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4 Jan, 2020 12:20

Indian Sikhs protest at Pakistan’s diplomatic mission over hateful altercation in front of major Sikh site

Indian Sikhs protest at Pakistan’s diplomatic mission over hateful altercation in front of major Sikh site

Several Sikh groups have staged a demonstration at the Pakistani diplomatic mission in New Delhi, over a Muslim protest in front of Pakistan’s Gurdwara Janam Asthan which has triggered a diplomatic row between the two nations.

The temple, also known as Gurdwara Nankana Sahib (named after the city in Pakistan’s Punjab province), is a cherished treasure built on the site where the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, was believed to be born. On Friday the location was surrounded by dozens of angry Muslim protesters, who were filmed chanting anti-Sikh slogans.

The protesters were blocking the entrance to the Gurdwara and, according to some reports, went as far as tossing stones not only at the building, but also at pilgrims. The local police soon arrived, and hours later the crowd dispersed.

The incident received an angry rebuke from New Delhi. India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned what it described as “wanton acts of destruction and desecration of the holy place” and called on the Pakistani government “to take immediate steps to ensure the safety, security, and welfare of members of the Sikh community”.

The anger also spilled into street protests in the Indian capital, where several Sikh groups gathered on Saturday in front of the office of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to demand protection, both for fellow believers based in Pakistan and the treasured holy site.

Islamabad downplayed the seriousness of the situation, saying it stemmed from a family feud, and denied that the Gurdwara was vandalized during the protest.

“Attempts to paint this incident as a communal issue are patently motivated. Most importantly, the Gurdwara remains untouched and undamaged,” said Pakistan’s Foreign Office. “All insinuations to the contrary, particularly the claims of acts of 'desecration and destruction' and desecration of the holy place, are not only false but also mischievous.”

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According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the protest was led by the family of a Muslim man named Mohammed Ehsan. The paper states the family is currently embroiled in a conflict with the Sikh family of Ehsan’s wife, 19-year-old Jagjit Kaur, who converted to Islam and married him. Kaur is reported to be the daughter of the Gurdwara's granthi - a ceremonial reader of the Sikh´s Holy Book.

The wife’s family insists she was abducted by Ehsan’s family, forcefully converted, and married to Ehsan. His family denies the accusations, insisting both the conversion and the marriage were voluntary. A court eventually ordered that Kaur be removed from the home of the Ehsan family in Lahor and housed at a shelter while the investigation into the conflict is underway.

The situation escalated on Friday after the police arrested several members of the Ehsan family, including the husband himself. The protest ended after the detainees were released.

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