LAHORE: Around 1,300 Sikh yatris arrived at Wagha on Sunday to celebrate Baisakhi - the Sikh New Year - at the shrine of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith.
The yatris will visit various gurdwaras during their 10-day stay in the country. The first train from Amritsar carrying 752 pilgrims arrived at 11.30am, while the second train reached Wagha with 500 passengers at 2.40pm.
The passengers were received and welcomed by representatives of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak committee (PSGPC) and evacuee trust property board (ETPB). Speaking to The Express Tribune, several Indians complained that for the first time ever the Pakistani government had denied visas to several Pakistani Sikhs who had migrated to India later.
Sardar Sohan Singh the president of the Bhai Merdani Society stated that he had collectively applied for 300 visas on behalf of the society’s members. He said that 150 passports were returned without a stamp.
“It was really not that difficult to figure out the pattern. The 150 turned down passports belonged to immigrant Sikhs born in Pakistan”, said Sohan Singh. He added that he did not understand the sudden shift in Pakistan government’s policy.
Sohan Singh reiterated that his society applied for visas every year without fail and nobody was ever denied entry into Pakistan based on their place of birth. Sardat Amerjeet Singh the deputy leader of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) stated that a lot of Sikhs decided against travelling to Pakistan out of security concerns.
He said that this was the first time the Indian government had advised them against crossing the border to celebrate the Baisakhi festival. ETPB chairman Asif Hashmi said that he was disappointed to hear that some visas were rejected by the Pakistan government as he had requested entrance permission for all applicants.
PSGPC president Sardar Sham Singh revealed that the government had sanctioned 4,000 visa applications. He said that the yatris had already departed for Hasanabdal where the main Baisakhi event will be hosted on April 14.
RESPECTS-Sikh requests permission to meet family of Jaspal
Swinder Singh Doblia of the SGPC expressed his desire to meet the family of Jaspal Singh, who was kidnapped and beheaded by the Taliban in the tribal areas. Swinder urged the Pakistani government to protect the Sikh community residing in the tribal areas.
He stated that Jaspal’s beheading had sent out the message that the Sikh diaspora was no longer safe in the country. He added that he would meet PM Gilani on April 14 during the Baisakhi festival and request permission to visit the grieving family of Jaspal Singh to pay his condolences.
Swinder stated that he had prepared a list of demands on behalf of the SGPC to present before the prime minister. He said that he would urge the government to ensure the protection of the life as well as the property of the minority group.
He said that many impoverished Sikh brothers had approached him and told him that the Taliban were forcing them to pay jazia (tax). He added that the SGPC would request PM Gilani to allocate some land in Lahore to the committee for the establishment of a residential colony.
He added that the colony would be developed entirely by the SGPC and would be used to house Sikhs with poor or no accommodation.