Pilgrimage helps create goodwill

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]here governments fail, people often succeed. So, people to people contact is always to be supported. After the ground breaking ceremony for Kartarpur corridor, marking a solid start to contact between people of India and Pakistan, there is now clamour for such a corridor to be opened for Sharda Peeth in Occupied Kashmir. Although there was a certain side play involving the visit of controversial Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to the event, the Kartarpur corridor initiative is clearly a positive for the Sikh pilgrims. The corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur, the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev, with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district.

While making the Kartarpur corridor initiative, Pak prime minister Imran Khan had also proposed the opening of Sharda Peeth and Katasraj as well as other shrines to bridge the gap between the two neighbours. Sharda Peeth is an abandoned temple in Sharda village along the Neelam River across LoC. It was a major centre of learning and is regarded as one of the 18 highly-revered temples in South Asia. The site is very significant for Kashmiri Pandits, who have been demanding access to the shrine.

In fact, more than 200 Kashmiri pandits took out a protest march in Anantnag on Sunday demanding that a passage be opened to facilitate devotees to visit the Sharda Devi temple. The pandits believe that all the trouble in the Kashmir Valley is due to the neglect of the presiding deity Sharda Mata and, therefore, consider it as a matter of faith. The sentiments were echoed by former chief minister and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, who has written to Prime Minister Modi seeking opening of the Sharda Peeth pilgrimage route. Visit to the Sharda Devi temple was a regular pilgrim activity for Hindus until Independence, when access was closed to the important pilgrim centre due to the rivalry between the two countries.

Pilgrimage has been a less sticky route for people to people contact on either side of the border and, therefore, makes it easier to find common ground for the people. When it comes to contacts between the two sparring nations, cricket always occupied the pride of place, but due to intense nationalistic passions involved in the game, it serves more to polarise than unite the people. India’s advanced medical care capabilities have been perhaps a more powerful factor that helped create goodwill for people.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj deserves special credit for pushing this kind of healthcare diplomacy, which leaves a lasting imprint in the minds of people. Pilgrimage is a similar channel with great potential to create goodwill and must get unstinted support and the opening of access to Sharda Peeth will go a long way in healing the wounds between the two nations.