Expresses concern over growing number of churches, mosques in villages, particularly in border belt of Punjab; calls for opening shooting ranges to train Sikhs in using modern weapons
Akal Takht acting jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh on Monday expressed concern over churches and mosques being built in large numbers in rural Punjab and urged Sikh preachers to reach out and counter this trend of conversion, particularly in the state’s border areas.
In his customary address to the community at an event organised to mark the 38th anniversary of Operation Bluestar at Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, in Amritsar, Giani Harpreet Singh said: “Today, we (the Sikhs) are facing a lot of challenges. Christianity is being spread in Punjab on a large scale to weaken us (Sikhs) religiously. Churches and mosques are being built in large numbers in the villages of Punjab, which is worrisome for us. I appeal to Sikh preachers to launch a drive against this on a large scale and counter this trend of conversion. Let us strengthen Sikhi in villages again. The border belt is affected the most, special attention needs to be paid there. This is the time to shed comforts of life and work tirelessly in this direction.”
Christian leaders deny conversion charge
Reacting to Giani Harpreet Singh’s concern of conversion programmes in border districts of Punjab, the bishop of the Diocese of Amritsar, Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, said: “This is not true. People have the right to preach any religion. The statement of the Sikh religious leader has not come at a right time. We are all talking about religious harmony in the country. No conversion is taking place.”
The apostolic administrator of the Jalandhar Diocese, Agnelo Rufino Gracias, agreed with the bishop and said, “We are Catholics. We don’t convert people. It’s a country where people are free to preach. There is no conversion going on. Only dormant Christians have become active and have started practising the faith.”
A spokesperson of pastor Ankur Narula at Khambra Church in Jalandhar added that people from all faiths come for prayers but that does not mean they are being converted to Christianity. “It is sad that a Sikh religious leader of such a stature is issuing such statements that can lead to disharmony,” he said.
Event passes off peacefully amid tight security
Operation Bluestar was the military operation carried out in 1984 to flush out militants from the Golden Temple. Elaborate security arrangements were put in place in Amritsar to ensure that the event passed off smoothly.
Though separatist slogans were raised by supporters of radical Sikh outfits and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) while the jathedar gave his speech, no untoward incident was reported.
Giani Harpreet Singh said, “If we (Sikhs) are strengthened religiously, we will gain strength in other fields, too. Being weak religiously will keep Sikhs away from ruling. The qaumi (community) spirit must be instilled in youngsters. This is a qaum (community) of lions created by Guru Gobind Singh. The government has turned Amritsar into a fortress to contain Sikh people but a Sikh never attacks any innocent person or without any reason.”
Jathedar calls for opening shooting ranges for Sikhs
After his recent controversial remarks advising Sikhs to keep licensed weapons “in these uncertain times”, the acting jathedar urged Sikh institutions to open shooting ranges to train youngsters in operating modern weapons. “We should open modern weapon training centres. There should be no hesitation in doing so. Other people are training their people in this regard secretly, we will do it openly,” he said.
“The concept of Sikh rule has been given to us by Guru Sahib. We reiterate this concept as raaj karega Khalsa and will be doing so forever,” he said, paying tribute to Bhindranwale and the devotees killed during the operation as Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) activists, led by former MP Simranjit Singh Mann, raised slogans. “The Sikh who has partaken amrit (a baptised Sikh) is not running away from the concept of Sikh rule nor can he do so. If we say raaj karega Khalsa, we will have to first become Khalsa,” the acting jathedar said.
Mann raised the killing of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala on May 29 and demanded justice for the family.
Parallel acting jathedar Dhian Singh Mand also delivered his address near Akal Takht, but Damdami Taksal chief Harnam Singh Khalsa skipped the event.
With inputs by Hillary Victor in Mohali