By Atif Nadeem in the NEWS
SOME 4,000 Indian Sikhs Friday, wearing colourful turbans, arrived at the Wagah station to participate in a three-day Besakhi festival which starts from April 12.
The Pakistan Sikh Gurdawara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) and the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) received them at the Wagah station. They were showered with rose petals amidst drumbeat and dancing horses. They were also offered lunch and drinks by PSGPC President Sardar Bishan Singh and ETPB officials. The Indian pilgrims will visit various sacred places during their stay in the Punjab, including Nankana Sahib, Sacha Sauda, Kartarpur Sahib, Rohri Sahib and Gurdawara Punja Sahib. The Besakhi festival is celebrated to renew the pledge for promoting harmony and brotherhood as enshrined in Sikhism in the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, the last guru of the Sikh faith. Pilgrims come to Pakistan from across the world to celebrate the festival while Sikhs visit Gurdawara Panja Sahib at Hassanabdal, where the 10th guru, Guru Govind Singh, settled around 300 years ago to preach Sikhism.
The pilgrims arrived at Wagah by three trains and there was a great hustle and bustle at the station. Immigration, rangers, customs, railway and ETPB officials were trying their level best to facilitate the pilgrims.
All departments were working in complete collaboration and they set up counters to ease the process of immigration and made arrangements for facilitating them to their destination. The railway had appointed female and male staff for booking and reservation of tickets for the pilgrims. The National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and authorised money exchange companies were also doing their business. The ETPB had also set up a camp to provide medical facilities to the pilgrims.
Customs officials did not allow the pilgrims to take video cameras with them on their journey. The officials had set up 10 terminals to expedite the process of immigration. There were three terminals for women while two were reserved for senior citizens. The pilgrims were also provided boarding facilities for Hassanabdal at the station.
The visitors were in good mood when they were leaving for Gurdawara Panja Sahib at Hassanabdal. They hoped governments of both countries would work for harmony and peace in the region while resolving all disputes amicably. They said visa restrictions should not be removed but eased as regulations were also necessary to foil nefarious designs of hidden elements that had been trying to disrupt peace efforts between the two countries.
They said economic and cultural ties should be promoted in the region and they also stressed resolution of all contentious issues, including the Kashmir problem. They said both governments should release prisoners who were languishing in jails. They said the release of Kashmir Singh was a great event for Indians and they hoped the Pakistani government would not disappoint Indians in the Sarabjit case. They thanked the Pakistani government for providing them with first class facilities at Wagah.
Kapal Singh, a resident of Jammu, said the Indian people had started believing in the policy of peaceful coexistence as they knew that war and hostile policies could bring only disaster and grief for the people of both countries. He said globalisation and integration of European states had become an eye-opener for governments and peoples of both countries. He urged both governments to bury the hatchet and promote friendship and tolerance in the region.
Kalyan Singh, a resident of Mohali, visiting Pakistan with his wife, Shireemeet, for the first time, said they had been warmly received by the people of Pakistan. They said there seemed no difference between India and Pakistan as landscapes and the environment had great resemblances in both countries. They hoped the new coalition government would strive for enhancing bilateral ties between the two countries while easing visa restrictions. They said the new democratic government had deep root in Pakistan and it would help develop democratic values in both countries.
Jogindar Singh, a resident of Patiala, said he was grateful to the Pakistani government which had made satisfactory arrangements for Sikh Yatrees. He said Indian and Pakistani governments should release the prisoners languishing in jails of both countries. He said Indians had welcomed the release of Kashmir Singh and hoped that the new coalition government would also accept the clemency appeal of Sarabjit Singh.
Pavitar Kaur said she was born in Rawalpindi and had already visited Pakistan but could not visit her birthplace.
Majeet Kaur, a resident of Delhi, said visa restrictions should be eliminated as people of both countries were eager to bolster ties. She said the new Pakistani democratic government should think about prosperity and peace in both countries.
Amerjeet Singh said train facilities were not adequate and the pilgrims had to face many inconveniences during their journey to Pakistan. He urged both governments to provide more facilities to passengers.
He said Pakistan and India should end visa systems to promote frequent visits of people so that people-to-people contacts could compel policymakers of both countries not to put any restrictions on social and cultural exchanges between the people of the two countries in the future.