Saturday, April 29, 2000


Reminiscent of bitter and sweet memories Swarn Jayanti Dwar

A joint checkpost was established at Wagah on October 11, 1947, yet
the general public of both Pakistan and India have not fully accepted
this man-made border, even 53 years after Partition,
Varinder Walia and Ashok Sethi

Eh Punjab vi mera hai
oh Punjab vi mera hai
eh Sutlej vi mera hai
oh Chenab vi mera hai
jism mere de tukre jor deo
sarhadan tor deo

THE midnight silence on the Wagah border is broken with this thought-provoking song, penned by young Punjabi poet Amardeep Gill, on every Independence Day. Renowned singer Hans Raj Hans makes it a point to reach the border site to sing this melodious song, urging people of both India and Pakistan to shed their differences and pave the way for rejoining the partitioned Punjab — the land of five rivers.

Though a joint checkpost was established at Wagah on October 11, 1947, yet the general public of both the countries has not fully accepted this man-made border even 53 years after Partition.

  A bus entering India through the Wagah checkpostPunjabi writers feel that Amritsar and Lahore have a common culture. "Jineh Lahore nahin dekhia, oh jamian hi nahin" (he who has not seen Lahore has yet to born) was a common saying before Partition. Partition had a telling impact on the people of Punjab, famous for its robust culture and fertile land . The twin cities of Amritsar and Lahore lay divided by the Radcliffe Line.

Many Amritsaris would travel regularly between Lahore and Amritsar by tonga which was the most common mode of transport then. Dr Kulbir Singh Kang, an eminent Punjabi writer, says he along with his ageing father Giani Gurbachan Singh used to visit Lahore once a week. Alas, he says , the days when the 60-km distance between Lahore and Amritsar was happily covered by many a Punjabi on bicycles are now mere history.

After Partition, for people of both countries the desire to maintain contact with their once good friends across the border was supreme.

Farmers of both India and Pakistan who have grown up with tales of nostalgia and friendship can be seen cultivating their respective lands near the border under the vigil of BSF and Pakistani rangers. They are, however, not allowed to talk to each other.

To pay a tribute to about one million people who were killed during partition, Raja Porus Mela is held in the month of November every year.

The historic bus diplomacy initiated by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in March last year brought the Wagah border on the international map. Barring few fundamentalists in both countries, the bus diplomacy was appreciated by the general public. Most bus passengers who travel by the international, Lahore-Delhi bus are overwhelmed by the love and affection shown by people in each country. While Samjhauta Express has earned the dubious distinction of being used by the ISI for nefarious activities, the bus has been running smoothly as yet. Since the launch of the service, about 20,000 people have travelled between Lahore and Delhi. The intelligence agencies, however, don’t take a chance and take stringent security measures since the land route is used by smugglers and anti-social elements. Customs, immigration and other related agencies working at the Wagah joint checkpost keep a strict vigil on the passengers. Sniffer dogs are invariably pressed into service.

A sniffer dog being pressed into service to detect contraband The Government of India enacted new rules to regulate the movement of goods and men to put an end to smuggling. A customs post was established in 1948, which helped the smooth movement of people from both countries in the aftermath of Partition.

To overcome the trauma of division of the Indian subcontinent, friendly cricket matches were arranged at Amritsar and Lahore to help people revive their ties. The enthusiasm was unprecedented, recalls a diehard cricket fan, who is in his seventies. "It seemed that both the countries had united once again, leaving behind anger and anguish of Partition".

The formal trade and commerce ties were established in February 1952 not only between India and Pakistan but also with Afghanistan. As the dry-fruit trade grew, the city emerged as the major wholesale market of the country.

Last year, dry fruit worth over Rs 71 crore was imported. In 1998-99, the imports stood at Rs 100 crore, a senior Customs officer at Wagah checkpost said that with Afghanistan now reeling under United Nations’ sanctions, the imports from there have now almost stopped.

A large population of Afghan Sikhs, primarily trading in dry-fruit, have left the war-torn country and migrated to India.

Due to the insatiable desire of Indians to acquire gold by the tonnes, compounded by the stringent import rules, the early sixties saw a spurt in the smuggling of gold bars and biscuits from Pakistan. There was hardly any day when gold was not seized. According to reports, only a fraction of gold was seized, while tonnes of it was smuggled in.

During those days, the customs authorities neither possessed sophisticated detectors nor had the requisite staff and infrastructure to check the flow of contraband. Gold was not only being brought into the country by Indian and Pakistani nationals but also by foreigners in their cars.

Citing an interesting case, a retired Customs officer told The Tribune that a foreign national had cleverly concealed huge quantities of gold biscuits in a specially built cavity in the petrol tank of his luxury car. Narrating a number of such seizures, he said unfenced and unprotected Indo-Pak border helped smugglers thrive on unlawful activities.

In the early eighties, Pakistan-sponsored terrorists not only used the gold carrier to deliver deadly AK-47 rifles and other weapons, but dealt a severe blow to the unity and integrity of the country. The government took up the arduous and expensive task in the late eighties to fence the entire land border of Punjab with cobra wire. BSF observation posts were placed all along the stretch, thereby stepping up the vigil against Pakistan designs to foment trouble in Punjab.

Interestingly, during the premiership of Benazir Bhutto in 1996, India had offered the ‘most favoured nation’ status to Pakistan but Bhutto failed to reciprocate. Although, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s regime opened up trade in a big way but the army coup left the business community wary.

One hopes that the ‘disturbed state’ label on Punjab would be lifted soon, allowing people to cross the land barrier more freely.


Swarn Jayanti Dwar
By Rashmi Talwar

TO meet the deadline of Independence Day celebrations, the Swarn Jayanti Dwar Project at Wagah is proceeding at a hectic pace.

The project is likely to be inaugurated by Union Home Minister L.K. Advani on August 16.

In the first phase of the project, the new Quarterguard block has been completed. Two viewers’ galleries are being given final touches, while work on the third gallery is expected to start by July.

According to H.S. Gill, DIG, Amritsar sector, BSF, the combined seating capacity of the three galleries would be 2,500 instead of 1,500 as was planned earlier. The 300 seats closest to the border gates with Pakistan would be exclusively for VIPs. The rest would be for the general public. The gallery is made in the style of a stadium with concrete seating.

The construction of the side steps that lead up to the main gateway is complete as also the 46-foot-high pillars with turrets on either side of the imposing Swarn Jayanti Dwar.

Carved into the elevated portion of the galleries are toilets and a cafeteria, the construction of which is almost complete.

The project also includes a museum at the base of the third gallery. The museum will display war memorabilia of the BSF. A trophy section will display the awards of nine Arjuna awardees of the BSF, besides other trophies and shields won in the field of sport and adventure activities.

The ‘Dwar’ project that started in October last year after environmental clearance and a delay of nearly six months is budgeted at more than Rs 1 crore.