Sikhs concerned over Kartarpur Corridor closure
Many fear India might use the excuse to indefinitely shut the visa-free passage
LAHORE: Concerns over safety and the fear of spreading the coronavirus have temporarily resulted in the suspension of the Sikh community’s pilgrimage to one of their holiest sites in Pakistan.
Citing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, the Indian government closed the visa-free passage, known as the Kartarpur corridor, that allows members of the Sikh community to visit the shrine of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak.
In a notification issued last month, the Indian government ordered the closure of the passage, stoking concerns in the community about New Delhi’s ‘ulterior motive’ behind the move.
While preventing the spread of COVID-19 appears to be the reason for the closure, the community believes, Narendra Modi-led Hindu nationalist government was looking for an excuse to shut the corridor ever since its inaugurating last November.
“India opened the Kartarpur corridor unwillingly and perhaps forced reciprocate by Pakistan’s move to inaugurate the passage,” said Sardar Mahindar Pal Singh, member of the Punjab legislature and parliamentary secretary for human rights. “Modi was under pressure from Sikhs all over the world,” he added.
Once the COVID-19 crisis is over, Singh said, there is a possibility Modi’s government might find more reasons to delay the reopening of the Kartarpur corridor. The passage, he said, could be closed indefinitely by the Indian government. Paranoid and perhaps obsessed with controlling minority communities in India, Modi’s government fears the pilgrimage corridor between the estranged neighbors could lead to reigniting the Khalistan movement, which demanded an independent homeland for the Sikh community. Brutally crushed by the Indian government, the movement that rocked the country’s foundations, is still seen by the Hindu-nationalists as a threat.
According to the granthi of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, Gobind Singh, India closed the passage to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “We hope New Delhi will reopen it once the health crisis is over.
Pakistan, experts said, benefits from the visa-free passage, which has irked the Indian government. Since the passage’s inauguration by Prime Minister Imran Khan, thousands of Sikhs from India have visited Kartarpur. A significant number of these pilgrims coming from India accuse the government of creating procedural hurdles to prevent them from visiting Pakistan.
Concerned about India’s intentions, Many politicians in India, including Perm Jeet Singh Sarna, former president of the Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee : “The government in New Delhi might not reopen the corridor any time soon.” “Mosques, temples, and churches are closed in India, but the Golden Temple is still open.” “If the Golden Temple is open, why is the corridor closed? Sarna questioned.
Despite the concerns, the Sikh community in India seems to have accepted the government’s decision. “As soon as the health crisis is over, we will request the Indian government to reopen the corridor,” said Dr. Roop Singh, Chief Secretary, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee.
Tantalisingly close from the Indian border but out-of-reach for decades due to the perennial state of enmity between India and Pakistan, the shrine, a white-domed building, has remained on the wish list of millions of Sikhs for decades.
With the corridor closed, the community will once again have to celebrate the Vaisakhi - the Sikh New Year festival, away from the sacred shine, the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan. However, according to Sardar Satonat Singh, Pardhan of Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, a brief ceremony will take place at Gurdwara Panja Sahib Hasan Abdal, and a modest number of Sikh devotees might participate.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2020.