and three are matriculate.

While president Gobind Singh Longowal and senior vice-president Rajinder Singh Mehta are post-graduates, general secretary Harjinder Singh Dhami is a law graduate. The junior vice-president Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa had passed second year graduation.

Longowal has already prioritised to raise the education standard bar of the SGPC-run institutes, besides propagating religious activities.

Mehta said digital techniques worked wonders if taken in a right perspective. “The dharma parchar goals will have wider reach, especially among the new generation through animated technology. On the lines of the animated film, Char Sahibzaade, which was widely admired and reached globally, encouragement should be given to make more such films of religious episodes,” he said.

Similarly, he said steps need to be initiated to explore the content of udasis (travels) of Guru Nanak. Also, the upkeep of out of state gurdwaras like Gurdwara Gyan Godri, Gurdwara Dangmaar and Jagan Nath Puri which were directly associated with Guru Nanak also need due attention for their upkeep and sanctity.

Gurbaksh Singh Khalsa also said besides raising the education standard, more schools should be built. – Sukhbir Badal again hands over the reins of SGPC to Gobind Singh Longowal

Sikh24 Editors

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 27 November 2019. In the annual general house meeting of SGPC held today, Bhai Gobind Singh Longowal has been unanimously reelected as a president for the third term. The 15 member executive body of the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee also includes a woman member.

SGPC members Bhai Rajinder Singh Mehta and Bhai Gurbakhsh Singh Nawanshahr have been elected as senior and junior vice president while Bhai Harjinder Singh Dhami has been elected as general secretary of the apex Sikh body.

Names of the other 11 members are as follow:

  1. Bhai Bhupinder Singh Asand
  2. Bhai Jagsir Singh
  3. Bhai Harpal Singh Gora
  4. Bhai Sher Singh Mandwala
  5. Bhai Jasbir Singh
  6. Bhai Jasmer Singh
  7. Bhai Amarjit Singh Bhalaipur
  8. Bhai Surjit Singh Kang
  9. Bhai Indermohan Singh Lakhbirwala
  10. Bhai Magwinder Singh
  11. Bibi Kuldeep Kaur Tohra

The apex Sikh body’s general house has also passed a resolution condemning Supreme Court’s verdict on the disputed land of Babri Masjid.

Beside it, 10 opposition members walked out of the meeting to register their protest on the handling of the sacrilege incidents of 2015.

Sukhbir Badal again handovers reins of SGPC to Gobind Singh Longowal

The Tribune – SGPC election on 27 November, Akalis begin deliberations

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 24 November 2019. In view of the SGPC annual elections for its executive body, the SAD has started conducting meetings with its members. The general house meeting to elect the next president, office-bearers and executive members is scheduled for 27 November.

SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal started holding meetings with SGPC members in Chandigarh today. Members from Haryana, Mohali, Fatehgarh Sahib and Ludhiana also participated. The members apprised Sukhbir of the SGPC working and shared their views over the suitable candidates for the next term.

The SAD has called up its core committee meeting for November 25 to have further discussion over the elections and many SGPC members from Majha and Malwa are expected to attend it.

Besides, another important meeting with individuals would be held at Teja Singh Samundri Hall on 26 November.

SAD spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said, “The core committee meeting will be held at the party office in Chandigarh at 5 pm on Monday. The purpose is to get the views from the party’s SGPC members on new chief and other office-bearers before reaching any conclusion.”

In 2011, SAD members had recorded convincing win with over 150 members elected from its side. Since the party enjoys majority in the house, the next president and other office-bearers would be from their side only.

Those in the race for president’s post include the incumbent chief Gobind Singh Longowal, who will complete his second annual term, former SGPC president Bibi Jagir Kaur, senior vice-president Raghujit Singh Virk and senior leader Jathedar Tota Singh.


190 total number of SGPC members

15 nominated and five high priests of the Takhts do not participate in the voting process

170 members are elected through voting

The Indian Express – Delhi nagar kirtan to Nankana Sahib enters Pakistan, but Sarna denied

A major attraction of the procession was a golden palanquin in which Guru Granth Sahib was placed. A bed of flowers was created on the last stretch of the road in India touching the zero line.

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 01 November 2019. A 1277-strong nagar kirtan (religious procession) from Delhi to Nankana Sahib, in connection with the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev, entered Pakistan through the Attari border on Thursday.

However, a controversy erupted after Shiromani Akali Dal Delhi (SADD) president Paramjit Singh Sarna, who was leading the religious procession, was not allowed by the immigration authorities to enter the neighbouring country citing a cheating case registered against him in Delhi.

Earlier in the day, the procession performed an ardas (prayer) at the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhs in the Golden Temple [Harmandr Sahib]. At the Attari border, unprecedented arrangements had been made by the Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers to welcome the procession.

A major attraction of the procession was a golden palanquin in which Guru Granth Sahib was placed. A bed of flowers was created on the last stretch of the road in India touching the zero line. Sources said, Amritsar Improvement Trust had arranged for 52 quintal of flowers for the purpose.

Meanwhile, Paramjit Singh Sarna, who had earlier claimed that only his party had the permission to take the nagar kirtan to Nankana Sahib, was not allowed to cross over to Pakistan. His brother Harvinder Singh Sarna, was however, allowed to enter the neighbouring country.

“I have been stopped citing a seven-year-old FIR in which police has not even filed a chargesheet against me. I traveled abroad several times in the last five years. In fact, I went to Pakistan two weeks back to make arrangements for this religious procession. But today, suddenly the old FIR has come into play to stop me,” Sarna said.

He accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Badal family of Shiromani Akal Dal of hatching a conspiracy against him. “They were shocked at the response that this procession got from the Sikh sangat. I have been stopped due to political reasons. This is violation of right of a Sikh who wants to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.”

About the FIR he claimed that Delhi police officials had told him that they were going to file a closure report “as they couldn’t find anything against me”.

Sarna claimed that several obstacles were created “by BJP and SAD” to stop the procession. “We had sought permission to take the specially modified bus on which gold-plated palanquin carrying Guru Granth Sahib was kept to Pakistan, but it was denied.

Even the permission to carry the palanquin (weighing around 2 quintals, and which is to be placed at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Karartpur) was given at the last moment. The Badal family failed to stop the procession, so they stopped me”.

Delhi nagar kirtan to Nankana Sahib enters Pakistan, but Sarna denied

The Tribune – In a first, envoys from 85 countries pay obeisance at Golden Temple [Harmandr Sahib]

G S Paul, Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 22 October 2019. For the first time, a delegation of Resident Foreign Heads of Missions from nearly 85 countries paid obeisance at the Golden Temple dedicated to 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

Originally, 91 envoys, sans the participation of Pakistan and China, were part of this trip. The visit was initiated by Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) head Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and led by Union Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri. ICCR director general Akhilesh Mishra also accompanied them.

The high profile delegation reached the holy city through a chartered flight and was received by SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal, MP Gurjeet Singh Aujla, Cabinet minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria, DC Shiv Dular Singh and Police Commissioner Sukhchain Singh Gill.

Puri said this programme with envoys from almost whole world to the Golden Temple together was a befitting mark of respect to Sri Guru Nanak Dev who spread the eternal universal message of peace and oneness of humanity.

“A history of the sort was in the making today with ambassadors of so many countries together paid obeisance at the Sanctum Sanctorum of this holiest Sikh Shrine.

I am thankful to ICCR head who made it possible at a short notice of three-four days. This programme was dedicated to 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev to give an opportunity to dignitaries about Sikh religion and culture,” he said.

Puri, when asked about absence of representatives of Pakistan and China, said, “Invitation was extended to diplomats of various countries, but some could not make it, might be, due to their prior commitments,” he said.

Pertaining to the Centre’s programmes chalked out for Guru Nanak Dev’s parkash purb, he told that the cabinet had approved various programmes recommended by a dedicated committee under leadership of Union minister Rajnath Singh on a 22 November 2018 meeting.

This includes series of programmes, which included the opening of corridor leading to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib from Dera Baba Nanak on 09 November.

When questioned about Pakistan’s insistence of imposing entry fee of $20 for Indian pilgrims, he said though this subject was out of his jurisdiction, yet as a Sikh devotee, he believed, that there should be no entry fee to visit Sikh holy shrines where every task is executed with ‘sewa’ (volunteer service). “But, it was for the Pakistan to decide upon,” he said.

Nonetheless, the visiting dignitaries partook of ‘langar’ at Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee Hall while sitting on the floor with ‘sangat’ (congregation) and ‘pangat’ (in a same row) concept founded by Guru Nanak Dev.

SGPC honoured the visitors by presenting them with Golden Temple model and ‘siropa’ (robe of honour) and literature concerning philosophy and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev’s universal brotherhood and harmony.

Earlier on arrival at Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee Airport, they were welcomed with traditional Punjabi style on bhangra beats and gidha. As the delegation reached Dharam Singh Market, they covered the distance to Golden Temple on foot through heritage street.

Children from International Fateh Academy mesmerised them with their Gatka (Sikh traditional martial art) skills. The delegation also watched the 50-minute show at the interpretation centre at the basement of Golden Temple plaza, depicting the history of Golden Temple, Sikh principles, culture and Guru Granth Sahib ‘maryada’ (tenets).

SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal told that all were overwhelmed with the spirituality and solace of the Shrine. “We had organised the programme in such a manner that they should all be well apprised about Sikh principles, religion and tenets. They were also thrilled sitting and eating together in the same row in Guru-ka-langar,” he said.

Later in the evening, DC Shiv Dular Singh apprised the visitors about Amritsar, Punjab and Invest Punjab programme, before they returned in the evening.

The Caravan – The Akal Takht’s call to ban RSS reiterates Sikhism’s long resistance to a Hindu Rashtra

Hartosh Singh Bal

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 15 October 2019. On 14 October, Giani Harpreet Singh, the chief of the Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, called for a ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, during an interaction with journalists in Amritsar.

Singh’s remark came in the backdrop of a statement by Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, during an annual Sangh event the previous week, stating that “Bharat is Hindustan, a Hindu Rashtra” and that “all Bharatiyas are Hindus.” In response, Singh noted, “The remarks by RSS leaders are not in the interest of the nation. It would hurt and draw a new line of division in the country and destroy it.”

Historically, the RSS’s vision for a Hindu Rashtra has been in conflict with the Sikh faith and the Akal Takht. In 1985, the RSS had floated a Sikh wing called the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat.

In the following excerpt, from an April 2018 piece on the RSS’s position on a separate religion for the Lingayats, Hartosh Singh Bal, the political editor at The Caravan, traced the backlash that the Sangat faced in Punjab when it began to advocate its ideology, the inseparability of Sikhs and Hindus.

Bal wrote, “In Punjab, where the mix of religion and politics is often combustible, the Sangat’s activities remain one of the biggest sources of mobilisation for Sikh hardliners.”

The RSS’s ideologue and second chief, MS Golwalkar’s view of the Sikhs as “communalists” who are “tearing asunder” the golden thread of Hinduism has been the basis for much of the RSS’s activities among the Sikhs in Punjab.

In 1985, at the height of the crisis in Punjab, the RSS floated a body called the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat. Initially, the Sangat was supposed to focus on spreading the message of a shared Sikh and Hindu heritage but in truth its aims were to propagate what Golwalkar had articulated: the inseparability of Sikhs and Hindus.

The journalist Dhirendra Jha, in his book Shadow Armies, devotes a chapter to the Sangat (much of the work of the Sangat noted here relies on Jha’s exposition). Jha writes:

Rashtriya Sikh Sangat: An introduction, a booklet in Punjabi published by the Sangat’s office in Ludhiana after the completion of its first decade, explains the “conspiracy” of the British government and Macauliffe (historian of the Sikhs) to “artificially” create an independent identity for Sikhs.

It further claims that during “the Muslim period”, the Sikhs “considered themselves Hindus” and their Gurus never thought of forming a separate religion. “Now it is our responsibility,” the booklet says, “to understand the root cause of the problem and to make people aware of the truth.

As the militancy in Punjab came to an end and a Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in the state in a 1997 alliance with the Akalis, the Sangat more overtly followed its goals.

At one of its meets, a resolution was passed, demanding “that a magnificent temple of Shri Ram should be made.” It was a move that had no resonance among the Sikhs, but was reflective of the ideology that the Sangat was advocating.

The Sangat organised a march of 300 sadhus to Amritsar during the tercentenary celebration of the Khalsa, established by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 by instituting a baptism ceremony that required his followers to don the five symbols, including uncut hair, that are now identified with Sikhism.

A pamphlet distributed by the Sangat at the time claimed, “The followers of Lord Rama, Krishna and Guru Sahiban are not different but they are part of one society and that is the Hindu society.” Resentment began building up within Sikh institutions even though they were largely under the control of the Akalis.

In December 2002, the Sangat planned a programme of the recitation of the Granth Sahib in Hindu temples in Punjab. Stating that the Granth could not be recited in the presence of idols, Sikh institutions strongly criticised the move. The Sangat was forced to cancel its plans, but now the backlash from Sikh bodies could not be contained.

The jathedar, or head, of Akal Takht—Sikhism’s most important temporal institution—declared, “In its outlook the RSS is like Aurangzeb. The latter wanted to convert everyone to Islam, either by sword or otherwise. Similarly, the RSS also wants to convert everybody to Hinduism. Its ideology is dangerous not only for the Sikhs but for all other religions.”

When the Sangat planned a nationwide march in 2004 to commemorate the four-hundredth year anniversary of the compilation of the manuscript of the Granth Sahib, Jha reports that “the Akal Takht issued a directive, naming the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat an ‘anti-Panth’ organisation which was trying to ‘mislead’ Sikhs in order to obtain their support for its ‘anti-Panthic activities.’

The directive asked the community and its religious bodies not to extend any support to the Sikh wing of the RSS.”

Over the next few years, the Sangat scaled back its activities to a considerable degree, even as its leaders alleged that the Sikh clergy was acting at the behest of Sikh hardliners abroad. In 2009, the Sangat chief Rulda Singh was shot dead in Patiala, in all likelihood by hardliners opposed to its activities in Punjab.

It was the most visible act of terror in Punjab since 1993. After lying low for the next five years, the coming to power of Modi has seen the Sangat once again trying to revive its activities. Mohan Bhagwat has taken a direct interest, and this has once again invited a warning from the Akal Takht.

In Punjab, where the mix of religion and politics is often combustible, the Sangat’s activities remain one of the biggest sources of mobilisation for Sikh hardliners. Well over a century after the question of Sikh identity was fully settled, the RSS continues to resist the reality of what has unfolded.

In doing so, it constantly threatens to unsettle the fragile balance of peace in the state, and at the same time it continues to provide encouragement for Sikh hardliners who would otherwise have little traction in the community.

This is an edited excerpt from Hartosh Singh Bal’s April 2018 piece, “In Bad Faith.”

The Tribune – ‘Obstacles’ abound for disabled at Golden Temple [Harmandr Sahib]

Akal Takht Jathedar urged to direct SGPC to make arrangements for them

Neeraj Bagga, Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 12 October 2019. A resident of Patiala, Shingara Singh Shergill, today approached Akal Takht, seeking directions to the SGPC to make arrangements for physically challenged devotees at the Golden Temple.

Shergill, who is paralysed by polio, said his wheelchair was not allowed inside the complex by SGPC staff in February. “They wanted to carry me on their back to the sanctum sanctorum. I refused. Physically challenged are not burden on anybody,” he said.

He emailed six times to the SGPC demanding disabled-friendly infrastructure. He said it was his fifth email on 05 June that elicited a response from the office of SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal, mentioning that his request was being considered. Finding no change, he shot off another email on 13 June.

“As per Sikh tenets, I wear turban and am ready to wash my feet before entering the Golden Temple. A barrier-free environment must be created in the Golden Temple complex as per the Rights of Persons With Disability Bill 2016,” he said.

Ranjit Singh, another devotee with disability from Bathinda, says adequate space is not there between pillars for wheelchairs on the stretch from Saragarhi Parking to the Golden Temple.

Besides, parking fee is being charged from physically challeged, he said. SGPC Chief Secretary Roop Singh said, “There are two chair lifts and one general lift to assist people with disabilities and elderly. There is also a ramp from the entrance near Langar Hall. The Saragarhi parking is being managed by the government.”