The Hindu – Kartarpur corridor: India, Pakistan agree on visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims to gurdwara

Vijaita Singh

Attari – Panjab – India, 04 September 2019. India and Pakistan reached an understanding on visa-free travel of Indian pilgrims based on their faith but no formal agreement could be signed.

“However, owing to certain differences on a few key issues, an agreement could not be finalised. Pakistan has insisted on charging a service fee for allowing pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is not agreeable in the spirit of smooth and easy access through the corridor.

Pakistan has also shown its unwillingness to allow the presence of Indian consular or protocol officials at the gurdwara premises. Pakistan side has been urged to reconsider its position,” a government source said.

The third round of talks on the modalities for operationalisation of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor was held at Attari checkpoint in Punjab on Wednesday.

The Indian delegation was led by Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and the Pakistani delegation led by Director General (South Asia and SAARC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Persons of Indian origin holding OCI card too can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor. 5,000 pilgrims can visit Holy Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor every day. Additional pilgrims, over and above the figure of 5,000, can visit on special occasions, subject to capacity expansion by Pakistan side.

Pakistan has conveyed its solemn commitment to increase this number to the maximum possible,” the source said.

The corridor will be operational throughout the year, seven days a week, an understanding was reached and pilgrims will have a choice to visit as individuals or in groups, and on foot.

“Both sides agreed to build the bridge at Budhi Ravi Channel. Pending the construction of the bridge on the Pakistan side, both sides agreed to the crossing point coordinates of the temporary service road being built,” the source said.

Both sides also agreed upon emergency evacuation procedures, especially medical emergencies. A direct line of communication between Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers will be used for the same, the source said.

Both sides also agreed to ensure safe and secure environment for the movement of pilgrims.

Pakistan has been requested, once again, to allow protocol officers from India to accompany pilgrims every day for facilitating their visit, the source said.

The Pakistan side has agreed to make sufficient provision for preparation and distribution of ‘Langar’ and ‘Prasad’ for the pilgrims.

All the facilities on Indian side would be ready for the pilgrimage through Kartarpur Corridor on the auspicious occasion of the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kartarpur-corridor-third-round-of-talks-between-india-pak-underway/article29329827.ece?homepage=true

The Hindu – India, Pakistan to hold talks on Kartarpur Corridor on 04 September.

Meeting comes days after technical discussion on infrastructure

Kallol Bhattacherjee

New Delhi – India, 01 September 2019. India and Pakistan will hold a round of talks on the Kartarpur corridor project on 04 September, sources confirmed on Sunday. The meeting comes days after both sides held a technical discussion on the progress of infrastructure work.

“We proposed a slot between September 3 and 5, and they [Pakistan] agreed to meet on September 5,” a source said, adding that India had sent a note verbale on August 28, asking for the third round of talks on the project that is expected to be operational on time for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations in the first week of November.

The coming round is significant as it will be the first such talks between two sides since New Delhi ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on 05 August. Despite the tension in the relations with Pakistan, India has said it wishes the work on the project would continue unhindered by other issues.

Pakistan, too, has said it remains committed to the project. On 31 August, Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared on social media that India remained focused on completing the remaining work on time for the festivities.

“I also reiterate the commitment of the Modi government to complete the work on Kartarpur Sahib Corridor within the time frame,” he said in a message. Once completed, the project will be first such initiative between the two countries.

Both sides had agreed to make the corridor free of visa requirements to facilitate the visit of pilgrims from India and other parts of the world. The second round of talks was held on July 14; thereafter the tension increased because of the situation in Kashmir.

The celebrations started in the first week of August when a ‘Nagar Kirtan’ procession reached Amritsar from Nankana Sahib in Pakistan. It was historic as it was the first time such a religious procession reached India from across the border since the Partition of 1947.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-pak-to-hold-talks-on-kartarpur-corridor-on-sept-4/article29316723.ece

Sikh24.com – Kathavachak attacked for asking people to stop dancing over vulgar songs inside Gurdwara Sahib Premises

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 01 September 2019. Bhai Atar Singh, who is serving as a Kathavachak in Gurdwara Jyoti Saroop Sahib (Fatehgarh Sahib), reportedly got attacked by some people in village Jhanjeri on August 31.

It is learnt that the incident occurred when Bhai Atar Singh tried to stop the people dancing on vulgar songs running over DJ inside the premises of Gurdwara Sahib.

Sharing the details of incident, SGPC spokesperson Kulwinder Singh Ramdas informed that Bhai Atar Singh was returning from Mohali to Fatehgarh Sahib last night when he noticed some people dancing over vulgar songs inside the premises of Gurdwara Sahib in village Jhanjeri.

Feeling it his duty to stop the violation of the Sikh code of conduct, Bhai Atar Singh tried to convince the dancing people to stop violating the code of conduct inside Gurdwara Sahib but the concerned people launched attack on him.

During this attack, the sacred Kakaars worn by him got disrespected and his car also got damaged.

Taking strong notice of this unfortunate incident, the SGPC president Gobind Singh Longowal has raised questions over the day by day worsening law and order situation in Punjab. He has demanded strong action against all the elements involved in attacking the Kathavachak.

Meanwhile, it is learnt that a FIR has been registered on Police station Majaat which falls in Sohana police constituency.

Kathavachak attacked for asking people to stop dancing over vulgar songs inside Gurdwara Sahib Premises

Sikh24.com – AAP MLAs take on Subramanian Swamy for his objectionable statement on Kartarpur corridor

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 25 August 2019. Strongly criticizing the Subramanian Swamy’s statement suggesting suspension of Kartarpur corridor’s construction work, the AAP legislators has asked the BJP high command to either ask Swamy to revoke his statement or expel him from the party with immediate effect.

AAP legislators Professor Baljinder Kaur, Rupinder Kaur Ruby, Manjit Singh Bilaspur, Kulwant Singh Pandori and Jai Krishan Singh Rodi have said that Swamy has twitched the hearts of the worldwide Sikh sangat with his objectionable thinking and wording.

They added that the prayers of Sikh community have borne fruits after 70 years, but the politicians like Subramanian Swamy are creating hurdles to stop Kartarpur corridor from getting operational.

They also took on BJP parliamentarian Kiran Kher for comparing Indian PM Narendra Modi with Hindu Lord Sri Krishna. They said that Modi can be very great for Kiran Kher but comparing him to Lord Sri Krishna was totally wrong.

AAP MLAs take on Subramanian Swamy for his objectionable statement on Kartarpur corridor

Dawn – In the land of Waris Shah, Muslims protect Sikh heritage

“This is the land of Waris Shah. It yields nothing but love.”

Saif Tahir & Zahida Rehman Jatt

Jandiala – Panjab – Pakistan, 28 August 2019. Lying with our eyes closed, within the cold walls and shadows of the shrine, we heard his voice for the first time. Sain, as he was called, was singing verses from Heer, the revered Punjabi poem of Waris Shah.

Heer akhdi jogia jhoth bolay, kon ruthray yaar mananda ei
eisa koi na d itha mai dhoondh thaki, jera gaya nu morr liaonda ei
(Heer says, O jogi! You tell lies; whom can unite separated lovers
I have searched in vain but found none, who can bring back the departed)

As he sang in high notes, his voice resonated in the shrine, the dome and its surrounding, as if every soul present was remembering their own Heer. Amid the enchantment, a woman appeared. Making sure no one was watching, she dipped her fingers in an extinguished charagh and placed them in her hair, a mark of submission to Waris Shah to plead for her beloved. The outer wall of the shrine reads:

Waris shah mehboob nu tadon paiye
jadon apna aap ganwaiye
(Waris Shah, the beloved can only be attained
When one loses himself)

Taking the Hiran Minar exit from the Lahore-Islamabad motorway, one notices signboards reading pre-Partition names of villages, Lel Virkan, Noshehra Virkan and Buddha Goraya, that continue to exist after more than 70 years.

Our destination was Jandiala, meaning ‘forest’ in Punjabi. This is the Jandiala Sher Khan where Waris Shah was born and Heer was immortalised, and where now stands the shrine of Waris Shah, as lovers and newly-weds visit from all corners to seek his blessings.

Ours was a visit to explore the heritage sites around Gujranwala and to fulfill our pledge to start the journey by offering gratitude to Waris Shah.

After doing that, we set off to explore the pre-Partition heritage of the area. While visiting various sites, a marble structure emerged from amongst the trees after a sharp road turn. Seemingly unrelated to the adjacent mosque, the white edifice unfolded its enchanting glory as we moved closer.

Encircled by houses, the entrance to the building was hard to find until a man approached us and inquired about our intentions. Discovering our past affiliation with newspapers and keen interest in the site, Rashid agreed to show us around.

“Ye sikhon ki masjid hai” (This is the mosque of Sikhs), he told us. “We clean it and show it to Sikh pilgrims who visit.”

Rashid was born amongst hundreds of families who came from India after Partition and settled in this region. Hardly remembering his ancestral village, to him Ambala was what he had heard it was from his mother.

“This place is similar to the mosques we left behind in our villages. It gave us shelter and is very important to us,” he said as he opened the main door.

The facade had prominent inscriptions written in Hindi that we failed to decipher. It is when we Googled it that we came to know that this beautiful structure was actually a gurdwara known as Kharasahab or Gurdwara Mattu Bhaike.

It was an important pre-Partition gurdwara established by local affluent Sikhs after 1940 in honour of Guru Hargobind Singh, the sixth Guru, who while passing by this place showed annoyance to tobacco and asked his followers to avoid it.

This instruction later transcended into a weighty hukam (ruling) of Sikhism, “jagat jootth tambaakoo bikhiaa da tiaag karnaa” (Discard worldly ways, falsehoods and poisonous tobacco).

The samadhi

It was during the reign of Ranjit Singh that Sikhs became influential and consolidated prominent places of worship all over Punjab. Mattu Bhaike, Nowshehra Virkan and the adjacent areas were inhabited by Sikhs who migrated after Partition, leaving their buildings at the mercy of migrants and locals who, in many cases, destroyed the structures and replaced them with residential quarters.

The exterior of the gurdwara was striking, with marble, stone and glass works and beautiful wooden engravings on the doors. It had a samadhi (tomb) whose stucco work and paintings had warped with time. It used to have an idol as well, Rashid told us.

Despite being muddy from the outside, the interior of the building was in decent condition. It consisted of a big, tiled hall on the ground floor that had been used for different religious rituals. The surrounding wooden windows were clogged with dust as if they hadn’t been touched since its occupants left.

There were four entrance doors to the ground floor. On the extreme right were stairs going up. At the top was a small room and a dome with magnificent paintwork. The view of lush green fields from there was heavenly.

It looked like the site was regularly taken care of since nothing had been destroyed or looted. I was informed that it belongs to the Mattu clan who still lives here.

Searching for answers, we went to the Mattu Bhaike village. Not many were interested in talking about Sikhs and their gurdwara. But finally, Ijaz agreed to answer some questions.

Ijaz, in his late 40s, lived next to the gurdwara. “We have been living here for centuries,” he said, while showing us some old documents, including his lineage. “Our ancestors were Sikhs. Later, my great grandparents converted to Islam.” Yet, his cousins remained Sikh.

“Everyone was living peacefully when Partition happened. We decided to stay, but riots erupted in the neighbouring villages and so the Mattu family decided to shift their Sikh cousins and family across the border, while their homes and flocks were put in our custody until they returned.

“However, no one returned. People who witnessed Partition recall the night of the departure like it happened yesterday. The sadness still engulfs every living soul here,” Ijaz recounted as he looked towards the gurdwara.

“My grandfather used to show me the house keys given to him by his friend Inderjeet wrapped in his mother’s shawl, whom they both called bayjee. He was so protective of it that he did not let us so much as touch the house during his lifetime,” he told us.

We asked him about the destruction of Sikh and Hindu heritage sites after Partition and the Babri Mosque incident. Ijaz replied: “The gurdwara has the graves of our forefathers. Some people tried to destroy it in 1992, but the whole village came out to protect it.”

He added, “Mattus are Sikhs and Muslims. We have family across the border who are desperate to see their ancestral village. The pilgrims visited in 1960s for the first time and the entire village welcomed them with food. My grandfather said that Sikhs are his uncles and nephews; our hearts and houses are always open for them. They might be Indians but this is their land.”

“He also used to say to all of us, ‘this is the land of Waris Shah. It yields nothing but love’”, Ijaz said with a smile.

For people in the subcontinent, Partition epitomises loss not just of territory, but also of identity. However, there are places like Mattu Bhaike where people refused to let go of their identity and affection towards each other.

Last month, as a goodwill motion, Pakistan handed over the Gurdwara Kharasahab to the Sikh community. With steps like these, including the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, people might finally be able to meet their Heer they have been longing for.

Saif Tahir is a researcher by profession and a photographer by passion. He is former faculty and trainer at Bahria University and Pakistan Navy War College.

Zahida Rehman Jatt is an anthropologist and social science researcher. She is lecturer at the department of anthropology and archaeology at the University of Sindh in Jamshoro.

To also see the beautiful pictures :

https://www.newsnow.co.uk/h/Lifestyle/Religion/Sikhism

TimesNowNews.com – Kartarpur Corridor to be inaugurated on November 11: Report

The development comes a day after Pakistan said it stands ready to open Kartarpur Corridor and welcome the Sikh pilgrims in celebrations in connection with the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak.

Islamabad/New Delhi – Pakistan/India, 24 August 2019. The Kartarpur corridor is set to to be inaugurated on 11 November and the construction work will be completed by 31 August. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, de facto Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and other goverment officials will attend the inauguration ceremony of the Sikh holy shrine Kartarpur.

A report in Pakistani media said the construction work on the project has entered its final phase and will be completed by August-end and it will be open to public on the eve of 550th birth anniversary of Sikh guru Guru Nanak Sahib.

Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal earlier said that the corridor will open in November but did not provide the date of its opening.

“Pakistan is committed to open the corridor in November on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak”, he said here on Thursday. A meeting on the corridor would take place soon, he said on Wednesday (August 22).

The development comes a day after Pakistan said it stands ready to open Kartarpur corridor and welcome the Sikh pilgrims to take part in celebrations in connection with the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak despite tensions with India.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made the statement while speaking to delegation of officials, parliamentarians and members of civil society from Aghanistan at an event.

Tensions between the two nations escalated after Balakot strikes and later India’s scrapping Jammu & Kashmir’s special status accorded to the state under Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5.

“Despite our tensions with India, we have decided go ahead with Kartarpur corridor and we stand ready to welcome the Sikh pilgrims for the 550th anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak,” Qureshi told the delegation.

In a major initiative announced in November 2018, both India and Pakistan agreed to set up the Kartarpur corridor to link the historic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, to Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab’s Gurdaspur.

The Katarpur Sahib shrine is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the Ravi river, about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur.

The corridor is slated to connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak. Indian Sikh pilgrims will be able to travel to Dera Baba Nanak shrine visa-free but will need to obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib which was established in 1522 by Guru Nanak Dev.

Pakistan is constructing the corridor from the Indian border to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib on its side while the other part from border to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur will be built by India.

BJP MP Subramanian Swamy earlier said the work on the Kartarpur corridor project should be stopped in the interest of the nation and there should be no talks with Pakistan on any issue.

“In my view, in the interest of the nation, the work (on the Kartarpur corridor) should not move ahead. Whatever work has taken place (on the project), let it stop there,” Swamy told reporters.

https://www.timesnownews.com/international/article/kartarpur-corridor-to-to-be-inaugurated-on-november/475320?fbclid=IwAR2cCy10v6LI10n8RVXOy3DLCaSFubRLE9rwU4IYFTVItLUK682n5xZne3c

The Tribune – India-Pakistan tension may hit Gurpurb festivities

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 23 August 2019. The tension between India and Pakistan may take a toll on the joint celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

Though the SGPC, DSGMC and SAD (Delhi) have planned cross-border pilgrimage and religious processions to commemorate the occasion scheduled in November, looking at the rising tension, especially after the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K, the enthusiasm appeared to have been dampened on both sides.

Though the Pakistan authorities had earlier announced to grant around 10,000 visas for pilgrims, the SGPC has received just around 1,300 applications for a jatha to Pakistan.

Bhai Mardana Kirtan Darbar Society, which organises the pilgrimage, too, received just 400 applications and the DSGMC has got only a few applications.

SGPC chief secretary Roop Singh said the final decision on the jatha would be taken as per the situation prevailing in November. Recently, the SGPC has taken out a nagar kirtan that started off from Gurdwara Janam Asthan in Nankana Sahib before entering to India through the Attari-Wagah border.

An official of SGPC said there were at least 3,000 applications for jathas that were scheduled for Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary in the past, but now the enthusiasm had decreased.

Bhai Mardana society’s president Harpal Singh Bhullar admitted that the tension between the two neighbouring countries had dampened the spirit among the devotees.

SAD (Delhi) Paramjit Singh Sarna was of view that the nagar kirtan would cross over to Pakistan on October 31, but the number of participants might be less.

The DSGMC too plans a parallel nagar kirtan from Gurdwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi to Nankana Sahib and looking forward to cross over Attari-Wagah border on November 1.

Exhibition on Guru Nanak in United Arab Emirates

New Delhi – India, On the eve of visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UAE, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, international president, World Punjabi Organisation, presented a painting of Guru Nanak Dev to Sheikh Nahayan Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Tolerance.

Sheikh Al Nahyan inaugurated an exhibition on the life and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev to mark the 550th anniversary celebrations in Abu Dhabi.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/india-pak-tension-may-hit-gurpurb-festivities/821767.html

The Hindu – Ready to open Kartarpur Corridor, says Pakistan

Despite our tensions with India, we have decided go ahead, says Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 23 August 2019. Pakistan on Friday said that despite tensions with India, it stands ready to open the Kartarpur Corridor and welcome the Sikh pilgrims to take part in celebrations in connection with the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said this while speaking to a delegation of civil society and parliamentarians of Afghanistan, which is currently visiting Pakistan for the ‘Track-II dialogue, Beyond Boundaries’

Tension between India and Pakistan has escalated after New Delhi revoked Article 370 of the Constitution which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories on August 5.

“Despite our tensions with India, we have decided go ahead with Kartarpur Corridor and we stand ready to welcome the Sikh pilgrims for the 550th anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak,” Mr. Qureshi told the delegation.

Connecting Karturpur with Gurdaspur

The Kartarpur corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib, which was established in 1522 by Guru Nanak Dev.

Pakistan is building the corridor from the Indian border to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib while the other part from Dera Baba Nanak up to the border will be constructed by India.

Mr Qureshi also told the delegation that current tension with India will not affect Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan. Border (with Afghanistan) will not be closed nor trade will stop.

“Despite tensions with India, Pakistan is totally focused on the situation and its role in Afghanistan. It (Kashmir situation) can be a huge distraction but we are very clear what we need to do in Afghanistan”, he added while responding to a question if escalation of tension with India can distract Pakistan.

Mr Qureshi told the delegation that he had invited the Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s and China for a trilateral meeting. The Foreign Minister will come to Pakistan in the first week of September for the talks, he added.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ready-to-open-kartarpur-corridor-says-pakistan/article29229704.ece

Sikh24.com – Punjab Flood Alert: SGPC announces to provide free food and accommodation to the sufferers

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 18 August 2019. Recognizing the duty towards service of humanity, the apex Sikh body Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has announced to food and accommodation to the villagers who have been evacuated from their villages in the wake of possible release of water from the Bhakra Dam reservoir.

It is learnt that the SGPC has gone active to help the victim villagers.

Speaking with media, the SGPC’s chief secretary Dr Roop Singh informed that the managers of state-wide Gurdwara Sahibans have been directed to make sufficient arrangements for accommodating the victim villagers and offer them food till the situation doesn’t get averted.

He has appealed the Punjab masses to contact the Gurdwara Sahiban authorities if they feel any need.

It is noteworthy here that the Bhakra Beas Management Board is likely to release water in more than usual quantity due heavy rainfall in the region. The Bhakra Dam reservoir is learnt to be only five feet below its upper mark.

Punjab Flood Alert: SGPC announces to provide free food and accommodation to the sufferers

TRT World – Pakistan needs to do more than renovate temples to tackle minority issues

In recent years, Pakistan has increasingly invested in renovations to both Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples, but structural problems still exist with its minorities.

Haroon Khalid

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 20 August 2019. On the morning of December 7 1992, a mob gathered in the courtyard of the Valmiki Hindu temple in Anarkali Lahore, one of the two functional Hindu temples in the city, which had a considerable Hindu population before the creation of Pakistan in 1947, including several functioning temples.

According to mythology, the origin of Lahore, the second-most populous city in Pakistan, is attributed to the son of the Hindu deity, Ram. During Partition riots, communities that had lived together for generations were torn asunder, with the majority of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs, forced or choosing to migrate to India.

A day before the gathering in Lahore, news of the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India, had dominated headlines. Led by the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a mob had brought down this historic mosque. They claimed the mosque had been created after destroying a Hindu temple that marked the place of birth of the Hindu deity, Ram.

In retaliation to the destruction of the mosque, hundreds of mobs gathered all over Pakistan seeking to ‘avenge’ desecration of the mosque. Numerous Hindu temples were destroyed, as the state quietly looked on. Like numerous other Hindu temples, most of which were either abandoned or taken over by people to be used as residences and for other purposes, the Valmiki Temple in Anarkali was looted, destroyed and then burned.

Carved out of British-India, the two countries of India and Pakistan became Hindu and Muslim dominated respectively. While India shocked by consciously defining itself as a ‘secular’ country, Pakistan whole-heartedly embraced its Muslim identity.

On the one hand, this Muslim identity meant taking up Islamic symbols and the Islamisation of state institutions, on the other hand, it was defined in opposition to the ‘Hindu identity’.

Festivals that had Hindu origin, words which had entered the vernacular via Sanskrit, and other customs that were perceived to be part of ‘Hindu culture’ were jettisoned. The phenomena gained momentum particularly in the aftermath of the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. Hindu became synonymous with India, the enemy.

Anti-Hindu rhetoric gained currency in public discourse, including the education system, with Hindus being labelled as ‘cunning’, ‘scheming’, ‘deceptive’ and ‘mischievous’ in school textbooks that were taught to young students all across the country. As these children grew up the narratives became part of the worldview of the politicians, bureaucrats, judges, army officers and media representatives.

With the Hindu minority in Pakistan dwindling, generations of Pakistanis grew up without ever encountering a Hindu in their social setting. ‘Hindu’ became a distorted figment of their imagination rather than an actual person. In this environment, acts of violence against the minuscule Hindu minority, including forced conversion, and the property grabbing of Hindu temples went unnoticed.

The situation began to change in the last couple of decades under the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf. With Pakistan in limelight in the aftermath of 9/11 and the war on terror, the state was desperate to project a more ‘progressive’ image of the country.

Calling it ‘Enlightened Moderation’, the Musharraf government particularly reached out to the religious minorities and oversaw the renovation of a few Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples. For example the ancient Hindu temple of Katas Raj in Punjab was renovated and opened to pilgrims.

Similarly a historical Hindu temple in Islamabad was renovated and made part of the ‘model village’ of Saidpur. With the patronage of the state, the media responded as well, increasing the coverage of minority issues in Pakistan.

In 2008, Pakistan elected a civilian government, which continued the promotion of this ‘soft image’. Many more Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples were renovated. Just last month, a historic Hindu temple in Sialkot was renovated. The action received widespread appreciation.

It seems as if the state which in 1992 had looked on passively as mobs destroyed Hindu temples has taken a swift turn and is now actively protecting its Hindu heritage, a far cry from what has happened across the border during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s tenure in office.

While these actions are praiseworthy and do to some extent represent a qualitative change in how the state views itself, it needs to be kept in mind that these actions are more symbolic than they are a systematic change.

The fact remains that the Hindu minority of Pakistan is a persecuted minority. The forced conversion for many Hindu girls is a widespread issue and often representatives of the state are silent spectators as these atrocities occur.

The education system remains problematic, continuing to depict Hindus in an ‘otherised’ form. Journalists and sometimes politicians often resort to an ‘anti-Hindu’ language when tensions flare with India. The Pakistani identity it seems is still deeply rooted in separation from the ‘Hindu identity’.

While lip service is paid to the need to secure rights for religious minorities in Pakistan, with the renovation of a handful of Hindu temples as an example of this, the social structures that result in this persecution and exclusion remain intact.

These acts might win the state accolades but it hardly changes the reality of religious minorities in Pakistan.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/pakistan-needs-to-do-more-than-renovate-temples-to-tackle-minority-issues-29131