The Times of India – Stop cross-LoC trade if it is a threat, but don’t harass us: Traders

Hakeem Irfan Rashid

Srinagar-Jammu & Kashmir-India, 19 September 2017. Traders engaged in business across the Line of Control in J&K have asked the government to stop the barter trade if it is a threat to national security and put an end to the harassment of the traders who they said are repeatedly summoned and questioned by the National Investigation Agency.

The NIA has sent notices to around 40 cross LoC traders and raided houses, offices and businesses of 15 traders, seized documents, electronic gadgets and called many of them for questioning to New Delhi, Lucknow and Nagpur.

The traders stated that the Home Minister Rajnath Singh, during his recent visit to J&K assured them that they won’t be summoned to New Delhi or any other place, but despite his intervention some of the traders have again been summoned to New Delhi and Lucknow.

“We are traders not terrorists. If government and its agencies believe than this trade is a threat to national security let them stop it. We are not scared of any investigation, but let the investigators should question us here in the state. We can’t afford to go to New Delhi, Nagpur or Lucknow every now and then,” one of the traders Samiullah told ET.

A delegation of the cross LoC traders also met former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led Congress policy planning group here in Srinagar to convey their concerns and urged them to raise the issue in New Delhi. The traders have threatened to stop the trade themselves from October, if the government didn’t pay heed to their concerns.

The NIA while investigating a case registered in May this year regarding illegal transfer of money to Hurriyat leaders has questioned many cross LoC traders and the trade has also intermittently halted due to various reasons.

“We have been made the sacrificial lambs of this confidence building measure between India and Pakistan,” Showkat Ahmad Kaloo, another cross LoC trader, told ET. The traders blamed the PDP-BJP government’s internal differences for their plight, claiming that PDP wants to continue the trade while as BJP opposes it.

“In the fight between two elephants, grass is trampled,” another trader added.

The cross LoC zero tariff barter trade with no custom duty was started in October 2008 as a biggest CBM between India and Pakistan and is conducted from Chakan-da-bagh-Rawalakote route in Jammu and Salamabad-Chokoti in Kashmir. The government has made list of 21 items that can be traded.

“Now we have to pay double tax after GST regime was implemented and cannot even do trade on credit as it is barter trade. Only 35 traders are presently doing the trade out of more than 750 registered traders,” said another trader Rashid Ali.

The trade is vulnerable due to shaky relations between the two countries and is stopped even on a minor ceasefire violation or any political confrontation. Besides, increasing intervention of investigating agencies accusing the traders of their involvement in drug trafficking and hawala transactions.

During the NIA raids, the traders claimed that their wallets, ATM cards, property documents, medical reports, mobile phones and even the registers documenting gifts received on given during functions have been seized.

“They make us feel like criminals and the electronic media without any proof only amplifies the accusations which have not even been proven till now,” said another trader.


The Times of India – ‘Nanakpanthis’ in Sindh face hate campaign

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar-Panjab-India, 17 September 2017. Pakistan’s minority leadership has urged the government to take strict action against hatemongers following the recent spate in the vicious propaganda against ‘Nanakpanthis’ (Sindhi Hindus) in Tharparkar district of Sindh province.

Most of the Hindus living in Sindh follow teachings of Sikhism and are also called ‘Nanakpanthis’.

“Not only the social media is being used to propagate hatred against the minority community, but pamphlets are also being distributed in Tharparkar,” Pakistan’s member of national assembly (MNA) Ramesh Kumar Vankwani told TOI over phone on Saturday.

He said extremist elements were trying to create unrest in the peaceful society of Hindu-majority Mithi and Umarkot areas using anonymous social media accounts.

“The hate pamphlets are written in Sindhi language and are being distributed on a large scale,” he said, adding that these had the name of controversial Islamic cleric Pir Ayub Jan Sarhindi, believed to be involved in most cases related to forced conversions of minor Hindu and Sikh girls.

Stating that minority communities in Pakistan were facing a lot of problems, Vankwani, who is also the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said that, “Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah during his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, had defined the state policy that one may belong to any religion or caste or creed, it had nothing to do with the business of the state.”

He, however, regretted that minorities were continuously being discriminated against.

Vankwani said he, along with another minority MNA from Umarkot, Lal Chand Malhi, had asked the higher authorities to take immediate action before the extremist elements succeed in exploiting the religious sentiments of innocent people.

He said both of them had also demanded an inquiry to expose the people behind distribution of the hate pamphlets. Vankwani said that the Federal Investigation Agency was the right forum to inquire against the misuse of social media.

The Times of India – Facebook can block SFJ’s referendum page in India: US appeals court

IP Singh

Jalandhar, 16 September 2017. A three-judge appellate panel of the US court of appeals, on September 13, dismissed the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) claim against Facebook for blocking in India, its page advocating Punjab Independence Referendum.

The judges of appellate court in San Francisco ruled that the social networking company won’t have to face a lawsuit for allegedly blocking access to the SFJ’s page in India because it was immune from liability under Communications Decency Act (CDA).

“SFJ seeks to hold Facebook liable as a publisher for hosting, and later blocking its online content,” the judges of the appellate court wrote in their order of September 13, copy of which is available with TOI.

“Facebook is entitled to immunity for hosting the content as well as for blocking it, because SFJ is solely responsible for creating the material,” the court ruled.

Meanwhile, SFJ legal adviser Gurpatwant Singh Panun said they were seeking advice from expert lawyers in order to take the case against the social media giant to the US Supreme Court.

In the lawsuit filed in 2015, the SFJ had alleged that Facebook had blocked its page in India “for running a campaign against forced conversions of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism through the homecoming; for exposing PM Narendra Modi’s involvement in 2002 massacre of Muslims; for advocating Sikhs’ right to self-determination and demanding independence referendum in the state of Punjab.”

Pannu and other SFJ members were booked for sedition after hoardings of Referendum 2020 were put up at a few places in Punjab. Those were removed later.

The Times of India – Convince Myanmar to end violence against Rohingyas, Bangla Desh urges India

Indrani Bagchi

New Delhi, 12 September 2017. “India has good relations with Myanmar, we are both members of BIMSTEC. India must emphasize to Myanmar that conditions must be created so that these refugees can return to their country.

India can call for the immediate implementation of the Kofi Annan report,” said Syed Muazzem Ali, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India as Bangladesh grapples with a huge influx of refugees, which now total 6,70,000, in the midst of one of the worst floods in recent years.

The Bangladesh foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali proposed a plan of action to tackle the crisis. This includes asking Myanmar to stop the violence in Rakhine province, create safe zones to protect civilians “irrespective of ethnicity and religion”.

“Myanmar must engage with Bangladesh to ensure repatriation of all of its nationals living in Bangladesh through international joint verification as also proposed by the Kofi Annan Commission,” the Bangla envoy said.

Muazzem Ali conveyed Bangladesh’s concerns regarding what they saw as India’s unhelpful stand on the issue during PM’s visit to Myanmar. “I explained to the foreign secretary that we have no hesitation in decrying the terrorist attack that was launched against the security forces of Mynamar.

We condemned in the strongest possible terms. My prime minister has emphasized that Bangladesh would show zero tolerance to any acts of terrorism and Bangladesh could not be allowed to be used by anyone for any terrorist acts.”

Bangladesh’s response coincides with the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, roundly criticizing Myanmar, calling the ongoing violence “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

“The Myanmar government should stop pretending that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” saying “another brutal security operation is underway in Rakhine state this time, apparently on a far greater scale.”

Unconfirmed reports also said the biggest militant group, ARSA, has announced a month-long ceasefire for aid agencies to access people in Rakhine.

He said “Bangladesh had offered to Myanmar if necessary joint patrols on our border. But we did not get any response from Myanmar.” In the weeks before the August 25 terror attack, “security agencies of both India and Bangladesh had alerted Myanmar about an impending attack, because we saw some activities in this area, and intercepted some telephone calls.”

India had stood by Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar leadership criticizing the August 25 violence as a terrorist attack, at a time when Suu Kyi has come under widespread international condemnation, including calls to rescind her Nobel peace prize.

But this stand played very badly in Bangladesh, India’s other strategic ally, which has borne the brunt of the Rohingya exodus. India changed its stance on Saturday evening acknowledging Bangladesh’s position on the issue.

“I believe we have seen in the past that the security concerns of this issue must be given due consideration,” Muazzem Ali said. Myanmar, “must distinguish between terrorist suspects and civilian population.

It has led to a mass exodus, 270,000 have taken shelter with us, and I am sure they will go to various other countries as well. I am given to understand by very high officials here that a very large number of them have also entered your country.”

The issue of Rohingya refugees is a problem in BJP-ruled India, but it comes directly in conflict with India’s position as a leading power in the region. India has found some 40,000 Rohingyas who have settled in different parts of India, but worryingly for the government, in Jammu and Kashmir.

Some ministers have spoken of deporting them, but Myanmar does not want them, neither does anyone else. Indian officials say the security implications of this influx cannot be overstated given reports that Rohingyas have been infiltrated and radicalized by terror groups in Pakistan.

The Bangladesh foreign minister also put out a set of proposals for the international community. “The root of the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar. Therefore the ultimate solution has to be found in Myanmar,” Ali said.

“The international community must pressure Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Commission and help Bangladesh with urgent humanitarian assistance to address the current crisis as well as for temporary relocation of Rohingyas that entered Bangladesh to Bhashan Char.”

The resolution of the Rohingya crisis, Ali said, had to be political. “Otherwise, wittingly or unwittingly we get involved in a security problem, where certain parties, which are interested in destabilizing the region, will set foot in our neighbourhood.”

The Times of India – Prayer ground flooded, Sikhs offer gurdwara to Muslims for Eid namaaz

Kautilya Singh

Dehradun, 3 September 2017. It has been raining heavily in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand for the past week. Saturday was no different, the water flooding parts of Joshimath in Chamoli.

Muslims, who had started gathering in large numbers since morning on Saturday for the Bakr-Eid namaaz, were shocked to see that the open ground where they have been praying was completely under water.

They soon realised that there was no way they would be able to do their naamaz there.

Upset and anxious as time went by, they were wondering what to do when some Sikhs in the area came to know of the dilemma. After a few calls to each other, they knew what they had to do for their Muslim brethren. They offered their gurdwara some distance away to the Muslims.

The offer was immediately taken up and some 1,000 grateful Muslims from Joshimath, Govindghat and Pipalkoti did their Eid namaaz in the gurdwara’s premises, in peace and relative dryness.

Yogendra Singh (SDM, Joshimath), inspector Sanjay Kumar and members of the gurdwara management committee soon reached the venue and organised space for the prayers. To ensure everything went off smoothly, they remained there until the namaaz was done and the last Muslim man had filed out.

Buta Singh, manager of the Joshimath Gurdwara Committee, told TOI, “There is no mosque in the area and the Eid namaaz is offered in an open ground, at Gandhi Maidan, which is less than a kilometer from our gurdwara.

On getting to know that the ground was flooded and a huge gathering would not be able to pray at the spot, the gurdwara management quickly came forward to offer assistance. That was the least we could do.”

Mohammad Aslam, who sells vegetables in Joshimath, said, “We are deeply touched. This act by the gurdwara committee displays the true spirit of brotherhood. They saw to it that we were given proper space and time for the namaaz. We are extremely happy. This is something to be emulated by everyone.”

Inspector Kumar said, “While a substantial number of Muslims here keep shuttling between Bijnor, Saharanpur, Nazibabad and Moradabad, some of them are permanently based in Chamoli district. Muslims in the hill district are mostly small traders and vegetable sellers.”

He pointed out that in the absence of a mosque, Muslims had nowhere to go for namaaz after Gandhi Maidan was inundated. “That’s when the Sikhs came in.”

The Times of India – Doklam row: China removes road-building equipment from face-off site

Indrani Bagchi

New Delhi, 29 August 2017. In a diplomatic victory, India and China have agreed to “disengage” from the stand-off in Doklam on Bhutanese territory.

After almost 10 weeks of sustained negotiations between top-level Indian and Chinese officials, the MEA on Monday said “expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is on-going.”

By the end of the day, as Indian troops withdrew from their post at Doka La, Chinese troops and their road-building equipment too were removed from the face-off site.

The standoff has been on since June 16 when Indian troops physically stopped the PLA from building a road on Doklam plateau. In a second statement at the end of the day, MEA confirmed that both sides had moved out “under verification.”

The negotiations were conducted at various levels, first, during the visit by NSA Ajit Doval to China in July, where he held discussions with his counterpart Yang Jiechi.

Next, foreign secretary S Jaishankar led the diplomatic talks with the Chinese side, helped by India’s ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale, who worked ceaselessly with the Chinese government over the last couple of months to achieve an outcome that would be acceptable to both sides.

The MEA spokesperson said that in numerous meetings between the Indian and Chinese officials in the past couple of months, India has been successful in conveying its “concerns and interests.”

“In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect of the incident at Doklam. During these communications, we were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests.”

Post-disengagement, China will continue to patrol the region as it had done earlier, but there will be no road construction activity. The resolution comes ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China for the BRICS summit.

It also comes before a crucial 19th party congress in China where Xi Jinping expects to be “cleared” for another five years and he will choose the core group of leaders who will rule China for the next five years.

The Indians went in with some demands:

– That China should not change the ground realities unilaterally.
– That China should respect the the 2012 understanding on tri-junctions.

This was detailed by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in parliament where she said, “Point 13 of the common understanding states that “The tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries.”

Since 2012, we have not held any discussion on the tri-junction with Bhutan. The Chinese action in the Doklam area is therefore of concern.”

While China was breathing fire in the public domain, during the negotiations, sources said, India held the line that bilateral relations would be affected if China did not ensure “peace and tranquillity” on the border.

This could happen only if there was a reversal to the status quo. The two sides only came to an understanding after continued conversations and a realisation in China that India would not move from the ground until they withdrew.

In addition, India also provided China with a face-saving exit. China’s initial response on Monday morning was to confine itself to saying that only Indian troops had withdrawn from the site, and that they would continue to “maintain sovereignty”on the Doklam plateau.

India did not contest this publicly until in the afternoon, when a second Indian statement clarified that both sides had withdrawn “under verification.”

The Times of India – Ram Rahim is not a Sikh leader, say Pakistani Sikhs

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar, 27 August 2017. Pakistani Sikhs are enraged over a section of Pakistan media that described Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim as a Sikh spiritual leader.

Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has denied that Ram Rahim is a Sikh spiritual leader and demanded strict punishment for him.

General secretary of the committee, Gopal Singh Chawla, in a video message uploaded on social media on Sunday said, “May be out of ignorance a section of Pakistani media has mentioned Gurmeet Ram Rahim as a Sikh leader, which is not true”.

Chawla, who boasts of his friendship with terror mastermind Hafiz Sayeed, also used expletives against DSS chief in his video message.

He said it was heart-rending to hear people in Pakistan saying to Sikhs that a Sikh leader had been arrested in India for rape charges. “I not only condemn this but also clarify that Gurmeet is not a Sikh leader”.

“It is a grave mistake to call him a Sikh leader as he had dared to mimic Guru Gobind Singh” he said.

Notably in 2007, Ram Rahim had dressed up as Guru Gobind Singh and also held an initiation ceremony which sparked outrage of the Sikhs.

The Times of India – Why women not allowed to perform kirtan in Golden Temple (Harmandr Sahib) sanctum sanctorum

Yudhvir Rana

Amritsar, 27 July 2017. The delicate issue of gender equality has come to the fore with the Sikh Diaspora questioning the ritual of women not allowed to perform ‘kirtan’ (hymns) in the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple.

While a few Sikh scholars have appealed to the Jathedar of the Akal Takht to ensure that women were given the rights, others have blamed the prevailing patriarchal social system among Sikhs.

The Jathedar however has maintained silence on the issue. While talking to TOI on Wednesday, Balvinder Kaur Saundh, chair of Sikh Women Alliance, UK, said, “I have been saying for the past 20 years that Guru Nanak and our religion gave us equality. It is the men who have interpreted it to control our religious scriptures”.

She said women should be allowed to perform ‘kirtan’ in the Golden Temple besides other sewa (service), including giving shoulder to palki (palanquin) carrying Guru Granth Sahib. “All women groups should be allowed to do kirtan and take part in all the services”, she said.

Saundh said, “Generally it was said ‘women menstruate so they are unclean.’ If women didn’t have their monthly periods, would men have been born? We are as capable as men to do kirtan sewa.”

UK-based Sikh scholar Kamalroop Singh appealed to the Jathedar of Akal Takht Giani Gurbachan Singh by letting them sing the praises of ‘Waheguru’. Singh was of view that Sikh religion was founded on the concept of unity and equality. He said women have contributed immensely to the growth of the Sikh religion.

Malaysia-based humanitarian aid organizer of United Sikhs Rishiwant Singh said Sikhism was the most modern religion in the world and based on the equality of gender, race, religion, caste and creed. “There is no question whether women should be allowed to do sewa of kirtan or not”, he said.

US-based Sikh activist Rajwant Singh said Guru Nanak spoke about women’s rights. “Sikh women have played an important role in strengthening the journey of the faith in the last 500 years. The first Sikh was Bebe Nanki who played a key role in organizing the community during its infancy, also supporting her brother Guru Nanak Dev.

Similarly, Mata Khivi, who is the only woman mentioned in the Sikh scriptures, is the main person who popularized langar, a vegetarian community meal which is still in practice. Her daughter, Bibi Amro, was also installed as a Sikh preacher by Guru Amardas, the third Sikh guru”.

When contacted, the Jathedar of Akal Takht Giani Gurbachan Singh said, “I have no opinion on this issue”.

The Times of India – Row over civil surgeon’s circular

Bharat Khanna

Patiala, 22 August 2017. The Patiala civil surgeon’s circular asking the medical officers (MOs) in the district to remain prepared for a quick emergency response in anticipation of clashes between Sikhs and the dera followers after the August 25 CBI verdict in the rape case against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, has drawn severe criticism on social media where it got circulated.

“It is completely a matter of rule of law. Sikhs are not in the picture then how can anyone blame the community for any probable clash?

It is not a matter related to the Sikhs. It is a conspiracy of the government to pollute the matter and make it an issue between the Sikhs and the dera followers. We have always raised our voice for peace,” said Gurdeep Singh, United Akali Dal general secretary.

However, Patiala civil surgeon Dr Balwinder Singh said that he had just forwarded the letter as received from the office of the deputy commissioner. “I had cited the letter issued from the DC office on August 16.” Patiala DC Kumar Amit could not be contacted for comments.

The Times of India – Doklam standoff: Chinese clip mocks Sikhs, called racist

I P Singh

Jalandhar, 19 August 2017. Amid the Doklam stand-off on the Bhutanese border, the state owned Chinese news agency Xinhua has put out a three-minute video in which an actor mocks India by dressing up as a Sikh soldier.

The actor in a Sikh turban and a shabby beard clowns around on screen while the anchor attacks India in the clip titled “7 sins of India”.

The video has been uploaded on Xinhua’s site and Twitter handle at a time when India has posted burly Sikh and Jat soldiers at the Doklam tri-junction in a bid to intimidate Chinese soldiers.

The anchor in the clip starts by saying that it has been two months since Indian troops illegally crossed into China.
“The whole world is trying to wake India up but China has realized that it is impossible to awaken a guy who is pretending to be asleep,” she says and shows a man with the ill-fitting turban saying in a mock Indian accent: “Nobody’s blaming me because I’m asleep.” He then snores amid canned laughter.

UK-based Sikh Press Association called the clip, “blatant mockery of the Sikh identity”. UK-based Sikh Press Association said, “It is sad to see just how low Chinese media have stooped in using the Sikh identity as a pawn in their state propaganda against India.

Sikhs make up less than 2% of India’s population, so to use a mocked-up image of a Sikh as the face of propaganda targeted against India shows just how ill-informed Xinhua is.” Akal Takht Jathedar Gurbachan Singh said, “It is racist and reflects poorly on the Chinese state-owned media. Despite the stand-off India should raise the issue with China.”

The anchor in the clip also calls Doklam undisputed Chinese territory and alleges that India is trampling on international law. She mockingly asks, “Didn’t your mama tell you never break the law?”

The clown also says, “He is building a path in his garden, I am in danger,” which is followed by another bout of laughter.The clip claims that India is holding a small neighbour like Bhutan to ransom in the name of protecting it.