The Sikh community in Lahore have been prevented from observing a religious celebration at a gurdwara, their musical equipment thrown out and their entry barred, after a religious group persuaded the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) that celebrating the Muslim holy day of Shab-e-Barat was more important than the Sikh religious festival.
Police have been deployed outside the temple to prevent the Sikhs from conducting their religious ceremonies until the end of Shab-e-Barat, which falls on July 18 this year. The Sikh community wanted to commemorate an eighteenth-century saint on July 16.
The Gurdwara Shaheed Bhai Taru Singh, in Naulakha Bazaar, Lahore, is built to honour the memory of a Sikh saint who was executed in 1745 on the orders of the Mughal governor of Punjab, Zakaria Khan. Every July, the Sikh community has held religious ceremonies to commemorate his sacrifice in the service of humanity.
While the temple was taken over by the ETPB after Partition, the Sikh community had been allowed to continue using it with relatively few restrictions.
Until four years ago.
It was then that a gang of young men from the Dawat-e-Islami, a Barelvi proselytising group, claimed that the gurdwara was located on the site of the burial place of a fifteenth century Muslim saint, Pir Shah Kaku. The group claims that Kaku was the grandson of Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar, an implausible claim since Ganjshakar died in 1280, while they claim that Kaku died almost 200 years later, in 1477.
The Sikh community had approached the ETPB, which had then allowed both communities to observe their religious rituals according to their own beliefs at the temple. The group used it every Thursday for prayer services while the Sikh community used it once a year for the anniversary of Taru Singh’s martyrdom.
This year, however, when young men from the Sikh community went in to set up their musical instruments on July 13, they were thrown out by the men from Dawat-e-Islami and prevented from re-entering.
Members of the Sikh community, many of whom fear to be identified, said that the leader of the group of men, Sohail Butt, claimed that the temple was now a mosque and that they would not be allowed to bring in their musical instruments any more.
Butt admitted to preventing the Sikhs from performing their ritual, claiming that the temple was inside the courtyard of the mosque.
“Shab-e-Barat is more important than the Sikh ritual,” Butt said, adding that the ETPB had accepted his group’s stance.
Officials from the ETPB admit that they have asked the Sikh community to postpone their celebrations until after Shab-e-Barat.
ETPB Deputy Administrator Faraz Abbas, who deals with Sikh affairs across the country, even admitted that they had been denied entry into the temple though denied that any musical instruments had been thrown out of the gurdwara.
ETPB Chairman Asif Hashmi was not available for comment as he is abroad.
The incident, however, has been highly distressing for the Sikh community.
Gurunanak Mission President Sardar Bishon Singh told The Express Tribune that the ETPB’s decision to bar Sikhs from entering their temple was against the constitution. He said that he approached the ETPB but was told to wait until after Shab-e-Barat.
“How can we postpone the rituals of our faith,” he asked, adding that the government was not paying attention to their cause.
Singh claimed that the ETPB is planning to gradually eliminate and sell all gurdwaras from Pakistan, alarming for Sikhs around the world. He appealed to Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to take suo motu action over the violation of rights of minorities in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2011.