It was for the third time in last one-and-half month on Wednesday that Sikh jathas were not allowed to cross over to Pakistan from Attari railways station to pay visit gurdwaras across the border. Around 300 Sikh pilgrims were forced to return back home from Attari railways station after authorities didn’t allow them to cross despite having all valid documents.
Most of the pilgrims had come from Punjab, Haryana and Delhi to visit Pakistan to observe the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Harpal Bhullar, president Bhai Mardana Yadgari Society, said, “We have been told by Indian Railways officials that they don’t have permission to allow us to go. Pakistan had arranged a special train for us and that train was standing at the Wagah border the whole day on Wednesday. But it was not allowed to reach Attari.”
Jathas planned by different Sikh bodies, including SGPC, go to Pakistan under Shimla Agreement on four occasions in one year — birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, Baisakhi festival, to observe martyrdom day of Guru Arjun Dev and the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It is rare for entire jathas of Sikhs to be denied permission to visit Pakistan without giving any clear reason.
On May 19, SGPC had cancelled a jatha after it claimed that it had been asked to take responsibility of the security of jathas during stay in Pakistan. The Sikh body had said that the condition was communicated to it by the Ministry of External Affair (MEA), and it had declined to take any such responsibility. Several other Sikh bodies, however, said that they were ready to take responsibility for their jathas visiting Pakistan. On Wednesday, jathas had been sent to Attari by Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Managment Committee and Shiromani Akali Dal, Delhi.
“SGPC was not allowed to send its jatha on May 21. Then our jatha of 68 pilgrims was returned back from Attari on June 8. But 14 pilgrims had visa by road and they went to observe martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev in Pakistan from June 8 to June 17. No security issue was faced by these 14 pilgrims. We were also ready to take responsibility of our security, but were not allowed to go to Pakistan,” said Bhullar.
Harbhajan Singh Sethi, a leader of Shiromani Akali Dal, Delhi, said, “On one side India is unhappy about China for stopping pilgrims from visiting Kailash Mansarovar. On other side, Indian government itself is stopping Sikhs from visiting gurdwaras in Pakistan. It is ironic. Sikhs are deeply attached to the legacy of Sikh history in Pakistan and stopping them from visiting Pakistan in peace time is violation of human rights.”
Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa, who recently won the Rajouri Garden bypoll in Delhi on a BJP ticket, said: “I will definitely raise this issue with Sushma Swaraj. MEA cannot ask SGPC to take responsibility of security of Sikhs in Pakistan. Asking for it is itself a joke. It is not possible. DSGMC had also sent a jatha to Pakistan and I have received many calls since morning from pilgrims. They all had to return back. We are hopeful that Indian government will find a solution to this situation.”
Interestingly, SGPC hasn’t reacted on the issue. When contacted, SGPC chief secretary Harcharan Singh said, “I am not aware of it that the jathas were not allowed to go to Pakistan. I am only hearing it from you.” Sources said that SGPC is avoiding taking on the Centre as SAD is part of the Union government.