Firstpost – Against the India Idea

Dr Baharul Islam

Op/Ed, 01 March 2019. The Citizenship Act of 1955, stipulates that in order to get Indian citizenship by naturalisation one must have resided in India for eleven of the previous fourteen years.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (now lapsed in the Rajya Sabha) tried to lower that eleven-year stipulation to six years, but only for those belonging to six religious communities: Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, even if they had entered India as late as, December 14, 2014.

This gives a religious twist to the purely political, legal and humanitarian perspectives usually associated with citizenship laws.

The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights including the right to equality before the law (Article 14) even to non-citizens. If we keep that essence of Indian Constitution as expressed through the fundamental rights in view, we are bound to oppose any religion-based discrimination in giving citizenship whether fast-track or not.

It is heartening to note that such misguided attempt to play a religious card in creating and appeasing a particular vote-bank by excluding a particular religious community is not accepted by the people at large in the northeastern region where the said amendment was seen to have the greatest impact.

The very fact that the majority of the people of Assam, as well as those of the neighbouring states like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, came out vehemently against such religion-based law of citizenship is a strong indication that they saw through the ulterior design in such a law to allow illegal migrants to remain in India under the garb of ‘religious persecution of minorities’ in the neighbouring countries.

It is another million-dollar question altogether as to how one will prove such religious persecution when leaders like Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh has already denied that any such persecution of minorities prevails in her country.

Assam has seen decades of agitation against illegal migrants from Bangladesh and thousands lost their lives in those years.

Ultimately all agitating parties, as well as the people of the state cutting across religious lines, agreed upon the Assam Accord (1985) which says that illegal migrants entering India after 25 March 1971, will be expelled from the country irrespective of their religious identity.

Majority of the people of Assam, Hindus and Muslims, in an act of both humanitarian considerations as well as exigencies of the circumstances, accepted the cut-off date.

They agreed that those who entered the country before that date be accepted as citizens through the due process of law. Such a considerate view of the Assamese society was uniquely secular and not soaked in religious sectarianism.

Granting ‘fast track’ citizenship to ‘non-Muslims’ illegal migrants goes against this basic sentiment of the people of Assam as well as of the other northeastern states.

In fact, though Christians are included in the proposed amendment, it is the largely Christian people of a state like Mizoram who could see through the long term impact that such a religion-based citizenship law.

The society and culture of the North East at large do not tow the religious fanaticism of the North and on the contrary, it reignited the faultiness that made placard saying “Hello Independent Republic of Mizoram” hit the headlines.

Proposers of this kind of citizenship law make the same mistake that followers of the two-nation theory made years ago. Pakistan soon saw the birth of Bangladesh underlining the fact that cultural and linguistic ties are much stronger than any whipped up religious sentiments.

The founding fathers of India rejected any religious overtones in building this nation and our constitution emphatically bears that proof in all its provisions.

The Citizenship Act, 1955, though amended more than once since, has maintained the same non-discriminatory principle while laying down the process by which one can genuinely acquire citizenship of India.

In the words of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as spoken at the World Economic Forum or at the United Nations, India has always espoused the principle of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the whole world is one single family) and believed in the unity of the humanity rather than dividing it.

If we believe in that core value, then, one can see that any law to grant fast-track citizenship to non-Muslims runs against that idea of India as a nation.

The writer did his PhD on post peace agreement societies and is an international fellow of the KAICIID Dialogue Centre in Vienna.

Firstpost – After Pulwama attack, gurdwaras in Punjab’s Mohali become safe havens for Kashmiri students fleeing Dehradun mobs

Arjun Sharma and Chitvan Vinayak

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 19 February 2019. Khwaja Itrat, a Kashmiri student studying at a private college in Dehradun, was finally feeling secure after days of fear. He and several other Kashmiri students were welcomed with open arms at a gurdwara in Mohali by Guru Nanak Naam Seva members.

What Uttarakhand wasn’t able to do, Punjab did: offer a safe haven to hundreds of Kashmiri students studying in the hilly state, who’d started fearing for their lives after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February.

In the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack, in which 42 CRPF personnel were killed and several others injured, fringe elements targeted Kashmiris, especially students, in several states up north.

Thus, the gurdwara in Mohali’s popular 3B2 market opened its doors for at least 700 Kashmiri Muslim students, while another NGO Khalsa Aid, provided transportation to these students to Jammu. On Monday, 500 students were sent to Jammu, while the rest left by Tuesday evening.

Students in shock

“Punjab is a peaceful state; we didn’t feel unsafe there. In Dehradun, we faced threats on a daily basis after the Pulwama attack. People targeted us as if all Kashmiris were behind the attack,” said Itrat, a member of J&K Students Association.

“We never thought a terror attack in the Valley would land us in such a situation. In Dehradun, some landlords even locked up their [Kashmiri] tenants, saying it was for their own safety. Many of us did not have access to a toilet for days and had to urinate in polythene bags. It was a pathetic situation and we just had to get out of there.”

Itrat added that they did not even have food for 24 hours as they were in a tearing hurry to leave Dehradun. Another student, Ishfaq Qureshi, said while some landlords helped Kashmiri students, others asked them to leave immediately.

“J&K Students Association asked us to head to Chandigarh and Mohali after the Uttarakhand government did not come to our rescue.”

Qureshi added that all 700 students taking refuge in Mohali came by bus, after which the local Sikh organisations came to their aid. Arrangements were made at different gurdwaras, namely those in Sohana and 3B2, in Mohali, and some were put up at TDI City, Landran, Mohali.

Amarinder Singh, a member of Guru Nanak Naam Seva, said these students were in a state of shock when they arrived. “We have been working around the clock to send them back to their homes in the Valley.

Many others from Yamuna Nagar have approached us to rescue them; we have asked them to reach Paonta Sahib gurdwara from where Khalsa Aid buses will bring them to Mohali. We are also trying to provide cars for girls from Mohali to Jammu to ensure their safety,” Singh added.

Felt like a never-ending journey

Mohammad Irfan said all through their journey, which began in Dehradun on 17 February, students were worried about being attacked. “The four-and-a-half-hour trip felt like it would never end. There were girls on board, and it was their safety we were concerned about the most. Our parents, too, are anxious and in constant touch with us through mobile phones,” Irfan added.

A female student, speaking on condition of anonymity, who took shelter at the gurdwara, said all of them left Dehradun in such a panicked rush that they could not even take their books. “We want to go back, we hope to… after all, exams are just a few days away.

We are waiting for the situation to improve. But I would not recommend any of the children in my family to go out of Kashmir for studies,” she said. Twenty female students took refuge in the 3B2 gurdwara.

The students are enrolled in the Baba Farid Institute of Technology, Alpine College of Management and Technology, Sai Institute of Paramedical and Allied Sciences, and Doon College of Agriculture Science and Technology in Uttarakhand.

Authorities on alert

The Punjab Police, too, is doing its bit to provide security to Kashmiri students. Senior Superintendent of Police, Mohali, H S Bhullar said, “We are deploying policemen in buses carrying these students from Mohali to Jammu.”

Meanwhile, the liaison officer of J&K government, Inderjot Singh, also the manager of J&K House Chandigarh, said he has been receiving panicked calls from parents and students across Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Haryana. He added that even Kashmiri labourers, carpet sellers, and woodcutters have been calling him.

Inderjot, however, doesn’t think that leaving a troubled city, seeking shelter elsewhere, and returning home is the solution. “If this goes on, students’ academic year will be ruined. So, we have spoken to several college administrations who are putting up students in their hostels.

Even parents agree that students should not be disturbed by shifting them; it could impact their careers,” he reasoned.

Nearly 400 Kashmiri students from Sirhind in Punjab reached out to liaison officers for help. Also, advisors to the governor of J&K, Vijay Kumar and Khurshid Ahmed Ganai, on Tuesday reviewed the security and safety of Kashmiri students in other states.

The government has deployed officers in New Delhi, Noida, Meerut, Jaipur, Bhopal, Pune, Aligarh, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad to assist distressed students.

Authors are freelance writers and members of

Firstpost – Kartarpur Sahib Corridor: Pakistan delegation to visit India on 13 March to finalise draft agreement

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 08 February 2019. Pakistan on Thursaday said it will send a delegation to India next month to discuss and finalise draft agreement for setting up a corridor to facilitate visit of Sikh pilgrims to the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara.

India and Pakistan agreed to open up a special border crossing linking Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev, to the Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara in India’s Gurdaspur district.

Kartarpur Sahib is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the river Ravi, about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara. Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, the first Gurdwara, was established by Guru Nanak Dev in 1522, where he is said to have died.

The corridor will facilitate visa-free travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.

Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal announced on social media that Pakistan also proposed a return visit by Indian delegation on 28 March.

“In a spirit of constructive engagement, Pakistan has proposed to India that the Pakistan delegation may visit India on 13 March followed by the return visit of the Indian delegation to Pakistan on 28 March to finalise the draft agreement for the Kartarpur corridor,” he tweeted.

Faisal further said that “we look forward to positive reciprocity from India.”

Last month, the two countries floated proposals to host talks in order to give the final shape to the agreement.

Pakistan has committed to open the corridor in November on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh on 26 November last year laid the foundation stone for the Kartarpur corridor in Gurdaspur district.

Two days later, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone for the corridor at Narowal, 125 km from Lahore. The decision to build the corridor, from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the International Border, was taken by the Union Cabinet on 22 November.

The two governments have also launched the construction work to build corridor for the Sikh pilgrims to help them visit the gurdwara through the shortest route.

But, both sides are yet to finalise the modalities of travel of the Indian pilgrims to the Gurudwara across the international border without visa.

FirstPost – Kartarpur Corridor: Pakistan sends 14 recommendations to India to aid visa-free travel, list includes issuing 500 permits per day

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 30 December 2018. Pakistan has sent recommendations to India for facilitating visa-free travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims through the upcoming Kartarpur corridor, according to a media report on Saturday.

Islamabad has given a 59-page document with 14 key recommendations to New Delhi, Express News TV reported quoting Pakistani diplomatic officials.

The recommendations call for Indian pilgrims to be given free entry, and that facilitation centres and security check-posts to be set up on both sides of the border. The pilgrims will be allowed in groups of a minimum of 15 people and Pakistan shall issue special permits to them.

Both countries will compile a record of visitors which will include their names, travel records and other details, according to the recommendations.

The Indian government will provide a list of pilgrims to Pakistan three days in advance and it will be mandatory for all visitors to bear a standard Indian passport. The recommendations further say that all visitors shall be required to obtain a security clearance certificate from Indian authorities.

Pakistan will issue permits to 500 visitors per day and local authorities shall reserve rights to admission.

On 28 November, Prime Minister Imran Khan had laid the foundation stone for the corridor on the Pakistani side that will connect Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur to Dera Baba Nanak situated in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur.

Two days earlier, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh laid the foundation stone for the corridor on the Indian side of the border. Pakistan said it will complete and open the corridor before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in November, 2019.

FirstPost – ‘Rajiv Gandhi supported 1984 anti-Sikh riots’: Haryana minister Anil Vij wants ex-PM punished posthumously

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 18 December 2018. Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij kicked up a new controversy on Monday when he demanded that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi should be “punished posthumously” so that families of about 3,400 Sikhs, who died in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, get justice.

In his tweet, Vij said that the Delhi High Court has sentenced Congress leader Sajjan Kumar, who was one of the accused of 1984 anti-Sikh riots, to life imprisonment.

“This has provided little relief to affected Sikh families, but justice will be delivered when Rajiv Gandhi will be punished. Then Rajiv Gandhi had supported the massacre by saying ‘Jab koi bada ped girta hai to dharti hilti hai’,” Vij, who is a senior BJP leader in Haryana, said in his tweet in Hindi.

The minister, who is known for making controversial comments, said that along with the “Bharat Ratna” conferred on Rajiv Gandhi, all other honours should be withdrawn from him.

Vij also demanded that Rajiv Gandhi’s name should be removed from all the schemes being run after his name.

He said not only one or two persons but the entire Congress Party is guilty of the massacre of thousands of Sikhs.

“Justice is incomplete until everyone gets sentenced,” he added.

Haryana has a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government since October 2014.

The Delhi High Court on Monday convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case and sentenced him to imprisonment for life.

FirstPost – Congress ‘rewarding perpetrators of Sikh genocide’ by appointing Kamal Nath Madhya Pradesh CM, says Shiromani Akali Dal

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 13 December 2018. Opposing the move by the Congress to name former union Minister Kamal Nath as the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the Shiromani Akali Dal said on Thursday that the Congress was “rewarding the perpetrators of genocide against the Sikhs”.

“The Congress promotes and rewards the perpetrators of genocide against the Sikhs by proposing the name of Kamal Nath as chief minister,” Akali Dal leader Mahesh Inder Singh Grewal said in a statement in Chandigarh.

“Apparently, the Gandhi family still rewards the leaders of Congress who were directly involved in the genocide in 1984, a period of shame for humanity as rioting against innocent Sikhs was perpetrated by the leaders of Congress,” Grewal said.

He alleged that Kamal Nath had led a mob against Sikhs in the Raqab Ganj Gurdwara area, where young innocent boys were burnt to death while he stood there.

The Congress is set to form the government in Madhya Pradesh. Kamal Nath was removed as the Congress in-charge for Panjab in 2016 after objections from Congress leaders in the Sikh-majority state.

FirstPost – Supreme Court to hear 1984 riots case today: No objection if two SIT members continue to supervise cases, says Centre

New Delhi – India, 04 December 2018. The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that it may not be necessary to substitute retired IPS officer Rajdeep Singh who has declined to be a part of three-member SIT supervising further probe into 186 cases of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots citing personal reasons.

The government told a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta that they have no objection if the other two members of the special investigation team (SIT), former Delhi High Court judge Justice S N Dhingra and serving IPS officer Abhishek Dular, continue with the work.

The bench said however that since the 11 January order constituting a three-member SIT was passed by a bench of three-judges, they cannot modify it while sitting in a combination of two judges. The bench has posted the matter for hearing on Tuesday.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre, said she has no objection to the suggestions given by the counsel for petitioner that the other two members should continue with the work.

On 11 January, the top court had constituted a three-member SIT headed by Justice (retired) Dhingra to supervise further probe into the 186 cases, in which closure reports had been filed earlier.

Large-scale riots had broken out in the national capital in the aftermath of the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh security guards on the morning of 31 October, 1984. The violence had claimed 2,733 lives in Delhi alone.

On 5 February, the Centre had moved the court requesting it to include former DG-rank officer Navneet Rajan Wasan, who had earlier served as the Director General of Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D), in the SIT to replace Singh.

Wasan, now retired, is a 1980-batch Andhra Pradesh cadre officer and had also served as Special Director General in the National Investigation Agency (NIA). During the hearing on Monday, the ASG told the bench that they have suggested the name of former IPS officer Wasan to substitute Singh.

“You cannot choose your own judge. Give two-three names,” the bench told the ASG, who said that the apex court could appoint anybody to substitute Singh.

Senior advocates R S Suri and H S Phoolka, representing the petitioner, said appointing a third member in the SIT might delay the process and the other two members should continue with their work.

The top court had earlier appointed the three-member SIT after the Ministry of Home Affairs and counsel for petitioner S G S Kahlon arrived at a consensus with regard to the persons who could be appointed in the fresh SIT.

The court had earlier said the previous SIT did not carry out further probe into the 186 cases in which closure reports were filed, and had directed setting up of a fresh SIT comprising a former high court judge and two police officers.

Justice Dhingra, who had retired from Delhi High Court, had dealt with several high-profile cases including the 2001 Parliament Attack case as a trial judge.

As the judge of the trial court, he had dealt with many of the 1984 riot cases, and his verdicts had resulted in conviction in 16 cases. On 16 August last year, the apex court had appointed a supervisory panel to examine the earlier SIT’s decision to close 241 cases.

The Centre had said that out of 250 riots cases which were probed by that SIT, closure reports were filed in 241. It said some cases were still being investigated by the SIT, and two by the CBI.

The earlier SIT was headed by Pramod Asthana, an IPS officer of 1986 batch, and had Rakesh Kapoor, a retired district and sessions judge, and Kumar Gyanesh, an additional deputy commissioner of Delhi Police, as its members.

Petitioner S Gurlad Singh Kahlon had earlier told the bench that a total of 293 riot-related cases were taken up for scrutiny by the earlier SIT which had decided to close 199 of them.

Kahlon, a member of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, had sought the court’s direction for setting up another SIT to ensure speedy justice to the riot victims.

FirstPost – Railways agrees to probe Amritsar train tragedy after initially ruling out any investigation

New Delhi – India, 02 November 2018. The Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety will probe the Amritsar tragedy in which 60 Dussehra revellers were mowed down by a passing train, the Indian Railways said on Friday, nearly two weeks after it had ruled out any investigation in the tragedy.

A day after the accident on 19 October, the railways had termed it a “case of trespassing”.

In a statement on Friday, the railways, however, said since the CCRS can conduct an inquiry even in those cases where it is not mandatory as per law and rules, it will do the same in this case as well.

It said the accident has “become a matter of great public discourse”, especially raising concerns about safety of people trespassing on railway tracks.

“Gurjeet Singh Aujla, MP from Amritsar, met Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal and personally handed over his letter dated October 23 and requested for an inquiry by Commissioner of Railway Safety in this incident. Ministry of Railways has considered this request and other facts, circumstances and legal provisions,” the railways said.

It said according to law, it is not mandatory to conduct an inquiry by Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety in such cases, but it is not impermissible either.

Chief Commissioner of Railway Safety, Lucknow, has ordered a statutory inquiry into the circumstances that led to the accident, the railways said but added that prima facie the transporter does not appear to be responsible for the accident.

The Commission of Railway Safety, working under the administrative control of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, deals with matters pertaining to safety of rail travel and train operation. It is charged with statutory functions as laid down in the Railways Act (1989), which are of an inspectorial, investigatory and advisory nature.

Sixty people were crushed to death by a train coming from Jalandhar on 19 October, when they were watching an effigy of Ravana burn at a ground near railway tracks at Joda Phatak.

Railways had washed its hands off the matter, saying that it had not been intimated about the Dussehra event in advance and had pointed out that the spectators on the tracks were trespassers.

It had neither ordered a probe nor paid any compensation in the case.

Days after the accident, the railway board and Manoj Sinha, the minister of state for railways, had termed the tragedy a case of trespassing.

FirstPost – Punjab farmers say they have no option but to burn stubble, claim industries, vehicles contribute more to pollution

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 14 October 2018. Farmers in Punjab on Saturday claimed that industries and vehicles majorly contribute to air pollution and not stubble burning.

For the last few days, Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR) have been experiencing pollution due to the burning of stubble in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana.

However, Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee district secretary Jarmanjeet Singh told ANI, “The farmers have no other option than to burn stubble. We will not let the government impose fines on farmers for stubble burning. Industries and vehicles majorly contribute to pollution, not farmers”.

Demanding a subsidy for farmers as per the directives of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), he said, “The Green Tribunal also said that farmers with two acres of land must be given tools free of cost.

The owners of five acres of land would be given Rs 5,000 subsidy while the farmers having land more than five acres will get an amount of Rs 15,000. But the government is doing nothing in this regard”.

Speaking on the suggested alternative of making cardboard out of paddy straw, another farmer explained that it is not a feasible option for them. “It (paddy straw) is just sand for us.

They say that cardboard can be made out of it but only if the government takes the initiatives. Labour is costly; they ask us for Rs 4000 per acre. Where are we going to pay this amount from?” he asked while speaking to ANI.