Canada: 14 Ontario gurdwaras ban entry of Indian officials

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Local law against trespassing used in taking decision: Representational image

In an unusual move, fourteen gurdwara management committees in Ontario province of Canada have imposed a ban on the entry of Indian government representatives to gurdwaras under their control, using a local law against trespassing. The decision was taken at a meeting at Jot Parkash Gurdwara in Brampton on December 30. However, there will be no ban on any Indian official paying a personal visit to any gurdwara run by these committees.

When contacted, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh said he had no information about such a decision. He said no one could be stopped from entering a gurdwara. But a spokesman of the concerned gurdwara committees in Canada, Amarjit Singh Mann, said: “We have just made it official. Indian officials were not allowed to speak or organise any function in any of these 14 gurdwaras even in the past. But that was a kind of unwritten understanding within the community. But now we have made it official as we found that Indian government officials were trying to interfere in our functioning. But our decision will nullify all such attempts by Indian government.”

In recent years, the Indian High Commission in Canada has been making attempts to improve ties with the Sikh diaspora there, which had been affected since Operation Blue Star in 1984. The latest development has come as a setback to these efforts. Series of meetings were held by these committees since December 9 before taking the final call.

unnamedA press note released by the gurdwara management committees to explain the decision read, “Pursuant to the Trespass to Property Act (1990), the management of these gurdwaras 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 organisations who seek to undermine the Sikh nation and Sikh institutions.”

It further says, “Keeping in mind the interference of Indian Consular and Indian Government officials in the lives of Canadian Sikhs, gurdwara management committees have jointly taken the decision to bar the entry of these officials and members from gurdwaras across Canada. The presence of these officials makes members of the Sikh community uncomfortable due to their agenda of undermining the autonomy of Sikh institutions and organisations. It is our obligation to ensure the safety of the Sangat, and accordingly we have arrived at this decision.”

Speaking about the decision, Mann added: “There were many recent incidents in which our Sikh brothers and sisters were being pressurised by Indian High Commission to ensure their intervention in these gurdwaras by hook or crook. So we have ended this chapter by making it official that no Indian representative can enter gurdwara to make speech or organise any function. They can only come here in personal capacity as devotees. We will keep close watch on their activities even if they come as devotees.”

Harjit Singh Sahota, representative of Gurdwara Jot Parkash where the last meeting was held, said: “It is just the start and we are hopeful that more and more gurdwara committees will take this step to block access of Indian officials. There are around 25 gurdwaras in Ontario. I am hopeful that all gurdwaras will make it officials in coming days not only in Ontario, but in whole of Canada and US.”

In Amritsar, Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh said, “I have no information about this decision. I do not know the reason behind this decision. But in principle, no one can be stopped from visiting a gurdwara.”

Asked if he ever received any complaint from Sikhs in Canada about alleged intervention of Indian High Commission officials in affairs of Sikh gurdwaras in Canada, the Jathedar said, “I didn’t get any such complaint. But no interference of anyone in gurdwara management can be accepted.”

Last year, the Indian Consulate in Canada had faced a similar situation when it booked a gurdwara in Vancouver for Akhand Path (three-day-long uninterrupted reciting of Guru Granth Sahib) in the month of June to celebrate 350th birthday anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh. The Indian Consulate had to cancel the event at last moment due to “unavoidable circumstances”. Later, some pro-Khalistan groups claimed credit for forcing the gurdwara committee concerned to cancel the booking.

Recently, a video went viral in which some Sikh youths apparently blocked the entry of Indian government representatives in an Australian gurdwara.