Pak cancels Baisakhi celebrations at Gurdwara Punja Sahib amid COVID-19 crisis

LAHORE, Apr 6: Pakistani authorities have cancelled the Baisakhi celebrations at Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Punjab province from April 14, in which around 3,000 Sikhs from India were to participate, due to the coronavirus pandemic in the country, a media report said on Monday.
The number of the coronavirus cases in Pakistan on Monday reached 3,277 with the infections in the worst-hit Punjab province approaching 1,500. The deadly virus which originated in China’s Wuhan city has infected more than 1.2 million people globally.
The Baisakhi celebrations were scheduled to begin at the revered Gurdwara in Hasan Abdal city of Punjab province on April 14, Dawn News reported.
Now only a symbolic event would be held on the day, it said.
Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Deputy Secretary Shrines Imran Gondal said 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 Gurdwara Punja Sahib this year and the scheduled visits of Sikh pilgrims has been cancelled, the report said.
The ETPB looks after the holy places of the minority community in the country. Gurdwara Punja Sahib has a handprint of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, on a boulder of the shrine.
Around 3,000 Sikhs from India and 2,000 from around the world were to participate in the celebrations, the report said.
Baisakhi is celebrated to mark the beginning of a new harvest season. Under the framework of the Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines of 1974. Every year, a large number of Sikh pilgrims from India visit Pakistan to observe various religious festivals and occasions.
In 2019, over 2,200 Sikhs from India visited Pakistan to celebrate Baisakhi.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs has already been informed of the decision, Gondal said, with onward communication for the Foreign Office and the Indian government regarding the development. The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi would not issue visas to pilgrims this year, it added.
“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,” Gondal said.
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 Baisakhi celebrations will be observed at Gurdwara Punja Sahib. (PTI)