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Kartarpur Corridor: Activist concerned at ‘massive construction’ on Indian side

Updated July 16, 2019

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Apprehends ecological harm to heritage site because of ‘overcrowding’. — AFP/File
Apprehends ecological harm to heritage site because of ‘overcrowding’. — AFP/File

LAHORE: The world Sikh community has expressed its concern at the big ‘airport-like’ constructions by India on its side of border at Kartarpur, dwarfing the Nishan Sahib (Sikh flag) planned at Darbar Sahib and Pakistan agreeing to a fairly large number of pilgrims that may damage ecology of the sacred fields around the Sikh heritage site.

“Sikh diaspora comprising around 27 million souls is much concerned at reports that India is constructing an ‘airport-like’ terminal worth Rs5 billion at Dera Baba Nanak. It includes a 300 feet [high] Indian monumental flag, which will neither represent the spiritual essence of the sacred space nor the heritage architecture from the Guru period or the Sikh architecture [of] post-Guru period,” laments Gurmeet Kaur, who leads a world Sikh campaign for preserving 100-acre fields of Baba Nanak era at Kartarpur.

In a statement released here on Monday, she says the Indian flag, presumably higher than the Nishan Sahib (Sikh flag) that has been planned at the Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, smacks of supremacy and ego and not of honour and “submission to the feet of the great Guru”.

She adds that the step has created a “catch-22 like” situation for Pakistan as if it decides to put a flag post taller than the Nishan Sahib, it puts itself in an awkward position with the Sikhs, if lower - it gives India the first win in “the Attari-Wagah-like macho contest”.

Apprehends ecological harm to heritage site because of ‘overcrowding’

Ms Kaur also expresses concerns at Islamabad agreeing to visa-free access for 5,000 pilgrims daily, fearing such a large number of visitors may hurt the flora and fauna as envisioned by Baba Nanak for Kartarpur.

“While India has been nitpicking over the generous offer of Pakistan to open the corridor for 500-750 Sikh pilgrims a day at the opening, India wants it to allow up to 10,000 tourists per day and more on special occasions, right away. India is also demanding opening of the corridor to people of all faiths (not just Sikhs).

“Ecologists and the well-meaning Sikhs have been screaming about how the fragile terrain and ecosystem of Kartarpur is already under attack with the massive corridor construction. And, five to ten thousand pilgrims a day would put a huge strain requiring enormous and hasty commercial construction on the land where forests, orchards and organic fields of Baba Nanak existed for five and a half centuries.”

She says the Sikh diaspora thinks that haphazard construction at this sacred site means losing all chances of archeologically reviving and rebuilding the historical space, buildings and artifacts as they may have existed in Baba Nanak’s time -- Baba Nanak’s Kartarpur.

A social activist, Ms Kaur also points to the exclusion of Sikh representatives from the Kartarpur talks and objects to confining the consultation process on the corridor only to the Pakistan Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee, representing only a small Sikh community of around 27,000 souls.

“From the politics being played to the headlines being made, Kartarpur Corridor seems to have been reduced to another version of Wagah-Attari display in the making - that of the macho control and supremacy over each other, between Modi’s India and Khan’s Pakistan, under the pretext of peace at the cost of Baba Nanak’s legacy, where his Sikhs have no say,” she regrets.

She has called upon Pakistan government to change the “game plan” by bringing together archeological, heritage and ecological experts and rebuilding Kartarpur as Baba Nanak had envisioned and intended it to be.

It would raise Pakistan’s head higher in the eyes of around 100 million Baba Nanak’s lovers from around the world — more so than the 300 feet flag pole India plans to erect at the border, for all times to come, she concludes.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2019