A thread on Twitter, on Wednesday, 21 October, shared a series of screenshots of an email by the Indian consulate in Hamburg asking an association to collect data on Sikh diaspora in Germany on “high priority”.
The email read, “The Ministry is in the process of compiling the data of Sikh diaspora residing in Germany. You are kindly requested to compile a list with the names and address of Sikhs living in your area for onward transmission to the Ministry. We would appreciate if you could accord High priority to the above list and email the same to us latest by 21 October 2020.”
Madan Lal Raigar, Consul General of Hamburg, confirmed to The Quint that the email was indeed sent by the embassy but the intentions were not to create any suspicion.
Dr. Ritumbra Manuvie, a researcher at Groningen, in a thread of tweets questioned the Consulate’s move to collect data without the consent of the people concerned.
She wrote, “Why is the information on Sikh diaspora being collected without a proper 'consent' of those whose information is being collected? Why have the CGI not invited the Sikh diaspora to furnish their information instead of asking others to collect a list of names and address?”
She also questioned, in one tweet, about what is the protocol of protecting the data that is being collected by the government. She wrote, “What is the data protection protocol and towards what end this data will be used? I am really curious as a resident in Europe for almost a decade I am aware that GDPR prevents such kind of personal data collection without conscent? So why is the consulate doing this?”
Speaking to The Quint, she said the emails raise suspicion because, “Germany had at least two well-known litigation where such acts of collecting information were punished.”
In August 2020, a third case of its kind was reported in Germany where a Sikh man was facing trial in a Frankfurt court for allegedly spying on Sikhs and Kashmiris for external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
The same Frankfurt court had convicted a Sikh couple of spying for RAW in December last year. In 2014 too, a Sikh man was convicted and sentenced to nine-month jail in Germany for spying on Sikhs there.
According to a PTI report in 2019, Sikhs are a religious minority in Germany. The number of Sikh population in the whole of Europe is third highest in Germany after the UK and Italy.
‘Blown Out of Proportion’: Govt Issues Clarification
An official statement from the government of India (Ministry of External Affairs through Consulate General of India, Hamburg) said:
The Government, through its Embassies/Consulates abroad, periodically updates data regarding Indian Diaspora to carry its reach out efforts towards them with good intentions to help them out in need/distress situations; and never to harm or hurt sentiments of the community at large. This is done for the entire Indian Diaspora (irrespective of race, region, religion, etc.).
In the particular case this time, it was part of the reach out efforts of the Indian Government towards the Sikh Diaspora as there have been complaints with regard to prosecution of Sikh minorities in some countries. Hence, the Government’s effort was to identify Embassies/Posts with substantial Sikh Diaspora.
This was not done selectively by the Indian Consulate in Hamburg (Germany) only but it was a reach out effort world-wide by all Indian Embassies and Consulates abroad, in general, and, more emphasis was in the countries where presence of Sikh Diaspora is substantial.
It is regrettable, sad and unfortunate that the issue has been blown out of proportion unnecessarily to ignite sentiments of the Diaspora.
Raigar said the mail was sent to different Indian diaspora associations with whom they coordinate to reach out to Indians in their jurisdictions. One of the associations that the screenshots mention is IASH. According to a promo video on their site, it says IASH is an association of Indian diaspora in Hanover, capital and largest city of the German state of Lower Saxony.