NEW DELHI, August 17, 2016: An extraordinary move by PM Modi’s Office is sure to make thousands of Sikhs happy. The 32-year old Government blacklist that banned Sikh NRIs from 212 families to visit India has been scrapped and in election-bound Punjab, this move was much appreciated by the community, mentioned a leading news portal.
The blacklist affected most of the non-resident Sikhs who were residents in the UK, US and Canada. It was the Congress Government who made the blacklist after the Operation Bluestar in 1984 and the 1985 Kanishka bombings.
As known to all, Operation Bluestar was brought into effect under the order of PM Indira Gandhi. The operation took place between June 3- 8 June in 1984 and it was to remove Sikh militants who were accumulating weapons in the Harmandir Sahib Complex (now Golden Temple) in Amritsar, in order to establish control over the place.
The blacklist was brought into being as Sikh militants were spreading terror back then. As a result, Sikh militant groups were investigated for the bombing and there were several arrests in Canada. Explosives on the board of a Boeing-747 aircraft, Air India’s Kanishka that was flying the Montreal-New Delhi route resulted in destruction. 329 passengers, who were Canadian-Indians in the majority were killed while it was over Irish airspace.
Sources said the decision of the Government to remove the blacklist is likely to be headed by the additional secretary of the home ministry who had examined the blacklist, and 212 cases of a total of 324 were removed, reported ET Bureau.
Apart from that, remaining cases were examined and removed from the blacklist as well bringing relief to many NRI Sikhs. The officials who were in charge of the decision did not want to be identified.
Further, the ET bureau reports mentioned that the Intelligence Bureau have opposed the decision of removing the ban. During PM Modi’s visit to UK and Canada, there were several representations from Sikh NRI groups who urged him for the reconsideration of the India travel ban for Sikhs. Therefore Modi’s office delved deep into the matter. As a result, a committee was set up after which members of Intelligence Bureau was asked to reexamine each case minutely.
When detailed case studies were done, it was found that the names that were jotted down in the blacklist were random and that without investigation entire families were included in the list who had no connection to the incident. Apart from that, the surprising part is that the blacklist was never publicly acknowledged. Therefore for all these years, there were numerous visa denials and Sikh NRI communities were barred from visiting India. This led to the rise of thousand of voices who termed the act as systematic discrimination.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will lay the foundation stone Wednesday for what is dubbed as a cross-border “corridor of peace” to allow religious devotees from India’s minority Sikh community to make free visits to one of their holiest gurdwaras, or temples, on the Pakistani side after more than seven decades.
The temple, known as Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, is considered to be the first temple ever built and the final resting place of Guru Nanak, the Sikhism founder.
Indian leaders, on behalf of the Sikh community, have long been demanding Islamabad provide unrestricted access to the holy site in Kartarpur, in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
India’s and Pakistan’s independence from Britain in 1947 divided the Punjab province, where Sikhism was born.
Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu performed the groundbreaking Monday on his side of the corridor at a ceremony just two kilometers from the Pakistani border.
The mutually agreed-to project is rare between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals. Historically strained ties have deteriorated in recent years and bilateral official talks remain suspended.
The fenced corridor of about five kilometers aims to connect the Kartarpur temple to the Sikh holy shrine at Dara Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district. Officials say the corridor will be in place for the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth in November 2019.
Khan’s government has invited, among others, Indian officials and journalists for Wednesday’s groundbreaking in Kartarpur, three kilometers from the border with India. An Indian ministerial-level delegation is expected to attend the ceremony as special envoys of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Pakistan calls this a corridor of peace. I call it the corridor of infinite possibilities of peace,” Indian Punjab provincial minister Navjot Singh Sidhu told reporters shortly after arriving in Pakistan for the ceremony. He crossed the border by foot at the Wagah crossing near the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore to attend the event at the invitation of his friend, Prime Minister Khan.
Members of the Sikh community on both sides have welcomed the construction of the cross-border corridor linking the two holy sites.
Indian pilgrims currently must seek visas to enter Pakistan and travel more than 200 kilometers to visit the Kartarpur shrine. The temple is visible on clear days from a viewing stage on the Indian side, where religious devotees gather every day to have a glimpse of it.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, and mutual tensions often hamper pilgrims’ plans to get timely visas to visit the shrine. Two of those wars have been over the disputed Kashmir region, which remains at the center of tensions. (VOA)