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Why Kartarpur is a manifestation of devotion as well as a longing for the ‘other’ Punjab

Seventy-two years ago these parts had droves of villagers baying for the blood of non-Muslims. Today, there were scores of them standing along the road as eager spectators while their Prime Minister inaugurated the corridor and the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib complex as symbols of peace.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina | New Delhi | Published: November 12, 2019 6:57:27 pm
Named after the village, the Jassar railway station is the scene of one of the numerous railway massacres of 1947. (Express photo: Man Aman Singh Chhina)

A few kilometers away from Narowal, towards Shakargarh, and just a few kilometers before Kartarpur Sahib, there comes a bend in the road and a dilapidated railway station soon comes into view at Jassar village. Named after the village, the Jassar railway station is the scene of one of the numerous railway massacres of 1947 where several hundred Sikhs and Hindus were killed and scores of women were abducted.

As I drove from Lahore to attend the inaugural function of the corridor and saw the crowds along the road near Kartarpur, I could not help reflect on the irony. The wheels of time had spun. Seventy-two years ago these parts had droves of villagers baying for the blood of non-Muslims. Today, there were scores of them standing along the road as eager spectators while their Prime Minister inaugurated the corridor and the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib complex as symbols of peace.

And those whose ancestors had taken part in equal measure in the violence inflicted on Muslims in East Punjab and elsewhere were now coming eagerly to embrace the Punjabis on the other side and to thank them for giving them access to their holy place. The pangs of Partition may not have been forgotten, but the pain has certainly ebbed.

The inauguration of the corridor has confounded many a commentator and the reasons have been numerous —the contradictions in political statements welcoming the corridor and warning Pakistan at the same time; the threat of revival of a separatist movement in Punjab; an airstrike across the border by IAF followed by a counter strike from Pakistan, the crackdown in Kashmir and Pakistan’s attempt to use Kartarpur to highlight their Kashmir narrative. Many attribute it to the name of Guru Nanak Dev and his blessings. But no one knows clearly why and how it happened.

Curiously, the access to Kartarpur has never been a huge demand for Punjabis after Partition. Although every ‘ardas’ of the Sikh says the shrines from which the Sikh Panth has been disassociated with should be open to free access. It was only in recent years that an Akali leader in Dera Baba Nanak started a movement for access to the Gurdwara just across the border.

There is another cause for Kartarpur — the longing for the ‘other Punjab’. The one lost to the Partition. With lakhs of households who trace their origins to West Punjab, there are millions who died pining for their lost homes and lands. Kartarpur is the symbolic access to that land — almost unfettered and unencumbered by the visa challenge.

The Jasser railway station. (Express photo: Man Aman Singh Chhina)

So when Navjot Singh Sidhu shouts, ‘Hor Hor Hor (hor means more in Punjabi), ye dil maange more’, he echoes what many Punjabis want — The chance to step across the Radcliffe Line and touch the ‘dharti’ of their forefathers and to visit the Gurdwaras long abandoned and forgotten. Many will dismiss this as useless emotional baggage and akin to the annual August 15 ‘mombatti’ (candlelight) vigil of late Kuldip Nayyar at Attari-Wagah border. But this emotion exists, make no mistake. And it is strong.

The threat of inimical designs of Pakistan’s security agencies in fostering Khalistan movement yet again, aided by separatist Sikhs based in Pakistan and abroad, is not lost to the masses. But when spoken to, they assure they are not fools. Once bitten twice shy? Perhaps. But no one is letting the guard down.

Not far from the new international check post on the Indian side of the border, leading to Kartarpur Sahib is the Dera Baba Nanak railway station — the place where that train was headed to from Sialkot on a late October evening in 1947 when it was waylaid at Jassar and its occupants put to death.

There were scores of them standing along the road as eager spectators while their Prime Minister inaugurated the corridor and the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib complex as symbols of peace. (Express photo: Man Aman Singh Chhina)

The railway track, which once led to Jassar, abruptly ends a few hundred meters down the station. The modern railway lines and cemented sleepers give way to distinctly older lines with wooden sleepers buried deep into the Earth, their surface hardly visible. And then there is a dead-end, a barricade across the track. A void between the two Punjabs which will take longer to fill and will need much more work than the Kartarpur corridor.

Walking on this forlorn, forgotten line with lush green fields on both sides, it does not take much to imagine Baba Bulleh Shah calling out from afar, “Kadi aa mil yaar pyareya teriyaan waattan to sir waareya” (Come meet me sometime my lovely friend, I bow to the roads you will travel on).

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