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Pakistan mulls barring people of other faiths from accompanying Sikh jatha

The move comes after two Indian pilgrims violated the rules of pilgrimage visa by leaving a Sikh jatha recently.

punjab Updated: Apr 26, 2018 21:15 IST
Surjit Singh
Surjit Singh
Hindustan Times, Amritsar
Pakistan,barring,sikh jathas
Recently two pilgrims who went with a Sikh jatha from India via Attari-Wagah border on April 12 but did not return with it on April 22.(HT File Photo)

After two Indian pilgrims violated the rules of pilgrimage visa by leaving a Sikh jatha recently, Pakistan is planning to bar people of other faiths from accompanying Sikh jathas which visit the country to celebrate religious festivals in various gurdwaras.

The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), which is the government body to manage affairs of Hindu and Sikh shrines in Pakistan, has initiated deliberations to impose a ban on Muslim, Hindu or Christian devotees to enter Pakistan as members of the Sikh jatha.

Talking to Hindustan Times over phone, Imran Gondal, spokesperson and deputy director of ETPB, said the matter is on the level of discussion and the board is seriously thinking in this regard in view of the act of two pilgrims—Kiran Bala and Amarjit Singh—who came along with a Sikh jatha from India via Attari-Wagah border on April 12 but did not return with it on April 22.

Bala, hailing from Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, embraced Islam and married a Lahore-based man. On the basis of marriage, she has got visa extension for six months. Her pilgrimage visa was of 10 days like other members of the jatha. Amarjit left the jatha at Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, to meet his facebook friend at Sheikhupura. As he did not return on April 22, Amarjit was deported on April 24.

Though both the pilgrims were Sikhs as per the SGPC record, the ETPB did not consider them as members of the Sikh community. “The ETPB has taken a serious note of the acts of both the pilgrims who were non-Sikhs. We are discussing the matter with different bodies concerned. In coming days, the board will conduct a meeting with Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) and the government departments concerned to consult the matter with them,” Gondal said.

He however refuted media reports that such a ban has already been imposed. “The final decision on the issue is yet to be taken,” Gondal said.

He also made it clear that Hindu pilgrims would only be able to visit the country on the occasion of their religious festivals, according to the proposed travel restrictions.

He said the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) does not send the details of Sikh pilgrims to the board, due to which recognition of the pilgrims becomes a hurdle. He said the SGPC has been asked to send such details to the board.

The PSGPC has also protested over participation of people belonging to other religions in their rituals, reported The Express Tribune, an English daily in Pakistan.

SGPC HAILS PROPOSAL

When contacted, SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal welcomed the proposed move. “If they are taking such a decision, it will be a very good measure in the direction of bringing reforms in the pilgrimage,” he said.

Longowal said, “We support the idea that only sabat-surat (those who do not cut their hair or trim their beard) and devout Sikhs should be allowed to go to Pakistan as pilgrims. While sending lists of visa applicants to the government, we also address this aspect.”

Meanwhile, former SGPC secretary Kulwant Singh, who also supervised the pilgrimage department of the gurdwara body for many years, said, “Though there is no rule at present that bars the followers of other faiths from being part of Sikh jatha, the SGPC avoids them in view of the attitude of Pakistan, which often rejects visa applications of non-Sikh pilgrims.”

First Published: Apr 26, 2018 19:34 IST