A Hindu-Sikh couple Harmeet Kaur and her husband Rajesh Thakur are spending sleepless nights after being threatened to be physically harmed, their business destroyed and boycotted from the community.
Both have been organising ‘Vaisakhi Mela’ in South Australia’s capital Adelaide for the last several years under an organisation called ‘Punjabi Aussie Association of South Australia.’
The Mela draws crowds of thousands of people not only from Indian-Punjabi backgrounds but also from South Asian origin and importantly Australians curious and interested in multicultural festivities.
Music, dance, and food are the three basic and most loved staples of most Indian festivals but this time they are targets of alleged extremist groups.
This is not the first time Harmeet Kaur and Rajesh Thakur have been targeted by radical moral policing groups, last year (2022) also they were threatened in a similar manner.
Harmeet Kaur told The Australia Today, “Last year it was Gurinder Jit Singh Jassar, who threatened us. This year he is not there but almost the same group of men are threatening to disrupt our Vaisakhi Mela.”
“This week a number of our supporters have sent us Facebook links to boycott calls by one Sarabjit Singh Pipli,”Said Ms Kaur.
Harmeet Kaur has reported the disruption and boycott call to South Australia Police.
She says the police officer told her to talk to Sarabjit Singh Pipli to resolve issues related to alleged threats.
“I called him, and he categorically told me to change the name of Vaisakhi mela or they will protest to disrupt in front of your festival.”
Harmeet says, “On the phone call Sarabjit Singh Pipli told me, ‘Vaisakhi ke naam pe naach-gana (Giddha-Bhangra) karte ho to singho ki insult hoti hai.”
“On the name of Vaisakhi Mela, you organise dance and singing (Giddha-Bhangra)show that insults Singhs.”translation.
Sarabjit Singh also told Harmeet Kaur, “Saare singho ne faisla kitta hai jo Adelaide mei Vaisakhi ke naam par mela hoga to hum uska virodh karenge”
“All Singhs have made this decision that if any one will organise Vaisakhi Mela, we will oppose it.”Translation.
Sarabjit Singh Pipli told Harmeet Kaur, “We will do this till the time you don’t change the name and as long as it takes.”
Harmeet told The Australia Today, “This group is also harassing my team when we go for rehearsals in the park.”
“5-10 men come there and stand very close to girls practising their dance moves and just stare at them.”
Amanpreet Kaur* (name changed on request) is the team leader of the girl’s dance group which is performing in Vaisakhi mela.
Amanpreet told The Australia Today, “These men were making gestures and showing facial expressions to make girls uncomfortable.”
“We called Harmeet didi that we can’t practice because of these men harassing us, However as Harmeet didi came they dispersed from there.”
Harmeet says, “I reported it to the South Australia Police however they said we can’t do anything unless these men do or say something.”
“Believe me, it was white girls facing this kind of harassment by any random man police would have acted immediately,”a frustrated Harmeet kaur said.
The Police officer Harmeet Kaur and Rajesh Thakur are liaising has told them,
“We have police allocated to attend specifically between protest timings, to ensure it remains a safe environment for your patrons as well as ensure the protest is safely managed.”
“Police will be present to deal with any concerns or issues you have.”
Harmeet Kaur also alleges that a Facebook group ‘Indians In Adelaide Group (IIAG by Dev)’ with almost 37,000 members is also participating in propaganda to hurt the Vaisakhi mela.
The Australia Today has tried to contact the admin Dev of the Facebook group, however, he has not responded to our calls.
Robbie Benipal is the Editor of Adelaide-based Raabta Radio.
Robbie gives voice to the community and raises issues but for this, he was publicly targeted.
Robbie told The Australia Today, “These radicals are using religious grounds to target business of Vaisakhi Mela organisers.”
“If It was religious they should have taken directions from religious leaders and applied to all of Australia, not a particular event.”
“They raised it one year back but didn’t get any direction from Sikh supreme body Akal Takhat Saheb.”
“As a Sikh, I can tell you this is not what we are. This is not what we learn from Guru Granth Saheb.”
“These radical groups are opposing this Vaisakhi event only based on muscle power. Because Akal Takhat Saheb says Vaisakhi is everyone’s festival and they can celebrate it as they want to.”
Vaisakhi or Baisakh has been celebrated as a harvest festival in the North Indian state of Punjab where farmers offered thanks for a plentiful harvest.
It became popular amongst the Sikh community after Guru Gobind Singh chose the festival as the moment to establish the Khalsa in 1699.
Amrik Singh Thandi is a Sikh leader in Adelaide and a member of the Sikh Society of South Australia.
Last year, Mr Thandi told The Australia Today, “Vaisakhi Mela is common for Hindu, Sikh, Christian, and Muslims of Punjab. Nobody can claim it and in my view, the name should not be changed, Vaisakhi Mela should go on as it is.”
“My message to the community is, please attend Vaisakhi Mela in big numbers and enjoy food and cultural dances,” added Mr Thandi.
The Australia Today has tried to contact Sarabjit Singh Pipli, however, he told us, “I am not answering any questions.”
We have still sent him a text message with our questions, but we have not received any response from him. In case he responds to us we will update the story.
Note: The Australia Today has contacted a number of other stakeholders we will update the story as and when we receive their response.