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Gursharan Kaur visits gurudwara, school for Indian expat kids in Tehran

Tehran, Aug.29 (ANI): Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wife, Gursharan Kaur, visited the Bhai Ganga Singh Sabha Gurudwara and an Indian school run by the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan here on Wednesday.
 
Nandini Das Srivastava, the wife of India’s Ambassador to Iran D.P. Srivastava, accompanied Kaur on her visit.
 
During her visit to the school, Mrs. Kaur presented a gift of books to the school.
 
On the occasion, children of the Kendriya Vidyalaya put up a scintillating dance and music programme.
 
Young girls danced the Gidda with great gusto, and the auditorium reverberated with peppy Punjabi music, which was unusual, as music and dance is banned by law in Islamic and Muslim-dominated Iran.
 
This is a small island in Tehran where the lively Punjabi culture is celebrated against all odds.
 
Children who are born and brought up in Tehran, some with mixed parentage, speak English, Hindi, Persian, French and Punjabi.
 
At the school on Wednesday, they danced to songs such as "Kabhi Saddi Galli Khul Ke Vii Ayaa kKro", "Gun Gun Gunaa Gunaa" and Baari Barsii Khatan Gayasi.
 
Dancing with gusto, were some children who had one Bangladeshi parent and one Iranian. Some had parents who were second-generation immigrants from Punjab and Kashmir.
 
When I asked a pre-teen if she had been to Srinagar, she said she had, but added that Srinagar was nicer than Tehran because it was less polluted.
 
A Sikh teenager who played 'Sare Jahan Se Accha" on the guitar, said he would not like to leave Tehran to go to India because Tehran was his home.
 
But, he added, that if there was one city he would like to live in, it would be London.
 
Proud to be wearing a Pagdi, he said it was never an issue in Iran, and he had never felt threatened because he was a Sikh living in Tehran.
 
Being a third generation expatriate, he said he saw Iran as home, but was at a loss to explain what pulled him to his roots in India.
 

Narinder Kaur Sahani who had veiled herself despite the strict dress code, said things had changed during her life time.
 
Born and brought up in Iran, she speaks fluent Punjabi and Hindi.
 
Smiling with tears in her eyes, she says, "We will also leave one day, our kids and grandkids have gone and settled abroad. What is left here? There is no freedom to do anything. We have investments here, so we didn’t leave. We will sell that and go. Just like others."
 
Wistfully, she says, "Sab Chaley Gaye (Everyone has gone)."
 
Her husband, Santokh Singh Sahni, echoed her sentiment. He says "Sab Badal Gaya, Dekhte Dekhte (Everything has changed in front of our eyes)."
 
Shakuntala Chabbra said her family was the only Sindhi family left in Tehran.
 
"There were the Hindujas and we. Now, it is just my family and I. I come here to the gurudwara. When I miss India, I go and visit. I don’t know how long we will stay," she says.
 
Inside the school, while attending the cultural programme organized in honour of Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, most of the women of Indian origin took off their veils, as if in that little microcosm they were back home in India, where nobody could tell them what to wear and how to wear it.
 
The Bhai Ganga Singh Sabha Gurudwara was designed and built in the 1960’s out of donations collected from the community during sangat, and festivals like Diwali and Gurpurab.
 
Gurbani and messages of the Gurus is regularly disseminated.
 
Credit for the establishment of the gurudwara goes to Sahib Singh, who was born in village Dudhial near Rawalpindi in present day Pakistan, and ventured towards Tehran in 1920's.
 
He set up auto spare parts business and later brought more boys from his village, who acted as his sales men.
 
The Sikh community slowly monopolized the auto spare parts business in Tehran.
 
During Gurpurab celebrations in the 1960's and 1970's, the auto spare parts market used to come to standstill because everybody would come to this gurudwara to pray.
 
Langars used to be served to the Sangat in several shifts.
 
However, all this changed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Sikh population dwindled, as did the population of those people who openly came to the gurudwara to take part in the prayers and langars.
 
The gurudwara management committee also started a school, which was affiliated to the CBSE and Punjab University.
 
But after the Iranian Revolution, all such schools came under the control of the Indian mission and the Kendriya Vidyalaya management.
 
There have been many movements of people overland between India and Iran, the most prominent being the Zoroastrian community's migration to western India due to their fear of the spread of the message of Islam.
 
In the 16th century, the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak, traveled through Iran on his way to the Middle East and Mecca.
 
He visited the historic Iranian town of Mash-Had along with close Muslim friend and aide Bhai Mardana in 1519-20, where today, the Gurudwara Pehli Patshahi exists. 
 
In Khuram Shahr,Iran, Guru Nanak buried Bhai Mardana.
 
An Arabic inscription on a shrine in Baghdad also speaks of Guru Nanak's travels to Iran.
 
Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many wealthy Parsis began to travel to Iran to revive the Zoroastrian faith and traditions among the stagnating Zoroastrian community in Iran at the time.
 
In 1920s, about 180 Indian families went to Zahedan. The name of Zahedan comes from the term Zahid, which was given to Sikhs because local Iranians thought they looked like bandits with their flowing beards.
 
Following this initial influx, some of them started settling down in the nearby towns of Birijand, Zabol and Mash-Had.
 
In 1950s, more Indians migrated to Iran and settled primarily in Tehran. They consisted Sikhs and Gujaratis.
 
In the 1960s and early 70s, about 10,000 Indian doctors, engineers, and teachers moved to Iran in response to the open policies initiated by the then Shah of Iran, but most of them left Iran after the 1979 revolution.
 
The Indian community in Iran, which was sizeable earlier, has dwindled and now it is a small one consisting of about 100 families in Tehran and about 20 in Zahedan.
 
There are a number of Indian students in Iran, approximately 800, a large number of whom pursue theological studies in Qom.
 
Apart from the Indian school in Tehran, the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) runs another school in Zahedan.
 
Since the KVS is a self financing school, it could barely run the classes due to a slim student strength.
 
The Ministry of External Affairs pitched in with a grant, and the school now has a 186 students studying from lower KG to class 12.
 
Indians are primarily engaged in various small businesses. A majority are still Indian citizens. They continue to maintain strong links with India, especially in matters of children's education, marriage and property acquisition.
 
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Punjab’s Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in which he asked him to initiate a dialogue with Iran for greater trade ties between business communities in Punjab and the Middle East.
 
In his letter, Badal said "strong possibilities have emerged for greater trade ties between Punjab and the Middle East and West Asia through the land route."
 
Badal, who released copies of his letter to the media in Chandigarh, also asked the Prime Minister to take up with his Iranian counterpart issues involving concerns and sentiments of Sikhs and other Punjabis settled in that country.
 
There has been a strong feeling in the minds of Sikhs that some kind of regular cultural exchange programme should be put in place, he said.
 
"The Iranian government should be requested to facilitate this process through issuance of special group visa in coordination with elected religious body of the Sikhs, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC)," Badal said.
 
The Sikhs have strong cultural and emotional bonds with Iran as Guru Nanak Dev visited the place during the course of his journey to holy Mecca.
 
Badal said the Sikhs in Iran had been requesting that they might be allowed ownership rights on their property and business establishments.
 
"This will give them a feeling of greater security and encourage them to place even greater stakes in that country,” he said.
 
"You may kindly take up this issue with the Iranian government," Badal said.

By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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