Hindustan Times – Missing ‘saroops’: Ex-employee files police complaint against SGPC officials

Kanwaljit Singh, who retired from service on 31 May, in the complaint refuted SGPC’s claim that only 14 ‘saroops’ were damaged in the 2016 fire. He said the number of ‘saroops’ damaged in the blaze and due to water in fire control operation was 80 and the SGPC officials hid this truth.

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 29 June 2020. A former employee of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) Kanwaljit Singh has lodged a complaint with Amritsar police commissioner against the officials of the gurdwara body with regard to missing of 267 ‘saroops’ of Guru Granth Sahib from its publishing house.

Kanwaljit, who retired from service on 31 May, in the complaint refuted SGPC’s claim that only 14 ‘saroops’ were damaged in the 2016 fire. He said the number of ‘saroops’ damaged in the blaze and due to water in fire control operation was 80 and the SGPC officials hid this truth.

“The record of remaining 187 saroops was taken away from me by the SGPC officials. They did so to hide the 2016 incident,” he said.

“Apart from forcibly getting an affidavit from me, the SGPC officials continue to harass me to make me keep my mouth shut.

I want a case registered against the SGPC officials and a free and fair inquiry. I have evidence and will produce them before the inquiry officer,” said the complainant.

On the other hand, the SGPC has termed the accusations as “misleading” and “condemnable”.


Hindustan Times – 20 US senators seek emergency refugee protection for Afghan Sikhs, Hindus

Senators called on the state department to prioritise resettlement opportunities under the US Refugee Admissions Programme allocation ceilings for Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities.

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 27 June 2020. As many as 20 US senators have urged the Trump administration to grant emergency refugee protection to Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan facing persecution as religious minorities.

In a bipartisan letter addressed to secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the senators called on the state department to prioritise resettlement opportunities under the US Refugee Admissions Programme allocation ceilings for Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities.

The population of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan has plummeted markedly due to years of persecution by the Taliban and more recent terrorist actions perpetrated by ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K), they said.

“This administration has repeatedly highlighted protecting religious freedom as a top foreign policy priority,” the senators wrote.

‘Existential threat to Hindus and Sikhs’

“Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities,” they said in the letter.

The letter also calls on Pompeo to offer additional support to members of the Sikh and Hindu communities that choose to remain in Afghanistan, and to ensure that Afghan religious minorities benefit from the USD 20.6 million in American aid already provided to address Covid-19.

“Ensuring that religious minorities receive US Covid-19 assistance should be a priority in all countries where protection of religious minorities is a challenge,” the senators added.

The letter was written by senator Robert Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, and senators Thom Tillis, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Kaine, Kamala Harris, Bob Casey, Chris Van Hollen, Bernie Sanders, Patty Murray, Chris Coons, Ed Markey, Tammy Duckworth, Jack Reed, Mark Warner, Ben Cardin, and James Lankford.

“ISIS-K targets religious minorities in Afghanistan and poses an existential threat to Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities in particular,” the letter said.

The Sikh and Hindu communities once numbered around 2,50,000 people but now have fewer than 1,000 individuals due to decades of persecution, they added.

The communities continue to face discrimination in access to housing and employment, and the Taliban has previously mandated that Sikhs and Hindus wear yellow armbands or patches as a marker of their religious status, the senators wrote.

In recent years, a new threat to Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities has emerged: terrorist attacks from ISIS-Khorasan.

In March, ISIS-Khorasan launched an attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul that killed 25 worshippers, and later carried out an explosion during a funeral service for those victims.

“As ISIS-Khorasan continues to attack civilians and international troops draw down in Afghanistan, Sikhs and Hindus are likely to face more violence,” they wrote.

I of course completely agree with the above, but I am disappointed that the Shia Hazaras are again left out. They have been and still are, just like Hindus and Sikhs, repeatedly targeted by ISIS-Khorasan . They are both a visible ethnic minority and Shias which puts them in the same despised category as Hindus and Sikhs.


Hindustan Times – First Sikh woman to graduate from US Military Academy at West Point

Second Lieutenant Anmol Narang, is a second-generation immigrant born and raised in Roswell, Georgia. She did a year of undergraduate study at the Georgia Institute of Technology before transferring to West Point.

Press Trust of India, posted by: Shankhyaneel Sarkar

West Point – New York State – USA, 13 June 2020. The United States Military Academy at West Point will make history Saturday when it graduates the first Sikh woman to successfully complete the path to a four-year degree.

Second Lt. Anmol Narang, is a second-generation immigrant born and raised in Roswell, Georgia.

She did a year of undergraduate study at the Georgia Institute of Technology before transferring to West Point, where she will graduate Saturday with a degree in nuclear engineering.

She hopes to pursue a career in air defense systems.

“I am excited and honored to be fulfilling my dream of graduating from West Point,” Narang said in a news release from the Sikh Coalition, a nonprofit based in New York that works to protect the constitutional right to practice faith without fear.

“The confidence and support of my community back home in Georgia has been deeply meaningful to me, and I am humbled that in reaching this goal, I am showing other Sikh Americans that any career path is possible for anyone willing to rise to the challenge.”

Narang will complete her Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, officials said. Following that, she will then head to her first post in Okinawa, Japan, in January.

Congress passed a law in 1987 that prohibited Sikhs and other religious communities from maintaining their articles of faith while in the military. A Sikh’s visible articles of faith, including turbans and unshorn facial hair, were banned.

Narang required no accommodation for her articles of faith, but the coalition said “her exemplary service to date underscores how diversity and pluralism remain core strengths of the U.S. military and the country as a whole.”

US Army Captain Simratpal Singh, a family friend, said he is proud of Narang who is “breaking a barrier for any Sikh American who wishes to serve.”

“The broader acceptance of Sikh service members among all of the service branches, as well as in top tier leadership spaces like West Point, will continue to benefit not just the rights of religious minority individuals, but the strength and diversity of the U.S. military,” he said.


Hindustan Times – Road named after general who put down Revolt of 1857, could be renamed ‘Guru Nanak Marg’

Havelock Road in Southall is named after Sir Henry Havelock who is widely considered a military visionary for his systematic dismantling of the Revolt of 1857.

Asian News International, posted by: Shankhyaneel Sarkar

London – UK, 11 June 2020. A road in West London, named after the British Army general who ruthlessly put down 1857 revolt in India, could be renamed after the founder of Sikhism as part of a wider push to recognize the UK’s diversity and address the more pernicious aspects of Britain’s colonial past.

Havelock Road in Southall is named after Sir Henry Havelock who is widely considered a military visionary for his systematic dismantling of the Revolt of 1857, also known as first Indian war of Independence from the rapacious rule of the East India Company.

On Tuesday it was revealed that a consultation is underway which could lead to road being renamed Guru Nanak Road.

Southall is home to a large Sikh community and Havelock Road is home to the Sri Guru Singh Sabha, which is considered the largest Gurdwara in the world outside India.

The consultation is part of a wider process, launched this week by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, to re-evaluate memorials, including statues and public spaces, that commemorate British colonialism sparked by the global Black Lives Matter protests.

Several statues of British slave traders have been removed in the UK whilst protestors defaced a statue of Winston Churchill, revered by some for his role in defeating Nazism and reviled by others for his part in tragedies such as the Bengal Famine of the early 1940’s as well as his opposition to Indian independence.

In a video message to residents of the area, Councillor Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council said he welcomed the Mayor’s initiative to represent London’s diversity.

“I welcome the Mayor’s announcement today of a review of our public spaces across the city to make sure that they do represent London as it is today. Our diversity is our strength and we need to make sure that our public realm, our statues, our road names, our buildings, reflect our diversity and do not reflect a frozen past where colonialism, racism and the slave trade were present and celebrated,” Bell said.

The change of names will “symbolise the huge contribution of our Sikh community in Ealing and also diversity as a borough, and also it will represent our unity as a borough too”, he added.

The move was also welcomed by the long-standing MP for the area Virendra Sharma.

“As the Member of Parliament for Ealing Southall and a Councillor for 25 years before that I have often been ashamed the names of empire still pervade our streets.

I have long campaigned for schools to teach more about our Imperial past, not just the great strides made but also the shameful thuggery and violence, names like Havelock belong in books, classrooms and museums, not on the streets to be celebrated,” Sharma said.

“The community should come together to decide how we rename this road, but celebrating Guru Nanak Dev Ji in his 550th anniversary, and erasing a white man who killed Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, would be a sign of our multiculturalism and our diversity,” he added.

‘A sign of our multiculturalism’: UK’s Havelock Road, named after general who dismantled India’s first war for Independence, to be renamed Guru Nanak Marg.

A consultation to rename Havelock road will begin “very shortly”, according to Councillor Bell.


Hindustan Times – Chandigarh gurdwaras reopen two days too soon to celebrate Gurpurab, Mark Operation Bluestar anniversary

UT administration has allowed religious places to reopen only from 08 June; devotees visit gurdwaras without masks, partake of community lunches

Rajanbir Singh

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 06 June 2020. Even as the UT administration has allowed religious institutions to reopen only on 08 June 2020, various gurdwaras in the city opened their doors on Saturday to celebrate Guru Hargobind’s 425th birth anniversary and mark the 36th anniversary of Operation Bluestar.

As per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for religious places released by the UT health department on Friday, religious places can reopen only from 08 June.

All gurdwaras, mandirs, churches and mosques have remained closed since the curfew was imposed in the city on 24 March, and any type of religious function and gathering was also banned.

On Saturday morning, several devotees stepped inside the Sector 35 gurdwara, many of them without face masks, made mandatory in public places by the district magistrate.

Community lunch was also being served here, and also at the Sector 38 and Sector 44 gurdwaras.

However, Amarjeet Singh Silvia, vice-president of the Sector 35 gurdwara committee, denied that any religious function took place there.

“The routine nitnem banis were read out in the morning.

Only around 30 people living nearby and members of the gurdwara committee were in attendance, and a small langar was organised for them,” he said, even as some devotees there confirmed that they had come to celebrate Gurpurab.

Police personnel were deployed outside many gurdwaras to maintain law and order in light of the Operation Bluestar anniversary.

The cops deputed outside the Sector 38 gurdwara confirmed a small function was held and they ensured that all devotees were wearing masks.

The Chandigarh Samuh Gurdwara Prabandhak Sangathan also confirmed that some gurdwaras remained opened.

Its president, Tara Singh said, “A call was given by Akal Takht acting jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh to celebrate Gurpurab on Saturday.

The prayers were completed by 9am at most places and only small langars were prepared while following all safety precautions.”

Calling the gatherings unfortunate, chief spokesperson of Kendri Singh Sabha, Gurpreet Singh said, “The restrictions are for people’s safety.

There is no compulsion for Sikhs to pray only in gurdwaras. They should stay home till the pandemic is controlled,” he said.

The police claimed they received no information from the administration about whether the events were allowed.

Deputy superintendent of police (DSP, PRO) Charanjit Singh Virk said, “The police didn’t receive any complaints regarding the functions. So, no action was taken.”

Besides, he added, the respective gurdwara committees had informed the police that no langar or function was organised except for the ones that the administration had allowed.

Cops were also deployed at gurdwaras after Criminal Investigation Department (CID) gave them information of the functions planned there, Virk said.

UT adviser Manoj Parida remained unavailable for comment.


Hindustan Times – Devotees offer more wheat to Golden Temple (Harmandr Sahib) langar

The community kitchen [langar], serving meals to the needy, receives double quantity of wheat offering this year as compared to last year

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 23 May 2020. “We have never received such a large quantity of wheat crop earlier from the villagers during the rabi season at Sri Guru Ram Das Langar (community kitchen of Harmandr Sahib) which is witnessing huge heaps of wheat bags offered by the sangat (community) from various parts of Punjab, with the grace of Guru Sahib”.

This was observation of one of the regular volunteers who serves the devotees in the langar, considered as the largest community kitchen in the world offering free food round-the-clock daily to the needy people.

Amid Covid-19 pandemic when many people have become jobless due to the lock-down, the Harmandr Sahib langar has been feeding a large number of people, including stranded migrant workers.

On the other hand, collection of money offered by devotees has witnessed a drastic dip due to lock-down when very few devotees are able to pay obeisance at the holiest Sikh shrine.

The dip in collection had worried the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) as a sizeable portion of it is spent on serving langar (free food). However, the unprecedented response given by the devotees in the form of wheat and other grocery items have lessened the SGPC’s worries.

“Ever since the harvesting season has ended, tractor-trailers, trucks and other vehicles, loaded with langar items, including wheat, are reaching the kitchen daily from the villages in large numbers,” said Sukhbir Singh, manager of the community kitchen.

“Wheat is the most consumed food item in the langar. Last year, around 34,000 quintal wheat flour was consumed in the langar and quantity of wheat grains offered by the sangat during the harvesting season last year was 13,000 quintals. However, nearly 26,000 quintal wheat has been offered by sangat so far this season. And the arrival is going on yet,” said SGPC chief secretary Roop Singh.

“Guru Ka Langar is run with the cooperation of sangat. As community kitchens of all gurdwaras are feeding the needy during the lockdown, the sangat is very enthusiastic to contribute to the service of humanity,” he added.

Kulbir Singh, granthi of a gurdwara in Dhadiala village of Hoshiarpur, who along with villagers came with 33 quintal wheat, said “In my living memory, residents of my village never brought so much wheat to the Harmandr Sahib. Actually, some youths of my village asked all farmers to devote at least one wheat bag in view of the pandemic”.

Captain Tarlok Singh (retd) of village Firoz Singh Wala in Kapurthala district and residents of Chak Allah Baksh village of Mukerian sub-division of Hoshiarpur also said that they have brought wheat and other grocery items for the first time. Jaswinder Singh of Chak Allah Baksh said they brought 500 quintal wheat from their village in the past few days.

Notably, after the record dip in money collection, SGPC chief Gobind Singh Longowal had appealed to the community to contribute to the kitchen to keep it running without any hassle.


Hindustan Times – Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee prepares meals for people in quarantine centres in Kashmir

After the gurdwara committee received complaints about poor quality food being served at quarantine centres in the district, they decided to do something about it.

Idrees Bukhtiyar

Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India, 15 May 2020. Amid the Covid-19 nationwide lockdown, the Sikh community in Kashmir have started serving langar to people admitted in the quarantine centres.

Strict food hygiene practices such as maintaining social distancing and using face masks and gloves were observed while the food was prepared.

“We have started serving meals to the Muslim community at various quarantine centres in different districts of the Valley,” said Navtej Singh, secretary of Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (GPC) Srinagar.

He said that to date, they have provided meals to around 250 people in Srinagar district on Friday. “We will continue serving food to people in the coming time as well,” he said.

After the gurdwara committee received complaints about poor quality food being served at quarantine centres in the district, they decided to do something about it. “There were many people in such centres who were not getting food on time, so we decided to provide food packets to them,” said Balbir Singh, secretary of GPC in Budgam.

“A team visits the quarantine centres twice a day to deliver the food packets. They are happy with our service,” said Salinder Singh, president GPC Chatrogam, Tral.

The food is also being served at quarantine centres in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district and more than 300 people have been covered under the initiative so far.

Pardeep Singh Dardi, a social activist said that Sikhs have always been the front runners in the troubled times across the world. “The community has provided personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, sanitisers, masks, medicines, dry ration and other essential items to the needy people in the valley so far,” he said.

“We have been following government guidelines to carry out the relief work. We don’t want anyone to suffer,” said Balwinder Singh, chairman of Sikh Welfare Trust, Kashmir.

A student who has been quarantined at a hotel in the city’s Lal Chowk area said, “We have always received a heart-warming response from the community.”


Hindustan Times – Religious event held at Amritsar police station, social distancing goes for a toss

The religious function organised on Saturday morning was attended by nearly 100 people, including women and elderly people

Anil Sharma

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 10 May 2020. A station house officer (SHO) organised an event on the premises of the Kot Khalsa police station in Amritsar, defying the social-distancing norms imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak prohibiting gathering of more than 10 persons at religious or ceremonial functions.

The religious function organised on Saturday morning was attended by nearly 100 people, including women and elderly people.

A bhajan party was also called to sing religious hymns. In a video clip of the event, SHO Sanjeev Sharma is seen dancing to the tune of a bhajan with his fellow policemen some of who were not wearing masks.

Social distancing norms were not followed either. Assistant commissioner of police (ACP licencing) Narinder Singh was also present in the event that continued for around two-and-a-half hours, it is learnt.

Some workers of the Bharatiya Janta Party, Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress were also present on the occasion.

Additional deputy commissioner (ADC-general) Himanshu Aggarwal said religious functions are banned in Amritsar. “I can’t verify the video clip at this time but it shows social distancing was not followed. We will bring the matter to the notice of senior police officials,” he added.

SHO Sharma said the function was organised to distribute free ration to the needy. Whether he took permission for organising the event from the administration, he said, “I had informed my senior officials about it. Social distancing norms were followed.”

ACP Narinder Singh claimed, “I repeatedly appealed to people for maintaining social distancing,” he said.

Amritsar police commissioner Sukhchain Singh said he was not aware of the matter. “I will look into it,” he said.


The Hindustan Times – India’s migrant workers deserve better than this, writes Mark Tully

Why has the outcry against this suffering inflicted on men and women who are more than 90% of India’s workforce been so muted?

Mark Tully

Op/Ed, 09 May 2020. Last Sunday, a friend of mine was in a group which was driven on official business from Delhi to Lucknow. As I have not seen a single report of a long drive and I am locked down in a containment area, I asked him to take notes on what he saw. He was not allowed to stop and interview anyone.

All along the 416 km route, he saw migrant workers and their families walking to their homes, most of them were in groups, some alone. The old hobbled supported by sturdy sticks; some younger men, drenched in sweat, for it was a sunny Sunday, carried heavy bags strapped to their backs; others carried sacks on their heads.

Babies and young children were held in the arms of their parents, older children clasped their parents’ hands. At a village called Brijghat in Hapur district, the police manhandled young cyclists trying to get past a barricade.

My friend’s vehicle was stopped at barricades and checked by the police each time he crossed the borders between districts.

All dhabas and shops were closed. Drinking water was only provided at two places. At one place, Sikhs had established a langar and were providing food for the walkers. Within Lucknow, the police checking was intensified but walkers were still to be seen on the ring road.

Nearly six weeks after the first lock-down was announced, this was the scene on the road between the capital of India and the capital of its most populous state.

Migrant workers, dismissed by employers, enjoying no protection from their governments, often thrown out of their accommodation by their landlords, in urgent need of food transport and money, driven by desperation to walk home.

It is a scene many have described as reminiscent of the migration at Partition. This is the outcome of the largest and one of the strictest lock-downs in the world enforced during the corona-virus disease crisis, a lock-down that has been widely applauded internationally.

Why has the outcry against this suffering inflicted on men and women who are more than 90% of India’s workforce been so muted?

It is, I believe, in part at least, because those in a position to raise their voices have not identified themselves with those who are suffering. This idea came to me from re-reading D H Lawrence’s once-controversial novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover during the lock-down.

Set in the industrial midlands of Britain between the two World Wars, the novel is the story of a titled woman’s love for the working-class gamekeeper on the estate of her husband, a mine owner.

One of the themes is the lack of engagement and empathy between the upper-class and the working class as they were known in those days. During a row with her husband over his attitude to the servants, Lady Chatterley says, “I’d have you be aware of people.”

He replies, “And I’d have you a little less aware of that kind of people and a little more aware of the people who are after all of your own sort and class.” One of the gamekeeper’s friends asks Lady Chatterley, “Do the upper classes feel any sympathy with working men as has nothing before them, till they drop. Do they sympathise?”

The migrant worker crisis has shown the relevance of that question in today’s India. The economist Jean Dreze, who has dedicated his life to the study of poverty and inequality, said on News18, “The lock-down has been like a death sentence for the underprivileged”, and maintained that “the policies made to contain the pandemic have been made or influenced by a class of people who pay little or no attention to the consequences for the underprivileged.”

Nikhil Dey, who along with Aruna Roy, has worked for many, many years empowering workers and farmers put this lack of sympathy even more bluntly. In an NDTV debate on the migrant crisis, he said, “We are not thinking of them as human beings.”

The views expressed are personal


Hindustan Times – Harmandr Sahib (aka Golden Temple) sees 20% surge in online offerings amid lockdown

Since the lockdown hit collections of all gurdwaras, they are finding it difficult to manage their finances, and the SGPC is promoting online offerings on its website and encouraging devotees around the world to contribute online.

Surjit Singh, Posted by: Shankhyaneel Sarkar

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 02 May 2020. The Golden Temple [Harmandr Sahib] has witnessed a 20% surge in online offerings amid the nationwide Covid-19 lock-down that has prevented devotees from making a journey to the famed Sikh shrine.

The shrine, properly called Harmandr Sahib, has been deserted since curfew was imposed in Punjab on 19 March. Since then, the regular collection of offerings witnessed a record dip.

From an average collection of Rs 23 lakh a day as offerings (or a total of Rs 85 crore annually, including online offerings) during 2019-20, the figure plunged to between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 a day, according to officials of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).

As regular collections declined, online offerings surged.

“On normal days earlier, online offerings ranged from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh a month. In the last month, collections through online modes increased by 20% as per an estimate,” said Mukhtiar Singh, chief manager of the Golden Temple.

Another official privy to the shrine’s financial matters said: “The online offerings do not include few major offerings recently made by some devotees. For instance, a devotee from Amritsar offered Rs 5 lakh through online payment. This data is only of the routine online offerings.”

Asked about the average amount of money offered digitally every day, the official said on condition of anonymity, “Actually, the banks have not given us full details yet, citing the lock-down.”

Since the lock-down hit collections of all gurdwaras, they are finding it difficult to manage their finances, and the SGPC is promoting online offerings on its website and encouraging devotees around the world to contribute online, especially for the Harmandr Sahib’s langar ghar, considered the world’s largest community kitchen.

SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal personally appealed to devotees to contribute from home through this method. An icon appears for online donations when people visit the SGPC’s website.

This icon appeals to devotees to contribute to Harmandr Sahib’s community kitchen that feeds the needy in Amritsar. These people include migrant workers stranded in the city and the poor.

The surge in online offering has provided relief to the SGPC, which runs scores of educational, medical and sports institutions and manages historic gurdwaras in the northern part of the country.

“The SGPC is extending help to every needy person in the crisis, so the devotees should come forward to contribute to these services,” said Longowal.