Pakistan’s Disrespect of Sikh Heritage at Gurdwara Panja Sahib on Vaisakhi

by Parminder Singh Sodhi

This year’s Vaisakhi, a festival marked with immense religious fervor by Sikhs worldwide, has once again brought to light a concerning issue: Pakistan’s insensitivity towards its Sikh minority. Recent incidents during the Vaisakhi celebrations reveal not just neglect but a deep-seated disrespect towards Sikh religious practices and places of worship.

One such incident occurred at the revered Gurudwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, where Clara Strandhoj, the Head of the British High Commission Office in Lahore, was accompanied by armed security personnel and other senior officials — all wearing shoes and caps within the premises. This is not just a minor oversight but a blatant violation of Sikh principles that dictate the removal of shoes and the covering of one’s head as signs of respect in a gurdwara.

Clara Strandhoj with Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora, Minister for Minorities Affairs, Pakistan

Moreover, on April 16, a banner displayed an image of Punjab’s Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, depicted larger than that of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Sikh Guru. This act of placing a political figure above a religious leader in a Sikh place of worship is deeply offensive to the faith’s followers. It underscores a troubling pattern of behavior that prioritizes political imagery over religious sanctity.

Adding insult to injury, Asif Khan, a member of PTI and former President of Overseas Pakistan Solidarity, was also seen wearing shoes inside Shri Pir Panja Sahab during his visit. His actions, alongside others, starkly contrast with the barefoot reverence shown by devout attendees, further highlighting a disregard for the gurdwara’s sanctity.

The issues extend beyond individual acts of disrespect. The Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) and the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), institutions tasked with the management of Sikh shrines, appear to have overlooked the very basics of Sikh etiquette and religious decorum. During Vaisakhi celebrations, volunteers and visitors were seen inside the gurdwara without the proper head coverings, and some even ate at the langar (the communal meal served at gurdwaras) while seated on chairs and without head scarves — both practices that flout traditional customs which promote equality and respect among all participants.

These incidents are not merely isolated errors but point to a systemic issue within Pakistan’s handling of minority religious rights and freedoms. They paint a picture of a country that, while outwardly showcasing its care for minority communities through grand celebrations, internally harbors a grave indifference to their religious sentiments and practices.

One cannot help but also wonder about the selective outrage of Khalistan separatists, who are quick to declare blasphemy and call for sovereignty at any perceived slight by Indian authorities but remain conspicuously silent on these issues in Pakistan. Is their silence an indication of a selective agenda or even a nexus that overlooks the desecration of their own holy sites?

The Sikh community in Pakistan, and around the world, deserves more than token acknowledgments of their festivals. They deserve respect for their faith, their practices, and their places of worship. Pakistan must take immediate steps to educate and enforce respectful practices within Sikh gurdwaras to prevent such disrespectful acts in the future. If it truly values the rich diversity of its cultural tapestry, it must begin by showing genuine reverence to every thread, no matter how seemingly minor. Only through such concrete actions can Pakistan hope to foster a truly inclusive society.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.

Parminder Singh Sodhi

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