MHA cites protocol for denying Sikhs permission to visit Nankana Sahib in Pak
The Union home ministry on Tuesday said it last month denied permission to a group or Jatha of 600 Sikh pilgrims to travel to Pakistan for the 100th anniversary of the 1920 Nankana Sahib massacre as it was not covered under the 1974 Bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines between the two countries. It earlier refused permission for the visit on February 17 citing security concerns and a threat to Indians visiting Pakistan.
Around 200 people were in February 1920 killed in Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak Dev, during agitation to take control of gurdwaras from British-backed mahants.
The ministry said under the Protocol, Sikh Jathas visit Pakistan annually on four occasions--Baisakhi, Martyrdom’s Day of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Barsi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji, and Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It added that “no such Jatha had gone to Pakistan in the past on such occasion”.
In a written reply in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Union minister of state for home G Kishan Reddy also reiterated the increasing number of Covid-19 cases in Pakistan was also one of the reasons for the denial of permission.
“Keeping in view the increasing number of cases of Covid-19 in Pakistan, [the] threat to the safety and security of [a] large number of Indian citizens during the visit and the ongoing suspension of cross-border traffic due to Covid-19 pandemic, permission was not accorded to the said Jatha,” Reddy said.
In response to Congress member Jasbir Singh Gill’s question on why permission was granted to last Jatha to travel to Pakistan in November when the pandemic was at its peak, Reddy said: “...from November 28, 2020, till December 1, 2020, ... a Jatha of Sikh pilgrims visited Nankana Sahib on [the] 551st birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji... [the travel] was allowed under 1974 Bilateral Protocol. However, due to [the] Covid-19 pandemic, the number of pilgrims was restricted.”
Sikh religious organisations and politicians have condemned the Centre’s denial of permission.
In a video message last month, Giani Harpreet Singh, a top Sikh priest, said: “The Indian government is extremely wrong in denying the Sikh Jatha permission to attend the main event in Pakistan.”