India dismisses British group’s ‘worldwide ban’ on Indian officials visiting Gurudwaras

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 08, 2018

The announcement is a sign of fear, says Deputy High Commissioner to the UK

India has dismissed a warning from a UK Sikh group, that it will be encourage diaspora Gurudwaras to ban Indian officials from visiting them, as a knee-jerk reaction, arguing it reflected the group’s fears of the strengthening relationship between Indian authorities and the Sikh diaspora worldwide, rather than anything else.

“The announcement is a sign of fear,” said Deputy High Commissioner to the UK Dinesh Patnaik, after the group, Sikh Federation (UK) proposed a “worldwide ban” on Indian government officials from visiting Gurudwaras in the diaspora, accusing Indian authorities of interfering in Sikh institutions and affairs.

Sikh Federation (UK) said it believed up to 70 Gurudwaras in the UK were already prepared to be involved in the ban and that the number could rise to 100 — with around 300 organisations potentially involved outside India.

‘Sikhs targeted’

“In Germany, in recent years, we have seen the authorities to their credit collect evidence, make arrests and prosecute agents reporting to Indian government officials on Sikhs who are German citizens,” said Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair, Sikh Federation (UK). “The latest tactic by the Indian authorities of targeting Sikhs from the Diaspora when they visit the Sikh homeland — as demonstrated by the case of British citizen Jagtar Singh Johal — has broken the camel’s back.”

The federation has been running a campaign over the arrest of Johal, who was detained in Jalandhar last year, and is accused of involvement in “targeted killings” in Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Khanna.

The group has accused Indian authorities of torture in the case, and has been lobbying British Members of Parliament to put pressure on the British government and Indian authorities.

On Friday, the group accused Indian agents of acting in Britain, suggesting attempts to interfere in matters of the Sikh community in the UK.

“We will keep up the pressure for the arrest and prosecution of these agents. But in the meantime, the Gurdwara ban is a way of mitigating the problems being created by Indian officials for Sikhs in the Diaspora,” the group said.

‘Strengthening links’

However, Patnaik said the High Commission was confident that the organisation’s position did not reflect that of the vast majority of Sikhs in Britain who are positive about the strengthening links between the community and Indian authorities.

“We’ve had a hugely positive reaction to our efforts to engage with the community, as has been the case with all Indian diaspora communities,” he said. “Most of them want a peaceful and successful relationship, and don’t want the relationship to be held hostage to issues of the past.”

He added that the arrest and detention of Johal had followed due legal process.

“This is a knee-jerk reaction on behalf of Sikh Federation (UK). If they were confident about their position, they wouldn’t have needed a ban. We are sure the community will rise up and let them know that this is not acceptable. The thing Sikhs are most identified with are as protectors of India. And seeing this group try to change that is something we are very unhappy about. We will continue to engage with the community.”

Published on January 05, 2018

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