Means Peace between India and Pakistan
3 km from the Indo-Pak border is a place revered by all the Punjabis: Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. Peace is bound to dawn in the sub-continent because Pakistan has agreed to grant a free corridor to it; free from passport and visa.
Situated on Indo-Pak border on Pakistani side Kartarpur is the place where Guru Nanak passed away 466 years ago on Monday Sept. 22, 1539 AD. The interesting part of the story which makes it a universal place is that when Nanak abandoned his mortal body the question arose whether it should be cremated in the Islamic or Hindu way since both Hindus and Muslims were his followers. Each claimed his body. There are legends and legends but the harsh reality of the present day is that there are three mausoleums standing at Kartarpur. A Smadh and a Grave are in Pakistan territory while the third one is in India i.e one tomb of each community: Hindu, Muslims and Sikhs. Then there is river Raavi making a garland of serene waters around Kartarpur. It is for this reason that Kartarpur is called a universal shrine.
Kartarpur building stands out singly as there is no habitation around. Though there is a railway connection to it and the station is named 'Darbar Sahib' on the Lahore- Chak Amru line. Kartarpur is situated in the tehsil Shakkar Garh district Narowal of West Punjab and is about 60 Km from Lahore. Opposite nearest town on the Indian side is Dera Baba Nanak
Before Partition of the country in 1947, Kartarpur was in district Gurdaspur. When Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew the boundary-line he happened to allot the whole of district Gurdaspur to Pakistan (see June 3, 1947 Plan). But how could the Universal Shrine go to Pakistan alone? The miracles then began to happen. Lo and behold! J.L.Nehru exercised his personal influence over Mountbatten over Kashmir and the Partition Plan was revised. This time Gurdaspur was bisected. Radcliffe's scissor made a cut right across Kartarpur; half of it going to Pak and other to India.
The 1965 war was target peace and our Army bombarded the bridge over river Ravi that connected twin towns of three tombs spread in two warring countries. Since then this shrine has remained completely abandoned. Being on the border and that too on the bank of river, it was surrounded by wild elephant grass that would grow up to 10 feet. We are told that the Pakistani Rangers would seldom allow Muslim devotees to go near the shrine due to security reasons. While the grass grew over grave the wildness has all along been witnessed in the international relations in the region; may be a divine curse.
But then the miracle happened. Pakistan bowing before the international Sikh community agreed to grant a passport/visa-less free corridor to Kartarpur from the Indian border. Pakistan has reiterated its willingness on many occasions since Nov. 1999. Since then the Sikh devotees are impressing upon the Government of India to accept the Pakistan proposal and allow Sikh pilgrims visit their holiest of holy shrine. Every day hundreds of Sikhs visit 'Peace Point' on border from where Kartarpur is visible. Every Sangrant the first day of Sikh calender and the Amavas formal prayers are conducted right at Peace point and these prayers are continuously being done since April 2001 by two organisations of Punjabis.
Yes, Kartarpur is the most important shrine for the Sikhs not because Nanak passed away here but for the fact it was here Nanak demonstrated the practical aspect of his philosophy. It was here he proclaimed 500 years ago that to attain God renunciation is not necessary. He shifted his family to Kartarpur and became a house-holder. For the first time on Indian subcontinent he rejected the Varnashram i.e the caste system and ran a community kitchen the langar and made the so called high and low caste people dine together.
Guru Nanak lived 70 years but most of the time he was on the move: from Iran/Iraq to Assam from high lands of Tibet to Sri Lanka etc. But Kartarpur is the place where he stayed: 18 long years. It is said he formally founded the place of Kartarpur i.e the creator's abode. He did farming here. Kartarpur is thus the birth place of Sikhism.
Now that Pakistan has agreed to grant a free corridor and several announcement have been made by that country since 1999, it is strange that the Government of India has adopted a cold approach too this development.
However on Sept. 1, 2004, when our prime minister Sardar Manmohan Singh visited Amritsar a ocean of a lac of people greeted him. It was here he announced before every body that he would see that the Pakistan offer of free corridor is accepted by Government of India. Nothing happened there after.
World Community should Respect Sikh Pilgrimage Rights Too
In the 1920s the Sikhs won an historic religious battle through peaceful means to get their shrines liberated from Brahminic Udasi priests. The world was impressed on the maintenance of peace by agitators even at the height of instigations.
After winning the battle when they were consolidating the gains that another crisis erupted for the Sikh nation. When When the sub-continent was fighting for its independence from the British this religious Sikh leadership who were least concerned of the skills of the 'fine art of statesmanship' came forward to represent the Sikhs in freedom struggle.
So much so this naive Sikh leadership at Partition acquiesced to accept a boundary line that meant bisection of their community in 39:61 ratio (39% in Pakistan and 61% Sikhs in India). It is now a part of history how this immature leadership had tense relations with all the parties in action namely Muslims, British and even Hindus. On this crucial junction they bargained not even a buck for their people.
Since they had developed strained relations with Muslim League, 39% of their population that fell in Pakistan decided to migrate to Indian side. A civil war broke out where 10 lakh Punjabis were massacred. AND IN 1947 A LARGEST EVER MIGRATION IN THE HUMAN HISTORY TOOK PLACE.
People were cut off from their roots, they left behind their homes, hearths and everything in their attempt to flee across the newly created border. Religious and cultural belongings were of course the least concern before a threat to life.
It is again a part of history how Hindu and Muslim leadership had accepted migration in principle' as cost of freedom'. The British had secretly been warning the Sikh leadership that they were committing a suicide.
In the newly created countries: India and Pakistan conditions became such that on both sides the politicians gained by flaring up the chauvinistic feelings and vicious propaganda against one another country. The religious and cultural link with the departed land thus remained cut.
Now the two countries have almost forgotten the unbreakable religious and cultural link of Punjabis with their lands they were uprooted from. This link was not that of the Sikhs alone but Muslims and Hindus too had their large number of heritage belongings left behind. But the respective governments even ignored the Hindu Muslim heritage for the simple reason that any refreshing activity on their respective part would activate the Sikh mind.
But the Sikhs simply couldn't be persuaded to severe their religious heritage link as that would have amounted to demolition of the very foundation of the faith. The founder of Sikhism Baba Guru Nanak was born, brought up, lived and died in that land now called Pakistan. Now there are about 400 Sikh historical shrines in Pakistan.
In the last 58 years this simple community the Sikhs has been kept deprived from their fatherland heritage. This grievance of theirs is not against Pakistan the country they were to visit. It is against the governments of their own country. The number of Sikh that the two countries mutually allowed to visit their fatherland IN A YEAR is just one tenth of the number of Sikhs pilgrims that paid their homage ON ANY DAY at Golden Temple in Amritsar. Indian governments have done everything possible to dissuade Sikhs' pilgrimage to Pakistan As and when a pilgrim applies for a visit to Pakistan, a CID man drops in his house in the name of making enquiries. Obviously this is done just to intimidate the pilgrim otherwise what is logic of secret enquiry when it was made when the pilgrim applied for passport. This is notwithstanding the fact that in the last 58 years no Sikh has ever done any anti-Indian activity while on pilgrimage to shrines in Pakistan. Their country never wrote to Pakistan to allow increase in numbers. Internationally the Govts are supposed to serve the people and facilitate their lawful activities: religious or cultural, but in case of Punjabis the Govt's attitude has not been fair and helping.
It is the Punjabis alone who have been deprived of their pilgrimages while the Govt has been quite liberal with non-Punjabis' pilgrimages. The following cases would open the eyes of any sincere reader:-
1. In June 2001 Deputy Prime Minister of India Sh. L.K.Advani was kind enough to demand a passage to the Himalayan Hindu shrine of Kailash Mansarovar. It takes about 23 days long travel in Chinese territory to reach Kailash. Hon'ble Sh. A.B.Vajpayee Prime Minister of India when last visited China in Sept.2003 also made a demand for passage to Kailash and it was in news then that Chinese Govt has acceded to the demand. Sikhs felt discriminated against as they were demanding corridor to their first historical shrine Kartarpur which was merely 3kms from border and that Pakistan has in principle agreed to allow the corridor. While the BJP Govt remained silent on this demand. Incidentally both Pakistan and China are termed as enemy countries in India.
2. Respecting the peoples' faiths the Indian Governments spend crores of rupees making arrangements for the religious festivals, melas and kumbas. They even make arrangements for the naga or the naked sadhus which is often socially offending and embarrassing but they do it as they should.
3.For pilgrimage to Amarnath which falls in J&K the Government deploys all its military might on the way for the security of pilgrims. It has even encouraged pilgrimages in the last 10 years when there has been increased threat perception. But after the tension due to Kargil conflict the Sikh pilgrimages to Pakistan were abruptly stopped. The Govt even encouraged Hindus to undertake Amarnath Yatra in Kargil days.
4.When it comes to Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca the Govt of India allows 82000 Muslims and spends about Rs. 400 crore from the state exchequer on their travel.
5.The Govt's encouraging Budhist tourists to Budhist centres like Bodh Gaya.
6.For many years after Partition of the country the Govt has been allowing Pakistani pilgrims at the border shrine called Chimliyal in J&K and at Sheikh Brahm's tomb at Khemkaran in Amritsar Punjab. Similarly it has been encouraging the Ahmediya pilgrims to Quadian in district Gurdaspur in Punjab.
7.In the name of Peace Process recently the Govt has given certain relaxations for travel to Pakistan but there is hardly any one in the case of Sikhs. About more than a year ago it was announced that Amritsar-Nankana sahib bus service would be commenced but it has failed to start so for though the announced date is nearing and this gesture of the Govt is appreciable.
8.But in any case the effect of Peace Process is not visible to the Sikhs. This is despite the extensive efforts by ex Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh.
9.The Govt and the media carries out propaganda that inter-country traffic would encourage spying activities and terrorism. This is a medieval thinking in view of the existence of IT facilities like the internet and mobile phones. In the first place what do we possess that we should hide from the world? We don't have any secret plan of invading another country. Perhaps we want to hide corruption, poverty and cases of violation of human rights. Coming to terrorism it is again an accepted fact that restrictions give rise to terrorism and freedom curtails it.
10. Now since Sri Nagar - Muzzafrabad bus service has been started where the Kashmirits can travel without passport to Pakistan. But be it known that Sikhs were the first people to demand passport/visaless travel. They didn't get any thing. However we are thankful to God that their Kashmiri brothers have been benefited. A goodwill gesture towards Sikhs is also awaited.
Civilised countries all over the world have been respecting peoples' faith and facilitating pilgrims. For example even if there was tension in the past the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca was never stopped. Then there are countries which Saudi Arabia considers inimical, yet there have not been any discrimination on their respective subjects when they were on Hajj. Even the worst bigots of Iraq has never imposed any sanctions on pilgrims visiting Karbala. Similarly there are no restrictions on Christians of any country visiting Bethlehem and Vatican. Berlin Wall had been biggest eye sore for the Germans and the international community rejoiced its dismantling. Punjabis complain why international community has failed to equate the barbed wire on Indo-Pak border as different from Berlin wall.
Can we afford to withhold Jagannath Yatra for a year? Can we suspend hajj or a year? Then why step-motherly treatment to Sikhs? Only because they are a microscopic minority and their leadership can be 'managed'. It is the height of Government apathy keeping in view the Sikhs' contribution during India's freedom struggle: as many as 86% of the people who were awarded capital punishment were Sikhs. The Sikhs' role during wars of 1948, 1965, 1971 and Kargil has gone unrecognised. It is all very unfortunate no other religionist is deprived of pilgrimages as the Sikhs are. There is an urgent need of change of attitude towards this simple community.
NOW OR NEVER
If General Musharraf President Pakistan can feel nostalgic about Nehar Wali Haveli in Delhi and Manmohan Singh Prime Minister about his village of Gah near Rawalpindi why can't Dharam Singh an ordinary citizen for his 'Bersahib'. Dharam Singh is now 75 and he came from Mallah in Shakkarh Garh. He has been telling the stories of his great heritage at his ancestral village. He is the only elderly man of his village left now. His seniors all are gone. The peace must dawn between India and Pakistan before it is too late. Though we wish long life to Dharam Singh but it is a harsh fact that very few survive after 80s.
Nostalgia of a similar elder Pal Singh 86 who had migrated from Kakkeke was extensively covered by press in 2004 but unfortunately he has died in Oct 24, 2007. So let us not loose the living links. Give people an opportunity to have a look at their homes they left in 1947.
It is now the crucial period. So the Govts should strike it now. Only the elderly people have fresh memories in their minds of the villages and mohallas they left behind and they are few, very few indeed. Another 5-6 years means very few traces as very few old people those remember 1947 will be alive by that time.
So the Govts should act now. Relations between India and Pakistan have to improve.
(sewa by Dr. Bhola Singh Sidhu- Surgeon)
SANGAT LANGHA KARTARPUR
60, Diamond Avenue, Majitha Rd. Amritsar.
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