Archive for ‘Sikh’

02/12/2018

Kartarpur corridor: A road to peace between India and Pakistan?

  • 29 November 2018
Gurcharan Singh
Image captionGurcharan Singh welcomes the opportunity to unite Indians and Pakistanis

Seventy-five-year-old Gurcharan Singh was just a child during Partition in 1947, when his family left their home in the city of Sialkot, in modern day Pakistan, to head to India.

Now on a visit to the Sikh temple in the Pakistani village of Kartarpur, he was delighted that the two countries had agreed to construct a corridor allowing visa-free access to pilgrims from India.

“Since Pakistan was created our community has wanted this,” he told the BBC. “Two families,­ Indians and Pakistanis,­ are meeting again.”

The Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur is one of the holiest places in Sikhism. It’s believed to have been built on the site where Guru Nanak, the founder of the religion, died in the 16th Century.

Image captionThe Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, close to the Pakistan-Indian border, is one of the holiest sites in Sikhism

The temple is located around 4km (2.5 miles) from the border with India, but tensions between the neighbouring countries have meant Sikh pilgrims have often found it difficult to visit. Some have had to be content with viewing it through binoculars from India.

The “Kartarpur corridor” will however lead from the Indian border straight to the gurdwara, with the sides fenced off.

The move has been welcomed enthusiastically by the Sikh community, and also represents a rare instance of co-operation between the two countries, which have fought three wars against each other since independence.

Image captionThe ceremony was attended by Sikh children

Relations between India and Pakistan remain strained, but at a ceremony formally starting construction work on the pathway on the Pakistani side of the border, the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said: “We will only progress when we free ourselves from the chains of the past”.

A number of Indian politicians were amongst those attending.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the BBC the Kartarpur project would help improve the countries’ relationship.

“The more people meet, the more they realise how much in common we have, and what we are missing by not resolving our outstanding issues.” he said.

Formal talks between India and Pakistan have stalled since an attack in 2016, which Indian authorities blamed on Pakistani-backed militants. Pakistan denied the claim.

Prime Minister Khan directly addressed the commonly held view that Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services don’t want peace with India, whilst civilian governments generally do.

“My political party, the rest of our political parties, our army, all our institutions are all on one page. We want to move forward,” he said.

Image captionPakistani PM Imran Khan spoke of his hope that the two neighbours can one day be friends

However India’s Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, said the initiative did not mean “bilateral dialogue will start”, adding: “Terror and talks cannot go together. The moment Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, bilateral dialogue can start.”

Pakistan denies supporting militants targeting Indian forces in Kashmir and in return accuses India of supporting separatist movements within Pakistan.

Following his election victory this summer, Mr Khan announced that for every “one step” India takes on improving relations, Pakistan would take “two”. However, a planned meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September was cancelled by Indian officials, amidst anger over stamps issued by Pakistan commemorating what they termed Indian atrocities in Kashmir.

Analyst Michael Kugelman, from the Wilson Centre, told the BBC the Kartarpur border crossing was a “significant” development but it would be wrong to suggest that the next step was a peace process.

“It’s a confidence building measure but at the end of the day India and Pakistan are still at loggerheads”.

Image captionSikhs will be celebrating a landmark birthday of their founder next year

Many observers have also predicted that substantial progress on dialogue between the neighbours would have to wait at least until after elections are held in India, next April or May.

Mr Kugelman said: “It’s politically risky for the Indian government, particularly for a Hindu nationalist government like the current one, to extend an olive branch to Pakistan during the height of campaign season.”

The Kartarpur corridor is due to become operational next year, in time for celebrations of the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak.

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08/03/2017

The partition of India: “Viceroy’s House” is an antidote to colonial triumphalism | The Economist

THE fetishisation of British Imperialism is inescapable. Last December, Theresa May cited the East India Company as an example of Britain’s historical trading prowess. Contestants on a recent season of “The Apprentice”, an entrepreneurial reality show, created batches of “Colony Gin”; Marks & Spencer, a retailer, included an “Empire Pie” as part of its Gastropub collection. This nostalgia is borne out by a YouGov poll from 2016, which found that 44% of respondents are proud of Britain’s colonial history.

Those colonised, though, see the empire rather differently. A charge sheet of Britain’s efforts in India—and every territory colonised can produce an equivalent—might list partition, the man-made Bengal famine in 1943 (which resulted in an estimated 3m deaths), the wretched labour system of indenture and the looting of state wealth. Partition alone resulted in 1m deaths and created 15m refugees in a matter of weeks; Hindus and Sikhs fled their homes in what was the become the Muslim state of Pakistan, while Muslims in India took flight in the opposite direction.

“Viceroy’s House”, a new film written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, seeks to document Britain’s role in partition and the cleaving of the Punjab region. In the final months of the Raj, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) arrives to oversee the transfer of power to Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), and reconcile the demands of independence leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru with those of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow)—who had never set foot in India before—is drafted in to assess how 175,000 square miles, home to 88m people, should be split. Ms Chadha carefully balances high politics with its impact on ordinary citizens; relations between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim staff become tense as the prospect of annexing India’s Muslim-majority regions emerges.

The film is good in exposing the Machiavellian motives behind this rushed decision, as well as the gut-wrenching suffering that followed (the house, which “makes Buckingham Palace look like a bungalow”, becomes a camp for the displaced). It is not perfect, however. “Viceroy’s House” absolves everyone—Lord Mountbatten, the British, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims—of blame for the suffering. Some critics have complained that it does not give any attention to the Indian independence struggle, or catalogue the horrors of British rule. These are deserving of films in their own right; Ms Chadha’s decision to focus her lens solely on how partition unfolded is a wise one.

With millions of people involved in the story of partition, “Viceroy’s House” was always going to be a tricky undertaking, likely to be deemed unsatisfactory by many. Ms Chadha tells the story of this multifaceted moment in the region’s history through the lens of one building, framing it as the tale of “the people’s partition” rather than dealing in factionalism and blame. She has subverted the period-drama genre—how many period dramas close on a shot of a desperate refugee camp?—to produce something akin to a “Dummy’s Guide to partition”.

Yet even as a superficial primer, “Viceroy’s House” fills a gap in Britain’s collective consciousness and cultural memory. In the canon of modern British films about India, partition features in “Gandhi” (1982) and “Midnight’s Children” (2012) but gets scant treatment elsewhere. “Viceroy’s House” stands out from these offerings as a British film narrated with heart, soul and profound sadness by a Punjabi film-maker with a personal investment in the story: the closing credits reveal that Ms Chadha’s grandmother lost a child to starvation while fleeing to India.

It will be hard for some to maintain a sense of nostalgia and triumphalism for Britain’s empire after watching “Viceroy’s House”: Ms Chadha intersperses the drama with Pathé news footage of communal violence and Churchill’s dejected newscasts explaining the collapse of law and order. The film has ensured that partition, which is rarely taught in British high schools, has a place in the nation’s shared public culture again. Too right. Partition is as much a part of modern Britain—home to 700,000 Indian and Pakistani Punjabis, many of whom are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of partition—as butter chicken, saag paneer, naan, bhangra and Bollywood.

Source: The partition of India: “Viceroy’s House” is an antidote to colonial triumphalism | The Economist

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