A Sikh Jatha of 818 pilgrims was briefly stranded in Lahore on Monday when their visit to Gurdwara Panja Sahib on the occasion of Baisakhi coincided with intense violence in Pakistan. With violent protests in several cities, including Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, by Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) against the arrest of the group’s chief Allama Saad Hussain Rizvi, the group had to halt in Lahore till the situation was brought under control.
Gurdev Singh, a pilgrim, informed, “We spent the whole day in buses, though arrangements for food and water were made for us. After Pakistan’s police and security forces got the roads cleared, we were taken to Gurdwara Dehra Sahib in Lahore at 11.30 pm on Monday.”
According to the original plan, the Sikh pilgrims were to reach Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hasan Abdal on Monday directly to celebrate Baisakhi. However they were forced to stay in Lahore on Monday as the roads were closed. The local administration arranged their accommodation and food in Lahore.
The group then proceeded for the city of Hasan Abdal on Tuesday, where they were to join the celebrations at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib. The jatha is scheduled to visit gurdwaras at several locations, including Gurdwara Janamsthan at Nankana Sahib, after celebrating Baisakhi at Hasan Abdal.
“There are concerns that the Indian pilgrims could be stranded in Hasan Abdal if the protests become more violent. The protests have already disrupted the movement of vehicles between cities such as Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi,” informed a person familiar with developments on the condition of anonymity.
Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hasan Abdal, is about 350 km from Lahore where the festival of Baisakhi will be celebrated today. Hasan Abdal is of religious importance to the Sikhs as it is believed to have the handprint of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
SGPC cries foul
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had cried foul on being denied permission by the Union government to a special group to visit Pakistan on the occasion of 100th anniversary of Nankana Sahib massacre in February this year. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh had alleged that the pilgrims were denied permission due to the SGPC’s active support to ongoing farmers’ protests over farm laws.
No Sikh jatha could visit Pakistan on the occasion of Baisakhi last year due to the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic. The jatha however, received permission from the Union government this year for visiting the 16th Century gurdwara in Punjab province.
Violence in Pakistan
Violent protests broke out in several cities of Pakistan after security forces arrested Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leader Saad Hussain Rizvi. TLP is a radical Islamist party that was founded in 2015 to prevent any changes to the existing blasphemy law in the country.
As per reports, the arrest of Saad Hussain came at the backdrop of the party’s ultimatum to the Imran Khan government to fulfil its four demands before the deadline of April 20. The demands were originally made in November last year, following the beheading of 46-year-old Samuel Paty by a teenage Jihadi terrorist in France and the subsequent criticism of Islamists by French President Emmanuel Macron. TLP also took offence to the display of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad in public in one city in France.
A TLP spokesperson, Tayyab Rizvi, vowed, “They (Protests) will continue till the French ambassador is deported.”