Pakistan cancels Vaisakhi celebrations at Gurdwara Panja Sahib

Islamabad (Pakistan) (IANS): Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pakistan government has cancelled Vaisakhi celebrations scheduled to begin on April 14 at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Punjab province, in which 3,000 Sikhs from India and 2,000 from elsewhere were to participate.

Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Deputy Secretary Shrines, Imran Gondal said on Monday that a meeting of the ETPB and the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbadhank Committee (PSGPC) unanimously decided that there would be no Baisakhi celebrations at the shrine in Hassan Abdal city this year and the scheduled visits of Sikh pilgrims has been cancelled, reports Dawn news.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs has already been informed of the decision, he said, with onward communication for the Foreign Office and the Indian government regarding the development and that the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi would not issue visas to pilgrims this year.

“We have monitored the situation closely in recent days and worked with government departments including the PSGPC and other stakeholders. We are committed to following the guidelines set by the federal government to ensure a safe environment for our Sikh pilgrim guests and we would not risk their health amid the global coronavirus outbreak,” Dawn news quoted Gondal as saying.

He said Pakistan gave all Sikh representative bodies the green light in November 2019 that Pakistan would issue 3,000 visas to Indian pilgrims who wanted to participate in the Vaisakhi festival, as well as limitless visas for pilgrims from other parts of the world.

The ETPB had also issued a schedule for Indian pilgrims that was shared with the Indian government.

Security, boarding and lodging arrangements had been finalised at all the temples the pilgrims would visit.

PSGPC General Secretary Sardar Ameer Singh, a leading organiser, said the decision was made to prevent all risks to public health and safety.

Deciding to cancel the event was not easy, he said, as the Sikh community around the world has great emotional, religious and cultural attachment to the event.

He added that only symbolic Vaisakhi celebrations will be observed at Gurdwara Panja Sahib, Dawn news reported.

Singh said that the high priests of Akal Takht – the highest religious authority in the Sikh faith – have already announced that Vaisakhi celebrations around the world would be smaller in scale due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tens of thousands of Sikhs typically participate in Vaisakhi celebrations every year.

In 2019, more than 15,000 pilgrims visited the gurdwaras in Hassan Abdal.