On 28 November 2018, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan along with Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa inaugurated a new visa-free corridor between the Gurdwara at Kartarpur and the Indian town of Dera Baba Nanak. Due to the opening of Kartarpur Corridor Sikh pilgrims will be able to travel freely between the two holy sites without visas for the first time since the border was established here in 1947 when India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain.
It is said that centuries ago, Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent his last days in this small village. When he died in 1539, he was so revered by both Hindus and Muslims, and there was a dispute over how his remains should be treated: Should he be buried, as per the Islamic traditions, or cremated, as Hindus wished. Today, at the Sikh gurdwara, or place of worship, built over his final resting place, there are both a Muslim grave and a Hindu samadhi (shrine).
A few kilometres away, Sikhs in Indian side gather at a podium to view one of the most sacred sites in their religion, lining up to pay tribute to Guru Nanak by seeing the gurdwara through a set of binoculars. They are unable to access the site, just four kilometres away, because between the two gurdwaras lies an obstacle that is the international border between India and Pakistan. Since the partition, Pakistan has been making all-out arrangements including preservation/renovation of Sikh sacred sites and extending facilities to the Sikh pilgrims coming from all over the world.
As per estimates, approximately 0.1 million Sikhs want to visit Pakistan from India, Canada, the United States, Malaysia and several other countries. To make the Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday celebrations a memorable event, the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and the Pakistan Sikh GurdwaraParbandhak Committee (PSGPC) in April this year, agreed/suggested to increase the number of Indian Sikh pilgrims from 3,000 to 10,000.
As a usual tactic, Pakistan’s goodwill gesture again came to the intentional scrutiny of Indian govt as initially a controversy was generated to dispel the impression that it was Pakistan’s offer or initiative. Later, Indian External Affairs Minister MsSushmaSwaraj declined to attend the ceremony; however, two Indian Ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Food Processing Industries) and Hardeep Singh Puri (Minister for Housing and Urban Areas) along with Navjot Singh Sidhu came to Pakistan.
Indian Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh not only declined the offer but also used whimsical allegations of Pakistan’s involvement in terror incidents in Punjab and border skirmishes. Nevertheless, the move has been welcomed enthusiastically by the Sikh community and also represents a rare instance of co-operation between the two countries, which have fought three wars against each other. Since independence relations between India and Pakistan remain strained, but at a ceremony formally starting construction work on the pathway on the Pakistani side of the border, the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said: “We will only progress when we free ourselves from the chains of the past”.
Earlier, India’s Vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu on 26 November 2018 laid the foundation stone for the construction of the four-km-long corridor connecting Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district with GurdwaraKartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. “The corridor will become a symbol of love and peace between both countries,” Naidu was quoted as saying in Gurdaspur.”This is a momentous and historic day, we are fulfilling the wish of thousands of Sikh devotees,” he said. It is to mention that Indian Punjab minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa used tape to black out his own and other Punjab ministers’ names on the foundation stone.”I did this in protest against Parkash and Sukhbir Badal’s names on stone. Why is their name here? They are not part of the executive, it is not BJP-Akali event,” the minister was quoted as saying. According to India Today, a controversy erupted right before the foundation stone laying ceremony as cabinet minister of the Punjab government, TriptRajinder Singh Bajwa, termed the ceremony a “step taken in a hurry”.
It is notable that in India, like other minority communities, the Sikh population has also been consistently exploited, demoralised and victimised by the Hindus. Sikhism was relegated to a status of sub-sect of Hinduism. The claim is ridiculous as Sikh ideology denounces the caste system, Brahmanism and idol worship; the very foundations of Hinduism. Also, Sikhism is a monotheistic faith whereas Hinduism is polytheistic. Despite decades of continued protests, Sikhs are still labelled Hindus in the Indian constitution. To further demoralise them and remind them of their subjugation, the Sikhs in the Indian state are forced to get married under the Hindu marriage act. In 1984 the Indian state unleashed a reign of terror in the northern Indian state of Punjab to suppress political aspirations. Their holiest shrine “Golden Temple” was attacked/ransacked by Indian Army through infamous “Operation Blue Star”.The backlash of desecration of the holy shrine was unexpected as then Indian PM MsIndra Gandhi was killed by her two Sikh bodyguards.
The incident unleashed widespread anti-Sikh riots with tens of thousands of innocent Sikh men, women and children killed in relentless attacks. Many affected/displaced Sikh families are still suffering/ languishing in poverty. Initially, Indian Supreme Court termed the killings as “worse than genocide” however, after the lapse of four decades, the court is yet to come out with the concrete measure as the Sikh community is still demanding for a probe of 1984 pogrom and pleading for justice.
Moreover, the active persons of the Sikh community are labelled as “Khalistan activists”, and they are either killed in cold blood or arrested in fabricated cases of treason, terrorism etc. In this context, even the non-Indian resident Sikh youth are not spared. Jagtar Singh Johal alias Jaggi (UK National /resident of Dumbarton Glasgow-Scotland) is one of such Sikh persons who was arrested by Indian LEAs in Nov 2017 in Ludhiana (Punjab) and alleged as an activist of “Khalistan Liberation Force”. The discovery of mass graves of remains of those burnt alive in 2011 by an engineer namely Manwinder Singh Giaspur, raised another storm in Sikh community and is still being pursued by Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) led by Gurpatwant Singh Pannu. SFJ maintains that 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms were an orchestrated and organised the campaign of genocide and successive Indian governments have never investigated these gruesome incidents to cover up the dark chapter of Sikh genocide at the hands of the Indian state.
With Khalistan 2020 campaign kicking up in North America, Europe and Australia; nervousness amongst deep Indian state is getting visible. Sikh demand for Khalistan is touching a new high. To counter Sikh activism, the deep Indian state has been killing Hindu leaders through professional criminals to blame Sikh youth and ISI. Target killings of Hindus in a row (since the year 2016) are at the increase and followed by blame game against KLF and Pakistan. Moreover, the arrest episode also exposes the sinister scheming of the deep Indian state to label every active Sikh as KLF activist to blame and accuse ISI/Pakistan. Interestingly, a Hindu MPA from Patiala namely Dharmvira Gandhi has asked Punjab police to show substantiating evidence about the linkage of arrested Sikh youth with KLF/ISI.
Contrary to India, Pakistan has ensured constitutional rights to each minority group and the Sikh community not only enjoys social, religious and political independence but also vibrantly contribute to the development of the country. Sikh youth is a welcome entry in Armed Forces. Hercharn Singh became first Sikh to join Pak Army. Further facilitating the Sikh community, govt of Pakistan enacted the “Sikh marriage act” in Nov 2007 which not only benefitted the Sikhs in Pakistan, but Sikhs living in anywhere in the world could also register in Pakistan with the Sikh marriage act. Reportedly, many pilgrim Sikh couples from abroad have re-affirmed their marriage in Pakistan under the Sikh marriage act.
Opening up of “Kartarpur corridor” is surely a manifestation of Pakistan govt’s commitment with the minorities and sincere endeavour to attain the prayers of the Sikh community in general and blessings of the great saint Baba Guru Nanak in particular. Despite the queer and local behaviour of the Indians, the broadminded Pakistani people through “Kartarpur Spirit” are indicating the world that Pakistan is a land of peace, respect, tolerance and acknowledgement.