Sikh Pilgrims in Pakistan on Baisakhi at Panja Sahib
During the period approaching April 14, when Sikhs worldwide celebrate Vaisakhi, many yatrees (pilgrims) visit their holy shrines called Gurdwaras. Many prefer to visit historic Gurdwaras and many thousands of Sikhs will take this opportunity to visit the holy Gurdwaras in Pakistan. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak was born at Nankana sahib, which is now located in Pakistan. Below are news reports of the yatrees visiting holy places in Pakistan from India.
1,200 Sikh Yatrees arrive in City The Nation, Pakistan April 12, 2009
LAHORE - Pakistani officials welcomed more than 1,200 Sikh Yatrees at Wahga Joint Check Post on Saturday who arrived here from India through special trains.
The Yatrees during their ten-days stay in Pakistan will attend the 310th Besakhi Festival and perform their other religious rituals at Lahore, Kirtarpur, Punja Sahib (Hassan Abdal), Nankana Sahib and Aimanabad. Evacuee Trust Property Board Chairman Syed Asif Hashmi and Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee’s members Sardar Sham Singh, Sardar Soarn Singh and other were among the people who welcomed the pilgrims at Wahga Railway Station.
Foolproof security arrangements have been made for the visiting Yatrees during their stay in Pakistan. A large number of railway policemen were deployed around the station premises. Rangers officials checked all the officials and private visitors with walk through gates and metal detectors and no irrelevant person was allowed to enter the station premises. Rangers also checked the premises through helicopter on the occasion. Board’s chairman while talking to the reporters at Wahga said that for the security of the Yatrees the Pakistan government has made enough arrangements besides ensuring their boarding, messing, medical and travel facilities. It merits mentioning here that Pakistan government will provide free transport facility to the Yatrees to have an easy access to the worship places.
Special lodging arrangements in Nankana Sahib for their accommodation have also been made, he said, adding that after getting positive response from the Indian government, Pakistan would open a visa office at Amratsar to facilitate the intending Sikh Yatrees. Expressing their views with media men, the Yatree group leaders Parmindar Singh Chuwal and Sohan Singh Gill have showed their satisfaction over the arrangements made by the Pakistan government to facilitate the Sikh Yatrees.
Terror fears scare Sikh yatrees away The International News, April 12, 2009 Atif Nadeem
300 pilgrims turn up at Wagah Border to take part in ‘Besakhi festival’
LAHORE: Only 300 pilgrims turned up Saturday at the Wagah Border to take part in Besakhi Festival.
Every year thousands of Sikh pilgrims visit Pakistan but this year only two trains carrying 284 pilgrims reached Wagah Station from Attari, which really astonished everyone as 4,000 to 5,000 Sikh pilgrims were expected to arrive. Majority of pilgrims stayed away because of Mumbai attacks, the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, Manawan Police Training School attack and the possibility of more terrorist attacks.
The first train reached at 11: 30 a.m. carrying 264 people while there were just 20 pilgrims on the second train.
Pilgrims said that Indian people were really scared of rampant terrorist attacks being carried out in Pakistan, therefore, majority of people preferred to stay back. They said the Indian government had not warned them of any attacks but pilgrims were on their guard.
Pakistan Rangers in collaboration with police force provided security to pilgrims as the government had been informed that militants could target pilgrims.
Rangers personnel were seen patrolling the border area and police officials also deployed female police personnel for security of women. Hidden cameras, walk-through gate and metal detectors were used by law enforcement personnel for the security of pilgrims.
Evacuee Trust Property Board Chairman Syed Asif Hashmi welcomed pilgrims at Wagah Station. Asif said the ETPB had made adequate arrangements for thousands of pilgrims and made security arrangements. He said the Pakistani government had done everything to facilitate pilgrims so that they could offer their religious rituals without any inconvenience.
Asked as to why few pilgrims had arrived, he said the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had issued plenty of visas and anyone could visit Pakistan without any fear. Bhai Mardana Society, Nankana Sahib Yatra Committee and Khalara Mission had brought pilgrims to Pakistan for the Besakhi Festival. The BMS was led by Sohan Singh while Balwinder Singh Chopal brought 140 Sikh pilgrims along with him.
Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the main Sikh organisation which always brings thousands of Sikh pilgrims to Pakistan, could not bring pilgrims as it had been warned by the Indian government not to visit Pakistan in such turbulent conditions when both the countries had been at loggerheads since the Mumbai carnage. Pilgrims told The News that the Pakistan High Commission in India had issued visas to the SGPC but pilgrims were reluctant to visit the country because of fears of terrorist activities.
Besakhi is the day on which the Khalsa was born and Sikhs were given a clear identity and a code of conduct to live by. The event was led by the last living Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who baptised the first Sikhs using sweet nectar called Amrit.
Sikhs reflect on the values taught to them by their Gurus and celebrate the birth of the Khalsa. In the second week of April, the Besakhi Festival is held by the Sikh Community at the Panja Sahib Gurdwara in Hasanabdal.
Baljit Singh, 26, a resident of Raipur, said that some hidden elements wanted to disrupt peace. He said the Indian government had urged pilgrims to visit Pakistan without any fear.
Hirdit Singh, another pilgrim, said Indian pilgrims were afraid of the situation in Pakistan and that was why few pilgrims had come to attend the festival. He urged India and Pakistan to join hands together against militants to save the region from falling into their hands. He said the Indian government was highly concerned that militants might sabotage upcoming polls.
Parkash Kaur, a resident of Amritsar, said Mumbai attacks threatened bilateral ties between the two countries. She said that her son had also warned her not to visit Pakistan for the festival but she knew that Pakistani people were peaceful and only some hidden elements wanted to create hatred and bad blood between the two countries.
All set to welcome Sikh yatrees in Hasanabdal The International News April 12, 2009
HASANABDAL: District Police Officer (DPO) Attock Fakhar Wasal Sultan Raja on Saturday accompanied by SP Investigation Hasan Akhter, DSP Malik Mohammad Iqbal and Inspector Incharge Police Station City Malik Mazhar ul Haq visited the Gurdwara Punja Sahib to review the security arrangements adopted for the visiting yatrees.
He advised the local staff of the Evacuee Trust Property Board to shift the cameras installed within the gurdwara and outside surroundings to some such suitable points where it could very easily be focused. He also visited “Police Control Room” and issued necessary instruction to the police officials related to the security arrangements.
Heavy police force have been deputed at the various points even at the top of the buildings near the gurdwara. “Walk Through” gates have been installed at the entry points of the road leading to the gurdwara and metal detectors have also been provided to the security personals and entry in this area is prohibited without holding of a permission card issued from the security agencies.
The ETPB has illuminated the main entrance of the gurdwara and the entire front portion of the gurdwara is presenting a daylight scene, as the poles have been equipped with high-powered bulbs.
Wahab Gul, Administrator, ETPB, Rawalpindi Region has said that the board is committed to provide maximum facilities to the visiting yatrees.