Sikh pilgrims stranded in Lahore on Baisakhi amid clashes in Pakistan
Protests and road blockades across Pakistan following the arrest of a far right leader, Saad Hussain Rizvi, on Monday have left 818 Sikh pilgrims headed for Gurdwara Panja Sahib on the occasion of Baisakhi stranded en route.
The jatha, which was accommodated at Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore on Monday night, has not been able to proceed to Hasan Abdal, where the historic gurdwara is located, in view of the tension in Pakistan.
Baisakhi is also celebrated as Khalsa Foundation Day and the jatha members, who left Amritsar on an enthusiastic note on Monday morning, are stranded in Lahore since Monday night. Inter-city highways were closed after protests in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Local media reported clashes between police and protesters in Lahore.
“We were stuck at Wagah border till 9.30pm on Monday after crossing over to Pakistan. We spent the entire day waiting in buses though arrangements of food and water were made for us. After Pakistan’s security forces got the roads cleared, we were taken to Gurdwara Dehra Sahib at 11.30pm,” Gurdev Singh, one of the pilgrims said over phone.
Jatha at Gurdwara Dehra Sahib under tight security
According to the original plan, the Sikh pilgrims were to reach Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hasan Abdal on Monday directly to celebrate Baisakhi. Since there was no plan of staying in Lahore, the Pakistan government and the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) made arrangements for the stay of the jatha besides langar on the spot. “At present, the entire jatha is staying at Gurdwara Dehra Sahib under tight security. We are not sure when we will be able to go to Gurdwara Panja Sahib,” he said.
Protests began after Saad Hussain Rizvi, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore on Monday. Leaders of his party alleged that the government had violated an agreement signed with the party in February to stave off the threat of further protests over perceived blasphemy by French President Emmanuel Macron. The TLP is demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador over the publication of blasphemous caricatures.
Following news of Rizvi’s arrest, highways and roads were blocked by TLP workers in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Families of pilgrims worried about their safety
The pilgrims have not been able to contact their families in India as the internet connectivity is down there.
PSGPC president Satwant Singh was not available for comment. No office-bearer of the committee came forward to offer an update on the situation, adding to the concern of the pilgrims’ families in India.