//Visa denial frowned upon

Visa denial frowned upon

Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu , Nov 12, 2006

LAHORE: The Pakistan Social Forum (PSF) on Friday condemned the Indian Government for denying them visas to attend the India Social Forum gathering in New Delhi.

The Indian High Commission in Islamabad said it had issued more than 200 visas for the event, which began on Thursday and will continue until November 13.

The Lahore-based PSF, a collection of several groups, including workers' movements, farmers' movements, media groups, lawyers, scholars, and civil society organisations, said the Indian Government had "consciously" stopped nearly 500 delegates from Pakistan from attending the conference.

"Right denied"

"By denying visa to Pakistani peace activists, social workers, human rights workers and representatives of progressive and pro-peace elements of Pakistani society, Indian Government had also denied their right to be part of open dialogue and pro-people process in the region. It also indicates that Indian Government does not want to be ally with pro-peace and progressive forces in Pakistan or the region," a PSF statement said.

`Pro-capitalist agenda'

India had revealed its "pro-capitalist" agenda, it said.

The Indian High Commission said it had issued 230 visas for Pakistani delegates.

An official said the High Commission gave visas to all Pakistani delegates whose host organisations in India had submitted all particulars of their invitees to the Ministry of Home Affairs, and whose names the Ministry had cleared.


Sikhs happy with Pakistan's arrangements

Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu , Nov 12, 2006

`There is deep affection between peoples despite 60 years of irritations'

LAHORE: After a nine-day visit to several gurudwaras in Pakistan, over 4,000 Sikhs have converged at this city prior to their return to India on Saturday.

The Sikh jathas or contingents were here to mark the 537th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. Their visit took them to Nankana Sahib, Punja Sahib and finally, Dera Sahib here.

The improved people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan since 2004 has seen the numbers of pilgrims on this journey increase, and this year a record number of people got visas for the pilgrimage.

Accommodating the visitors is a massive tent city at the historic gurudwara, which also houses the remains of Maharana Ranjit Singh, on the sprawling grounds of the adjoining Lahore Fort.

The Pakistan government has organised four special trains to take the pilgrims back. At the end of their pilgrimage, the visiting Sikhs said they had few complaints.

"There is deep affection between both peoples despite the irritations of the last 60 years," said Mohinder Singh Romana, leader of the 1,800-strong jatha from the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee.

A lawyer from Faridkot in Punjab, he said the upkeep of the gurudwaras the pilgrims visited was far superior than during his last visit, which was in 1997.

The maintenance of the 22 gurudwaras in Pakistan used to be the responsibility of the India-based SGPC, but since 2005, has passed into the hands of the specially created Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee. According to Dr. Zafar Cheema, director of the Dyal Singh Research and Cultural Forum in Lahore, the PSGPC had to be created because the SGPC was found wanting on several counts. "There was no maintenance of gurudwaras here, and there was pressure from Sikhs all over the world on the Pakistan government to create a committee so that the Pakistan Sikhs could take care of their holy places," he said.

He said Rs. 60 crores had been spent by PSGPC on sprucing up the properties, and "that's visible on the face of the gurudwaras".

On Thursday, hundreds of Sikhs participated in a seminar on Sikhism organised by the Dyal Singh Fforum. A speaker from the United Kingdom spoke of what he described as the discrimination and ill-treatment of Sikhs in India.

He said the gathering in Pakistan should not be described as "India-Pakistan friendship" but "Sikh-Muslim friendship". A member of the PSGPC told The Hindu that the organisers could not stop individuals from raising political issues in a religious gathering.

"We do not encourage them, and we don't prevent them either. Even in India, such statements are being made. Who can stop individuals?" said Dr. Swaran Singh, a former president and a member of the PSGPC. But, he said, "no one should take the message of violence and hatred" when they go back from this pilgrimage.

At the smoothly functioning tent city in Dera Sahib, the leaders of the Indian contingent said they were happy with most of the arrangements, but Mr. Romana said the Pakistan government should get the gurudwara attendants "trained well" in Sikh customs.

The massive influx of pilgrims has also created a crush on accommodation.

One pilgrim from Sri Ganganagar in Rajasthan said while the Pakistan government had been liberal with visas, the infrastructure did not match the inflow of pilgrims.