Belgian police condemned for akhand paath outrage
Police who moved against a suspected people trafficking ring in Belgium have caused outrage among the country’s Sikh community for heavy-handed intrusion into a cherished service of continuous prayers at the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Sing Sahib, a temple in Vilvoorde, Brussels.
Police say that they held 19 people for questioning after a series of raids in Brussels concerning the alleged channelling of illegal immigrants into Britain.
They say they discovered 150 illegal immigrants and 50 of these were Indian nationals found inside the temple in Vilvoore.
But the gurdwara management condemned the arrests during a 48-hour continuous reading of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, a compilation of sacred scriptures by the tenth and last Guru of the Sikhs to be enthroned, in 1708.
The Gurdwara spokesman said that the granth, the person conducting the prayers, was among 30 people arrested although he produced valid immigration papers.
Mejindarpal Kaur, legal director of United Sikhs, said the international lobbying organisation was writing to the Belgian prime minister seeking a full investigation, an apology from the police and changes to police procedures involving places of worship of all communities.
She said the Sikh community was appalled by the insensitivity of the raid, as police knew it was a place of worship and should have known the significance of the continuous prayers during the 300th anniversary celebration of the enthronement of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
Ines Wouters, a lawyer contacted by Sikhs United, has been asked to ensure that those arrested are afforded legal representation.
The lawyer said the Sikh community was contemplating legal action against the methods used by the authorities, adding: “The same result could have been reached in a different way, respecting the feelings and dignity of the Sikh community. A society which does not respect religious belief and sensitivity is losing its fundamental values.”
The temple president, Resham Singh, protested to police that the continuous reading, the akhand paath, should not have been interrupted.
He said the gurdwara was open to worship by all and people were not asked about their immigration status. The police should have been more sensitive during the raid – to enter a Gurdwara with shoes on and to stop an akhand paath was a serious violation of Sikh religious rights, he said.
The Vilvoore incident prompted messages of support from Sikhs around the world.
Kuljit Singh, general secretary of the Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) in Shepherds Bush, London, pointed out that the last time an akhand paath was interrupted was in 1984 when the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It was painful for Sikhs to be reminded of that incident, he said.
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