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India stops Sikhs

In an unusual move, India has barred thousands of Sikh pilgrims from visiting Pakistan on the flimsy excuse of safety concerns and the coronavirus pandemic. The decision is not surprising as India has repeatedly denied Sikhs and other minorities their rights and freedom of religion.

The Sikhs were scheduled to attend a festival in Nankana Sahib on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak and all arrangements were also finalized until India took the drastic decision and denied permission to cross the border. The Indian Home Ministry said it cannot allow large groups to undertake the trip due to health infrastructure in Pakistan. The Foreign Office rejected the concerns and said the Sikh pilgrims were fully facilitated.

The move is not unprecedented as in June last year, India prevented Sikh pilgrims from coming to the Kartarpurgurdwara even though Pakistan had reopened it. The corridor was closed due to the pandemic when India faced an onslaught of cases but now the situation has drastically improved in both countries. Still, India hid behind the pandemic to deny Sikhs their basic right to visit their religious sites.

It must not be forgotten that Indian is facing one of the largest and unprecedented protest in modern history which is now gaining global coverage. Although being called the farmer’s protests, millions of Indians across religion, caste and income lines and are protesting against the policies of the Modi government. The protests started over agriculture laws but have moved beyond as people are resisting increased economic vulnerability. The farmers faced crushing debt and suicide epidemic and yet the Modi government instead of bringing urgent reforms liberalized the agriculture sector leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

Regarding the coronavirus situation in India, health experts are puzzled by the drastic drop in cases. The country is reporting about 11,000 cases per day compared with a peak of nearly 100,000 last year. There have been numerous explanations from under-reporting cases to herd immunity but the underlying fact is India cannot use the pandemic as excuse to deny pilgrims permission from visiting Pakistan.

The turmoil which India is facing due to the Hindutva policies is now more apparent. Instead of threatening Rihanna and teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg for supporting the farmers’ protests, Indian authorities should realize that the social fabric of the society is being gradually torn apart.