Pakistan says India did not allow train across border to receive Sikh pilgrims

Pakistan says India did not allow train across border to receive Sikh pilgrims
In this undated file photo, Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive at Wagah Railway Station in Wagah, Pakistan, to celebrate Baisakhi, or the Sikh New Year. (AFP)
Updated 15 June 2019

Pakistan says India did not allow train across border to receive Sikh pilgrims

Pakistan says India did not allow train across border to receive Sikh pilgrims
  • As a result, 146 pilgrims issued Pakistani visas to attend religious festival on Friday could not make it
  • This is third time New Delhi has blocked Sikh religious tourists from traveling across the border

LAHORE: A group of Sikh pilgrims that was scheduled to arrive in Pakistan on Friday to participate in a religious festival could not travel to its destination since the Indian authorities did not allow a Pakistani train to cross the border and receive them from the Atari station, an official told Arab News.
Pakistan’s high commission in New Delhi had issued 10-day visas to 146 Sikh pilgrims who were keen to commemorate the ‘Jor Mela,’ a festival observed to mark the death anniversary of Guru Arjun Dev Ji, the fifth Guru of Sikhism and the first of the two Gurus martyred in the Sikh faith.
“Our high commission in India issued visa to all Sikh applicants – 146 in number – who wanted to attend the Jor mela and the Evacuee Trust Properties Board [ETPB] made arrangements for their stay,” said Amir Hashmi, the Board’s spokesman, while talking to Arab News on Friday. “However, India did not allow our train to enter Attari to receive them.”
According to the 1974 Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, the two countries are bound to facilitate pilgrims belonging to different faiths to perform their religious rituals. Under the protocol, Sikh pilgrims from India are entitled to visit Pakistan on four occasions: Guru Nanak’s anniversary; Bisakhi festival; Raja Ranjeet Singh’s death anniversary; and Jor mela.
As a normal practice, pilgrims reach the Atari station to board a train operated by the Pakistan railways. This time round, however, India did not allow the passenger train in its territory, denying 146 Sikh visa holders the right to attend their religious festival.
“The ETPB waited at the Wagah border to receive the incoming Sikh yatrees [pilgrims], but India prevented its own citizens from entering Pakistan,” Hashmi added.
Sikh community leaders in Pakistan strongly protested India’s decision, saying it should not have mixed religion and politics.
“Our community member living on the other side of the border were coming to perform a religious ritual, but they were stopped by their government due to certain political considerations. India’s behavior is deplorable in this case,” Sardar Tara Singh, head of Gurdawara Parbandhak Committee in Pakistan, said while talking to the media.
This is not the first time Sikh pilgrims have been stopped from entering Pakistan. On June 8, 2017, Indian authorities stopped 60 of them, citing security reasons. Similarly, 150 Sikhs were also stopped on 28 June 2017, though the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had issued 300 visas to members of India’s Sikh community who wanted to attend the death anniversary of the former ruler of Punjab, Raja Ranjeet Singh.
India’s decision to stop the pilgrims from traveling to Pakistan this year has come only a few months after it agreed with Pakistan to build the Kartarpur Corridor, a new border crossing and route for Sikh religious tourists who want to visit their holiest shrine situated in a border town in Muslim-majority Pakistan.