In the backdrop of the opening of Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims in Punjab across the International Border (IB), the Radcliffe Line dividing India and Pakistan, people across sub-continent can see a glimmer of optimism in the antagonistic relationships between India and Pakistan. Although, this gesticulation is just a diminutive step towards many thousands of miles to go, as the appalling animosity due to so-called Two Nations Theory since their creation in 1947.
Yet considering the fact that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, a bewildered anticipation may ascertain that reality can win over myth. There have been many myths and disenchants drifting across Radcliffe Line dividing the same civilization, culture, languages, and traditions due to redundant national security concerns since 1947. These clichéd slants and fairy tales chronicle have botched time and again when it comes to shared innovation and development of the working class of sub-continent.
However, a tiny segment of the society in both countries has always been a beneficiary of this hostile situation, thus pushing the vast majority to poverty and deprivation across the International Border. This friendly gesture offered by one and half-heartedly accepted by other should be taken as an optimistic stage, although murkiness of discontent would always be there as it happened many times and the liability went to the diplomatically crafted tainted term of “Non State Actors”. This humanitarian act may prove to be a ray of providence to graduate the collective wisdom of ruling elite of South Asia that there is no alternative to acceptance and peaceful coexistence if we have to prosper in the contemporary world.
Like Kartarpur, Sharda Peeth has a significant importance because of the Sharda University that once existed in these Himalayan Mountains. Sharda University was the seat of paramount education in the whole Asia centuries ago. People from across the globe journeyed here to get knowledge, graduate their wisdom, find the inner peace and went back to spread the same message all over the world.
Sharda Peeth was the famous temple in Kashmir situated on the banks of Kishenganga river (called Neelum in Pakistan administered Kashmir). Being a Part of the Gurais, Neelum Valley appeared having a different name after the partition in 1947 that consequently divided the State of Jammu Kashmir. Prior to the partition pundits from all over India and particularly from Kashmir would visit this temple for pilgrimage in Gurais. Presently Sharda Peeth is at a distance of only eight kilometers from the last village of Gurais on the Indian administered side of Jammu Kashmir, separated by LoC.
Sharda Peeth is roughly 140 Kilometers from Muzaffarabad city, the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir. One of the archaeological spots of significance in the Gurais Valley include Kanzalwan where the last council of Buddhism is believed to have been held, and, further down the line, only 8 Km’s away from Bagtore, the ruins of the ancient Sharda Peeth are preserved and waiting for the pilgrims along the Kishenganga River over seven decades. As due to the hostile environment of 1947, the State of Jammu Kashmir also suffered the wounds of partition and Kashmiri Hindus (Pundits) were driven to Indian held Kashmir by Muslim tribal invaders from Northwest Pakistan thus Sharda Peeth has been left unattended by its pilgrims for over seven decades. Pundit organizations have been striving to visit Sharda Peeth since then but hostility between two South Asian rivals always overshadowed their imploration.
In ancient times Kashmir as a whole was known due to Sharda Peeth as the temple of Hindu goddess Sree Sharda Devi is situated here. It is widely believed that the original script of not only Kashmiri language but Pahari and Shina also basically are spin-offs of Sharda script. So Sharda having been center of learning, civilization, academics, research, and cultural activities is more than a religious site for all the inhabitants of Jammu Kashmir State because a major part of our historical linkage centers nowhere else than Sharda provided a fact-based approach is taken into consideration. More research needed to be done in this regard.
If we take into consideration only the religious spectrum of all this panorama then Sharda has more importance as compared to Kartarpur because of the fact that the dispute in Jammu Kashmir has different layers and religion always plays a vital role both in instigating and resolving the conflicts. Sharda is a center from where the notion of Kashmiriyat known as tolerance, acceptance, togetherness, non-violence and modern day term of secularism is based upon.
Sharda and surrounding areas being the center of civilization in Jammu Kashmir should be declared demilitarized zone by both India and Pakistan and cultural, religious and learning tourism should be managed by Azad Jammu Kashmir, Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan governments conjointly as Sharda is the central point where all these three regions meet and separate from each other. A broadly accepted Pundit organization should be given the responsibility of managing the affairs of religious tourism and traveling across LoC for pilgrims should be eased by accepting “State Subject Card” as the travel document. Let Sharda become the “Center of Peace” again.
This step might initiate the talk about possible conflict transformation and management that continues to hysterical proportions but sustained by the hope that the peace between the conflicting parties and rising prosperity, and realization between them will persist, alongside that mishaps, calamities and noise of cynics might prove to be the dominant characteristics.
However, like nations that set their sights on the promise of a stable regional and global future – and many others on the dread of chronic global instability, we as citizens of this diverse nation need to choose the side that ensures our collective development and peace in the region. Although, we are passing through the transition period of political, social and cultural transformation, yet we hope that opening of Sharda for all could become a preliminary point to initiate a feasible objective while making the efforts to resolve the Kashmir conflict that is taking its toll with every passing electronic moment.
A transformation from war to peace, bullets to ballets, animosity to friendship, distrust to trust building and violent arguments to passionate understanding is the need of the hour. Our ideals may not have any perfect shape yet as we are always shadowed by the apprehension of any unusual mishap that can grasp the orientation of our future set up. Beside all these qualms, we are hoping for a peaceful co-existence and prosperous future of coming generations. We should be aware of the harsh reality that expectations of peace can be abruptly shattered by the history of mistrust and hostility towards each other, an offshoot of two nations theory, but trust-building measures and owning our centuries-old tradition of mutual respect and acceptance will always lead to the positive end.
The political and tactical fault lines among various faith groups in Jammu Kashmir created by the beneficiaries of this conflict are posing a serious threat to the “Peace Dream” of more than 1.5 billion human beings with a high magnitude and a strong degree of disintegration. Our age is still waiting for a proper name to be given and an ultimate solution to the conflict that has given birth to many violent ideologies of conflicting tendencies in different demographics need to be halted somewhere. Even after the lapse of seven decades South Asian rivals are still not doing sufficient actions to lay a foundation for a peaceful environment for the future generations, let us accentuate to begin it from Sharda and show them an optimistic light of love, peace, and acceptance.
Over the last seventy years, people in the subcontinent and particularly in Jammu Kashmir have seen many manifestations of intolerance, hate, and discrimination based on political religions or beliefs, and, for this reason, the policymakers at Delhi and Islamabad through their proxies have been prohibiting and eliminating those who think or practice differently. It is time to set out a concrete measure of promoting tolerance, love, and affection to lay the solid foundation of peace for the generations to come i.e. the right to freedom of religion or religious belief, and, ipso facto, the right to respect for human dignity. And Sharda Peeth opening for pundit pilgrims in particular and other researchers, academics, archeologists and tourists would definitely set the example of the respect for this propitious human dignity.
Nayyar N Khan is a US-based human rights and peace activist and a freelance journalist of Kashmiri origin. His area of concentration is international peace and conflict resolution. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets as @kashsoul