Right-wing protesters harass Pak exhibitors at Amritsar trade expo, and police watch
Sapna Kavita Oberoi, a Hindu exhibitor from Pakistan, said that being a Saarc visa-holder she visits India “20 times a year” and she feels at home here. “I once read somewhere that you cannot change your neighbours. We should learn to live with harmony and peace.”punjab Updated: Dec 11, 2016 09:30 IST
It was a volatile and peculiar situation at the Punjab International Trade Expo (PITEX) here on Saturday morning when a group of around 20 Hindu right wing activists protesting against stalls from Pakistan. They faced severe criticism by a Hindu exhibitor, among others, from the neighbouring country who termed them fear-mongers.
By the evening, a police complaint was filed too, as cops at the expo were mute spectators when the protesters raised slogans and sought to vandalise the food stalls from Lahore and other places in Pakistan. After a low-key drama on Friday, on Saturday morning the protesters made an attempt to enter the Pak pavilion, which has at least 12 exhibitors. But police did not let them do that, even though cops asked exhibitors to voluntarily remove boards with Pak flags “for security reasons”.
At the food court, the situation was controlled by the exhibitors, including their representative Pankaj Khanna alias Parvez, an Indian exporter who had put up stalls of apparel, food and marble. His wife Hina Anjum, a Pakistani, had put up a stall too, of designer sawlwar-kameez suits. The protesters, who claimed allegiance to Shiv Sena, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, blamed the exhibitors for the diplomatic hostility and attacks on the borders.
Anjum later said, “Non-cordial relations infuse fear amongst people on either side of the border, but, as peace ambassadors, we will go back and tell people in Pakistan that in Amritsar and other cities they will get immense love and hospitality.” She added, “If issues are being politicised, it should not affect our love, business ties and food links.”
Sapna Kavita Oberoi, a Hindu exhibitor from Pakistan, said that being a Saarc visa-holder she visits India “20 times a year” and she feels at home here. “I once read somewhere that you cannot change your neighbours. We should learn to live with harmony and peace.”
Condemning the protest and the police, she said, “These people need to be reminded of the words ‘atithi devo bhava’ from ancient Hindu scriptures, which means, ‘guests are God’. But I would still say that such a small number of people cannot pull us apart. The issue is being politicised, so common people on either side should decide for themselves.”
Former vice-president of SAARC chamber of commerce and industry from Pakistan, Jamil Mohammad Magoo, who came to the chambers inside the Pak pavilion, said he has an old friendship with PHD Chambers, the organisers, here, and was said to see a dip in exhibitors from his country due to frosty relations. “Borders should be eradicated as they are doing nothing but affecting the Punjab in totality.”
After the complaint, deputy commissioner of police (DCP) J Elanchezhian reached the venue in the evening. “Things are settled now. Sufficient security has been deployed. I have assured the Pakistan pavilion that strict action would be taken against those who take law into their hands,” he said.
On police being mute spectator in the morning, he said, “I have no idea what happened and how they could not handle the situation well. But now I will make sure nothing untoward occurs. It is totally the exhibitors’ call if they to put up boards with their national flag or not.”
Pankaj Khanna said, “We are not flaunting the boards with any political intention. The buyers need to be told which product is genuinely from Pakistan and which is not.”
Want to visit Golden Temple
Khanna’s wife Anjum, who says she has visited India 30 times but was in Amritsar for the first time, said she was told by her daughter that she must visit Golden Temple: “Beti kehti thi, ‘Wahan zarur jana jaha dua kabool hoti hai’ (Do go there, where wishes are fulfilled’. So, I would be visiting the holy shrine.” She and others were excited to see the new ‘heritage’ look of Town Hall and the street to the Golden Temple.
Khanna also highlighted that of the 55 exhibitors who applied, only 22 got the visa. “yet, not all of them too could make it to the expo”. “Even two days before the date to come to India, they do not know if they would get the visa or not.”