By Mohammad Nafees Zakaria
I am sure that majority of you would agree with this understanding that all religions teach peace, humanity, love and respect for each other. No religion teaches violence, hatred, revenge or discord. It is the human weaknesses that distort these teachings. Therefore, any account of religious heritage or religious belief should be a reflection of the religious teachings of that particular faith. It should aim at helping the efforts towards peace and harmony rather than igniting sentiments of revenge, hatred or discord.
Pakistan is not just a cradle of ancient civilizations but also a blessed birth place of founders, saints, preachers and leaders of various faiths and religious beliefs. The country has the honour of being the birth place of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the fourth Guru Ram Das Ji, Bhuddhist Sage Padmasambhava, and many Saints of Islamic faith. There is also a big number of religious leaders who come from different parts of the world and made Pakistan as their final abode ages before our country came into existence.
[Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first of the Sikh Guru’s and the founder of the Sikh faith was born in Nankana Sahib in the winter of 1469. His birth had changed the name of the land from Rai BhoekiTalwandi to Nankana – Nanak-ana].
Pakistan proudly hosts over 300 Sikh historical religious sites and Gurdwaras all over the country. Images of some of those can be seen on the screen. I have also brought with me coffee table books on Sikh Heritage of Pakistan, which I’ll gift to various Gurdwaras in Malaysia. At the end, we would also show you a short documentary.
The Government of Pakistan, in cooperation and collaboration of Sikh citizens of Pakistan and Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC), remains engaged in the constant functioning of the Gurdwaras and also undertakes major renovations and upgrading of the facilities for Sikh Pilgrims, whose number has increased significantly over the years. Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) of Pakistan spent over Rs.170 million during last three years.
More than 70,000 Sikhs from all over the world visit the holy and historical shrines in Pakistan throughout the year on the occasions of Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday (in November), Vasakhi in Punja Sahib Hasnabdal in mid April, Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s martyrdom in Gurdwara Dera Sahib, Lahore and Barsi of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh in Lahore. Since Hindus also follow Guru Nanak Saheb and other Sikh religious figures, they also attend the occasions from within Pakistan and other countries in thousands.
The Evacuee Property Trust and PSGPC arrange reception of the Pilgrims on arrival, langar on arrival and departure, travel arrangements, facilitate custom clearance & immigration, ensure security, accommodation, etc. ETPB has employed Sikh and Hindu Sewadars, Granthis and Pujaris in Gurdwaras and Mandirs, respectively, in keeping with the religious sensitivities and for proper observance of traditions.
In addition, Pilgrims are assisted in matters related to currency exchange, telephone facility and health cover.
The Government of Pakistan, together with the Sikhs of Pakistan, has restored 3 major Gurdwaras in Lahore: (1) Gurdwara Janam Astaan, Sri Guru Ram Das in Chuna mandi; Gurdwara Shaheed Singh – Singhnia; and the birthplace of Bibi Nanaki – Guru Nanak’s sister.
Renovations and expansions are undergoing at Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore – The martyrdom site of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. The works include building of over 300 rooms and an underground car park in Lahore City. The Government is also actively involved in maintaining and restoring other Gurdwaras outside Lahore. The list of Gurdwaras include and are not limited to Kartarpur Sahib, Rori Sahib, Babe di Beri, Sialkot, Peshawar Gurdwara Bhai Biba Singh.
During 2016 alone a lot has been accomplished, such as opening of Gurdwaras Bhai Beeba Singh, Peshawar; Chatti Patshaahi Nankana Saheb and Kiara Saheb at Nankana Saheb; renovation/uplifting of Gurdawar Tamboo Saheb at Nankana Saheb and Gurdwara Dera Saheb; Construction of Bhai Mardana Monument at Nankana Saheb and Angetha Saheb at Kartarpur Narowal; upgradation of pay scale of Sewadars and Pujaris from BPS-7 to BPS-14; scholarships for Sikh students; renovation of 156 room accommodation at Panja Saheb and construction of 100 room at Gurdwara Janam Asthana Nanakana Saheb; Town Planning of Nankana Saheb has been approved and started infrastructure development, municipal services and to develop it as an International City. 50,000 gallons water tank being constructed at Gurdwara Janam Asthan Nankana Saheb and supply of clean drinking water with the cost of Rs 4.8 million has also been provided for the Pilgrims and Devotees at Gurdwara Dera Saheb, Lahore. Most importantly, work on establishment of Baba Guru Nanak International University has started and HEC has approved funds.
The Sikh Community of Pakistan has made significant contribution to the economic and social development in Pakistan. Sikhs are doctors, engineers and in other professions. There are also officers in the army and in police force. On a national level the Sardars are also part of the Junior National Cricket Team.
Mr Ramesh Singh Arora is a Member of Parliament in Pakistan and represents the Sikh community.
In deference to the sanctity of Sikh traditions, Pakistan also enacted the Sikh Marriage Act. This act is the first of its kind as it recognises the Sikh Anand Karaj as legal in the eyes of the law.
Ladies & Gentlemen, I have shared with you the state of affairs related to the Sikh citizens of Pakistan and Gurdwaras.
I am sure those of you who regularly visit and may visit in the coming years would remember what I said here and compare notes.
[Extracted from the speaking points by Pakistan High Commissioner to Malaysia, Pakistan High Commissioner to Malaysia Mohammad Nafees Zakaria, at the launch of the book, The Quest Continues: Lost Heritage – The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan’ by Amardeep Singh in Kuala Lumpur on 20 Jan 2018]
Amardeep’s burning passion sparks second book on Sikh legacy in Pakistan (Asia Samachar, 1 Sept 2017)
Malaysian retired lecturer releases book on Sikhs in Pakistan (Asia Samachar, 24 Feb 2017)
Pakistan to set up Guru Nanak University in Nankana Sahib (Asia Samachar, 31 Oct 2017)
Sikh Marriage Act set to become law in Punjab, Pakistan (Asia Samachar, 26 Oct 2017)