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‘Peace Corridor’ Between India And Pakistan Open For Sikh Community

India blamed Pakistan for supporting a Sikh separatist movement several decades ago and allowing the remaining leadership of that movement to live in Pakistan.

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Pakistan, Sikh
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses during a ceremony in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan led a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a new border crossing with arch rival India, days after New Delhi announced it would support a corridor to facilitate its minority Sikh community to visit one of their holiest sites across the border.

The fenced crossing dubbed a “corridor of peace” will link Indian border city Dera Baba Nanak, to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak in Pakistani Punjab.

The Kartarpur corridor is supposed to be completed and opened well ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh guru on November 23, 2019. It will provide year round visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims from India after more than seven decades.

In a speech after laying the foundation stone, Khan said Pakistan and India have both made mistakes in the past but they now need to work together to improve ties.

Sikh
Sikh pilgrim wait for food at the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

“War is out of question between our two countries, which are equipped with nuclear weapons. It will be really crazy for both of them to even think about going to war,” the Pakistani leader warned. “Our countries must stop blame game. If France and Germany can leave their bloody past behind why can’t India and Pakistan break the shackles of the past.”

Khan assured Sikh visitors from India that they will find their worship place and surrounding complex a completely developed structure equipped with all facilities and comforts when they visit Pakistan for the 550th birthday celebration of the Sikh guru.

India’s and Pakistan’s independence from Britain in 1947 divided the Punjab province, where Sikhism was born.

The idea to open the corridor has been floated around since the 1980s, never coming to fruition due to the tumultuous relationship between the two nuclear armed South Asian neighbors.

The proposal received a fresh impetus in August when Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, told Indian minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was in Pakistan to attend the oath taking ceremony of Khan, Islamabad would be willing to open the corridor.

General Bajwa was among the big gathering of guests at the groundbreaking ceremony, including diplomats, Indian journalists, Sikh devotees and a ministerial level delegation representing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Last week, the Indian cabinet, chaired by Modi, approved the move.

On the Indian side

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.

Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj Wednesday played down expectations the corridor could lead to the revival of official talks between the two countries.

“The moment Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, the dialogue can start but the dialogue is not connected with only the Kartarpur corridor,” Indian media quoted her as telling reporters in Hyderabad ahead of the groundbreaking on the Pakistani side.

India, Sikh
Indian VP Naidu (3L), Union ministers Nitin Gadkari (6L) and Hardeep Singh Puri (5R), Punjab Governor VP Singh Badnore (2L), and other officials stand for the national anthem during the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the planned Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib road corridor to the Pakistan border, at Dera Baba Nanak. VOA

The Indian external affairs minister had also been invited to attend the ceremony by her Pakistani counterpart, but she expressed her inability to undertake the visit due to prior commitments.

Swaraj also requested in a tweet that Islamabad “expedite construction of the corridor in order to ensure that our citizens can pay their respects at the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor as soon as possible.”

Previously, Indian pilgrims had to take a visa and arrive in the Pakistani border city Lahore before taking the 2-3 hour journey to the shrine. The new corridor, which is planned to remain open year round, will cut their journey to a mere 6 kilometers.

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.

Impetus for peace

Politicians on both sides have hailed the decision as an impetus for peace between the two countries that have fought several wars in their seventy-year existence. In the last few years, violence, including cross border shelling from both sides, has intensified in the disputed Kashmir region that both sides claim.

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A Sikh pilgrim visits the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called it a victory for the peace lobby in both countries.

However, other analysts were less optimistic.

“I don’t think it has any enduring significance apart from being stand alone. I see it as pure symbolism and I don’t see it as any change in either country’s basic positions,” said Ajai Sahni, the executive director of New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management.

He said the move was an effort by the Indian government to please the Sikh community ahead of next year’s general elections.

“Everyone is looking for whatever they can do to get a few extra votes,” he said.

Days before the ground-breaking ceremony, India complained to Pakistan about not allowing officials from its High Commission access to Indian pilgrims visiting Pakistan for the Guru Nanak birth anniversary.

India Pakistan, Sikh
Indian Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, third left, stands for the national anthem during the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the planned road corridor to the Pakistan border, at Dera Baba Nanak,. VOA

The Indian Foreign Minister released a statement expressing “grave concern at the reports of attempts being made during the ongoing visit of the Indian pilgrims to Pakistan, to incite communal disharmony and intolerance and promote secessionist tendencies with the objective of undermining India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal rejected the charges. “India is a habitual alleger and it has become its second nature to blame Pakistan for any negative development, without blinking an eye,” he asserted.

India blamed Pakistan for supporting a Sikh separatist movement several decades ago and allowing the remaining leadership of that movement to live in Pakistan.

Also Read: Vow To Hold Peace Talks With India: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan

The chief minister of Indian Punjab, Amarinder Singh, while welcoming the Kartarpur corridor opening, refused an invitation to attend the ground-breaking ceremony citing Pakistan’s support for terrorism in Indian Punjab.

“In the past 18 months we have smashed more than 15 terror modules. We have found Kashmiri terrorists in Punjab. How are we expected to tolerate all this?” he told Indian newspaper The Hindu. (VOA)

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Here’s What India’s Privacy Bill Requires from Social Media Firms

"The future may bring challenging times for social media companies to comply with the private data related requests under the new law if it's approved as tabled. Many popular social media platforms would have to invest significantly in order to adhere to the data sharing requests and yet may not be able to meet the requests due to technical difficulties," said Sunil Chandna, CEO, Stellar Data Recovery

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Social Media Icons. VOA

While the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, 2019, introduced in Parliament on Wednesday has toned down the data localisation requirements, it has several implications for social media companies including a provision for users for voluntary verification of their accounts, say experts.

The Bill draws its origins from the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee on data privacy, which produced a draft of legislation that was made public in 2018 (“the Srikrishna Bill”).

The mandatory requirement for storing a mirror copy of all personal data in India as per Section 40 of the Srikrishna Bill has been done away with in the PDP Bill, 2019, meaning that companies like Facebook and Twitter would be able to store data of Indian users abroad if they so wish, said Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director at SFLC.in, a New Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services organisation.

“Data localisation has been toned down. Now only sensitive personal data and critical personal data have to be stored here,” Sugathan said.

“Social media companies will have to modify their application. They need to have a system in place by which a user can verify themselves. So probably some system to upload identification documents should be there. And it also suggests that something like the Twitter blue tick mark should be there to identify verified accounts,” Sugathan said.

“But it is up to the user whether he or she wants to verify themselves or not. I am not sure why something like this is required in the data protection law,” he pointed out.

According to Arun Prabhu, Partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, certain changes made to the draft Bill are business friendly including the changes made to the data localisations requirements.

“On the other hand, portions of the Bill have been pared down, and some changes such as the lack of a clear implementation timeline, requirement to share non personal data, obligations for social media verification etc. may be a potential source of concern,” Prabhu said.

The PDP Bill, 2019 extends the obligations of significant data processors or fiduciaries to social media intermediaries (SMI).

Social Media
Social Media use was measured by asking participants how much time they spent on social networking sites on a typical day. Pixabay

Verified user accounts will be marked with a demonstrable verification mark. As per Section 29, data auditors are required to evaluate social media intermediaries for timely implementation of their obligations under account verification norms.

Other obligations applicable to social media intermediaries include data protection impact assessments, maintenance of records, audit of policies, and appointment of a data protection officer.

What has, however, raised eyebrows is that the Bill gives the government ultimate rights and powers to seek access to users’ data to help formulate policies.

Section 42 of the Draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 allowed access of personal data to the state for security purposes based on principles of necessity and proportionality and on the basis of authorisation under law.

The provision for government access to personal data under the PDP Bill, 2019 (Section 35) is wider, gives the Central Government power to exempt any government agency from the purview of the Bill (all or select provisions) and does not codify the principles of necessity and proportionality as determinants to access, SFLC.in said.

Also Read: Software Major Infosys Projected as Top Employer in APAC Region

“While the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 addresses the issue of informed consent, it only states that the data fiduciary must process data in a fair and reasonable manner that respects the privacy of the individual,” said Swapnil Shekhar, Co-founder & Director, Sambodhi Research and Communications.

“The Bill does not specify what constitutes fair and reasonable leaving room for the potential violation of privacy,” Shekhar said.

“The future may bring challenging times for social media companies to comply with the private data related requests under the new law if it’s approved as tabled. Many popular social media platforms would have to invest significantly in order to adhere to the data sharing requests and yet may not be able to meet the requests due to technical difficulties,” said Sunil Chandna, CEO, Stellar Data Recovery. (IANS)