OPINION
A Gateway to Friendship Must Stay Open
- Saba Pervaiz Kiyani
A Gateway to Friendship Must Stay Open



Through time and through histories, when a legend of love erupts, tales or emotions make it clear that those is love usually disregard religious and social restrictions. When these tales fail, the lovers abandon their amorous intentions because of religious and social pressures. When these tales succeed, the lovers rise up to challenge the formidable obstacles and norms being religiously practiced by a society. So commonly, their decision leads to a stir in the society particularly.
 
Recently, when a Sikh girl, Jagjit Kaur married a Muslim boy, it led to an uproar and confusion not only in Pakistan but given our fragile relations with our neighbor, even in India.When the news surfaced, there were two kinds of opinions reigning over minds of people. 

The Sikh girl, Jagjit Kaur was forced to convert to Islam and marry the Muslim boy. 

The couple had taken the decision out of love and their commitment to each other, regardless of any religious and social taboos.

Timing:

When the news was making headlines in local and foreign media, members of the Sikh community from all over the world were in Lahore to participate in the first International Sikh Convention held at the Governor house. Immediately, prominent women activists from India, United States, United Kingdom and Canada, accompanied by Governor Punjab’s wife went to Darul Aman to meet Jagjit Kaur. The family of the girl was also present. They tried to convince Jagjit Kaur to re-think her decision. But Jagjit Kaur was adamant and refused to go with her family. 

Since most of the Sikh community was critical of the happenings, the government of Pakistan went an extra mile to resolve the issue. After several efforts, the girl’s Sikh and boy’s Muslim family reached an agreement. Jagjit will go back her home, and most probably, her fate will be decided by her family and uncles. This is no surprise. This is the usual story. In our subcontinent, in our societies, repeatedly the orthodox pull out the card of religion from the haversack of vested interests to curb the feelings of individuals. All marriages arranged outside caste, social status and language are denounced by the society. 
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Media Response:

Not surprisingly – and I say this with regret - some Indian media houses availed themselves of the story to entangle the audience and tried hard to bounce the matter in various directions. Their task appeared to evoke more concern about this external matter to their nation than to India’s internal matter – Kashmir. This was in line with India’s frequent claims that Kashmir is its domestic issue and Pakistan should remain away from it. 

Jagjit Kaur’s matter sold successfully to conceal the news of Kashmir for more than three to four days. Political opportunists and assumed well-wishers of the Sikh religion painted a hate and animosity filled tale against Pakistan. Indian media taunted the Sikh youth for helping Kashmiri women in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370. When the news of Jagjit Kaur’s conversion was trending, the media instigated Sikhs in eastern Punjab to protest against Pakistan. The media lapsed into a trope: portray Sikh girls in Pakistan as vulnerable and easy targets. 
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This is because Sikhs in India face severe criticism for supporting Pakistan on the Kartarpur corridor. The Indian mainland media does not value the Sikh people’s attachment to Guru Nanak’s land in Kartarpur and pushes the agenda that its government should back out from the mission of opening the corridor. 

History:

In all of this, rather deliberately the Indian media forgets the bonds between the Sikhs and Muslims. The idea is to negate a narrative within the Sikh and Muslim communities –a friendship that is centuries-old and shares a deeper bond than any fictional perception. 

Guru Nanak and his Muslim close aide and companion, Bhai Mardana are emblematic for the bonds between Sikhs and Muslims. That is why, with reverence, many Muslims claim that Guru Nanak belongs to them also. Another heartfelt and sincere friendship was between the fifth Guru Arjan Dev and the Muslim Sufi Mian Mir which stands as a shining example of goodwill among Sikhs and Muslims. The last Sikh Guru Gobind Singh had fought several battles with the Pahari Rajas, who were Hindus, but Indian scholars and media always talk about Guru’s battle against a Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. 
While in the abstract the Sikhs are considered to be brave, saviours and humanist, their real role in history of being a syncretic religion between Hindus and Muslims is often forgotten.
 
Not only in Kashmir but all over the world, wherever humanity faces lock-downs, destruction or turmoil, a large number of Sikhs reach out to the affected areas like recently with Rohingya, Syria, and many other parts of the world for rescue, food and shelter. In recent years, a Sikh body is known all over the world for its rescue activities. Yet, the Indian media never portrays this complete picture.

While the relations between Sikhs and Muslims are age old, what is of concern these days are the voices in India about that nation’s future plans to convert the nation into a Hindu state. In such a state, what will be the space of Indian minorities, especially Sikhs? Especially those who were in the case of Jagjit Kaur, targeting Pakistani society? This is a matter the Sikhs in India need to think about.

If the BJP government makes India a Hindu state tomorrow, where would the Sikhs stand? The Indian constitution does not even accept the Sikhs as a separate religious identity and declares them Hindu. What would be the Sikhs’ take on countless cases of rape of Sikh women in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom or killings of their youth in fake encounters which remain undecided by the justice system of India?

Just a reminder in place here: according to Pakistan's Constitution,not a single religious minority has been stripped of its religious identity, nor is there any political or religious organisation, in the country, that forces minorities to adapt Islam. 
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Future:

When the boundaries of Punjab were demarcated at the eleventh hour in 1947, the betrayed Sikh leaders failed to realize how gravely their generations to come would suffer. Fortuitously, some of the most sacred religious places of Sikhs are in Pakistan. The Sikhs' adoration and reverence with the land of Pakistan cannot be curtailed by name calling or any covert design. 

In view of the long-standing desire of the Sikhs, Imran Khan’s government has promised to open Kartarpur corridor and this promise will be fulfilled this year. The Pakistani government has repeatedly reiterated that no matter come what may, the Kartarpur gateway is going to be opened for Sikhs and other devotees. Our prayers are this happens and in some tangible manner peace returns to one of the most militarized parts of the world.  
 
 
Saba Pervaiz Kiyani is a freelance blogger, journalist and broadcaster.

 

 

 

 

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