Touched by the stories of Pakistani Hindus unable to immerse the ashes of their dead at Haridwar due to visa issues, an Amritsar-based Sikh businessman, Sawaran Singh Gill, 55, has decided to sponsor them all. Gill has been visiting Pakistan as part of a Sikh Jatha (group of volunteers) since 1990.
An Indian sponsor is a pre-condition set by the Indian government for issuing the necessary visa, and one that cannot be met by all. Gill said there are some 300 urns containing the ashes of dead Pakistani Hindus lying in temples in Pakistan, many over 60 years old, still awaiting immersion.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard, Gill said, “This year when I went with my Jatha to Pakistan, I met one Banarsi Lal at Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara who told me that his brother had passed away on October 8. He said he wished to immerse his ashes in the Ganges at Haridwar but could not as his family would not get an Indian visa till someone sponsors them from India.”
“So I took the required documents of all his family members (six brothers and four sisters), besides the death certificate of his brother. I have put together their file with all paperwork and will apply soon. I have already written letters to Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, and the Indian High Commission in Pakistan,’’ Gill explained.
Gill said many Hindus living in Pakistan narrate the same story. “Both governments should relax visa norms. People who have lost their loved ones and need to travel to India to carry out the last rites should be given visa on the spot,’’ he said.
“I told people there that I will sponsor them if they want to come to India for immersion of the ashes of their family members. As per estimates, there are around 300 urns containing ashes lying in Pakistan’s temples,’’ he said. “Many of these are more than 60 years old. Their names and other details are written on the piece of cloth wrapped on them,’’ he added.
Gill says, “I have requested the officials of the ETBS Shrine Board in Pakistan which controls the temples and Gurdwaras, to prepare a list of such urns so they can be immersed back here in India,” he says. “If no one comes forward, our Jatha will immerse them,’’ he adds.
Gill himself had to wait four years before he obtained visas for the five members of his Jatha back in 1990.
“It took me four years to get visas for the five of us. When I went to Nankana Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan, it did not have a Jora Ghar (place to keep shoes). People removed shoes outside and these were often stolen. We built a temporary Jora Ghar for them. This was noticed and appreciated by the authorities. Thereafter they told us to directly apply for visas,’’ he says.