Sikh Groups in U.S. Ban Entry of Indian Officials to Gurdwaras, Even as Envoy Visits One in London
Over 90 gurdwaras in the United States join those in the United Kingdom and Canada to announce a ban on entry of Indian officials.
India’s Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dinesh Patnaik, visited a South hall-based gurdwara in West London in the midst of the Sikh Federation United Kingdom (SFUK) calling for a ban on Indian officials from entering the premises of a gurdwara. Following announcements by Sikh groups in the United Kingdom and Canada, 96 gurdwaras in the United States also followed suit.
The American Gurdwara Prabhandik Committee (AGPC) and Sikh Coordination Committee of East Coast (SCCEC), which are among the biggest umbrella Sikh organizations in the United States, lead the resolution, supported by Sikh for Justice group in the country, according to a statement released on Jan. 7.
Patnaik, meanwhile, met members of the Sikh community on Jan. 6, and said: “A gurdwara is a place of worship, it should not be politicized.”
Indian-origin British MP Keith Vaz also spoke against the ban. “I hope those who made it will reflect on what they have done and review it immediately. All places of worship in the UK should be open to all,” he said.
The SFUK followed in the footsteps of some Sikh groups in Canada, saying on Jan.5 that it has banned visits by Indian officials in gurdwaras in the United Kingdom. “In the UK hundreds of thousands of Sikhs go to gurdwaras each week and the ban could extend to over 100 gurdwaras, including many of the largest gurdwaras in the country,” the statement said. It added that Sikhs in the diaspora are troubled with Indian government officials and “their agents increasingly interfering in our institutions and Sikh affairs, undermining of Sikh campaigns for greater rights and internal matters for the Sikh community.”
Indian officials had dismissed the proposal of the ban. “Such threats are not acceptable,” Patnaik had said earlier, according to the Hindustan Times. “In 2017 we held a major Baisakhi event and several others related to the 350th anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh in various parts of the UK. We will continue to engage with the Sikh Federation UK too.”
The move in the United Kingdom and the United States comes after a similar announcement was made by about a dozen gurdwaras in Ontario, Canada, last month.
“Pursuant to the Trespass to Property Act (1990), the management of this Gurdwara Sahib reserves the right to bar entry to officials of the Indian Government including but not limited to Indian elected officials, Indian Consular officials, and members of organizations who seek to undermine the Sikh nation and Sikh institutions,” said the statement.
The statement added that the decision was made after the Sikh community decided to demand the release of British citizen Jagtar Singh Johal from Indian custody. Johal has been detained in Punjab as he is suspected of being a part of targeted killings in places like Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Khanna.
The statement by SFUK also brought up Johal’s detention. “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,” it said.
The issue in Canada was also brought up in the Lok Sabha earlier this month when Ludhiana’s Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu said that Khalistani elements are behind this decision and are tarnishing the reputation of the community.
However, the community in Canada is divided on the idea of the ban.
“They want more consultation on the issue. People are fearing more visa issues and they wonder whether this will further affect relations between India and Canada,” Yudhvir Singh Jaswal, group editor of Y Media Group, told Hindustan Times.
Former Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwara Council (OSGC) president and council member Harbans Singh Jandali said that the ban by the OGC was their opinion and that the OSGC has not seen any interference from Indian authorities.
In November 2017, Ajay Gondane, the Indian High Commissioner to Australia, was prevented from entering the Tarneit Gurdwara Sahib in Melbourne by a group of protesters.