While tensions between the South Asian neighbors namely India and Pakistan remain at all-time high, hundreds of Indian Sikhs celebrated the religious festival of Baisakhi at one of their religion’s holiest temples in the northern Pakistani city of Hasanabdal. Baisakhi, one of the biggest holidays in Sikh culture, marks the beginning of harvesting period and is observed on 13th and 14thApril every year with great fanfare and splendor. The event, which is celebrated mostly in Punjab,is a testament to Pakistan’s commitments towards not just the preservation of religious diversity but also towards endorsing their beliefs on national scale. People gather during the celebrations to spend time with their friends, relatives, and loved ones. They share special meals and commemorate the beginning of the season for harvesting by celebrating the day together. People participate in nagar kirtan, the processions held in the streets, while visiting their places of worship, the Gurudwaras. In addition, they bless the Gurudwaras by decorating them and distribute kadaprasad to the devotees.
Baba Guru Nanak, the founding father of Sikhism, is said to have been born at Nankana Sahib in 1469, and the last Sikh Guru, Govind Singh Maharaj, also resided in Hassanabdal, Pakistan. Pakistan holds unique significance for Sikh community around the world due to their religious affiliation, prompting Pakistani government to provide more than 2,500 visas to the Sikh community living in India and across the world. 2,000 Sikh pilgrims from across the eastern border, while 1,500 followers came from various parts of the world including the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Malaysia this year to celebrate the Baisakhi festival in Pakistan. Sikh pilgrims who visited Pakistan for religious processions hailed the country for ensuring peaceful celebrations across country and expressed deep gratitude over government’s endeavors for preserving the esteem of their religious sites which they regard as deeply spiritual.
Such efforts by Pakistan to ensure peaceful co-existence through religious harmony are frequently misrepresented by India as it blames Pakistan for fueling Khalistan movement. The Khalistan movement is a widespread effort by Indian Sikh community for an autonomous Sikh state that peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. The integration of Indian Sikhs by Indian government was viewed as a threat to the India’s hard line Hindutva doctrine. Thousands in the Sikh Community abroad are facilitating the movement because Indian government has an inherently poor record of treating its religious minorities. One of the prime examples of India’s discriminatory approach towards Sikh community was “Operation Blue Star” in 1984, when Indian authorities sanctioned attack on Golden temple resulting in horrific deaths of thousands from Indian Sikh community. Hence, the roots of Khalistan movement are often traced back to the aftermaths of Operation Blue Star.
On the question of “Khalistan,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pakistan emphatically denied Indian charges of “attempts to incite Indian pilgrims”. Foreign Office spokesperson Dr. Mohammed Faisal stated, “India has opted to intentionally stoke further controversy over the visit of Sikh pilgrims, who are presently attending the Baisakhi and Khalsa Janamdin festivities in Pakistan.”
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As India continuous to blame Pakistan for sympathizing with Khalistan cause, world public opinion lately has also been favoring the right to self-preservation of Indian Sikh community after witnessing BJP’s fascist manifesto. Indian government is repeatedly using violence against Sikh community by making illegal arrests and imposing internet and telecommunication services blackouts in the region. By doing so, Indian government is using the same pattern of violence and Human Rights Violations (HRVs) which it has been practicing to devastate resistance in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) since over 7 decades. After committing open religious and ethnicity based atrocities, Indian government has no one but itself to blame for Sikh community’s uproar, especially in Punjab.
Despite widespread propaganda from Indian government to marginalize Sikh community in the sub-continent, Pakistan has always welcomed them in exercise of most basic principles of brotherhood and fraternity. One of the prime examples can be taken from 2020 when Pakistani authorities build Karishna temple in the capital city of Islamabad. Similarly, government of Pakistan recently issued visas as “special gesture” to the Sikh Pilgrims on Baisakhi festival and Pakistan embassy has facilitated the pilgrims by arranging the whole range of events in an attempt to uphold and celebrate religious diversity in the region.