Sputnik – Pakistan moves to embrace its minorities by opening the doors of Hindu Mandirs

New Delhi – India, 18 November 2019. India and Pakistan have opened the Kartarpur Corridor, allowing Indian pilgrims to worship throughout the year at a Sikh shrine in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Pakistan has historically been uneasy with its Hindu heritage but things seem to be changing under the ruling Imran Khan government.

Pakistan’s ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s spokesperson Ahman Jawad has announced plans to restore Hindu places of worship.

The India-Pakistan partition in 1947 resulted in the closure Hindu and Sikh shrines in the country.

A survey by the All-Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement earlier this year revealed that at the time of partition, 428 Hindu mandirs existed in Pakistan but only 20 remain operational.

In April this year, the Pakistan government announced plans to re-open 400 of the 428 mandirs. It also cleared a plan to allow Indian tourists to visit Sharda Peeth, an ancient Hindu religious and cultural site in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Taking another positive step towards the minority Hindus, Jagannath Mandir in Pakistan’s Sialkot city was reopened in July after 72 years.

The changes are not just at the bureaucratic level, but also at the judicial level, with the Supreme Court of Pakistan making judgements in favour of Hindus.

Similarly, in September 2019, Muslims escorted Hindus to a mandir in Ghotki district after riots broke out in the area over an alleged blasphemy committed by a Hindu teacher.

Pakistan also plans to begin the renovation of two to three historic and heritage mandirs every year. The restoration process will begin with two historic mandirs, the 1,000-year old Shivalaya Teja Singh Temple in Sialkot and Gorakhnath Temple in Peshawar.


Sputnik – Norwegian Muslims, Sikhs protest ‘offensive’ ID requirement to show ears

Oslo – Norway, 21 June 2019. Many Muslim women have their ears hidden under a hijab or some other kind of Islamic headdress, while Sikhs wear ear-covering turbans. Baring ears would therefore constitute a “degrading” breach of the tenets of their faith, they argue.

A group of Norwegian Muslims have launched a campaign to remove the requirement for visible ears on passports and ID cards.

A total of 842 responses from organisations and individuals alike were sent to the government to remove the mandatory ear demand, the news outlet Document reported.

“The requirement for visible ears on facial photography is contrary to freedom of religion”, the Muslim Common Council of Rogaland said.

“As a Muslim, I ask the government to change requirement to show the ears in the passport image. We feel that it is very offensive and degrading to have to remove the ears from the hijab as it violates the rights of all Muslim women living here in Norway. We believe that this law limits our freedom”, a typical response from a private person said.

Turban-wearing Sikhs also joined the cause to remove the visible ear requirement. The Sikhs and Punjabis of Rogaland also supported the popular movement.

According to Ingrid Rosendorf Joys, the leader of the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL), the Sikhs are among those particularly affected.

“The requirement for visible ears is a disproportionate intervention in the freedom of religion”, she explained.

In 2014, new rules for passports were introduced in Norway. One of the requirements was that one should have visible ears on one’s photograph. Ears can be of great importance when identifying a person.

“The ears are as unique as fingerprints and only slightly affected by weight changes, makeup and aging. They therefore provide much information that may be important for the manual checking of passport applicants against submitted documentation and previously registered facial photos in the passport register of the same name,” the legal justification for the requirement said.

Back then, a large group of Muslims and Sikhs created the so-called Religious Freedom Group and gathered 3,600 signatures, which were subsequently sent to the Minister of Justice. However, the law was implemented despite the protests.

Norway’s Islamic community has been growing exponentially since the 1960s. At present, Muslims are estimated to constitute 5.7 percent of Norway’s population of 5.2 million.

Norway’s Sikh community is estimated at 5,000, of whom 250 are estimated to wear a turban.


Sputnik – New Delhi urges Pakistan to stop harbouring ‘elements’ indulging in ‘Anti-India Activities’

New Delhi has called on Islamabad to provide clarification on certain key issues, including the appointment of what it has described as a “controversial” individual in a committee associated with Kartarpur Corridor between Pakistan and India that is expected to provide Sikhs with visa-free passage to holy shrines.

New Delhi – India, 09 June 2019. India has demanded that Pakistan take action against the pro-Khalistani “elements” advocating the formation of a separate Sikh state in the Punjab region.

“Our stand is very clear which we have reiterated earlier also that Pakistan gives refuge to persons and groups which indulge in anti-India activities. We have said it earlier also that Pakistan should take action against them.

We expect and demand it and this is something which is as per the international norms also”, Raveesh Kumar, a spokesperson for India’s Foreign Ministry, told a briefing this week.

His remarks came as a response to a question about anti-India slogans raised in Pakistan on the 35th anniversary of Operation Blue Star, a 1984 Indian military operation against Khalistani militants in Punjab.

The comment was made on the same day as Indian media reported that pro-Khalistani activist Gopal Singh Chawla chanted anti-New Delhi slogans on the operation’s anniversary.

“From all over the world groups have come together against the massacre which took place on 06 June 1984, the people who lost their lives from the Sikh community. On that day, the cruel Indian government attacked the Golden Temple. And we want to tell the cruel Indian government, we want to say that the way Indira died, the way we punished Indira, we will punish others.

We will make a Khalistan. And we people from the Sikh community also promise that, till India will not stop their cruelties on Sikhs, we will also not stop”, Republic TV cited him as saying.

Kumar as well reiterated what Indian officials have previously said: they objected to Chawla’s becoming a member of the Kartarpur Corridor committee, which seeks to implement an ambitious project and create a border corridor between India and Pakistan, linking the Sikh shrines of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib, which is located in India’s part of Punjab, and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, situated in Pakistan-administered Punjab.

“We have shared our concerns. First thing is that we remain committed to realising the long pending demand of the Indian pilgrims to visit the holy Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib. We want them to visit in a safe, secure and easy manner but you are also aware that we have shared our concerns and sought clarifications and reports that controversial elements have been appointed by Pakistan to a committee associated with this project”, Kumar said.

The corridor is expected to open to pilgrims in November to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak Dev.