Beyond the Corridor

December 1, 2019

By opening the corridor, both countries fulfilled a long-standing wish of the Sikhs whilst simultaneously making their travels easier and cheaper

Recently, the Kartarpur Corridor was officially opened, allowing Indian Sikhs rare visa-free access to visit their place of worship. The opening of the Corridor was favourably timed with the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.

The Corridor is a 4.5-kilometre border linking India and Pakistan, connecting two of the most revered Sikh shrines — the Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in India, and the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan. This initially began as a proposal in 1999 but was finally opened on November 9, marking an unprecedented historic moment for the two otherwise hostile neighbouring nations.

The moment was monumental for the Indian Sikhs. Since partition, they have borne a heavy heart at the separation of one of their most revered places of worship. Although there had been a lot of speculation about the ‘ulterior’ political and economic motives of the move, and much criticism had been raised about the $20 fee, it is interesting to analyse the symbolic significance of the event itself.

By opening the corridor, both countries fulfilled a long-standing wish of the Sikhs whilst simultaneously making their travels easier and cheaper. The name “Kartarpur” means “a place of God”. Here, all people irrespective of religion or caste lived together in peace, representing the first Sikh commune, before partition. This context is ironic when you notice the far-from-favourable treatment of minorities in both Pakistan and India. Media outlets were, therefore, quick to label this as an event that would create momentum for better treatment of minorities in both countries.

It is also interesting to think that the shrine was built to commemorate the site where Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life, spreading the message of peace. Pakistan and India have a long, muddied history. The tension at the borders was exacerbated in August following the abolition of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that granted the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir partial autonomy. The opening of the corridor, hence, is a testament to the fact that bridges can be built in seemingly incurable situations. Not only can its symbolic significance be applied to our political situation, but it can also act as a metaphor, translating into our daily lives.

Moreover, the event proved that territorial divisions among people of a shared heritage do not extinguish the colossal transformational power they possess. It made us believe in the collective power of goodwill; that people on either side of a conflict can triumph over political struggles.

In opening the Kartarpur Corridor, Pakistan and India have allowed us to believe that borders don’t need to be seen as constraints when there is a shared momentum for peace.

It is tough to say whether this will really be a stepping stone for greater good in the future, but it is not entirely unrealistic to hope that a gesture such as this one will be a catalyst for larger breakthroughs. As Prime Minister Imran Khan said at a ceremony marking the construction of this work on the Pakistani side, “We will only progress when we free ourselves from the chains of our past!”

Pakistan and India: Beyond the Kartarpur Corridor