As Indo-Pakistani tensions and the closure of the post–
covid Blocking all religious pilgrimages between the two countries, a group of 22 members of the Jain faith have appealed to the Home Ministry to allow them to travel to Pakistan to visit a shrine which has been restored after decades.
The group, led by Jalandhar-based activist Sunil Jain, who heads the World Council of Jain-Muslim Interfaith Harmony, received visas to travel to Lahore on February 21, which will expire on March 7, unless ‘they only receive clearances from the MHA and the Immigration Department to travel via the Atari-Wagah border in Punjab.
Among the shrines they hope to see are a temple in Gujranwala, which was only recently used as the office of the local Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), and another shrine in Lahore which was attacked and badly damaged during riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992.
The two shrines are among a number of temples restored by Imran Khan’s government after Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered them to be rebuilt and handed over to the Minority Protection Board.
The group also received a special visa for a ‘Maharaj’ or special cook who can prepare food according to strict Jain customs which prohibit onions, garlic, root vegetables and other produce, Mr Jain said. . Members include Jains from Delhi, Mumbai, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
“What could be more frustrating than that,” Mr Jain said. The Hinduwho made two unsuccessful visits to the Atari checkpoint and came to Delhi to try to meet officials who might be able to help him.
“When we finally received the visas from Pakistan, we were so happy to be able to visit our holy shrines, which are only a few dozen kilometers across the border, only to find that we were arrested alongside us. “, did he declare.
The MEA and MHA declined to say whether the matter would be resolved before their visas expired.
As The Hindu had reported a few weeks ago, religious pilgrimages between India and Pakistan, mandated by a 1974 protocol, have been reduced in recent years due to tensions and the closure of the land border due to Covid regulations -19.
Although India has opened travel and flights with many countries, land borders with Pakistan have not yet been reopened, although in a special gesture India and Pakistan have recently allowed convoys trucks transporting wheat as humanitarian aid for Afghanistan.
A proposal passed by the Pakistani government to New Delhi to allow Hindu, Sikh and Muslim pilgrims from both sides to take flights has also been met with red tape, after the External Affairs Ministry said the permit would not could only follow once India and Pakistan open talks to renegotiate the 1974 protocol.
Imran Khan’s government refused to hold talks with India and suspended trade relations after the Modi government’s decision to change the status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019.
The only option open for the Jain group is to travel to Pakistan via a third country like the United Arab Emirates or Qatar, which is prohibitively expensive. “It is the poor and the devout who are most affected by these restrictions,” Mr Jain said, admitting his hopes of visiting Pakistan seemed to be fading day by day.
Mr Jain, who visited Pakistan once in 2006, is particularly keen to visit the house his family abandoned in Sialkot during the partition, after which they moved to Allahabad. Years later, a friend of his grandfather visited the family in Allahabad and promised him a warm welcome there.
No Jains live in Pakistan today, as most of this small community moved to India during partition, and those who remained would have migrated to other countries or converted locally given the pressures they were under. faced by the majority Islamic population, and Jain shrines are hardly ever visited.
The Gujranwala Jain temple of “Acharya Atmaramji”, for example, remained disused from 1947 until 1984, when it was requisitioned by the local police authorities for their offices. The temple was built around a ‘samadhi’ to enshrine the ashes of one of the most renowned gurus of the Jain faith – Vijayanand Suri – who died in 1895.
Acharya Atmaram was among the guests at the World Religions Parliament conference held in Chicago in 1893, where Swami Vivekananda had represented India and Hinduism.
Officials said the idols found inside the temple, which had been ransacked during the Partition riots, were rescued and moved to a museum in Lahore.
In December, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the immediate restoration of the Jain temple and the Neela Gumbad (blue dome) in Lahore, which had been razed by a mob two days after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and lay in ruins until present, and is expected to reopen after being rebuilt in the coming months.