The Sikhs who could not get visas to Pakistan for a pilgrimage coinciding with Baisakhi put the blame on the SGPC rather than the Pakistan High Commission as they collected their passports from the SGPC office here on Wednesday and returned home dejected.
"Perhaps my 'ardas' (prayer) for visiting shrines in Pakistan has gone unheard," said Kuldip Kaur as she and her son collected their passports from the SGPC office and made their way to the Golden Temple to offer another prayer.
However, Jagroop Singh from Dhaula village of Barnala could not control himself while collecting his passport and the fee he had deposited for the visa. He squarely put the blame on the SGPC for its failure to send a jatha to Pakistan on Baisakhi.
"If the SGPC president's claim that the Pakistan High Commission rejects the visa applications of many Sikhs is true, he should have personally taken up the matter with the authorities concerned. He could have himself gone and met the high commissioner in Delhi. Issuing statements from Amritsar does not have the desired effect," he said.
Similar views were expressed by Mukhtiar Singh of Verka, who felt that the SGPC does not pursue the matter with the authorities concerned. He said SGPC officials just sit back after completing the formalities of dispatching the passports to the external affairs ministry. "The SGPC never checks if the external affairs ministry has sent the list of the pilgrims to the Pakistan High Commission within the stipulated time frame to ensure that all the cases for grant of visa are cleared," he complained, asking why the SGPC cannot have an official in Delhi to coordinate with the external affairs ministry and the Pakistan High Commission.
Beero, a 75-year-old woman from Bathinda who had come here on Tuesday, was shocked to learn that she had not been granted visa. After having spent the night at an SGPC serai, she collected her passport but not before reminding SGPC officials of the inconvenience caused to her.
"Had you informed me in advance, I would have sent my son to collect my passport. It was my cherished desire to pay obeisance at Nanakana Sahib and Panja Sahib, but it seems my wish will never be fulfilled," she said.
The SGPC had cancelled the trip of its jatha after the Pakistan High Commission granted visas to only 300 pilgrims out of a list of 1,400 applications. The jatha was to leave on Wednesday on a 10-day pilgrimage.
However, 1,145 pilgrims still left for Lahore in two special trains from Attari. The first train left at noon while the other left three hours later. These pilgrims included 161 who had been sponsored by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC). The others were from the Khalra Mission Committee jatha, Nankana Sahib Sikh Yatra jatha, Bhai Mardana Yadgaari Society and a couple of other organisations. Some pilgrims from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal, J&K and Uttarakhand were not part of any jatha.