Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee (PSGPC) president Sardar Sham Singh, who put the Sikh shrines and their upkeep on world front, breathed his last on Sunday at the Combined Military Hospital in Lahore.
He was not well for the last one month and admitted in the hospital for a prolong illness. He was the first president of the PSGPC, formed by the Pakistan Government in 1998, and was elected for various terms to head the bodies that look after the Sikh shrines spread all over the neighbouring country especially Pakistani Punjab.
Born on December 11, 1936, Sham Singh, an agriculturist who hailed from Faislabad, was chosen to head the body which was carved out by the Pakistan Government to take control of the Sikh Gurdwaras which were earlier being looked after by the Amritsar headquartered Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee (SGPC), the premier body of the Sikhs.
The PSGPC was brought under Pakistan Evacuee Trust Property Board, which was then headed by former ISI chief Javed Nasir.
Sham Singh would be remembered for face lifting of Sikh Gurdwaras and bringing large number of pilgrims from across the world to visit Pakistan.
Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, Gurdwara Babye Nanaki, Gurudwara Janam Asthan Guru Ram Dass and many more were declared open for the pilgrimages unlike the previous times when Pakistan allowed devotees to visit only a couple of Gurdwaras in Pakistan where as there are about 172 historical Sikh shrines in the country.
Sham Singh's tenure was also marked by some controversies. After his appointment as the PSGPC chief, the then president of the SGPC Bibi Jagir Kaur stopped sending jathas (groups of pilgrims) to Pakistan in protest.
She also objected to the appointment of Sham Singh as the PSGPC president. But many Sikh organisations, including Delhi Sikh Management Committee, American Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee, Sikh Committee of Switzerland, Canada and many more endorsed Pakistan Committee and Sham Singh as its president.
Later, the SGPC also recognized the existence of the PSGPC. Though both committees still holds different opinion over the dates of celebrating the Sikh dates and functions.
Sham Singh was firm over observing the Sikh religious functions according to the original Nanashahi Calendar, which was released by Akal Takht in 2003 whereas the SGPC has adopted the amended but controversial Sikh Calendar.
The Sikh world condoled the death of Sham Singh. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh condoled the death of the departed soul. Harcharan Singh, the chief secretary SGPC, said that he was saddened over Sham Singh's demise.
DSGMC chief Manjit Singh GK also expressed grief over the demise.
AGPC chief Jaswant Singh Hoti and coordinator Pritpal Singh recalled the services of Sham Singh, saying he was able to protect the Sikh shrines and worked hard to safeguard the interest of the Sikhs in Pakistan as a community.
Paramjit Singh Sarna, the president of Shiromani Akali Dal (Delhi), said that Sham Singh was a pillar of strength for the Sikhs in Pakistan and he held a prominent place amongst the Sikh institutions.
Sham Singh, a farmer, belonged to village 62 Chak Kadrabad in Ukara tehsil of Mintgmri in (Faislabad). He is survived by his son Sikandar Singh and daughter Simran Kaur who live in Pakistan.
Condolences were also expressed by Daljit Singh Bedi, secretary public relations of the SGPC and Kanwerpal Singh from Dal Khalsa.
Talking to ANI from Pakistan, Sikandar Singh said that his father was ill for more than months and he breathed his last early this morning. He added that the family was around him when he breathed his last.
He said that his father wished to pay obeisance at the Golden Temple but he was not able to visit Amritsar due to health problems.
Sham Singh used to actively participate in Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Sikh inter-faith meetings organized in Lahore and other cities of Pakistan.
He was involved in the arrangements for the stay of Sikh pilgrims from India to celebrate Gurpurbs and other Sikh religious functions.