The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which is the top body representing the Sikh community revealed on Sunday about the permit approved by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for more than 400 pilgrims to visit Pakistan for Baisakhi celebrations. Mohinder Singh Ahli, SGPC secretary said to the news agency ANI, “Four hundred and thirty-seven people have been granted permission to visit Pakistan on the occasion of Baisakhi.”
Ahli elaborated the details saying the pilgrims will also visit the Nankana Sahib, which is the holy site for Sikhs in Pakistan. SGPC had conducted a two-day camp at its office on April 9 for conducting Covid-19 tests for the pilgrims who are going to visit Pakistan. ANI reported quoting Ahli said, “Pilgrims will visit all major gurdwaras, including Nankana Sahib. All of them have tested negative for Covid.” He further added, “They will leave tomorrow and will return on April 22.”
The citizens of both India and Pakistan can visit the religious shrines according to the 1974 ‘Bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines’ signed between India and Pakistan. There are four occasions for the Sikh people to visit their holy shrines in Pakistan – Baisakhi, death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
Originally 793 names were sent for the visit approval to Nankana Sahib, from which 356 have been rejected, according to SGPC spokesperson Kulwinder Singh revealed to HT. He further said, “We had sent 793 names for issuing of visas of which 356 were rejected. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) and the Pakistan embassy in New Delhi should approve the maximum number of names sent by the SGPC as it is the apex body of the Sikh community. The names of a large number of pilgrims have been removed, causing a lot of resentment among pilgrims.”
A Sikh Jatha was willing to visit Nankana Sahib in February to commemorate Nankana Sahib massacre centenary, but MEA had rejected the approval citing the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and emphasized about the visit not being inclusive of ‘Bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines’, further mentioning that no jatha had visited Pakistan amid the occasion in the past.
On March 16, Union Minister of state for home, G Kishan Reddy revealed to Parliament, “Keeping in view the increasing number of cases of Covid-19 in Pakistan, a threat to the safety and security of a large number of Indian citizens during the visit and the ongoing suspension of cross-border traffic due to Covid-19 pandemic, permission was not accorded to the said Jatha.”
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