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Is it right for Sikhs to oppose the inclusion of Golden Temple in World Heritage Site list?

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

Fearing external intervention in the religious affairs of Sikhs, the community worldwide is vehemently opposing the inclusion of Sri Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The 39th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will be held in Bonn, Germany in June 2015 to decide the new add-ons in the list of the World Heritage Sites. With 32 such sites already in the list, India’s proposal for 47 more sites (including the Golden Temple) will be considered by the committee this year.

However, the issue has irked some segments of Sikh community.

A petition, submitted on Change.org by a Sikh student in Belgium asking UNESCO to score through Harmandir Sahib from the tentative list, has fetched almost 15,000 signatures. The petition reasons:

To declare Harmandir Sahib as a heritage site is highly shocking to the entire Sikh community. This place belongs to the Sikh community and it is not the right of anyone to take it over. The present generation Sikh community is looking after Sri Harmandir Sahib very well and it stands as the most important place of Sikhs and Sikhism.

The Sikh community does not endorse the consideration of Sri Harmandir Sahib as a Heritage site by the Indian Government to UNESCO / UN.  This move has not been done by involving the Sikh community but has been silently done without sharing information about it to the Sikh community. In fact, it stands as a complete deceit to the entire Sikh community by offering away the rights of our holiest shrine.

The opponents also include the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which administers the Golden Temple. Organizations such as Dal Khalsa in UK and sikh24.com assert that the site’s inclusion in World Heritage Sites is Indian government’s gambit to gain control over the holiest Sikh shrine. Undoubtedly, the resistance is entrenched in the fear that designating the Golden Temple as a World Heritage equals to an inexorable loss of control.

Is the outcry justified?

In fact, this fear stands on an illogical ground. There is never a claim of possession or supervision made by UNESCO on any World Heritage Site. Most importantly, being tagged as a World Heritage Site is a symbolic tribute for the site’s exceptional contribution to humanity, culture and heritage. The honor is combined with UNESCO’s eternal commitment to preserve site’s indispensable features.

The SGPC says that it needs no external aide in maintaining the complex – something that is justified to an extent. However, Harmandir Sahab’s inclusion in World Heritage Site may prompt enhancements around the complex. It will, at the same time, check any kind of new developments there that can harm the structure.

In fact, former general secretary of SGPC, Kiranjot Kaur, had told a newspaper that the entire social media misinformation campaign against the inclusion of Golden Temple in the list is utterly baseless.

UNESCO quotes, “World Heritage Sites belong to all the people of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located,” – few lines, which are enough to challenge the presumption of sites like sikh24.com and petition by Sikh student on Change.org.

No doubt, the continuous opposition from the Sikh community worldwide can force World Heritage Community to strike off the name of Harmandir Sahib, but imagine what a pity it would be for the citizens of India.

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