Jalandhar: For the Sikh jatha comprising 600 people ready to leave for Pakistan for the 100th anniversary of the Nankana Sahib massacre or Saka Nankana Sahib, the denial of permission by the Central government at the eleventh hour has come as a rude shock.
A jatha is a group of Sikhs who meet formally or march in order to celebrate a religious event or to protest against or support something.
The pilgrims had been geared up for their visit. COVID-19 test had been done and all of them had tested negative. Security checks were clear. Visas were granted and people had reached the Golden Temple with their luggage to cross over to Pakistan from the Wagah border on February 17. The jatha was supposed to visit Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev, in Pakistan and some other gurdwaras from February 18 to 25, 2021.
However, on February 17, the joint director of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Avi Prakash sent a letter to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) president Bibi Jagir Kaur denying permission. The letter cited “recent inputs” indicate a threat to the safety and security of Indian citizens visiting Pakistan. As the 600 member group was scheduled to visit five gurdwaras across Pakistan for a week, the letter said the government apprehend a “considerable threat” to the safety of a large number of our citizens during this visit.”
The letter further stated: “You may also be aware that traffic on India-Pakistan international border remains suspended since March 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic. While, the pandemic continues to persist, it is pertinent to note that Pakistan has so far recorded over half a million cases with over 10,000 plus deaths, due to COVID-19. Considering the capacity of health infrastructure in Pakistan, it is not advisable for a large group of our citizens to visit Pakistan for a week during the pandemic.”
Interestingly, a Sikh jatha had visited Nankana Sahib in November 2020.
Talking to The Wire over the phone from Amritsar, SGPC president Kaur said, “We are still waiting for permission but so far there is no response from the Modi government. I sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah on February 18 and another letter [on February 19] requesting permission for the jatha to attend the 100th anniversary of the historic ‘Saka Nankana Sahib’. The government should understand the significance of the historic day and allow us to visit Nankana Sahib.”
Kaur further said that she has also sent a set of eight books on ‘Saka Nankana Sahib’, which would be handed over by SGPC officials to PM Modi and Amit Shah. “We are sending these books, so as to make them aware of the ‘Nankana Sahib tragedy’, where over 260 Sikhs, women and children were killed by mahants, who had taken control of the gurdwaras and indulged in malpractices at that time,” she added.
Mahants are the “superior” leaders in Sikh or any similar religious establishment.
When questioned if the denial of permission at the last moment was the result of the ongoing farmers’ agitation, Kaur dodged the query. She described the denial as “sheer injustice” to the Sikh community and that the jatha should be allowed to go to Pakistan.
On BBC Punjabi, Akal Takht jathedar [leader of a jatha] Giani Harpreet Singh, categorically said that by denying permission to the jatha leaving for Nankana Sahib in Pakistan, the Centre has committed a big mistake. The Akal Takth is one of the five takhts of the Sikhs, the highest temporal seat and the place of highest spokesperson of the Sikhs, i.e. jathedar, which is located in the Golden Temple, Amritsar.
Giani Harpreet Singh said, “This is a historical mistake and it will be remembered every year. We still have time and the government should reconsider its decision. The government has cited COVID-19 as a reason for denying permission but they have not put any restriction on the upcoming ‘Kumbh Mela’ to be held in March. Crores of people would be visiting the Kumbh Mela, which is held after every 12 years but we were going to Pakistan to observe the first centenary of ‘Saka Nankana Sahib’.”
He added, “This historic day of ‘Nankana Sahib’ would come after another 100 years from now. The Khalsa Panth is observing ‘Shaheedi Dehada’ (martyrdom day) of all those Sikhs who were massacred in Nankana Sahib tragedy on February 21, 2021.”
The Akal Takht jathedar also said that he has been getting calls from Sikhs and Hindu devotees from Karachi and Sindh in Pakistan inquiring about the visit.
Saka Nankana Sahib
In her February 19 letter to the prime minister, Kaur shared the history of Saka Nankana Sahib: “On February 21, 1921, more than 260 Sikhs were cold bloodedly massacred, including children as young as seven by the mahant and his mercenaries. The saga constitutes the core of the ‘Gurdwara Reform Movement’ started by the Sikhs in the early 20th century.”
Historically, it stands that mahant Narain Das came to know of the situation through the jaikaras (victory slogans) of the Shaheedi Jatha and ordered his mercenaries to kill everyone in the jatha. They fired bullets at the sangat (devotees) in the gurdwara hall. Several bullets pierced through Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
The hired goons wielded swords, spears, hatchets and other lethal weapons to mercilessly slaughter the peaceful and unprovocative Sikhs within the very premises of the gurdwara. The dead and dying Sikhs were then dragged to a pile and all the dead men were burnt. Bhai Lachhman Singh Dharowali, who was wounded with a gunshot, was tied to a Jand tree and burnt alive.
Mahatma Gandhi, while visiting Nankana Sahib addressed the gathering, had said: “I have come to share your anguish and grief. It is interesting indeed to note that the Sikhs in this drama remained peaceful and non-violent from the start to the end. This (role of the Sikhs) has greatly added to the glory and prestige of India, all indications point to the fact that the cruel and barbaric action is the second edition of Jallianwala Bagh massacre, rather more evil and more invidious than even Jallianwala.”
Gandhi further spoke, “The action of these dimensions could not be perpetrated by mahant alone. The government officers are also involved in this heinous crime. Where had the authorities gone when the mahant was making preparations for murderous plans?”
Devotees say government is targeting Sikhs due to farmers protest
A research scholar from Punjabi University, Patiala, Jagdeep Singh, who was ready for his maiden visit to Nankana Sahib said that if COVID-19 was such a big threat, then the Centre should not have granted permission to the jatha which went to Pakistan to celebrate Guru Nanak Dev’s jayanti in November 2020.
“COVID-19 was at its peak in November. If the Central government could allow the devotees to go to Pakistan during the peak of pandemic, then they should have readily agreed now. Our COVID-19 tests were done and all of us had tested negative. We were all set to leave for Pakistan when the permission was denied. Though the Central government has not given any response so far, we are still hopeful,” he said.
He added that it seems the government’s action is because of the ongoing farmers’ protest, as there is no valid reason behind denying permission.
Another devotee Kulwant Singh Mannan, an SGPC member said that the manner in which the government is dealing with the Sikh community is highly condemnable.
“Apparently the government has taken such a decision following the farmers’ protest. Though the government thinks that it is the Sikhs who are leading the farmers’ protest, the reality is that it is an agitation of every individual in the country. As for religion, every citizen has the right to practise his or her own faith. But, this is sheer politics and it has not only hurt the religious feelings of those who were to leave for Pakistan but the Sikhs across the world. Guru Nanak Dev was revered by not just Sikhs but Hindus and Muslims too. Despite such tactics, we are still hopeful and praying for the permission,” Mannan, who is also president of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Rural) Jalandhar unit, added.