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Indian Sikhs Demand Recognition by Government - 2002-08-15

Members of India's Sikh community observed their country's independence day with a demonstration in Geneva. The Sihk demonstrators are urging the U.N. Human Rights Commission to take up their demand for recognition by the Indian government.

The demonstrators stood in front of a sign saying, "India Celebrates Its Independence, but the People Are Enslaved." And the protesters shouted, "Long live Khalistan," the homeland of India's Sikhs.

Members of India's Sikh community traveled to Geneva from several countries. They are urging the U.N. Human Rights Commission to press the Indian government for their rights as a recognized minority.

Activist Awatar Singh Sekhon says India's Sikhs are not fighting for succession but for their separate identity.

"The Indian constitution, article 45, does not recognize Sikhs as Sikhs. It says Sikhs are Hindus," he said. "That is a process of assimilation of the Sikhs into Hinduism and we are against this. They want to eliminate our existence - which we oppose with all force. Force means all political avenues, peaceful, political avenues, which are available to us."

The Sikhs say they were promised political autonomy when the British left India in 1947. But they say the Indian government never made good on its pledge.

Sikhs are a majority in India's northwestern Punjab province and 240,000 live in conflict-stricken Jammu and Kashmir. They say about 800,000 members of their community live outside India.

The Sikhs say they want to see India's other minorities, Muslim, Christian, and Dalet communities, also receive their fair recognition by the government.

One Indian seeking reconciliation between his country's Hindu majority and those of other religious faiths is Rahjmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi met recently with Muslims and non-Muslims from 18 countries in the Middle East and South Asia at an Alpine reconciliation center about 130 kilometers outside of Geneva.

Mr. Gandhi says much must be done to end religious intolerance in India. And he expressed concern over the continuing political violence in Kashmir and Gujarat.

"Tides of resentment, revenge, hatred, fear - it takes, it will take a combined action by a good number of people in the world," he said. "I think the methods of people in the spirit of Gandhi will help a great deal but one individual cannot emerge to deal with these types sadly."

Mr. Gandhi says religion should not be used to justify violence of any kind or used to discriminate or exclude people. He says that if democracy and justice are promoted, then minority rights will be recognized.