Concerned at the misinformation being spread about India by Pakistan and separatist Khalistanis in countries like the US, the UK and Canada, and its effect on the impressionable minds of young Sikhs, the government is bringing to India a batch of youngsters from these countries to get them acquainted about Sikhism and its deep roots in the country.
A batch of young Sikhs will be flown to India early next month, to coincide with the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism.
The International Sikh Youth Conference, being organised under the auspices of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), is being held for the first time this year. It is proposed to be turned into an annual feature.
With Khalistani elements in the UK, Canada and the US openly voicing separatist sentiments, egged on by Pakistan, it has become a source of concern for the government.
The Sikh Youth Conference is aimed at exposing the second generation of the Sikh diaspora to India’s interreligious harmony and diversity. The batch will be taken to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Gurdwara Patna Sahib in Bihar, among other places.
The entire cost of the trip — boarding, lodging, travel and food — will be borne by the Indian government.
The second generation of Sikh youth have mostly grown up on the anti-India propaganda propounded by Sikh extremist leaders and Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The Sikh Youth Conference is aimed at correcting their picture about India and it is an effort to wean them away from the influence of Khalistani outfits.
Even on the Kartarpur corridor, for which India and Pakistan signed an agreement this week, the Indian government has been concerned about Sikh separatists using the corridor to spread misinformation among the pilgrims.
In an obvious effort to woo the Sikh community, Pakistan not only pushed strongly for the Kartarpur corridor, even as bilateral relations have hit a nadir, but is also establishing a Guru Nanak Dev University in Nankana Sahib. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is to lay its foundation stone on October 28. He will also inaugurate the corridor on November 9.
Pakistan’s efforts to create sympathy among the Sikhs come even as the numbers of its religious minorities have been on a steep decline — from comprising almost 23 per cent of the population in 1947 to dipping to around 3 per cent, of whom Hindus barely comprise 1.5 per cent.
“Pakistan wants to create trouble in India. After revocation of Article 370, they are finding it difficult to do so in Kashmir. Their second agenda is to do something in Punjab in the name of Khalistan,” security expert and Pakistan watcher Jai Kumar Verma told IANS.
“Now they are getting more support from abroad, particularly from Canadian Sikhs and in the UK and the US. There is little support for Khalistan in India, especially in Punjab. So by inaugurating a corridor, opening a university in the name of Guru Nanak, they want to show that Pakistan and Imran Khan care for Punjab.
“They want that there should be trouble in Punjab as it will weaken India, and for this, they have also support from China, as China considers India as its prospective adversary,” he added.
“Sikhs are one of the most prosperous communities in India. They are safe here, but not in Pakistan. Recently, the daughter of a granthi in Nankana, Pakistan, was forcibly converted to Islam,” he added.