Besakhi Mela and 540th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak: Security risks reduce number of Sikh yatris
Daily Times Report
LAHORE: Following security threats, only 310 Sikh yatris (pilgrims) arrived at the Wagha railway station on Saturday for a ten-day visit to participate in the Besakhi Mela and the 540th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak at Panja Sahib (Hasanabdal), Nankana Sahib and Dera Sahib (Lahore).
The Sikh pilgrims arrived at Wagha in two special trains. 267 yatris arrived on the first train, while 43 arrived on the second. They were received by Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Chairman Asif Hashmi.
Security concerns: Sohin Singh, the head of the visiting jatha (group) said more than 2,500 Sikh yatris were scheduled to visit Pakistan, but the Indian government issued only a small number of visas due to security concerns and deteriorating bilateral relations. He said the visiting pilgrims wanted peace, and had come with the message of love.
Sowadan Singh, an elderly yatri told Daily Times the Sikh community was thankful to the Pakistani government for extending maximum facilities and security to the visiting group.
Sunder Singh, a yatri from Faridabad in Haryana, and vice president of Faridabad Sikhbab, said the Sikh community respected the arrangements made by the Pakistani government. He said an average of 3,000 yatris visited Pakistan every year to take part in their religious rituals, but unfortunately the number this year was only around 300.
When asked about a journalist, Jernail Singh, who recently hurled his shoe at Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, Sunder Singh said it was the right thing to do. He said the action was the voice of the Sikh community of India, who had faced atrocities in 1984. Waryam Singh, a Sikh visitor from UK, lauded the ‘nice arrangements’ for the visiting guests, and said he was happy over the cooperation extended to the visitors. He said a clean train had been arranged for the yatris for the first time. Former Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chairman Shaam Singh told Daily Times the Indian media had launched a propaganda campaign against the deteriorating law and order in Pakistan, which had stopped most of the pilgrims from visiting the country.
Talking to reporters, Hashmi said the government had ensured foolproof security and other arrangements to facilitate the visiting pilgrims. He said the government had provided complete facilities to the yatris, but the Indian government did not issue passports to them.
Visa office: He said the government of Pakistan was willing to open a visa office in Amritsar to facilitate the pilgrims for visa. He said sufficient security was being deployed with the special train. He said traffic within a one-furlong radius of the special train would be stopped for the smooth journey of the train. He said the government planned to provide free bus service to visiting pilgrims.
Hashmi said the government of Pakistan had increased the number of Sikh religious events from four to eight so that the Sikh visitors could get more opportunities to visit their religious places. The yatris would visit Panja Sahib (Hassanabdal) from April 11 to 14, Nankana Sahib from April 14 to 17 and Dera Sahib from April 17 to 20.