DERA BABA NANAK, Gurdaspur—Hardevender Singh has been a resident of Germany for 33 years. He was around 23 years old when he sought the help of a travel agent to make a discreet journey to Berlin and seek political asylum. He had been slapped with criminal cases two years after the gruesome 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Police knocks on his door and family interrogations at odd hours had become a frequent affair. He was accused of sympathising with and harbouring Khalistani militants. Escaping to Germany meant uprooting himself from India and leaving his family behind. He lost his younger brother three years ago and his mother three months ago, but he could not make the journey home to Jalandhar to attend their last rites. He was on the Indian government’s blacklist.
Singh is back in India for the second time in a fortnight after three decades. He is part of the official Indian jatha (group) that will witness history with the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor on Saturday. Two weeks ago he was in Delhi talking to officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs as the Indian government paved the way for taking 312 Indian origin Sikhs off the blacklist.
On Friday he was emotional and teary eyed. “Baba Nanak has opened a road for possibility between India and Pakistan. All border states of Germany do business and progress together. If people in India and Pakistan stop fighting and do business together, we can also prosper like the European Union,” he said. Asked if he thinks the Kartarpur Corridor will be used by the Pakistani establishment to fan separatist sentiments among the Sikh community, Singh said “Khalistan was heard of only post 1984” and that this political blame game on the issue was not a matter of concern. “Terrorism issues can be resolved through dialogue on the table. Europe too has seen terror strikes,” he said.
According to Singh the Indian government assured those like him that their mouths would not be shut, and they should come and see for themselves the position and situation of Punjab today. Singh took up the assurance and will be accompanying Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday as he undertakes a journey through Kartarpur Corridor to pay obeisance to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal, Pakistan. He is among 100 NRI Sikhs from US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and Canada invited by New Delhi to attend the official inaugural ceremony of Kartarpur Corridor ahead of the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
Gurdeep Singh Randhawa is the only turbaned leader in Angela Merkel’s ruling party CDU and councillor of Wachsenburg county in Germany, once the hotbed of extremism. He moved out of India to pick up the pieces of his life after the 1984 riots. But unlike Singh, Randhawa wasn’t on a blacklist. Instead has been offering technology solutions to the country of his origin. Today he believes that the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor will mark the start of new relations between India and Pakistan. In the interest of peace he advocates trust between the two hostile nuclear armed neighbours citing trust is the basis of Guru Nanak Dev’s teachings. Speaking to Huffpost India in Amritsar, Randhawa opposed the imposition of a fee of $20 by Pakistan on pilgrims visiting Kartarpur and the need for them to produce a passport. “I am living in a country where 37 countries need no passports just an I-Card.The $20 fees is not fair because India too has many religious shrines .What if india starts imposing fines on them?,” he said.
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Rain can’t dampen festive spirit
This is a complaint that finds resonance as one travels through the newly paved roads in Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district in the Indian Punjab connecting to the 4.7 kilometres long Kartarpur Corridor leading to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal in Pakistan. The roads on the Indian side, leading to the zero point that earlier only offered a glimpse of the Darbar Sahib from a distance through binoculars, still need a lot of work done. Rains on Thursday night caused mayhem ahead of the big opening ceremony.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan will inaugurate the corridor in separate ceremonies on 9 November. But rains haven’t dampened the spirit of the Dera Baba Nanak village that has been spruced up with confettis and wears a festive mood.
Dara Singh, a local tea vendor who returned from Berlin and set shop in 1982 feels business will boom in this village with hoteliers showing keen interest in investing here. He proudly flaunts that he has been given a permit by local Indian authorities to visit the historic corridor on a day of his choosing. But he too feels the fees imposed by Pakistan must be waived off. Arjun singh (60) from Fatehgarh Sahib , Sukhdev Singh (73) of Sukhnur district to Gurbachan Singh (80) from Jalandhar were among the hundreds of pilgrims who trickled in to the Zero Point on Friday. They say they will stay camped in nearby Langars (community kitchens) till they get a chance to visit Kartarpur sahib.They are hoping that the poorest of the poor, who will find it difficult to pay the fee, must be exempted.
For now as the Passenger Terminal Building which houses the Integrated Check Point that has been dressed up for the big inaugural ceremony, the mood is upbeat despite the shrill India-Pakistani rhetoric for the past few months. Kartarpur has survived Pulwama attack, Balakot strikes to the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the developments thereafter. Pilgrims, especially the Sikh community, have waited for more than two decades for this dream turn into reality. Far from narrative that has dominated political conversations on the Kartarpur Corridor, a day ahead of the opening saw a large number of voices thanking Congress MLA and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu for his contribution to the initiative. It saw security personnel and locals wishing each other a “Happy Corridor”.