Just as hundreds of Sikh pilgrims were all set to visit Pakistan to attend events to mark the centenary of Saka Nankana Sahib, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has refused permission to do so. The sudden move apart from freezing the pilgrims’ plans on the eve of their journey can also be seen as a move that will hurt the community’s sentiments.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) condemned this sudden denial of permission. Bibi Jagir Kaur said, “We were going to pay homage to martyrs. All the preparations had been made,” adding that “This is injustice, and the government of India has hurt the sentiments of Sikhs pilgrims by this move to not allow the jatha all set to leave for centenary events of Saka Nankana Sahib. Restriction on jatha at last minute after completion of all preparations, a testament to anti-Sikh psyche of Govt. the same way they are not listening to the farmers sitting on protest.”
According to multiple news reports the MHA has denied permission citing security, and the Covid-19 situation in Pakistan. The MHA has reportedly communicated its decision to the SGPC, and stated that the “security situation in Pakistan continues to be adverse and there is a threat to Indian citizens in that country.”
MHA refuses permission to SGPC Jatha which was to leave for Pakistan tomorrow morning to mark the 100 years of Nankana Sahib Gurdwara massacre. https://t.co/EIHoUCWNqb
— Man Aman Singh Chhina (@manaman_chhina) February 17, 2021
According to the MHA, apart from the “security situation” in Pakistan, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected five lakh people in Pakistan and 10,000 people lost their lives due to the disease. Reports added that the MHA has also stated that “the health infrastructure in Pakistan is also not adequate.” The ministry added that both passenger as well as trade traffic between India and Pakistan was stopped in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and that continues to be the current status.
Jathedar Akal Takht Giani Harpreet Singh tweeted, “Govt of India’s decision at last moment to restrict #SGPC jatha going to mark centenary of #SakaNankanaSahib is extremely condemnable, reasons given r not relevant. It is attack on sentiments of #Sikhs by #BJP ruled Central government.”
The Jatha or group of pilgrims had intended to cross over to Pakistan on Friday. As reported earlier, the Pakistan government had granted visas to the Sikh pilgrims for attending events to mark the centenary of Saka Nankana Sahib. Pakistan had also allowed the pilgrims, who were to visit Nankana Sahib to also go to other prominent Sikh shrines in the country.
The permission was also reported in the community news portal Sikh24. Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak Sahib, will mark the centenary of Saka Nankana Sahib (which is known as the Nankana Sahib massacre). The report added that the massacre “took place in Gurdwara Janam Asthan at Nankana Sahib on February 20 1921.” It is recorded that over 260 Sikhs were killed, and the event is said to be a landmark of Sikh history.
The SGPC had applied for visas for 629 pilgrims, out of which 505 visas were issued, stated the news. The group of pilgrims was planning to depart from Amritsar Sahib on February 18, and enter Pakistan via Wagah border. All those travelling were to be tested for Covid-19 according to set norms. According to news reports the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) has planned a week-long programme to mark the centenary. The pilgrims were to return to India on February 25 through Attari-Wagah border.