Passage of peace?

Kartarpur Corridor... Letting pilgrims from India to visit Pakistan’s Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, where Guru Nanak Dev breathed his last, could signal a move towards harmony

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib

During a visit to Dera Baba Nanak (Punjab) a few winters back, I was standing close to the International border (IB) looking for a suitable angle to camera-capture Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, when I spotted an elderly lady — her head typically covered with a white dupatta —reverentially prostrate in the direction of the gurdwara.

I was told it was a daily ritual for Beboji, as everyone lovingly called her, to walk up to the border, look at Kartarpur and matha teko. It’s the closest she could get to the place where Guru Nanak Dev, founder of the Sikh faith, spent 18 years of his life and gathered his followers into a community. The gurdwara stands at the spot where he breathed his last in 1539 AD, and has always been of great significance for the Sikhs.

A separation

The year 1947 had brutally separated the community from the final resting place of their guru. I had got chatting with Beboji and as she turned around to leave she told me, “I shall continue coming here till the day I can walk across to Kartarpur Sahib.” Would that ever be possible, I had asked. She had put her hand on my head and with utmost conviction said, “I will see it in my lifetime.”

Now, perhaps she will.

Sitting on either side of the IB, Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district, India, and Kartarpur in Narowal district, Pakistan, are merely 6 km apart.

However, devotees had to be content looking at the white domes of Kartarpur from Dera Baba Nanak and bowing in its direction. The proposed Kartarpur Corridor, which will facilitate visa-free movement of Sikh pilgrims, is set to change all that. 

With the foundation stone having been laid for the four-km corridor — scheduled to open in November 2019 on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev —more than a flicker of hope has come alive in the hearts of Sikhs.

Every morning, the Sikh ardas (supplication) recited at Harmandar Sahib or Golden Temple, Amritsar, which is also beamed live into homes across the world, has a plea to the Almighty.

It was added to the original text after Partition and asks Waheguru to grant ‘khulhe darshan didar tae sevaa sambhaal daa daan’ (unrestricted visit and upkeep)of gurdwaras) that the community had been separated from; these include historical gurdwaras like Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, and Kartarpur among many others. After 71 years that ardas may be fulfilled.

According to Chandigarh-based Brig (retd) Satjit Singh, AVSM, VSM, who belongs to Narowal and fled to India during Partition, “Sikhs have always had a huge emotional connect with Kartarpur. We have prayed for this langa (corridor) ever since Partition. It’s definitely a moment of elation. As I see it, this corridor is not just an opening for Sikhs, but could herald new beginnings for the two countries and, in fact South Asia. As a soldier who has fought wars against the neighbour, all I can say is let’s set aside cynicism for once and be optimistic that this paves way for peace and easy movement for both citizens to other places as well, and ends acrimonious relations between the two countries.”

That war never provides solutions but friendship certainly opens doors has always been the sentiment of the common man on both sides of the border.

Political will, unfortunately, is not on the same page. “India and Pakistan have been bitter enemies, and animosity has lead to a lot of bloodshed on our border. It’s time we give dosti a chance,” says Delhi resident Prof Sewak Singh Sawhney, who has lent his expertise in history to a number of Partition-related programmes for Doordarshan. “Punjabis are known to be daler-dil (fearless) and darya-dil (large-hearted). They wear their heart on their sleeve, value friendship, and will go to any extent to honour their word.

Politics of bravado played itself loud at the Kartarpur ground-breaking ceremony and in many ways the sentiment got described aptly by Khan when during his speech he quoted a Punjabi verse of poet Munir Niazi: “Kuj shehr de log vi zalam san, kuj sanu marran da shauq vi si... People in town were also cruel, besides I had a death wish too.”

A ray of hope

For the people of Punjab — especially those who were forced to flee their homes on the basis of a crudely drawn line that partitioned India — a visa-free entry to step on a land that was once theirs is a small ray of hope.

They share an emotional link with the other side of Punjab, just the way Bengalis in India do with Bangladesh, and look forward to open borders.

The bond between common people of the two countries is evident in the warmth and hospitality offered to both citizens when they come visiting. It’s not unusual for shopkeepers to not charge money for purchases made by visitors, or see restaurants footing the entire bill. I’ve been witness to people offering free rides to Pakistanis during cricket world cup matches. Friends and fellow media colleagues who have set foot across the border narrate similar experiences.

The rare consensus between the neighbours is exceptional and obliges both to constantly look for similar initiatives in their bilateral ties. However, it’s easier said than done, considering the frosty relationship between the two. This renewed beginning, though, is positive.  

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