424.The Man in Blue – London Ieper Sint Truiden

I am writing this article in my room in Gurdwara Sangat Sahib on the 22nd of June 2010. Yesterday was the first day that I had access to the internet since my departure from Southall on the 17th. After clearing the backlog of hundreds of unread emails I am now writing the column that should have appeared on my blog during the last weekend. Later I will again visit the local library and post ‘news-clippings’ and pictures.

I travelled from London with Amrik Singh (Airport), his wife Jaswinder Kaur and his son Dildip Singh and we crossed to France via the Channel tunnel. Amazingly our passports were not checked at all !

From Calais we drove to Ieper, and visited the Menen Gate and Hollebeke.  From Ieper we went via Kortrijk, Gent, Brussel, Leuven and Tienen to St Truiden. We did not rush but due to an early start we were still well in time for Rahiras, Katha and langar.

I was very happy that the Kathavachak was Giani Iqbal Singh (Rajpura Wala), who I met last year during my August visit to Belgium. He does not tell stories, respects the Sikh Rehat Maryada and firmly believes in the Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal Guru of the Sikhs.

Amrik Singh and family stayed in the Gurdwara for two nights and did a tour of Sint Truiden on Friday. I went to Hasselt, the capital of Limburg, for a meeting with a local politician. The main theme of the meeting was the problems that young Sikhs experience because Belgian schools have the right to refuse students who wear any kind of patka, turban, hijab or niqab.

It was a good meeting, the politician was well briefed and he did not just listen but also asked us questions. The youngsters made a very good contribution by talking about their experiences. The grey beards were in the minority but there was the usual minimal presence of female Sikhs.

Belgium is less liberal than the UK or the Netherlands. There are rules on becoming a recognised religion, and these rules are written with the Roman Catholic Church model of organisation in mind. Every resident has to register with the local authorities but if you live in a bedsit or in the Gurdwara where there are more than a certain number of people in a building you cannot register.

If you are not registered it is difficult to open a bank account, to get a contract with a mobile phone company or to join the local library. There are good people here who work hard to support the minorities, and together with them we will work hard for the welfare of all communities. After the recent national elections there is no federal government as yet, but the Flemish government is in place and the work goes on.

Published in: on June 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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395.The Man in Blue – St Truiden and Ieper II

In my previous article we got to the point where we left late from St Truiden and arrived late in Ieper on Armistice Day, November 11.

The weather forecast was reasonable and the first part of the day was better than the forecast. In the afternoon it was more cloudy and windy, but at least we did not get soaked like in November 2008.

There were only about 3 Sikhs from the UK (we can and must do better), a few from the USA, including Sardar Gurmit Singh, president of Council of Khalistan, about 10 people from the Netherlands and for the rest Sikhs from St Truiden, Gent and surroundings and from Brussel/Bruxelles (the Gurdwara is in Vilvoorde, a Dutch speaking town just north of Brussel).

We attended the act of remembrance, the one minute silence and the playing of the last post at the Menen Gate, and in spite of a request to have just one wreath from every community, the Sikhs had quite a few.

After the main event we went to the Grote Markt, had tea and biscuits, and then walked back to the Menen Gate where the Sikhs commemorated the events of 1984, the attack on Darbar Sahib and the anti-Sikh pogroms.

Afterwards we went by coach and cars to the Bedford Cemetery, where some soldiers of the British Indian Army are buried, and from there to Hollebeke, where in October 1914 the first Indian soldiers were deployed on the ‘western front’. There is a small monument with text in Sanskrit, Urdu and Gurmukhi which was unveiled in April (Vaisakh) 1999.

We had St Truiden bread parkoré, simple food, not bad, and a cup of tea at the cemetery and later in Hollebeke more bread parkoré and roti and dal. Hollebeke is also a good place to take pictures.

Sardar Gurmit Singh spoke about the efforts to establish Khalistan, he highlighted human rights issues on the subcontinent, and attempts to get the Sikh rights recognised in the countries they live in. Others also made a contribution.

This was not the most successful Ieper Armistice Day commemoration from the Sikh point of view. The numbers were low and it was a pity that there were so few people from outside Belgium and the Netherlands.

We will keep working on it, but in spite of a slight disappointment I was very happy to help the organising of the event and to make a contribution on the day itself. Having an annual event that gets members of the small Sikh communities in the Benelux together is good, remembering our European history is even better.

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 8:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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394.The Man in Blue – St Truiden en Ieper I

I am busy preparing for interfaith week, for which many of the FE Colleges I work with want my advice and assistance. I am also preparing for the London Regional Forum of the 24th of November, where London FE Colleges learn about new developments in interfaith work and get some training.

To restrict my time even more I went to Coventry on November 7 to meet my friend Balwant Singh and to visit all the Coventry Gurdwaré and I am writing this during a four-day visit to Belgium to attend the 11/11 Armistice Day commemoration in Ieper.

Saturday 14/11 I will be at an all day Lib Dem London Region conference where I will speak about my work with FE Colleges, Tuesday 17/11 I will be in Birmingham for the Association of Colleges conference and on Friday 20/11 again in Birmingham to discuss the status of the Sikh 5 Ks and turban.

I am not complaining or bragging, just explaining that the interesting and rewarding life that I have been blessed with sometimes gets too interesting.

On 10/11 I went to Belgium by Eurostar and got my kirpan through without too much trouble. From Brussel Zuid station I took a train to Landen and a connecting bus to the Sikh Sangat Gurdwara, Halmaal, St Truiden.

The bad news from St Truiden is that my brother Mohinder Singh, the Gurdwara pradhan, has recently been attacked by some white thugs. The good news is that the Gurdwara held its second Nagar Kirtan where this time the Panj Piaré were allowed to carry their traditional talwar.

On the afternoon after my arrival I went with Manpreet (Louke) Kaur and Granthi Kewal Singh to an event in the adult education centre where the Flemish equivalent of ESOL classes are given. I spoke with the burgemeester (mayor) about the cultural and religious communities in St Truiden.

The political situation in St Truiden is complicated. I hope that if the mayor loses his job the good work he is doing with the diverse communities of the town will continue.

November 11 is a national holiday in Belgium, and as per usual we went from the Gurdwara by coach to Ieper. The grey sky did not look to threatening, but it also did not really promise sunshine.

We left late and arrived in Ieper late, we missed the actual parade but were on time for the ceremony at the Menen Gate.

This report on my visit to Belgium will be continued next week. Pictures will appear both on this blog and on my flickr account.

Published in: on November 14, 2009 at 7:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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323.The Man in Blue – Last Post and Ardas, Ieper May 25 2008

Every evening at 8 pm the Last Post is sounded at the Menen Gate in Ieper. On special days like the 11th of November or bank holidays many will attend, on other days there might be only a few locals, but the Last Post is played and a minute silence is observed regardless.


As part of the special Sikh event on May 25 we were allowed to do a two minute prayer during this evening ceremony. I prepared and submitted a special Ardás, and supplied the organisers with a text.


I sang (with the Sangat) the original text of Tú Thakur Tum Pi Ardás, and gave the ‘Sikhí to the Max’ translation as underneath to the organisers. I recited the first part of the standard Ardás (text from SRM) in Panjabi, which I translated myself (see below). As there were many British people present and Sikhs from different European countries, I decided to do the part of the Ardás specific to the occasion in English. The full text (including translations) was available for interested members of the public.


Note that although I wrote the second part, I have followed the pattern of the standard Ardás. Please let me know what you think of our effort.     


Tú Thakur Tum Pi Ardás : You are our Lord and Master; to You, I offer this prayer. This body and soul are all Your property. You are our mother and father; we are Your children. In Your Grace, there are so many joys ! No one knows Your limits. O Highest of the High, Most Generous God, the whole creation is strung on Your thread. That which has come from You is under Your Command. You alone know Your state and extent. Nanak, Your slave, is forever a sacrifice. ||8||4||


Ardás : The One All-Powerful and All-Pervading. The victory belongs to the Wonderful Enlightener. Respected adorable God help us ! Ode to the adorable God by the 10th Master. Remember the primal adorable God, then remember Guru Nanak. Then remember Guru Angad, Amardas and Ram Das, they will protect us. Remember Arjan, Hargobind and the respected Har Rai.

Remember respected Har Kishan, seeing whom all pain goes. Remember Teg Bahadur, and the nine treasures will rush to you. He will protect you everywhere. The Tenth Master, respected Guru Gobind Singh will protect you everywhere. Read, meditate on and get support from the light of the Ten Gurus, the respected Guru Granth Sahib. All say Vahiguru, Vahiguru [Wonderful Enlightener] !


Sadh Sangat Jio [Respected True Congregation], we have come together here in Ieper to remember our forefathers who gave their lives for the right of people here in Belgium and other European countries to live in peace, to enjoy freedom. They followed Guru’s teachings and the example set by so many others in our history. Vahiguru [Wonderful Enlightener] We ask you for the strength of your Nám, that we will always keep to your path ! All say : Vahiguru, Vahiguru. May we remain humble, and may God give us wisdom ! You are the honour of the honourless, you are the power of the powerless, the shelter of the shelterless, True Father Vahiguru. Fulfil the objectives of all. May we meet those beloveds that make us meditate on your Nám. Says Nanak, the Nám is the positive force, the welfare of all is in Your Will. Vahiguru Ji Ka Khalsa [The Khalsa is with Vahiguru]

Vahiguru Ji Ki Fateh

[The victory is with Vahiguru]


Published in: on June 14, 2008 at 11:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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322.The Man in Blue – Ieper May 2008



Since Vaisakh 1999 when European Sikhs together with the City of Ieper organised a big celebration of 300 years Khalsa, I have been involved in the remembrance of the Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army who gave their lives for the freedom of Belgium and other European countries.


The Lahore and Meerut Divisions of the British Indian Army were in North Western France and South Western Belgium from October 1914 till October 1915. These soldiers, like others on both sides of the conflict, had to fight in appalling conditions and there were many casualties. The survivors often lost arms or legs, or ended up with other disabling injuries.


For many of the soldiers that survived it raised their political awareness. They wanted at the very least to be full citizens of the Empire for which they sacrificed the best years of their lives. They soon found out that white Empire citizens were more equal than the brown or black ones. 


Sikhs join the 11th of November Armistice in Ieper each year, but this May 25 May event was

organised by a group of Sikhs operating under the name of Sikh Worldwide Organisation for Remembrance Days. For Sikhs who live in continental European countries, that have no common history with the Sikhs, it is an important way of putting themselves on the map. The day was attended by about 300 Sikhs/people of Sikh background from Italy, Switzerland, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK.


In the morning we started with a meeting at the place where the British Indian Troops were deployed for the first time in 1914. The narrow country lanes were jam-packed with cars and coaches, and local traffic, even pushbikes, had trouble getting past. Apart from the Sikhs there were representatives of the City of Ieper, including our good friend Domeniek Dendooven, who truly deserves to be called an honorary sardar !   


I had put together a specially adapted Ardas, about which I will write in my next article. I recited the Ardas during this morning session and again in the evening at the Menen Gate in Ieper itself. Otherwise there were as per usual too many speeches. I do not like speeches very much, and spent my time talking to other non-lovers of speeches.


In the afternoon there was a cultural programme on the Grote Markt in central Ieper, with gatka, bhangra and gidha. I spoke to a number of local people and British tourists who were curious to know what was going on. We also handed out leaflets about Sikhí, Sikhs and their history. It was a good opportunity to increase awareness.


In my next article I will write about the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menen Gate and about the ardas that was said on the occasion.

Published in: on June 7, 2008 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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