PAKISTAN’S GURDWARA CONVERSION ROW

IN NEWS

India, earlier this week, lodged a strong protest with Pakistan High Commission over attempts being made to convert Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj Bhai Taru Singh Shaheedi Asthan in Naulakha Bazar of Lahore into a mosque.

Political parties in Punjab and the SGPC too raised objection.

WHO WAS BHAI TARU SINGH?

According to the Encyclopedia of Sikhism published by the Punjabi University, Patiala, Bhai Taru Singh was a pious Sandhu Jatt from village Puhla (now in Amritsar), who tilled his land and spent his earning in helping Sikhs fighting against the Mughals.

It is believed then Lahore governor Zakariya Khan got Taru Singh arrested and asked him to opt between Islam or death. When Taru Singh refused to convert, he was brutally tortured and scalped.

July 1, 1745: Taru Singh Died at the age of 25.

Death Spot: Currently stands the Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj Bhai Taru Singh (Shaheedi Asthan).

WHAT IS THE HISTORY BEHIND THE COMPLEX WHERE THE GURDWARA STANDS?
The Shaheed Ganj complex in Naulakha Bazar where the gurdwara stands is associated with four ‘historical’ shrines.
These include the

  1. Gurdwara Shaheed Ganj Bhai Taru Singh (Shaheedi Asthan),
  2. Shaheed Ganj mosque (now non-existent),
  3. Darbar Hazrat Shah Kaku Chisti (dargah) and
  4. Gurdwara Shahid Ganj Singh Singhnian, which stands at some distance from the complex.

SHAHEED GANJ MOSQUE (EARLY 1720S)

It is believed that the mosque was built during the reign of Mughal
emperor Shah Jahan by one of his cooks and completed in early 1720s.


“Subsequently, a public square and the area around the mosque was allegedly used by the Mughals to persecute and punish the Sikhs and people from other communities who would refuse to convert. They were publicly executed. Taru Singh was also persecuted here,” says Shahid Shabbir, a historian working on the Sikh history in Pakistan.

GURDWARA SHAHEED GANJ BHAI TARU SINGH (1760S)

The gurdwara came up in the 1760s after the Bhangi Misl Sikh army conquered Lahore.

Later the gurdwara, it is believed, also received a large jagir (land to maintain its expenses) during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign (1801-39).

It is, however, unclear when exactly the dargah came up.

A separate Gurdwara Singh Singhnian also stands at some distance, commemorating martyrdom of Sikh men and women who were martyred during Mughal rule in the 18th century.

SO WHERE EXACTLY WAS THE MOSQUE?

Even the historians are unsure of where exactly the mosque stood and their assertions contradict each other.

PAKISTAN-BASED HISTORIAN SHAHID SHABBIR

He claims that mosque structure was next to the the Gurdwara Bhai Taru Singh Shaheedi Asthan.

“There is clear evidence in the form of photographs of a mosque being demolished in 1935 at the spot behind Shaheedi Asthan. The domes of both structures are visible in them. Currently, the five arches of the mosque are in ruins,” he claims.

WHY WAS IT DEMOLISHED?

Dispute between Muslims and Sikhs started in 1880s during the British rule.
“The court ruled in the favor of Sikh community. The mosque was demolished on July 7, 1935 in the presence of British officials. It also led to communal tension in Lahore. The photographs of British officials and Sikh protesters standing at the site when walls and dome of the mosque were brought down were published in leading dailies,”

DALVIR SINGH PANNU, AUTHOR OF ‘THE SIKH HERITAGE: BEYOND BORDERS’

“The matter is sub-judice still and controversial but according to my research, the mosque was next to Gurdwara Singh Singhnian and was taken over by Sikhs after they won the case. It was not even a mosque and there is no proof if any prayers were held there. The mosque apparently never had any link to Bhai Taru Singh Shaheedi Asthan,” he claims.

PANNU SAYS:

Pannu further says, “The dispute started in 1880s when the mahants started grabbing properties of Gurdwara Shaheedi Asthan and Gurdwara Shahid Ganj Singh Singhnian. Later as the dispute progressed, a word came up in the documents which said a ‘mosque’ also existed at the spot but it was actually found to be ‘Shaheed Ganj Dharamsala’ and it was only structured like a mosque.

A case was filed in the High Court but the Muslim community had no evidence to prove that structure was a mosque.

PANNU SAYS:

The court also ruled in the favor in Sikh community and its judgement said that even if the place was used for Muslim community prayers since 1722, it wasn’t used as a mosque after 1762 WHEn Sikhs took control over it. So even if we don’t get into whether it was a mosque or not, it was under the Sikh control since 1762 and the court ruled in favor of Sikh community.
Legally, the case was won by Sikhs.”

SHABBIR CONTRADICTS HIM

“At that time, all these structures were a part of one big complex and Gurdwara Singh Singhnian did not even have a building. It was renovated much later. Later after the British came, the roads were built and the entire area was reorganized. The mosque was adjacent to Bhai Taru Singh Shaheedi Asthan only and was demolished by the Sikhs after winning the case,” he says.

IMRAN WILLIAM, ANOTHER HISTORIAN

“There is no documentary proof anywhere that a mosque existed at all. The five-arched structure next to Bhai Taru Singh Shaheedi Asthan was claimed to be a mosque but it was never proved.

There is even a question mark on the historical value of the Darbar Hazrat Kaku Chisti. It came up later in a structure which was originally a part of gurdwara.”

A SENIOR SIKH OFFICIAL FROM PAKISTAN

“There is no architectural evidence of any mosque now. The Darbar structure is historical but it wasn’t originally a Darbar. It was part of gurdwara and has been converted into a Darbar in past some years only.
There used to be a thara (slab) at the spot of Gurdwara Singh Singhnian
where the Mughals executed Sikh women and children.

If at all, the mosque was near it. The gurdwara building came up later but no one can pinpoint where exactly the mosque was.”

LATEST CONTROVERSY OVER THE GURDWARA?
A local from Lahore, identified as Sohail Butt Attari:

CLAIM OF THE EVACUEE TRUST PROPERTY BOARD (ETPB) IN PAKISTAN
The ETPB has claimed that it was an ‘individual act’ by a person to derail Muslim-Sikh harmony in Pakistan and the body has shot off a letter to DIG Lahore demanding an action against him. It has also claimed that the man wanted to grab a plot situated in Landa Bazar, Lahore.

“Sohail Butt Attari, a local resident of Lahore…so called focal person of Darbar Hazrat Shah Kaku Chisti, has tried to defame Pakistan by uploading a fake propaganda video against Sikh community of Pakistan. After the success of Kartarpur Corridor project and appreciation of Pakistan at international level, multiple conspiracies are being hatched to malign Pakistan at international level. Sohail Butt and his associates are conspiring to provoke people against historical gurdwara and occupy the attached vacant plot situated in Landa Bazar, Lahore,” reads a letter written by Sanaullah Khan, secretary, ETPB, to DIG Lahore.

PAKISTAN SGPC

Satwant Singh, president, Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC), said,

“The man has been arrested and he has no supporters. He only wanted to derail Sikh-Muslim harmony in Pakistan. The annual prayers at the historical gurdwara will continue and ETPB has assured Sikh community that the site will not be tampered with in any case.”

All three historians, however, agreed on one point. “The man in the video claiming that he will take back the mosque land himself doesn’t know where the mosque was and which land he is talking about.”

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