New Delhi: India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over its refusal to grant visas to 87 Indian Sikhs who wanted to visit the neighbouring country to observe the death anniversary of the fifth guru of the faith Arjan Dev, official sources said.
The Sikhs, who were denied visas, were part of the official jattha (group), the sources said, adding that restrictive visa was granted to a private group of Indian pilgrims.
The Ministry of External Affairs has registered its strong protest at Pakistan government’s refusal to grant visas for official jattha comprising 87 pilgrims on the occasion of Shahidi Jor Mela – Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s Martyrdom Day on 7 June, the sources said.
The pilgrims visit Gurdwara Dera Sahib on the occasion.
The visas for the pilgrims were sought under a 1974 bilateral protocol on a visit to religious shrines.
“The ministry expressed its concern at the disregard shown by the High Commission of Pakistan on the religious sentiments and devotion of the Indian pilgrims especially by Pakistan unilaterally granting restrictive visa (by rail only) to a private group of Indian pilgrims,” said a source.
The MEA called upon Pakistan to immediately grant visa without any restriction, they said.
The development comes close on the heels of the Imran Khan government’s earmarking of Rs 100 crore in the federal Budget 2019-20 for the development of the much-touted Kartarpur corridor. The corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India’s Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib, which was established in 1522 by Guru Nanak Dev.
Pakistan had decided last year to open the Kartarpur border crossing with India for Sikh pilgrims to visit a historic gurdwara there without visas. However, if the idea behind the gesture was to please Sikhs, it defies reason why 87 Indian pilgrims who wanted to visit the neighbouring country to observe the death anniversary of fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev were denied visas.