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Kartarpur Corridor: Why Some Sikhs May Want to Return to Pakistan

In Punjab, the bond between a host and his guest is distinguished by a sense of sacred duty. Whatever one’s social status, one’s home is a resource to be shared with devotion. In recent weeks, Sikhs from across the world have been welcomed as revered guests of Pakistan to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

Pilgrimage is both a personal and a political affair. The Kartarpur corridor, connecting pilgrims in India to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, is an historic achievement, but it gives way to a nagging question: can this symbol of unity truly heal the wounds of Partition?

The happiness displayed by Pakistanis at the sight of visiting Sikhs speaks to a nostalgia for an imagined past of cosmopolitan affection. It was as if we were returning home. From Islamabad to Lahore, the request for photographs amongst all age groups was endless. Working-class Pakistanis, from shopkeepers to police officers, were most enthusiastic in their expressions of Punjabi brotherhood. Excited smiles crept upon the faces of onlookers at the sight of turbans and the sound of Punjabi language: “Tuhāḍī'āṁ pagāṁ tuhāḍā shahan hai”.

Kartarpur has emerged as an idiom of joyous obligation in Pakistan’s national conversation. Popular excitement surrounding the Corridor is so high that it feels as though the nation has sworn an oath of fealty to another. Visual imagery plays a central role in exhibiting this commitment. Welcome posters adorn the roads leading to Sikh holy cities. The faces of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjabi politicians feature most frequently, giving the impression that Sikh yatris are the recipients of elite favour. The location of the posters is undoubtedly calculated with precision. For instance, visuals inside Gurdwara Janam Asthan at the birthplace of Guru Nanak (Nankana Sahib) foreground the determination of the Pakistani state to present an image of their country as a haven for minorities’ expression.

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