Sikhs in Iran look forward to Manmohan's visit

Gursharan Kaur is expected to visit gurudwara in Tehran

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Iran to attend the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, his wife Gursharan Kaur may pay obeisance at a gurudwara that stands at the heart of Tehran as a rare icon of religious freedom in the Islamic Republic.

Though the prime minister’s engagements in Tehran are yet to be finalised, Kaur may pay a visit to the gurudwara, even if Singh himself is unable to make it to the Sikh shrine that was founded in 1941.

The dwindling Sikh community in Iran, however, hopes that prime minister would be able to spare sometime from his busy schedule to visit the shrine. “We will be happy to both prime minister and his wife, if they could find sometime to come to the gurudwara,” J Sawhney, vice-president of Guru Nanak Charitable Trust in Tehran, told Deccan Herald from Iranian capital on Thursday.     

Singh’s predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee had paid obeisance at the shrine, when he had visited Tehran in 2001. The prime minister and his wife will reach Tehran next Tuesday. While he is scheduled to address the summit on Thursday, his office has kept reserved much of Wednesday for possible bilateral meetings with his counterparts from other countries.

Over 30 heads of states are expected to attend the NAM summit, which Tehran is set to project as a rebuff to US-led western efforts to isolate Iran for the controversial nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic. During his stay in Tehran, Singh is likely to hold a bilateral meeting with his host – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. New Delhi and Islamabad are understood to be discussing possibilities of a meeting between Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the summit.

The US and its western allies often slam Iran for allegedly curbing religious freedom. Human rights violations in the Islamic Republic often made headlines and documented by international organisations. Sikhs in the Islamic Republic, however, had a different experience.

“We do not have any problem here, neither from the government, nor from the local people,” Sawhney said over telephone from Tehran.

While Guru Nanak visited Iran in 16th century, pursuit of economic fortune took some Sikhs to the Islamic Republic about 150 years back. Though the community once flourished and grew in number, it has now dwindled to just about 60 families – mostly in Tehran and Zahedan.

“The community has shrunk because many families have migrated to the US or Gulf. But when it comes to freedom of practising religion, we have never heard about Sikhs experiencing any problem in Iran,” said Delhi Shiromani gurdwara Prabandhak Committee president, Paramjeet Singh Sarna. “I think the prime minister should find sometime to visit the gurudwara when he is in Tehran.”

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had visited the Gurudwara when he went to Tehran in to attend the G-15 meet in 2010.

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