PUNJAB MINISTER Navjot Singh Sidhu warned on Thursday that anyone “staring down” Christians in Punjab would have their eyes gouged out. Using virtually the same words that a Madhya Pradesh BJP worker had used in October against CPM cadres that is if they continued to “eye” RSS activists in Kerala, Sidhu, speaking in Punjabi to a gathering of Christians, said: “Jehda vi tuhade val aakh chak ke vekhu ga, us di aakh kadh devange (If anyone stares you down, we will gouge their eyes out).”
Sidhu was speaking at a Christmas celebration held by the state government in Amritsar. In a message to the Christian community, Sidhu, who left the BJP in 2016 and joined the Congress weeks ahead of the state Assembly election early this year, said no one would be allowed to disrupt the festival in Punjab. Speaking before Sidhu from the same stage, Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who heads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar and the Masih Mahasabha, expressed concern at the reported incidents of attacks on Christmas celebrations in some other parts of the country.
“Christians are not being allowed to celebrate Christmas Day in some parts of the country. It is a violation of our basic human rights. Everybody should be allowed to celebrate their religious festivals. It is very surprising that celebration of Christmas has become an issue for some people,” said Bishop Franco. “But,” said the Bishop, “I am satisfied that Christians have all the freedom to celebrate Christmas in Punjab. There is no such problem in the state.”
Addressing the gathering, Sidhu said, “All communities live peacefully in Punjab and everybody has the right to follow or preach any religion. The right to religious freedom is part of the Indian Constitution. We are all brothers. So, protecting your right to practise religion is our main responsibility. My government is committed to providing every community free and fair atmosphere to celebrate their religious function.”
He also said: “The doors of the Golden Temple are open for people of all religions and sects and besides this, the Constitution of the country, too, guarantees equal opportunities for all with no difference on the basis of caste, creed, race or religion.” People, belonging to all religions, live in “perfect harmony” in Punjab, said Sidhu, and promised that “the state government would not allow anybody to tinker with the peaceful atmosphere”.
State government-organised Christmas celebrations are held in Amritsar every year. The most number of Christians in Punjab are spread in the Mahja region, including Gurdaspur and Amritsar.
The previous Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government also used to celebrate the festival. In fact, last year, there were two such functions, with the outgoing SAD-BJP government, then in the thick of an election campaign, organising both, one in Gurdaspur and the other in Amritsar. The first function was held in Amritsar and the second in Gurdaspur.
This year, though Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh was not present at the function, a huge hoarding on the stage announced that he was the chief patron of the event. Lok Sabha MP Gurjit Singh Aujla lauded the community for its social welfare work. Thanking the Punjab government, Bishop Franco assured the government of active cooperation of the Christian community with the government in all its philanthropic endeavours.