New Delhi: India has lodged a strong protest over attempts to convert Lahore Gurudwara into a mosque. Expressing its concerns, in strongest terms on the incident, it called upon Pakistan to investigate the matter and take immediate remedial measures. Pakistan was also called upon to look after the safety, security and the well-being of all its minority communities.

In reply to a query regarding Gurdwara ‘Shahidi Asthan’ at Naulakha Bazaar in Lahore, Pakistan, Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson, ministry of external affairs has said, ‘‘A strong protest was lodged with the Pakistan High Commission on the reported incident whereby Gurdwara ‘Shahidi Asthan’, site of martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singh ji at Naulakha Bazaar in Lahore, Pakistan has been claimed as the place of Masjid Shahid Ganj and attempts are being made to convert it to a mosque.’’

He further said, ‘‘India has expressed its concerns, in strongest terms on this incident and called upon Pakistan to investigate the matter and take immediate remedial measures. Pakistan was also called upon to look after the safety, security, well-being of its minority communities including protection of their religious rights and cultural heritage.’’

It may be recalled that Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan Bhai Taru Ji is a historical gurdwara where Bhai Taru Ji made supreme sacrifice in 1745. The Gurdwara is a place of reverence and considered sacred by the Sikh community. This incident has been viewed with grave concern in India. There have been calls for justice for the minority Sikh community in Pakistan.

Captain Amrinder Singh, Punjab Chief Minister and senior Congress leader has sought intervention of the Central government and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar on the issue. The CM took to Twitter to convey his message to the Central government. He tweeted, ‘‘Strongly condemn attempts being made to convert holy Gurudwara Sri Shahidi Asthan in Lahore, site of martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singh Ji, into a mosque. Urge @DrSJaishankar to convey Punjab’s concerns in strongest terms to Pakistan to safeguard all Sikh places of reverence.’’

However, authorities in Pakistan have sought to downplay the episode. A note from the ‘Evacuee Trust Property Board’, Government of Pakistan has said that the entire controversy relates to a ‘‘baseless propaganda video’’ aimed only to ‘‘defame’’ Pakistan. A note from the Trust to the DIG, Operations, Lahore and a copy of which was made available in Delhi said, ‘‘After the success of Kartarpur Corridor project and appreciation of Pakistan at international level, multiple conspiracies of anti-state elements are being launched to malign Pakistan’’.

Earlier this year too, there were several reports of attacks on Sikhs and their shrines in Pakistan. The holy shrine of Sikhism, Nankana Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan came under attack by an angry Muslim mob as they threatened to raze it to build a mosque to avenge ‘police brutality’ in a matter related to a Sikh girl’s alleged forced conversion. The mob of angry Muslims had gheraoed the holy shrine leaving many devotees stranded inside. The protesters also had reportedly threatened to destroy it and build a mosque in its place. In a video, recorded at the site of the protest, one activist was heard saying that the Gurudwara could be even renamed from Nankana Sahib to Ghulaman-e-Mustafa.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Sikh community became a powerful political force, with Sikh leader Ranjit Singh founding the first Sikh empire, which had its capital in Lahore, the second-largest city in Pakistan. In 1947 during partition, more than two million Sikhs lived in Pakistan and significant populations of Sikhs inhabited the large cities like Lahore, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad.

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