An Australian couple, who were recently denied entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple as the woman's feet were in bandages, have now been offered a free trip to the holiest of Sikh shrines by a section of the international Sikh community.
Embarrassed by reports that Tony and Beverly Simpsons, a couple from Tamworth town in New South Wales in Australia, were denied entry into the Harmandar Sahib, the sanctum sanctorum that is surrounded by the sacred pond in the Golden Temple complex, Sikhs in Canada and elsewhere have offered to fund their trip to Amritsar, the city that is considered holy by the Sikhs.
The Simpsons had to return to Australia without paying obeisance at the Harmandar Sahib after a Sikh 'sewadar' (temple worker) refused them entry into the sanctum sanctorum in April, saying that only devotees with bare feet could enter.
Beverly, who had clinical bandages on her feet due to an ailment, told the volunteer that she was wearing these out of medical compulsion but he did not relent.
In a letter to the Simpsons on behalf of a section of the international Sikh community, Canada residents T Sher Singh of Guelph and Birinder Singh Ahluwalia of Toronto have offered economy-class return tickets and free luxury hotel stay for one week in Amritsar to them at their convenience.
"We are saddened that you were not only turned away but also had to return home without an opportunity to visit the Golden Temple. In an attempt to somewhat rectify the wrong, we would like to facilitate your return to Amritsar and a full and proper, unhindered and unfettered visit into the Harmandar Sahib," they wrote to the Simpsons on Monday.
The couple, who have been following the Sikh religion closely without converting to it, posted their anguish about the visit to the shrine to Sikhs across the globe after returning to Australia.
This led to sharp reactions from the international Sikh community, which objected to the treatment meted out to the couple.
Queen Elizabeth II was allowed by the Sikh clergy to walk into the Harmandar Sahib with her socks on during her visit to the shrine in 1997. The Queen changed her socks just before stepping into the Darbar Sahib (where Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of Sikhs, is kept).
Australia-based Sikh minstrel Dya Singh took up the issue with international Sikh community leaders.
The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) - the body that manages their gurdwaras in India - immediately went on the defensive saying that handicapped people were not disallowed from entering the shrine.
SGPC secretary Dalmegh Singh issued a statement saying that proper arrangements were in place to facilitate the movement and visit of handicapped people to the holy shrine.
However, what the SGPC missed was the fact that Beverly could walk on her own but her feet were always in bandages.
"The volunteer who stopped the Simpsons from entering could not have thought that it would become such a big issue. The SGPC higher-ups would not have known as the Simpsons did not complain at the shrine and expressed their anguish only after reaching back Australia," devout Sikh Ravinderpal Singh said.
The SGPC, though, did not extend any offer to the Australian couple to visit the shrine again.