The Foreign Office on Thursday rejected Indian concerns about Sikh Yatris visiting Pakistan for pilgrimage and said that they were fully facilitated during the trips. “Pakistan provides maximum facilitation to the Sikh Yatris from all over the world, including India, for visiting their religious sites in Pakistan,” FO Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said at the weekly media briefing.
India had disallowed around 600 Sikhs intending to visit Pakistan from Feb 18 to 25 for the 100th anniversary of Saka Nankana Sahib. The group was expected to visit five gurdwaras in Pakistan.
Indian Ministry of Home Affairs had in a letter denying Sikhs permission to undertake the trip said that keeping in view the “capacity of health infrastructure in Pakistan” it could not allow such a large group to tour the country for a week.
The Indian home ministry also expressed concerns about the “safety” of the group because of what it said “considerable threat”.
Mr Chaudhri recalled that Pakistan had opened the largest and the holiest Sikh shrine in Kartarpur Sahib to facilitate Sikh Yatris. “The Sikh as well as the international community, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who while visiting Kartarpur described it as ‘Corridor of Hope’, have immensely appreciated this landmark initiative of Pakistan,” he maintained.
PM Modi taking credit for Sikhs rights?
The Modi-led BJP did not show much interest in the construction of the Kartarpur corridor. There have been various baseless allegations, leveled against Pakistan by New Delhi and violations of Pakistan’s airspace. Despite all the tactics used by the BJP, Pakistan did not decide to shut down the corridor.
But later on, the Indian premier declared himself as the champion of Sikh’s rights, who managed the opening of the corridor for them. A statement of the Indian premier irked Sikh Community. Ravinder Pal Singh Timma, President Gursikh Welfare Association, told local media in Agra that this corridor was a brainchild of the association and they had been trying to get this which was sanctioned by the government of Pakistan for the past 19 years.
He also showed some past documentation and correspondence he personally had with the foreign ministries of both India and Pakistan, Mr Timma said that “What the BJP is doing now, it is taking credit of the fruit that has been borne by the efforts of the Sikhs. The Sikh community has never received its due share in the country and have always been deceived. 87 per cent of the martyrs in the freedom struggle were from Punjab, yet the Sikh community was never appreciated.”
He said that he had even talked to the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during the Agra summit and requested that the Kartarpur shrine be gifted to India, or be declared No-Man’s Land and a corridor be constructed leading from the Indian border to the shrine.
Religious Minorities in India
The rise of Hindutva in India has been marginalizing religious minorities in India. According to several reports, the primary target of mob violence of BJP goons are Muslims but sometimes Sikhs who are believed to be ideologically alien are also beaten up.
The 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom released by Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, in June stated that “Hindu-groups had used violence, intimidation, and harassment against Muslims and low-caste Dalits in 2017 to force a religion-based national identity.”
It is important to recall that RSS does not believe that Sikhs are a distinct religious community. RSS’s insistence that Sikhs are ‘Kesadhari Hindus’ though a ‘valorous’ ones hurt religious sentiments of the later and questions their distinctive identity in so-called secular India. Interestingly, there is a strong belief amongst Sikhs that RSS is actively conspiring to undermine their religion through various direct and indirect means to ultimately wipe them out.