Gurdwara raid casts shadow on Belgian king’s visit to India

By Tejinder Singh, IANS,

Brussels : King Albert II of Belgium arrives in India on a nine-day visit Monday amid a row in his country over a raid on a gurdwara by police seeking to bust an illegal immigration racket.

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The Belgian monarch, accompanied by Queen Paola, leads a high-powered delegation, including Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, top business leaders and academics.

The royal visit comes shortly after police raids last month on 19 properties, including a gurdwara, in the Brussels suburbs of Vilvorde and Tubize in connection with an investigation into an illegal immigration racket.

The 5,000-6,000-strong Sikh community in Belgium expressed outrage at the raid on the Vilvorde gurdwara, alleging police went in with their shoes on and forced a priest to stop the continual recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib held to mark 300 years of the Sikh holy book.

Mejindarpal Kaur, legal director of United Sikhs, an international coalition of organisations and individuals, told IANS: “United Sikhs is writing to the Belgian prime minister, seeking a full investigation of the incident, an apology from Belgian police and changes to the police procedures when handling places of worship of all communities.”

Avtaar Singh, president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) in Amritsar, has written to the United Sikhs extending his support.

“The Belgian government should seek an explanation and apology from the police department for the action inside the gurdwara. I will write a memorandum to the Indian prime minister and the government of Belgium to investigate the police action in the gurdwara when the 300 years celebrations were going on in Belgium,” he wrote.

Said Resham Singh, president of the Vilvorde gurdwara: “Our gurdwara is a place of worship open to all. We do not inquire about the immigration status of the people coming to worship at the gurdwara.”

He added: “Every year on Nov 11, at Ypres (Belgium), we participate in the commemorations for the 35,000 Sikhs who shed their blood here during the two World Wars. How can you expect us to understand the way the police has treated us?”

Ines Wouters, a Brussels-based lawyer who is investigating the matter on behalf of the United Sikhs, said: “The same result could have been reached in a different way by 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 Indian embassy in Brussels refused to comment on the incident.

“The (external affairs) ministry in New Delhi is looking into the matter, so we cannot comment on the subject,” embassy spokesman R.K. Goel told IANS.

The mayor of Vilvorde, accompanied by the local police chief and other officials, has visited the gurdwara to meet the management.

The Oct 18 dawn raids led to the arrest of 18 people from properties other than the gurdwara. Police also found 200 illegal Indian immigrants, mostly Punjabis, who were being hidden in safe houses on their way to Britain.

Assistant prosecutor Tim de Wolf told journalists that two of those arrested were “the brains behind the trafficking operations… They controlled a whole series of little groups. We hope we have broken up the core of the network”.