Sikh pilgrims to Pakistan stuck at Attari as Centre denies permission at eleventh hour
At least 300 Sikh pilgrims with Pakistani visas were left stranded at the Attari railway station amid heavy rains as the special train to be sent by Pakistan was not allowed by the Government of India at the eleventh hour on Wednesday.
The pilgrims were going to Pakistan to observe the death anniversary Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the founder of the Sikh empire. They reached Attari station in the morning,but were left dejected. Though the special train was ready on the Pakistani side of the border it wasn’t given clearance to reach Attari.
The railway authorities said there was no permission from the government of India so the train from Pakistan could not be allowed.
The pilgrims who reached Attari station were sent by various organisations, including Bhai Mardana Yaadgari Kirtan Darbar Society (ferozepur), Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), Khalra Mission Committee, SAD (Delhi-Sarna faction).
The pilgrims raised slogans against the Government of India. It is learnt that the Centre did not allow the jatha to cross over to Pakistan on security grounds.
Dr. Jagir Singh who had come from Zira said, “We pray that we get a chance to pay obeisance at Sikh shrines in Pakistan. We got the visas but it was disappointing that special train was not allowed to pick us. We had genuine visas issued a week ago. If there was any problem, the government should have informed us in advance.”
As the pilgrims were upset that they could not go for paying obeisance at gurdwaras in Pakistan, rain and lack of facilities at the station added to their miseries.
Another pilgrim Jagjit Singh Bhullar said, “This is upsetting that despite having visas the Sikh jatha is not allowed to go to Pakistan. We feel that the Indian Government should not have any trouble as we are just going for pilgrimage. People have come here from all over Punjab and even New Delhi and all are struggling to get suitable answer from authorities. We are just told by rail officials that Special train cannot come as permission is denied by the Ministry of External Affairs.”
Gurcharan Singh from Barnala said, “This is unfortunate. The government must inform in advance rather than harass people and hurt their sentiments. Pilgrims are so keen to visit Pakistani shrines and even got visas but such attitude of the government is upsetting.”
On June 8, a jatha (group) of 80 pilgrims who had reached Attari station returned dejected when the special train from Pakistan did not turn up. This jatha was to go to Pakistan to observe the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev.
The SGPC, which also sends a lot of pilgrims to Pakistan had not got clearance for these jathas due to security reasons. The SGPC this time also had sent 291 passports to the Pakistani embassy but the jatha could not be sent as clearance was denied by the Union home ministry.
Of the 300 pilgrims, half left the station by 4pm, while others were waiting in hope.
Jathas to Pakistan
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. In this Jatha, 3,000 pilgrims (SGPC, DSGMC and other organizations) go to Pakistan.
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.
The SGPC has a quota of 1500 pilgrims for the jatha that goes for Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birth anniversary while for other jathas, the SGPC has a quota of 350 pilgrims.
As the DSGMC and a couple of other Sikh bodies also have a quota, around 700-800 pilgrims leave for Pakistan during other three jathas.