This year’s Baisakhi festivities had fewer participants than the last few years. The reason: a significantly lower turnout of Sikh pilgrims from India.
Compared to about 3,000 pilgrims who visited in 2011 and 2012, only 1,137 Indian yatris were able to get visas this year in addition to about 150 pilgrims from other countries including Canada, USA and Dubai.
According to Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Deputy Secretary Azhar Nazir Sulehri said the reason for the plunge in numbers was that many in India had applied for a visa “at the last minute”, which meant that the visas could not be processed. A visa requires 45 working days to be processed. Those who had applied on time were issued visas, he said.
Sulehri said that the board had made arrangements to accommodate 3,000 Sikh pilgrims this year too. The ETPB, he said, had arranged for 150 extra rooms at the gurdwaras at Hasanabdal and Nankana Sahib, where the pilgrims spent the first six days of their visit.
Khushwant Singh, who has been coming to Pakistan for Baisakhi for the last three years, felt that the arrangements this year were “an improvement on the years before”. “Maybe there were fewer pilgrims [this year] and the festival was not as crowded,” he said. He, however, said he could not speculate as to why so few yatris had been able to attend the annual festival this year.
The Sikh pilgrims had arrived in Lahore on April 10. Some have already left for their home countries. The Indian pilgrims will go back today (April 19).
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2013.