Just before 5 every evening,after the tractors have left the fields,Sadqi comes to lifealmost with a start. The loudspeakers blare patriotic songs and a stream of visitors in VIP cars,SUVs,bikes and scooters starts trickling in. This village on the India-Pakistan border in Punjabs Ferozepur district is the third joint checkpost after Wagah in Amritsar and Hussainiwala in Ferozepur district where a retreat ceremony is performed by the Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers. The ceremony in Sadqithe foot-stomping,theatrical kind that has made Wagah popular with touristsbegan two years ago.
Sadqi found itself on the border after Pakistan exchanged enclaves as part of a treaty signed on January 17,1961. Under the pact,certain areas in the vicinity of Sulemanki Headworks,a barrage on the Sutlej river in Fazilka tehsil,were transferred to Pakistan. Sadqi was a former trade and transit route to Pakistans Multan district and a joint Indo-Pak checkpost came up here. But trade stopped after the 1965 war and this route hasnt been used since.
For years,people in Sadqi lived the border lifein their little mud houses,working on their wheat and mustard fields and fretting about how they they needed permission from the BSF to work on their fields that lie across the barbed fencing. Then the retreat ceremony began,adding a bit of drama to their evenings.
But even with the retreat ceremony,Sadqi is no Wagah. Here the ceremony happens just where the fields end,a quaint show just before sundown. There are no ceremonial gates that are slammed shutPakistan has no gate while the Indian one lies closed with a barbed fence. The BSF jawans,perform their drill near the barbed fence,while the Pakistan Rangers are positioned on a hillock thats painted in the camouflage colours of green and grey.
The BSF says it is the terrain that makes Sadqi unique. Between the Indian and Pakistani positions,there is a low-lying area along the international border where water fills up during the rains. There is also a small pond nearby that is along the border, says Vimal Satyarthi,DIG of BSFs Abohar range,under which the Sadqi border post falls.
Its close to 5 p.m. and the Pakistani gallery is packed with men,women and children,some waving green flags. But Sadqi is still waiting for its open air theatre to fill up. There is no bus service to this village from Fazilka,the nearest town,and BSF men say the stands here are always difficult to fill up,especially on weekdays.
By the time the jawans start the ceremonial drill,Sadqi manages a decent crowd. The loud cheers and slogans from Pakistan die down as soon as BSF jawans take charge.
Fifty-two-year-old Mahendra Pratap Dhingra,a Fazilka advocate,is here every Friday. During Partition,his grandfather and father migrated from Darbariwal village,in what is now Sahiwal district in Pakistan,but his paternal uncle,who became Mohammad Iqbal,now comes to the Sadqi border every Friday. Every Friday,we wave at each other. On August 15,when the two sides are allowed to come close to the fence,we even talk to my uncle and his sons, says Dhingra.
It was only in the last two years,after the checkpost got its gates,an open air theatre and a music system (put up last year) that Sadqi began getting visitorsmostly locals and people from nearby towns out to have some fun and a few tourists who have done the Hussainiwala and Wagah rounds and want to see the third retreat ceremony.
BSF officials say that on weekdays,only about 50-60 visitors come to Sadqi while on weekends,the number touches 500-700. But on special days like Independence Day,the open-air stands are packed with people. Last year,the figure crossed the 15,000 mark with visitors not just from neighbouring towns but also from other states such as Rajasthan,Uttar Pradesh,Haryana and Delhi. We also hold cultural programmes on special occasions. Last year,we held a bhangra competition, says Satyarthi.
The Sadqi border post is 99 km from Ferozepur city and 14 km from the border town of Fazilka. For a village this sleepy,the evening ceremony is a high-point and the government now plans to cash in on that.
The tourists who come to watch the retreat ceremony also visit the nearby Asafwala War Memorial built in memory of the soldiers of the 1971 Indo-Pak war,who held fort against the enemy for three days at this border after the war officially ended.
Earlier,Sadqi was out of bounds for civilians. We have now mooted a proposal to promote rural tourism by promoting Sadqi and Asafwala as a joint tourism circuit. The Punjab tourism department has forwarded our demand for Rs 75 lakh to the Centre. Some of that money will be used to promote the checkpost as an attraction, says Ferozepur DC Kamal Kishore Yadav.
There could be more in store for Sadqi,the village. Fazilka,the town nearest to the village,is from where the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline will enter India. That is expected to turn Fazilka,a town that was once famous for its wool trade with Britain,into an energy hub and in turn,change the face of Sadqi. Talk of the pipeline has already pushed up land prices in the villagea farmland at the border is now worth Rs 15 lakh an acre from
Rs 7 lakh an acre till last year.
But till the pipeline becomes a reality,Sadqi is happy with its border statusthe open-air theatre that can house about 3,000 tourists and the jingoism that comes with being a border post with a gate that opens into an enemy country.