Why is the Sikh pilgrimage to Pakistani gurudwaras being blocked
Every year, hundreds of Sikhs embark on pilgrimages to gurudwaras in Pakistan. However, the recent deterioration in Indo-Pak relations have sadly put a halt to these holiest of journeys. This year no jathas (groups) of Sikhs have travelled to Pakistan to observe either the May 29 Guru Arjan Dev death anniversary or the June 29 Maharaja Ranjit Singh death anniversary. Here's more about it.
Sikhs pilgrims allowed to visit 18 Pakistani gurudwaras
The 1972 Simla Agreement saw both India and Pakistan signing a protocol allowing each other's citizens unfettered access to certain places having religious significance. Pakistan has 172 historical gurudwaras, of which pilgrims are allowed to visit 18. Seven are in Guru Nanak Dev's birthplace at Nankana Sahib, five are in Lahore, three in Aminabad, and one each Kartarpur, Hasan Abdal and Sialkot.
Sikh pilgrims visit Pakistan on four occasions every year
Up to 3,000 Sikh pilgrims can travel for Guru Nanak Dev's birth anniversary which mostly falls between October to December, and on Baisakhi in April. Up to 1,000 pilgrims can travel in May-June to mark the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev's Martyrdom Day, who was executed in Lahore. Another 500 can visit Lahore for Maharaja Ranjit Singh's death anniversary, who passed away in Lahore.
Two ways by which Sikhs can apply for visas
Firstly, the Sikh pilgrims and organizations go through the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, which sends a list of approved names to the Pakistani interior ministry after they are given security clearances by India's home ministry. Secondly, pilgrims or jathas directly apply to the Pakistani interior ministry. This process is facilitated by a Pakistan-based Sikh organization. Pilgrims directly receive visas from the Pakistani government.
No opposition from Indo-Pak governments, still pilgrimages on hold
Both the Indian and Pakistani governments haven't announced a stop in Sikh pilgrimages to Pakistan. For the May 29 Guru Arjan Dev death anniversary, the MEA denied permission to 521 Sikh pilgrims. For the June 29 Maharaja Ranjit Singh death anniversary, the MEA asked the Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee to take responsibility for the Sikh jatha's security, which it declined to.