Is Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan being used for Narrative War?

Muslims of Lahore did not try converting Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan, back into the mosque after Sikh departure in 1947; no one has tried in last 73 years, sudden emergence of Sohail Butt serves the Indian narrative; who is he and who may be using him?

Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan

According to some reports circulating in Indian media, Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan, the site of martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singh Ji, (a mosque till 1779) is going to be converted into a mosque. The reports, however, have been rubbished by Pakistani officials, and Pakistan’s Foreign Office and an inquiry has been ordered to probe into the matter.

Is this about Islam or land grab? 

ETPB’s (Pakistan’s Evacuee Trust Property Board) secretary Sanaullah Khan said on Tuesday that Sohail Butt Attari, a ‘local person’ of Darbar Hazrat Shah Kaku Chisti, and his accomplices were conspiring to provoke people against the historical Gurdwara Taru Singh in Lahore and occupy its attached vacant plot in Landa Bazar.

India recorded a strong protest and asked Pakistani authorities to look into the matter. “A strong protest was lodged with the Pakistan high commission today on the reported incident whereby Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan, site of martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singhji at Naulakha Bazaar in Lahore, Pakistan, has been claimed as the place of Masjid Shahid Ganj and attempts are being made to convert it to a mosque,” Anurag Srivastava, said the external affairs ministry’s spokesperson, said on Monday.

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Amarinder Singh, chief minister of Indian Punjab, on Tuesday, condemned alleged attempts to convert a historic gurdwara into a mosque in Pakistan’s Lahore and called upon the Centre to communicate the state’s concerns to the neighboring country.  “Strongly condemn attempts being made to convert holy Gurdwara Sri Shahidi Asthan in Lahore, site of martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singh Ji, into a mosque. Urge @DrSJaishankar to convey Punjab’s concerns in strongest terms to Pakistan to safeguard all Sikh places of reverence,” Singh tweeted.

Who is Sohail Butt?

On July 26, news agency ANI reported that an activist of Dawat-e-Islami, who is also a caretaker of Mazar of Muslim prophet Hazrat Shah Kaku Chesti in Lahore has threatened the minority Sikh community saying that “Pakistan is an Islamic nation that belongs to Muslims”.

In a video, Sohail Butt, who also runs a shop in Landa Bazar, along with some local activists, has threatened Gopal Singh Chawla, the former chief of Pakistan Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (PGPC) who hoisted Shri Nishan Sahib (a Sikh symbol) at the gurudwara 2019, ANI reported.

Sohail claims that the land on which Gurdwara Shaheed Bhai Taru Singh and its adjoining 4-5 canals of Gurdwara land belong to Mazar of Muslim prophet Hazrat Shah Kaku Chesti and adjoining Masjid Shaheed Ganj, ANI reported.

Read More: Indian propaganda fails as Kartarpur Gurdwara repaired within 24 hours

“Sohail and his fellows do not represent the state of Pakistan which has always stood up for the rights of minorities”, a foreign office officer told GVS.  “We are looking into the matter and assessing as to who is behind these mysterious events. Let me make it clear that the state of Pakistan has a clear and empathetic policy to deal with minorities,” he added.

Sikhs’ in Pakistan tell a different story than Indian media?

As a video clip of a local cleric, Sohail Butt, went viral, Indian media took up the matter and demanded a prompted action. Some reports claim that the state of Sikhs in Pakistan is quite upsetting. However, the facts on the ground suggest a picture contrary to what the Indian media is claiming.

On the occasion of Babri mosque’s verdict, Sardar Ramesh Singh, the chairman of Pakistan Sikh Council, recalled the controversial case of Shaheed Ganj Gurdwara, Lahore. Both the Babri Mosque and the said Gurdwara share the same historical accounts but different outcomes. “The two sites (Babri Mosque and Shaheed Ganj Gurdwara) share a close resemblance in terms of litigation, but not in terms of the outcome,” Sardar Ramesh Singh, the chairman of Pakistan Sikh Council, told Anadolu Agency.

Constructed by Kotwal (Chief Police Officer) of Lahore Abdullah Khan, the cook of the emperor’s eldest son, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1653, Shaheed Ganj was a mosque till 1799, till Sikh Army under Maharaja Ranjit Singh captured the city defeating Afghans. They converted it into a gurdwara and barred entry of Muslims.

In 1849, when the British took control of Lahore by defeating the Sikh Empire, Muslims pleaded for the return of the mosque and knocked on the court. But the court using the law of limitations rejected the plea and questioned the delay of 51 years for claiming the mosque. The London-based Privy Council, the highest court of appeal during the British era also rejected Muslim claim on May 2, 1940.

Read More: Vandalism at Nankana Sahib Gurdwara: Can India use this against Pakistan?

“Only a few Sikhs were left in the surroundings of Gurdwara, following a huge Sikh exodus in 1947. If the local community had insisted its conversion into a mosque, nobody would have stopped them”, said Ramesh. It is important to note that the number of Sikhs in Pakistan is estimated between 30,000-40,000 out of some 200 million population of this South Asian Muslim country.

Lahore Muslims (since 1940) never tried converting it into a Mosque?

As mentioned above – and reported previously in Pakistani papers in 1990s and again in 2019 – this Gurdwara was once a mosque. It was originally constructed by Kotwal (Chief Police Officer) of Lahore Abdullah Khan, the cook of the emperor’s eldest son, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1653. So Shaheed Ganj was a mosque until 1799, till Sikh Army under Maharaja Ranjit Singh captured the city defeating Afghans. Sikhs after their victory converted it into a gurdwara and barred entry of Muslims.

In 1849, when the British took control of Lahore by defeating the descendants of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh in 1846 and 1849, Muslims of Lahore pleaded for the return of the mosque and knocked on the court – to convert Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan back into a mosque. But the Lahore court – with English judges – using the law of limitations rejected the plea and questioned the delay of 51 years for claiming the mosque. The London-based Privy Council, the highest court of appeal during the British era also rejected Muslim claim on May 2, 1940.

However, seven years later British Raj came to an end, there was a massive shift of populations across the new borders of Punjab. Few Sikhs were left in Lahore, there was no one to protect the Gurdwara, yet in last 73 years the local Muslims never tried converting the Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan into a mosque. Apparently there was no legal challenge either.

In 1992, Hindutv mobs of RSS and BJP demolished Babri Masjid in India and many temples in Pakistan were attacked – now being reconstructed by the current government. However even then no one thought of converting the Gurdwara back into the mosque. This clearly shows that no such reactionary sentiment existed in Lahore. No other such incidents have happened either.

All this makes it interesting to question the motivations of this little known Sohail Butt who not one claimed the site but recorded a video to stir a debate. Video was then used by Indian commentators on Twitter. This. becomes important to question who may have been behind this Sohail Butt? Is this little known character being used for narrative shaping by some one against Pakistan?

GVS News Desk with input and research by Farah Adeed and Editors. 

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