Simply Put: What’s blocking the Sikh pilgrimage to gurdwaras in Pakistan?

No jathas travelled to Sikh shrines in Pakistan this year for either the May 29 Guru Arjan Dev death anniversary or the June 29 Ranjit Singh death anniversary. The Indian Express explains why

Written by KAMALDEEP BRAR | Updated: July 7, 2017 2:04 pm
Sikh pilgrimage, sikhs in pakistan, pakistani sikh, sikh gurudwara pakistan, indian express news Members of a pilgrims’ jatha protest at Attari station after being allegedly prevented from boarding the train to Pakistan on June 28. The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has announced a protest against the Indian government at Wagah on July 7. (Source: Rana Simranjit Singh)

Why and when do Sikh jathas from India travel to Pakistan?

The 1972 Simla Agreement provided for promoting travel facilities in order to normalise relations. In 1974, India and Pakistan signed a visa agreement, and along with that, a protocol saying the two countries must allow each other’s nationals unfettered access to certain places of religious worship. According to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, there are 172 historical gurdwaras in Pakistan, out of which pilgrims are allowed to visit 18. Seven are in Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Guru Nanak, five in Lahore, three in Aminabad, and one each Kartarpur, Hasan Abdal and Sialkot.

Pilgrims go to Pakistan on four occasions every year. Up to 3,000 pilgrims can travel for the birth anniversary of the first Guru, which falls mostly in the year’s last quarter, and for the Baisakhi festival in April. Up to 1,000 Sikhs can go in May-June for the Martyrdom Day of the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev, who was sentenced to death in Lahore. Five hundred can go for the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who breathed his last in Lahore. Initially only the SGPC sent jathas to Pakistan. With time, and the establishment of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) in 1999, other, smaller Sikh organisations too began sending jathas — among them, the Shiromani Akali Dal Delhi, Bhai Mardana Yadgari Society, Sukhmani Sahib Sewa Society Haryana, and the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.

What is the procedure by which these organisations obtain visas?

There are two ways. First, through the Ministry of External Affairs — the pilgrims apply to deputy commissioners, the lists are security cleared by the home departments of states and then by the union Home Ministry, before the MEA sends approved names to the Pakistani Ministry of Interior. This is how SGPC, SAD Delhi and DSGMC apply for visas. The second way is for pilgrims or the jatha to apply directly to the Pakistani Interior Ministry. The PSGPC and Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) of Pakistan facilitate the process. The Pakistanis send the list to Indian security agencies for clearance, and visas are sent to pilgrims directly by the Pak government. But the Indian government can stop any pilgrim. This way is used more by NRI Sikhs, although some in India too use it. Pilgrims can also visit on their own, but it is easier to get a visa as part of a jatha and, for a pilgrim, more economical.

Has the recent deterioration of India-Pak relations affected the pilgrimages?

The government has issued no public advisory against the pilgrimages; nor has Pakistan announced it is stopping them. Still, no jathas went this year for either the Arjan Dev anniversary on May 29, or the Ranjit Singh one on June 29. Only a small party of 14 Sikhs managed to cross over on June 8. SGPC said the MEA did not give permission to 521 pilgrims to travel to Pakistan for the Arjan Dev anniversary. For the Ranjit Singh anniversary, SGPC claimed the MEA had said it would have to bear the responsibility of the security of the jatha, which the SGPC did not want to commit to. Some 300 others who applied through the direct method did get visas, but were allegedly not allowed to board the train to Pakistan.

So who were the 14 who managed to cross over?

They were in a jatha organised by the Sukhmani Seva Society. They, and 68 pilgrims of another jatha, were to board the Samjhauta Express from Attari on June 8, but were allegedly not allowed to do so by Indian Railways officials. However, the group of 14 had visas that allowed them to also cross over on foot — which is the route they then took.

For all the latest Explained News, download Indian Express App

  1. I
    Indian
    Jul 7, 2017 at 4:33 am
    This is how Sikh soldiers get paid when they defend "bharat MATA". I don't see masses marching towards Delhi gate in support of peaceful geniuen demand of Sikhs. Sikhs will need to get organised and think with cool head about their strategy how they going to move forward and live with pride.
    (0)(0)
    Reply
    1. W
      welingkar
      Jul 7, 2017 at 5:36 am
      Hello Porkeater, Don't hide under a false name. The reason why the Indian government dithered was it knew the Napaak ISI would do something. Some months ago two Indian visitors vanished for days. They were held by your napaak forces. No wonder the Indian government foiled your govt's plans this time.
      (0)(0)
      Reply
    2. Ehsan Habib
      Jul 6, 2017 at 7:19 pm
      Every Sikh that comes to Pakistan goes back with fond memories of his stay. Govt of India desperately tried to hoodwink, but didn't succeed. Now they have simply blocked the pilgrimage, I think speaks volumes of Brahmin mindset.
      (0)(0)
      Reply
      1. W
        welingkar
        Jul 7, 2017 at 5:44 am
        Yes, I am sure the soul of Sarabjeet Singh remembers the "good time" he had in Pakistan.
        (0)(0)
        Reply
      2. M
        master
        Jul 6, 2017 at 12:11 pm
        This is plain discrimination on the basis of religion by Indian govt. They did not allow pilgrims to board the train despite having valid visas to travel. The excuse given by the govt is security. It's Indian govt who is responsible for security of Indian citizens across the world. By the way who guaranteed security of pilgrims to Kailash.
        (0)(0)
        Reply
        1. W
          welingkar
          Jul 7, 2017 at 5:39 am
          The Chinese govt is there and the Pak govt in Pakistan. Forgot what happened to the two mulim Pilgrims from Delhi last month? The Pak security agencies took them away and claimed no one knew where they had gone
          (0)(0)
          Reply
        2. J
          J K
          Jul 6, 2017 at 11:38 am
          Pak istan is dirty shameless country. Earlier they instigated violence in Punjab lots of innocent died. Now they are pushing drugs in to punjab. Lots of punjab youth wasted their life. very dirty and shameless country. alwasy making trouble. Recently their pa kistan airlines were caught in UK for drug trafiking. There were two dozens sitanis who molested white girls in UK a year a go. Very dirty people.
          (0)(1)
          Reply
          1. D
            Dc
            Jul 6, 2017 at 10:49 pm
            But who s the buyer of drugs? Can I sell you drugs forcibly? Seller sells when buyers buy .stop blaming p akistan . Others in Indian side are to be blamed first.
            (0)(0)
            Reply
          2. R
            romi
            Jul 6, 2017 at 10:53 am
            After so many wars why birth place of guru nanak which is in Lahore still remains with p a k i s ???
            (0)(0)
            Reply
            1. Load More Comments