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A shrine so near, yet so far: Their prayers travel across border, they can’t

Initially, the whole of district Gurdaspur, with a Muslim population of 52 per cent, was supposed to be part of Pakistan. It was, however, awarded to India. But Chattpur tehsil of Gurdaspur, where the gurdwara is located, went to Pakistan.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Dera Baba Nanak (gurdaspur) |
August 15, 2017 6:01:44 am
People offer prayers facing the Katarpur Sahib gurdwara at the India-Pakistan border. (Express Photo)

The platform is nearly 10 feet from the ground. The BSF guards allow groups of 10 people to climb up on it at a time. Two binoculars, provided by the BSF guards, change hands quickly between the people on the platform, giving each person just enough time to focus, view, and quickly say a prayer. Then it’s time for the next person’s turn.  Kartarpur Sahib, built at the final resting place of Sikh Guru Nanak Dev, is 4.5 km inside Pakistan from this spot on the India-Pakistan border, but pilgrims come to this BSF post with a reverence reserved for a gurdwara. They even take off their shoes before climbing the platform.

“I cannot go to Pakistan to visit gurdwaras. Because I am young and I may not get a visa for any western country if there is a Pakistan visa stamp on my passport. That’s why I came here to pay obeisance to Kartarpur Sahib.” said Sukhdeep Singh, a youngster from Barnala.  On a clear day, the BSF guards at the post say, it is possible to see the gurdwara without binoculars. Sometimes, the tall elephant grass on the banks of Ravi comes in the way.

Kartarpur Sahib is on the list of 17 gurdwaras for which Pakistan provides visas to pilgrims, but those who do not have the resources or for other reasons cannot make the journey, make the pilgrimage to this BSF post on the border.
A BSF personnel at the check post, who did not want to be named, said: “The number of visitors has been increasing over the years. It could be anywhere between 100 to 500 people in a day.”

The traffic of pilgrims continues through the day. There are even college and school students arriving in buses. On foggy winter days, it is impossible to get any view, so most pilgrims come in these months to catch a glimpse of the gurdwara.  “I have seen people getting emotional at the sight of the gurdwara. We are here to keep vigil on them and the border. Sometimes we can see that the devotees feel bad that they are so close yet so far,” said a BSF official.
Nirmal Singh, another pilgrim from Mukhtar, said, “It is surprising that such a historical gurdwara is too near to border and no attempt has been made to get access to gurdwara. What problem India and Pakistan could have in allowing Sikhs to visit this gurdwara by making a corridor?”

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In the early years after Partition, when people continued to cross over informally, a bridge on the Ravi connected Dera Baba Nanak with Kartarpur Sahib, but this got destroyed in the 1965 war, and once again in 1971. Before the border fence came up in this sector in 1986, Sikhs living in nearby villages used to cross the border illegally to visit the gurdwara. After the fence was installed, it became impossible for pilgrims.

When relations were better between India and Pakistan, there was talk of providing a visa-free corridor to Kartarpur Sahib from Dera Baba Nanak, but it came to naught like most other initiatives between the two countries.
To this day, Sikh organisations hold a monthly prayer at border of Dera Baba Nanak for a visa-free corridor. This spiritual gathering is also an attempt to put political pressure on India and Pakistan to provide corridor for Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib.

Recently, a delegation led by Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju visited Dera Baba Nanak and but declined the demand for a corridor citing the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan.  The head of one such organisation, Sangat Langha Kartarpur, Bhabishan Singh Goraya said, “It was failure of Sikh politicians that they failed to get the best deal. They had demanded area up to Nankana Sahib, but even failed in securing the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, which was an easy deal.”

Initially, the whole of district Gurdaspur, with a Muslim population of 52 per cent, was supposed to be part of Pakistan. It was, however, awarded to India. But Chattpur tehsil of Gurdaspur, where the gurdwara is located, went to Pakistan.

Goraya, like most Sikhs feels let down by the exclusion of Kartarpur from the award to India, and believes this is because that part of Gurdaspur was not essential to India’s road link to J&K, through Pathankot.  He drew a comparison with Ferozepur, which was awarded to India in 1947, but without a place across the Sutlej river at Hussainwala where the British cremated Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, after hanging them. In 1960, Pakistan returned this spot to India through a bilateral agreement.

“Like the resting place of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, the resting place of Guru Nank Dev is also of highly relevance for Sikhs. Both countries can easily frame out a solution for this purpose. At least they can make this gurdwara accessible for the Sikhs. I believed that Sikhs failed to resolve such non-disputed issue because they are minority in India and their issues do not get priority,” said Goraya.

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