India stops Sikh pilgrims at Attari on ‘technical grounds’

Published June 9, 2017
Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan to commemorate various religious events each year. — File
Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan to commemorate various religious events each year. — File

LAHORE: Despite issuance of visa by the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, several Sikh pilgrims couldn’t enter the country after Indian authorities stopped them at Attari Railway Station on “technical grounds”.

The pilgrims wanted to participate in the 10-day Jorr Mela held to mark martyrdom of Arjun Dev Jee, starting from Friday (today) in Hasan Abdal and other parts of Punjab.

The Samjhota Express, which proceeded for India from Lahore Railway Station with routine passengers and was supposed to bring some 80 Yatris (Sikh pilgrims) from Attari, returned empty, according to official sources.

Meanwhile, 14 pilgrims entered Pakistan via Wahga Border, where they were warmly received by the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) officials. Later, they were sent to Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Hasan Abdal, by a special bus under tight security.

“The Pakistan High Commission issued visas to as many as 80 Yatris on June 7 (Wednesday) after receiving clearance from its ministry of interior. Some of them (total 14) had visa to enter Pakistan on-foot via Wahga border and the remaining got visa to travel by a special train that is sent by Pakistan to transport such travelers under a protocol,” says Imran Gondal, ETPB’s deputy secretary (shrines).

Talking to Dawn, he said since the Samjhota Express (not the special train for Yatris) was also to proceed for India as per schedule on Thursday at about 10:30am, the Pakistani authorities requested Yatris to catch this train and reach Wahga.

“Actually, the Pakistani rail authorities first sought permission from their Indian counterparts to dispatch a special train for bringing Yatris from Attari. But they (the Indian authorities) refused to receive the train, stating that their ministry concerned was yet to accord permission in this regard. So, the Pakistani authorities requested the Yatris to travel by Samjhota that left for India at about 10:45am. But the Indian authorities stopped Yatris from boarding it, stating it was not the train dedicated for Yatris,” Mr Gondal explained.

However, he said those having a visa to enter Pakistan on foot reached Lahore and proceeded for Hasan Abdal.

He added that when India refused to send Yatris by Samjhota Express, Pakistan rail authorities again sought permission (from India) to send the special train to Attari.

“But Indians didn’t allow us, depriving several Yatris of an opportunity to participate in an important religious event,” the ETPB official said.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2017

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