By Manzoor Ahmed
Pakistan has as part of its anti-India tirade sought to misuse the religious sentiments of the Sikhs visiting Nankana Saheb, birthplace of Guru Nanak, this year as well, but seems to have failed.
In particular, efforts to get some visiting Sikhs, come for the 547th birth anniversary, to raise the Khalistan demand – Sikh homeland – has not found many takers.
The local Sikhs, part of the Pakistan Gurdwawara Prabandhak Committee, ostensibly working under the instructions of the Pakistani intelligence agencies, have failed to click with the visitors.
The pilgrims not interested in getting into anti-India polemics have clearly said that they have been hearing same kind of speeches year after year and are not interested. They would rather pray, spend their Pakistan visit peacefully and return to their adopted homes.
Because of the current India-Pakistan tensions fewer Sikhs from India visited Nankana Sahib this year. Pakistani authoriies sought to use this to incite the visitors, media reports emanating from Pakistan indicate.
Pakistan annually hosts the anniversary of Nanak, who was born at Nankana sahib in 1469, hoping to find support among the visitors for the Khalistan demand.
While sermons at the congregation “asked people to reflect and ensure kindness under any circumstances, creation of Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs, remained the main topic of discussion among the Sikh representatives,” Dawn newspaper said.
“Thousands of Sikh pilgrims from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Malaysia, Iran and Kenya seemed overwhelmed by the prospect of visiting Nankana — the birthplace of Sikhism’s founding father,” it said.
“One after the other, the speakers, largely belonging to Pakistan’s Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, spoke of injustices against the Sikhs, human rights violations and the increasing drug menace in India’s Punjab state,” Dawn said.
“Others went on an anti-India vitriol, but at the same time called upon the Pakistani authorities to set up more Gurdwaras for the 20,000-strong Sikh community living in this country.’
The report spoke of the role of the organizers: “Banners near the pilgrims’ sleeping quarters reminded them about the riots and killings of Sikhs that rocked India in 1984.”
“Even before the celebrations began on Monday, there was talk at the Gurdwara for the inclusion of two issues in the religious sermons. One relates to the water dispute between the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana and the other to the cancellation of a meeting of Sikh religious representatives that was to be held in both Pakistan and India on Nov 10.
The meeting also intended to discuss “the Sikh freedom movement and the increasing trend of suicide among farmers in East Punjab and other Indian states.”
“These problems faced by our community in India won’t go away until we do something about it. We need to separate if we want to remain relevant,” said a member of the Gurdwara committee, Gopal Singh Chawla.
The report further said: As majority of pilgrims listening to him remained hesitant and didn’t seem as emotional when he raised slogans of a separate homeland for Sikhs in India, Chawla decided to announce his resignation from the post and left the podium amid blank stares.”
“Parminder Kaur, 76, a national of the United Kingdom, is visiting Pakistan for the second time to attend the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak at Gurdwara Janamsthan. Sitting at the back in the same veranda, she shakes her head from time to time. “What’s the point of using a religious platform for your own political aims?”
Armed with pictures of her ancestral home in Faisalabad Chak 106, she says that there is “no need to listen to those who don’t have to face the consequences of their speech. Vulnerable communities in both countries continue to face trouble because of well-timed speeches”.
“A mile away from the Gurdwara, at the sleeping quarters meant for Indian Sikhs coming from the UK, Canada and the US, Manmohan Singh Johal, said Pakistan was his home.
“I don’t care what is said at the event. I heard these people give the same speech every year. It depends on us what we want,” Johal was quoted as saying.
While seeking to highlight the alleged atrocities on Sikhs in India, Pakistani authorities hide the occasional attacks on the Sikhs and their shrines at home. Last year, Sikhs staged demonstrations in which some were injured and later arrested. They complained of police indifference and partiality.
Sikhs form a very small community in Pakistan today. Most Sikhs live in the province of Punjab, a part of the larger Punjab region where the religion originated in the Middle Ages and Peshawar, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism, is located in the Punjab province.
Significant populations of Sikhs inhabited the largest cities in the Punjab such as Lahore, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad. After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, the minority Hindu and Sikh migrated to India.
In the decades following Pakistan’s independence in 1947, the Sikh community began to re-organise, forming the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PGPC) to represent the community and protect the holy sites and heritage of the Sikh religion in Pakistan.
Despite the presence of a large number of Sikh shrines, there were 6,146 Sikhs in Pakistan, as per a report in Pakistan Tribune on September 2, 2012