LAHORE: More than 2,500 Indian Sikhs arrived here on Wednesday via Wagah border to observe the 552nd birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak.
Also, after the Indian government announced reopening of the Kartarpur Corridor after over a year and a half, more than two dozen Sikhs visited Gurdwara Darbar Sahib on Wednesday through the visa-free corridor. The Indian government had restricted travel through the corridor in March 2020 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Indian Punjab chief minister along with his delegation is also scheduled to visit Darbar Sahib on Thursday (today),” Kartarpur Project Management Unit chief executive officer Muhammad Latif told Dawn.
He said some 28 Indian pilgrims visited the gurdwara on Wednesday and over 100 were expected on Thursday. “Before the Indian government closed its side of the corridor (March 2020), the per day number of visitors from the Indian side swelled to a maximum 2,000,” Mr Latif said, who greeted the pilgrims at Kartarpur along with Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC) president Sardar Ameer Singh on Wednesday. The visiting pilgrims performed their religious rites at the gurdwara.
Separately, Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) chairman Dr Aamer Ahmed, Additional Secretary Rana Shahid, Deputy Secretary Imran Gondal and office-bearers of the Sikh committee received the Indian pilgrims who crossed Wagah border by foot.
“Pakistan issued 2,890 visas to Indian Sikhs to take part in Baba Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary. So far (by Wednesday night) over 2,500 arrived via Wagah,” ETPB spokesperson Amir Hashmi told Dawn.
He said the pilgrims left for Nankana Sahib soon after their arrival to participate in the main event at Gurdwara Janam Asthan on Friday (tomorrow). “All the visiting Sikhs from India and elsewhere will be facilitated for travelling to Kartarpur sahib,” he added.
Mr Hashmi said Pakistan had been pressing India to reopen the corridor to facilitate the pilgrims, but it took time citing the pandemic.
Pilgrims Sardar Bhalonder Singh and Hari Singh said that religious freedom was a fundamental right of all religions. “We are very happy to celebrate Baba Guru Nanak’s birthday at his last abode. Pakistan has always been kind to the Sikh nation. We thank the government and people of Pakistan for giving us the message of love and affection,” they remarked.
PSGPC chief Sardar Ameer Singh welcomed the Indian government’s decision to reopen the Kartarpur Corridor that links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Guru Nanak, and Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.
“We welcome the Indian government’s decision, which should have been taken long ago. The decision will provide Sikhs from Indian Punjab the opportunity to visit Kartarpur where Baba Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life,” Singh said, adding it was the basic right of the Sikhs to visit their holy places in Pakistan.
India and Pakistan on Oct 24, 2019 signed the Kartarpur Corridor agreement under which the route will remain open seven days a week from dawn to dusk. Some 5,000 or so Indian Sikhs can visit the gurdwara daily and leave the same day. They will have to carry their passport for identity that will not be stamped. India will share the list of pilgrims intending to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib 10 days before their travel plan.
Pakistan has also announced tourist visas for non-Indian Sikhs to visit Kartarpur Corridor and other gurdwaras in the country. For visiting other holy sites, Indian Sikh pilgrims will have to obtain a visa.
The four-kilometre-long Kartarpur Corridor provides visa-free access to Indian Sikhs to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. The founder of Sikhism, Baba Guru Nanak, lived and died at this site at the start of the 16th century.
In November 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan had formally inaugurated Kartarpur Corridor at a colourful ceremony as part of the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak, paving the way for Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit one of their holiest sites in Pakistan without requiring a visa.
Abid Mahmood in Narowal also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2021