Monday, September 9, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Himachal Sikhs for Punjabi in schools
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Nalagarh, September 8
The introduction of Punjabi as an optional subject in select schools, the raising of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur national memorial at Lohgarh and the shifting of Nahan Club from its present premises were the issues that dominated the fourth Himachal Pradesh Sikh Convention held here today.

Organised by the Himachal Pradesh Shiromani Akali Dal, the convention not only attracted Himachal Pradesh’s Minister of State for Town Planning, Mr Hari Narayan Singh Saini (BJP), but also the first Sikh Minister of State, Mr Bachittar Singh (Congress), Mr Kartar Singh Takkar (Member, Parbandhak Committee of Gurdwara Paonta Sahib), Mr Ram Singh (Himachal Pradesh Sikh Gurmat Society), Mr Kanwaljit Singh (Minority Cell of the Congress), Mr Amarjit Singh (Minority Cell of the BJP), and Mr Gurdial Singh (President, Nalagarh Gurdwara), besides Mr Ravinder Singh, Mr Inder Singh and Mr Daljit Singh Bhinder (Akali Jatha, Nalagarh).

The Himachal Pradesh Minorities Development Corporation put up a stall to highlight its schemes for the welfare of minorities in the state.

Despite the intermittent showers, most of the Sikh organisations and political parties of the state presented their view point and were well represented at the convention.

Political affiliations and ideologies apart, there was near unanimity that Punjabi should be introduced both as an optional and elective subject in all schools of at least the Punjabi-speaking areas. While Mr Hari Narayan Singh said until 1998, all previous governments in the state had ignored the Punjabi language, the present BJP government’s Cabinet took a decision to introduce it as an optional subject for students of Classes IX and X and also as an elective subject in all those schools where the number of students keen to learn the language was 20 or more.

“Unfortunately,” admitted Mr Hari Narayan Singh, “there have been some problems in the implementation of this order of May, 1999. Punjabi has been introduced in some schools but not in all those schools where it was promised to be introduced. Tomorrow, when I meet Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who is also an ardent lover of Punjabi, I will convey to him the sentiments of the participants in the convention.

“It is unfortunate that we, the Punjabi people of Himachal Pradesh, can neither read nor write Punjabi. If the present apathy towards our mother tongue continues, we may even stop speaking Punjabi. So now it is time for all of us, irrespective of our political affiliations, to work unitedly for the introduction of Punjabi in schools of the state,” Mr Hari Narayan Singh added.

Mr Kartar Singh Takkar advocated the cause of raising the Baba Banda Singh Bahadur national memorial at Lohgarh, maintaining that the warrior had, “started the first war of independence against Mughal invaders”. Mr Takkar said he was not only a Sikh warrior but also a national hero.

Appreciating the response of the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister on the subject, he said the Sikhs of the state were also seeking the help of a former SGPC chief, Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra, and the SGPC chief, Prof Kirpal Singh Badungar, in this regard. “We are keen that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee should come and lay the foundation stone of the memorial at the venue of the abandoned Lohgarh fort adjoining Sadhaura in Haryana. Baba Harbans Singh of Kar Sevawale has volunteered to undertake the construction work of this memorial,” he added.

Besides Mr Takkar, other speakers, including Mr Bachittar Singh, wanted that the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister should be invited to the historical gurdwara at Nahan by holding the next convention there.

They said under the law, there could be no bar, pub or shop selling intoxicants, including liquor or tobacco within 200 metres of a place of worship. But in this case, the club house, which had a bar, had a common wall with the gurdwara, they complained.

Mr Hari Narayan Singh explained that the Chief Minister was getting the matter examined. Himachal Pradesh Sikhs have offered to buy the existing club and the school building for the expansion of the gurdwara after the club is shifted to a new place.

Earlier, Mr Harbhajan Singh cautioned cable and TV channels against blatant distortions of Sikh and Punjabi culture and wanted that Sikhs should write to these channels in this regard.

Mr Pritam Singh Chanana served a 10-day ultimatum on the Himachal Pradesh Government to implement its Cabinet decision of May, 1999, for the introduction of Punjabi in select schools of the state.

Mr Kanwaljit Singh of Shimla wanted that the SGPC should pursue the demand for the allotment of 25 acres of land to Singh Sabha, Shimla, for a school. He said it should release its promised grant of Rs 25 lakh for the project conceived as a part of the tercentenary celebrations of the birth of Khalsa, in 1999.

Mr Ram Singh talked about various projects of the Gurmat Sabha, including a Khalsa school, an all-religion library and an eye hospital which were at different stages of completion in Nalagarh. Mr Bachittar Singh said a complete data bank of the Sikhs of Himachal Pradesh should be compiled.

Mr Gurdial Singh said Punjabi should be introduced in the entire Punjabi-speaking belt from Paonta Sahib to Nurpur.

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