Sikhs await opening of Kartarpur corridor

Updated November 08, 2019

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Custodian of the Kartarpur shrine Ramesh Singh Arora pictured during the interview.—AFP
Custodian of the Kartarpur shrine Ramesh Singh Arora pictured during the interview.—AFP

KARTARPUR: A corridor that will allow Sikhs to cross from India into Pakistan to visit one of the religion’s holiest sites is set to open on Saturday, with thousands expected to make a pilgrimage interrupted by decades of conflict.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will see off the first group of pilgrims, and they will be welcomed by Prime Minister Imran Khan at the shrine of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak at Kartarpur, just four kilometres inside Pakistan.

The Kartarpur Corridor marks a rare example of cooperation between the two countries. The deal allows for up to 5,000 pilgrims a day to cross a secure corridor and bridge between the two countries, leading directly to the grave of Guru Nanak.

“They are very excited,” custodian of the Kartarpur shrine Ramash Singh Arora said on Thursday, saying he hoped the initiative would pave the way for similar access to other Sikh sites in Pakistan in the future.

Modi to see off pilgrims while Imran to welcome them at shrine of Guru Nanak

“If you look at history, the foundation of Sikhism is from Pakistan.”

In the months leading up to the opening, Pakistan employed hundreds of labourers to spruce up the shrine, including building a border immigration checkpoint and a bridge, as well as expanding the site’s grounds.

India had long been asking Pakistan for such a corridor, but years of diplomatic tensions have kept progress on the matter on hold.

The opening comes just days ahead of Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday on Nov 12, which is marked with celebrations by millions of Sikhs around the world.

“For over 70 years, pilgrims haven’t had the chance to cross over, to come over, and that is just... it’s just... it’s going to be a really emotional moment,” said Karan Deep Singh, a pilgrim from Malaysia.

Others hoped the corridor would help mend ties between the two countries after years of hostility.

“It should improve and I’m hoping that it will improve. Definitely. Because the goodwill is oozing,” said Bhajan Singh Grewal from Australia.

The Sikh faith began in the 15th century in Lahore.

There are an estimated 20,000 Sikhs left in Pakistan after millions fled to India following partition in 1947, which sparked the largest mass migration in human history.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2019