No pilgrims’ progress: Sikh jathas to Pakistan in jeopardy
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has described as unfortunate the Union home ministry’s decision to turn down the visit of 251 Sikh pilgrims to Pakistan to observe the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh from June 21-29.
This is the second Sikh jatha (group of pilgrims) to have been denied permission to visit the neighbouring country amid deteriorating Indo-Pak ties.
1) WHAT WILL THE SGPC DO NEXT?
SGPC chief secretary Harcharan Singh says the committee will write to the Union home ministry in a day or two to protest against the “unfortunate decision”.
“If it’s a security issue, the government of India must take it up with Pakistan. Denying permission is wrong. We can’t send pilgrims across the border at our risk. Their safety is the responsibility of the governments,” he says.
The external affairs ministry told the SGPC recently to give an undertaking that the jatha is going to Pakistan at its own risk. The SGPC begs to differ.
2) HOW OFTEN DO JATHAS GO TO PAKISTAN?
Every year, around five to six thousand Sikh pilgrims cross the border to visit shrines there. Of the several gurdwaras, the main ones visited by pilgrims are Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Gurudwara Dehra Sahib Lahore, Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib at Narowal, Gurdwara Sacha Sauda.
The SGPC sends four jathas to Pakistan in a year. The biggest jatha goes to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev, in November to celebrate his birth anniversary. Another jatha goes on the harvest festival of Baisakhi in April. The two other jathas leave in May-June on the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev and the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh empire.
3) HOW DOES A SIKH PILGRIM GO TO PAKISTAN?
The Sikh pilgrim submits his/her passport and identity proofs to the SGPC. The committee sends the passports to the Pakistani high commission, which seeks a clearance from the Government of India. The entire visit and arrangements are looked after by the SGPC and it also appoints a jatha leader. After the clearances, the Pakistan government sends special trains to Attari railway station from where the pilgrims leave for Lahore, 23 km from the border.
4) WHY DO SGPC JATHAS TO PAKISTAN FACE REJECTION?
The Union home ministry cites the tension at the border of the two countries for turning down permission. The Pakistani embassy can only issue visas after the Union home ministry clears the pilgrimage. The frosty ties have not dampened the spirits of the pilgrims, who visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, and Gurdwara Dehra Sahib, Lahore.
5) WHEN WAS PERMISSION LAST DENIED?
The SGPC jatha was denied permission to travel to Pakistan on the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev in May on security grounds amidst deteriorating ties between the two countries.