Below is an English translation of an article in the Prominent French Daily news paper in Brussles, Le Soir, dated 21st October 2008. To read the French version click here. To read about the incident when Belgian police raided a Belgian Gurdwara last weekend click http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-19-10-2008-00.htm.
Justice / No arrest made at the end of the Vilvorde raid
Black day for the Sikhs
The police raid at Vilvorde's Sikh temple has bruised the community. Which demands an apology.
Resham Singh is wounded. But the sparkle in his hazel eyes doesn't represent well the rancour that torments him. On Saturday. the Police beseiged the Sikh temple that he presides at Vilvorde, as part of the drive to break-up an Indian network of trafficking of human beings (Monday evening). An operation without consideration for the special ceremony that was being held there. "Black day", says Resham Singh, "that we will commemorate every year."
The Gurdwara Sahib is one of the four Sikh temples of the country. It has up to 900 devotees. A vast hangar at the heart of Vilvorde transformed into an Australian hype restaurant before being reconverted into a religious place. The entry gate, flanked by big wooden cases where the followers deposit their shoes evokes that of a mosque. The room has two levels, covered with Persian carpets… The space is traced with multicoloured paper garlands, plastic flags. Rainbow coloured balls dangle on ropes tied from one wall to another.
At the far end of the room, two enormous stuffed tigers – like those that can be won in lotteries in the fairs in the Midi – stand guard at the foot of the "palki", the altar of the temple, where two huge sports trophies are enthroned… "Gifts", Resham Singh seems to be excusing himself.
Nobody finds the apparent kitsch funny…. "Devotees have been reduced to tears here when we recounted yesterday's police raid… Do you realise", says Resham Singh, "Our temple is the only one in the world to have been subjected to this outrage… The only Gurdwara where the 48 hours of uninterrupted reading which was supposed to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the sacred texts of Sikhism have been savagely interrupted."
The facts tumble in the nervous remarks by Resham, his ally Malook, Amrik, the converted Sikh, and "Sunny", the Muslim friend, the only member of the group without the turban, the pepper and salt beard (never cut, like the hair) and the kirpan, the symbolic dagger with shoulder strap… The police which blocks the exits from 4.30 am. Brief negotiations to convince them to respect the ritual. The doors broken down at 5 am. The charge. Devotees, traditional singers and the "granthi", the prior of the temple taken in for questioning. The cupboard broken, from where the account books taken away. The inner ransacking of the place, from the roof to the cellar. The heavy noise of shoes, especially on the worn-out carpet. And the heads uncovered. As though out of provocation.
"A humiliation", resumes the old Malook. The ways that remind one of that fateful day when Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India at the time, ordered the siege of the Golden Temple of Amritsar", the central place of the Sikh monotheism.
In less than 24 hours, the devotees taken in for questioning, numbering about 40, were freed. Sunday evening, the foreign office renounced the application of the only three orders issued to leave the country… The concerned persons (the singers having come from India to celebrate the "akhand path") had valid passports and visas. "Everything happened as though the Public Prosecutor's office, that did not arrest any of the alleged leaders of the network, felt obliged to justify the scale of the raid", comments advocate Inès Wouters.
Two days after the raid, still no explanation", observes Resham Singh.. "Why did the foreign office try to expel three visitors on a legal visit? What is the justification for this behaviour that the churches are spared, that nobody would dare to inflict on mosques, synagogues and Masonic temple? The Public Prosecutor in Brussels claims that the Gurdwara in Vilvorde is "regularly used for receives illegal immigrants". At the same time admitting that there was no proof to establish that the people in charge of the temple were implicated.
Illegal immigrants? "Everyone is welcome", reacts 'Sunny', "We do not ask for papers at the entry. And if we do give private individuals shelter, as is required by the Sikh tradition, it is for a maximum of one or two days… Only the "granthi" resides in the temple.
The case has disgusted the Sikh community in the four corners of the world. "We have written a letter to the Prime Minister, Yves Leterne, asking him to order an inquiry into the events at Vilvorde". confirms from New York, the lawyer of the United Sikhs , Mejindarpal Kaur. Others followed, like the religious authorities at Amritsar, as well as their representatives in United States and Canada. The Association of Sikh Temples in United States also saw sense in taking the matter before the State Department… "This temple is not a no-right zone, but for all that, it is not less of a place of respect", insists Ms. Wouters. "We are waiting for excuses: the Justice department has unnecessarily created the amalgam between criminal activities that must be prosecuted and the practice of Sikhism." Resham Singh, suddenly, becomes serious, "5,000 to 6,000 Sikhs live in Belgium. A peaceful, hardworking community present from 18 years… Every year on the 11th of November, at Ypres, we participate in the commemorations in the memory of the 35,000 Sikhs who shed their blood here, during the two wars. How can you expect us to understand the way the Police has treated us?"
The sweet milk tea has become cold in the metallic glasses kept on the ground. The vermicelli made of chickpea flour doesn't tempt anyone. In the galleries of the temple, a child holds an inflated ball in the air. Resham Singh has a thought for his four children. They live in Amritsar with their mother whom he visits five or six times a year. "I wanted them to learn Punjabi and to study the sacred book. They will come back to Belgium when they will be 13 – 14 years old. I hope that they will come back to a country which would have the dignity to excuse itself for an unjust affront."
? RICARDO GUTIÉRRE
Photo Caption: The Police raid carried out on Saturday at dawn in the Sikh temple at Vilvorde had nothing to show. But it has shaken the community, in the middle of a special celebration.