Gateway to South Asian peace
New Delhi, 2007
Tridivesh Singh Maini
If one glances through journals and newspapers, or is in an erudite gathering, religion/faith is represented as one of the major causes of global conflict and whenever any discussion about religion begins, the topic is subtly changed. The general refrain towards religion is either, that “religion is a personal issue” (which is not incorrect), or that “religion is responsible for most of the world’s conflicts”, (which is definitely a very half baked thought, though perhaps those who follow this strand of thinking can not distinguish religion from religious fanaticism/false interpretation of religion). Scholars tend to forget that religion can also help in acting as a peacemaker/bridge. It really depends upon how we define “faith” and who propagates it.
In this article, I will use the case study of the “Kartarpur Corridor” (an arrangement where Sikh pilgrims wanting to pay obeisance at then historical Sikh shrine of Kartarpur Sahib located in Pakistan can enter the Pakistani territory without a visa, on the premise that they will return to Indian territory on the same day) being demanded by Sikhs to illustrate how the tenets of Sikhism have helped and are helping in “building bridges” between India and Pakistan [i]. It may be argued that the desire of Sikhs to visit their sacred religious shrines like (Gurdwara Janam Sthan, Nankana Sahib, Punja Sahib and Sacha sauda to name a few) has played a crucial part in improving relations between the two Punjabs (this has contributed positively to Indo- Pak relationship) [ii].
Sikhism as a “bridge” between India and Pakistan
It is a fact that Guru Nanak Dev, founder of the Sikh faith, is revered by many Muslims who respectfully refer to him as Baba Nanak. In fact, the essence of Sikhism is evident from a very famous painting in which one sees Guru Nanak Dev surrounded by both a Hindu (Bala) and a Muslim (Mardana). In one of my recent books titled “South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs”, I myself have laid stress on this aspect of Sikhism, which none of us should forget [iii]. In view of the fundamental Sikh message of religious co-existence the Kartarpur Corridor can act as a bridge between two important nations of South Asia namely India and Pakistan.
The other clear illustration of this very aspect is the fact that, the foundation stone of the Golden Temple (Harimandir Sahib) was laid by Mian Mir, a Muslim Sufi Saint (this in spite of the strained relations between the Sikhs and Mughals of that time) [iv]. It is also important to remember that important verses of Baba Farid and other Sufi saints were included in the Guru Granth Sahib [v] by Sikh Gurus.
Before talking about the Kartarpur Corridor, I would like to make it clear that while most Sikhs respect other religions including Islam, some are under the influence of religious bigots who depict Sikh-Muslim relationship in poor light to further their narrow agendas. Organizations like the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh or the RSS, a Hindu nationalist organization depict Muslims and non-Muslims (especially Sikhs) as natural enemies; such organizations keep harping on the Sikh suffering during Partition of 1947 and on the historic Mughal-Sikh rivalry (they conveniently forget the sacrifices made by Peer Buddu Shah and his family, not to forget Bhai Mardana’s unflinching loyalty to Guru Nanak Dev) [vi]. So, sometimes serious attempts are made to obliterate an important aspect of Sikhism, namely religious co-existence, and it would not be incorrect to say that the attitude of most Sikhs toward their Punjabi brethren across the Wagah [vii] is best described as below:
“After coming to this side of the border we have no alien feeling as we belonged to this area and you belonged to East Punjab, our forefathers were born and later buried in this land besides it was the land of our Guru and we are here to pay homage and offer rituals especially to celebrate Basaikhi with our Pakistani brothers."
A background to Kartarpur Sahib
It is as a result of the efforts of Captain Amarinder Singh (former Chief Minister of Punjab) that the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service has begun and the efforts of overseas Sikhs (especially those based in the United States) that Sikhs have gained access to important shrines like Nankana Sahib (the birth place of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev) and Punja Saheb. In doing so the Sikh ardas (daily supplication) “Hey Akal Purkh! Apne Panth de sada sahai Datar jio! Sri Nankana Sahib te hor Gur-duarian Gur-dhaman de, jinhan ton Panth nun vichhoria gia hai, khullhe darshan didar te seva sanbhal da dan Khalsa ji nin bakhsho” which if translated into English would mean “O immortal God! The constant Helper of his own Panth (Sikh Community), kindly confer the gift of visiting, maintaining, controlling and worshipping, without any restrictions, the Gurdwara of Nankana Sahib Ji, other Gurdwaras, and Gurus Mansions, of which the Khalsa has been deprived” (by the Partition of India) has been answered [viii].
Sikhs are also looking for a religious corridor from Dera Baba Nanak (Indian Punjab) to Kartarpur Sahib, which is located on the Pakistani side and is less then 2 miles from the border [ix].
Guru Nanak spent 17 years of his life in Kartarpur, where he attracted followers from the Hindu and Muslim communities. Kartarpur is a perfect illustration of the pluralist culture of the sub continent, as when Guru Nanak Dev passed away at Kartarpur (in 1539) both Hindus and Muslims laid claim to his body. Ultimately it was decided that overnight, flowers would be placed by both Hindus and Muslims on his body. Whoever’s flowers withered next morning would lose claim. The next morning when the cloth was removed, the body was missing and flowers of both communities were found in the same shape as they had been put in. The two communities finally decided to divide the cloth, and the Muslims buried it while the Hindus consigned it to fire [x]. Therefore both a grave and a smadh exist here. It is correct to say that Dera Baba Nanak, is sacred to all religions as three shrines of Guru Nanak exit in the form of an Islamic grave, a Hindu samadh and the Sikhs’ angitha. Nowhere else in the world three shrines of a single person coexist [xi].
It might be pertinent to mention here that while Sir Cyril Radcliffe (the man in charge of the partition of the sub-continent) was able to divide India and Pakistan but could not divide Kartarpur. When Radcliffe drew the line between India and Pakistan in 1947, the declaration gave the entire Gurdaspur district to Pakistan, but the plan fell threw and the re-division put Kartarpur on the border. A bridge, which joined the two Gurdwaras was bombarded during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. [xii] Perhaps the Almighty desired that this part of the Punjab would once again act as a “bridge” between the two Punjabs and between India and Pakistan.
The demand for a corridor at Kartarpur
The Sikh demand for a religious corridor has been gaining momentum in the last few years and two organizations have been working for this cause -- the Darshan Abhilashi Sanstha led by Kuldip Singh Wadala a senior politician from Indian Punjab and Mr. BS Goraya a peace activist who has set up an organization Kartarpur Sangat Langah. They have been working earnestly since 2001 for the peace corridor proposed to be built between Dera Baba Nanak and Kartarpur Saheb [xiii]. While Wadala has been using political platforms and the media to promote this veritable cause, Mr. BS Goraya brings out a Punjabi magazine which carries articles on the Kartarpur Corridor and other Gurdwaras in Pakistan.
It might be pertinent to mention here that “It was during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Lahore visit in 1999 that the Pakistan offered to build a 2 km corridor to enable Indians to visit Gurdwara Dera Sahib without a visa or passport, he points out” [xiv].
As a result of the sincere and earnest efforts of the Darshan Abhilashi Sanstha and Kartarpur Sangat Langah (with support from Captain Amarinder Singh former Chief Minister of East Punjab), the Pakistan government has agreed to the demand of Sikh devotees and this corridor, would be fenced on both sides and no passport or visa would be required, but pilgrims would have to go back the same day [xv]. The Government of Pakistan has now left the ball in the Government of India’s court. According to a newspaper report:
Recently on a visit to India, The PSGPC(Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee) president said the government of Pakistan had already accepted the demand of the Sikh community to construct a corridor between Dera Baba Nanak (India) and Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib (Pakistan). He said Pakistan expected a reciprocal gesture from India so that Sikh devotees could undertake pilgrimage of these gurdwaras without any visa hassles [xvi].
The babus (government functionaries) in the Government of India should pay some heed to the following lines of WH Auden’s poem “Look before you leap” [xvii]:
The sense of danger must
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.
On the pretext of “national security” there has been enough procrastination on this issue. The time has come to leap and move forward with the religious corridor at Kartarpur. Perhaps the best tribute to Guru Nanak Dev’s philosophy and the ecumenical principles and tenets of Sikhism is to go ahead with the Kartarpur Corridor, which could act as the gateway to South Asian peace and prosperity.
[i] Mr Aitzaz Ahsan, former Law, Justice, Interior and Education Minister of Pakistan and Author of Indus Saga made this important point while delivering his speech during the third annual Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh Memorial Lecture held at the India Islamic Culture Centre in New Delhi on December 15th 2006. For understanding the influence of both the Bhakti Movement and Sufism on the Sikh faith see Singh, Patwant (1999) “The Sikhs”, pg.16-18 (Harper Collins, New Delhi) ,Also see Neki JS(2007) “Guru Granth Sahib and its context”, pg. 229 (Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi) for an explanation of the spiritual commonalities between Sikhism and Islam.
[ii] For the improvement in relationship see Maini, TS (2007) “South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs”(Siddhartha Publications, New Delhi)
[iii] Maini, TS (2007) “South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs”, see pg.87 for the painting of Guru Nanak Dev
[iv]For information on Mian Mir’s links with Sikh Gurus, see Interview with “Makhdoom Syed Chan Pir Qadri on Sikh Muslim Relations”, Issue No.5, October 2002, Sikh Spectrum Website: http://www.sikhspectrum.com/102002/pir_sahib.htm
[v] For the influence of Baba Farid on the Guru Granth Sahib see Neki JS (2007) “ Guru Granth Sahib and its context” pgs. 219-227, 228-229 also See Maini TS, pgs.86-93
[vi] Such propaganda was at it’s peak in 2000 during the earlier Akali-BJP Government in Punjab. Unfortunately many BJP/RSS acolytes still try to promote the view that Sikhs are Anti-Muslim.
[vii] Bhatti, A “Sikh Pilgrims feel at home in Pakistan”, The News, Lahore, April 4th 2007
[viii] English translation of Ardas taken from Harbans Singh Doabia “Sacred Nitnem” (1998)
[ix] For Captain Amarinder Singh’s role see The Times of India “ Buses to Sikh shrines in Pakistan” , May 25th 2004, Walia, V “ CM to raise Gurdwara upkeep issue” The Tribune, Chandigarh, January 31st 2004
[x] For the history of Kartarpur Sahib, see Kartarpur Sahib website: www.kartarpurcorridor.com
[xi] The Tribune “Call for support to gurdwara corridor”, April 29th 2004
[xii] See Kartarpur Corridor website: Maini, TS (2007) “South Asian Cooperation and the Role of the Punjabs”
[xiii] Interviews with BS Goraya and Kuldip Singh Wadala, See The Tribune “ Wadala threatens dharna at PMO” May 15th 2007, The Tribune, “ Allow visa-free travel to Pak gurdwaras says Wadala”, November 1st 2007
[xiv] The Tribune “Call for support to gurdwara corridor”, April 29th 2004
[xv] See Maini, TS, pg.74
[xvi] Walia, V “ Representation for women in PSGPC”, The Tribune, Chandigarh March 21st 2007
[xvii] “Leap before you look” WH Auden,
Copyright© Tridivesh Singh Maini. About the author
About Tridivesh Singh Maini
Tridivesh Singh Maini received his Bachelors in Politics with Honors from Sheffield University, UK and a Masters in iNternational Development from the American University, Washington DC. Currently, he is working in New Delhi with the private sector. His earlier important assignments have been consultancies with the World Bank and a research position with the American Security Council Foundation, Washington DC. The Author's main area of interest is South Asian Cooperation with a thrust on the two Punjabs. His articles on the subject have appeared in various prominent South Asian and Western journals.
Email : email@example.com