Monday, June 23, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sikh jatha returns from Pakistan
Sabharwal accepts siropa from PSGPC
Tribune News Service and PTI

Wagah (Amritsar), June 22
The delegation of 139 Sikh pilgrims which went to Pakistan on June 14 to observe the martyrdom day of fifth Sikh Guru Arjan Dev returned to India here today after crossing the Joint Check Post at the Wagah checkpoint.

In a far reaching development, the leader of SGPC jatha, Mr Sawinder Singh Sabharwal, accepted a “siropa” (robe of honour) from Mr Sham Singh, co-chairman, Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC) at Dera Sahib Gurdwara in Lahore to mark the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev.

The development is likely to open a Pandora’s box as the acceptance of the ‘siropa’ amounts to according recognition to the PSGPC. Mr Sabharwal, an SGPC member from Patiala is a close confidant of Mr Kirpal Singh Badungar, the SGPC chief. Mr Badungar has been crying hoarse for disbanding the PSGPC. So much so that the SGPC has been claiming that Mr Sham Singh is a converted Sikh. Talking to the press at the Wagah joint check point here after returning from Pakistan, Mr Sabharwal, however, claimed that accepting of the ‘siropa’ should not be construed as giving recognition to the PSGPC. Replying to another question, Mr Sabharwal praised the PSGPC for the renovating some of the important gurdwaras in Pakistan. The SGPC and the PSGPC were on loggerhead since 1999 when the PSGPC had snatched the management and control of all Pakistan based Sikh gurdwaras from the SGPC and since 1999 no SGPC member led the Sikh jatha to Pakistan.

The members of the jatha who returned from eight-day pilgrimage said the residents of Pakistan had been anxiously waiting for the resumption of the Lahore-Delhi bus service and the Samjhauta Express. Especially, the residents who had relatives here want easy access to India.

Meanwhile, some of the pilgrims shared their anxious moments during their stay in Pakistan. A Punjabi poet from Jammu, Mr Harbans Singh Badal, who was born after Partition met his brothers and their families, who were converted into Islam, for the first time in Pakistan.

Describing the emotional re-union with his brothers, Mr Badal said though the names of his brothers Parmjit Singh and Bhagat Singh had been changed to Sheikh Abdul Aziz and Abdul Majid, respectively, after they stayed back in Pakistan yet the bonds of their love and affection sustained throughout as they had been in touch with each other on the telephone. Though the entire family had settled in the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir yet they had gone all the way to Panja Sahib Gurdwara Hassan Abdal) to stay with him for two days.

“During our re-union we could not utter even a single word for 15 minutes as all of us were weeping”. Mr Badal said he would anxiously wait for his brothers and their families to visit India after the resumption of the rail and road traffic. “However, I apprehend that my brothers might be denied visas as they live in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”.

Similarly, Ms Jagbir Kaur met her old friend Fatima Beghum for the first time after the Partition.

On the other hand, Mr Balwinder Singh, a leader of the jatha of Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee while talking to the TNS said he did not accept any ‘special treatment’ from the Government of Pakistan like an air conditioned luxury car. However, the leader of the SGPC jatha accepted the same right from the Wagah joint check point. Mr Balwinder Singh, however, said like in past the DSGMC exchanged ‘siropas’ with the PSGPC.

The SGPC brought 25 volumes of Guru Granth Sahib. These volumes of the holy birs were given by the Sikhs living in Pakistan cremating the same in India as per the Sikh rituals. 

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