Dera Baba Nanak: Tale of a Border Town Amidst Indo-Pak Conflict

Baninder Rahi

On February 14, a local Kashmiri youth turned Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bomber, blew the bus carrying India’s 40 CRPF security personal who were part of a convoy moving on NH44, in Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. This gruesome act rose to clamour with Social Media acting as fuel to the fire and enkindling the desire for revenge among the self acclaimed nationalist forces including TV anchors, spokespersons of some parties etc. Moreover,the Prime Minister did not disappoint them andwe did ‘Surgical Strike 2.0’, a product of aflutter. Questions related to intelligence failure and security breach reasons of Pulwama attack were treated out of syllabus.

If not at the war front, the social media war mongers must be made to stay at least in border areas during tension days as this vainglorious breed needs to be shown the real pictures of war fronts and war like situations.

I hail from Dera Baba Nanak, a border area town in Gurdaspur, a districtin the north-west Majha region of Punjab state of India. Pakistan is just a stone’s throw away, 3.5 km to be specific. This is the town where Kartarpur corridor diplomacy and politics sprouted and eventually leading both the countries to resolve to develop the said corridor that has put this small town on the world map.

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The Sikh community has welcomed the Kartarpur corridor and saw their faith and sentiments, pending since 1999, taking shape with the foundation stone laying ceremony held on November 26, 2018 amidst political honchos. Also,local residents were foreseeing economic possibilities and employment opportunities. However, with escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, the respective governments have now pushed the matter in the cold storage.

The phone call from my mother around 12.30 pm on Tuesday started with concerns of evacuation and other fears of a war like situation.News channels were screaming their guts claiming avenge for Pulwama attack and demanding stronger answer to Pakistan in their language to teach them a lesson. For her question “why government does it?” I could just say, it is their business as usual. It happened in 1962, 1965, 1971, Kargil, Pathankot, Uri and now Pulwama, I had advised her to switch off the Television and stay away from social media.

My mother said nobody there wants war. Farmers are already worried due to untimely rain in the month of February affecting Rabi crop produce, of which harvest is due in April.  During first surgical strike after Uri attack, the government had ordered evacuation of villages within 10 kilometers of the Pakistan border. People of my village also moved in a makeshift tent erected at Kotli Surat Malhi, a village in Dera Baba Nanak,even leaving their fields and shops unattended. Many farmers sold their produce at throwaway prices in fear of war. They suffered losses but who cares? Social media wants revenge, and jingoistic mainstream media do not bother to cover such news stories.

War like situation has multifaceted repercussions, especially when tensions escalate between Indian and Pakistan. Dera Baba Nanak hosts the historical fortnight long fair popularly known as‘Chole Da Mela’ that begins on 4th of March every year. People from all over the country visit the town to pay obeisance to ‘Chola’, the preserved robe of the first Sikh Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It is believed to be made for him by his elder sister Bebe Nanaki and is currently preserved in the Gurdwara Chola Sahib.Visitors also visit the nearby site on the Indo-Pak border to pay respect to Kartarpur Sahib which is visible at far from there. At times Border Security Force (BSF) personal provide devotees with binoculars for the closer and clearer look of the Gurdwara.

With the month of March approaching, for this year’s edition of the Mela,vendors and craftsmen from adjoining villages had started setting up temporary markets on the way to Gurdwara Chola Sahib.Ferris-wheel swings, and pendulums are essential part of this Mela and it takes lot of time and efforts for the workmen to raise these gigantic structures by bolting metal angles and other parts together and therefore, the set up begins early February.However, the air strike on Tuesday and followed retaliation by Pakistan on Wednesday has brought everything on stand still in the town and uncertainty looms large. Like other border area towns and cities, this town is also on high alert. Army has marched into the town and asked vendors not to install Ferris wheel and other swings.

Out of fear, craftsmen have also not set up temporary shops. Farmers have been given selected time to visit their farmlands near the border. The unorganized sector of rural economy suffers again.

Memories of Kargil (1999) are vivid as I was a student of VIth standard at the Convent School at Dera Baba Nanak when the conflict happened. For me it was like war scenes from the popular film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, frightening for a school kid. I saw people evacuating with their household items on bullock carts and tractor-trolleys. Banks ran out of cash, people horded ration in their houses; oldaged, children and teenage girls were sent out of the town to relatives’ places. Phones were a rarity then in this town of Dera Baba Nanak. I had witnessed army marching and tanks on roads, which were normal roads with buses carrying people from Dera Baba Nanak to Batala, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and nearby villages.

I am witness to the blackouts and local Gurdwaras and temples turning into defense control rooms, heard sound of hovering helicopters as scary as darkness. I saw farm lands converted into bunkers and armed forces in the fields in erected make shift tents. I saw parents weeping and people collectively praying earnestly requesting their faiths to stop this war. From our Gully, our family was the last one to send us away to my aunt’s place in Gurdaspur, 37 Kms. from Dera Baba Nanak.

For some people living in metros, sitting in well furnished rooms, war is like the latest fad PUB G game. They easily fall prey to agendas set by the political parties to be in power. Many of the privileged lot know nothing of the lives of people residing in the border areas. War is not at all rosy, its speculation and fear are enough to derail rural economy and put their social security on high alert. People are not aware as our mainstream media rarely give space to stories that depict the horrors of war for a farmer, a shopkeeper or a housewife in border area towns.

Plato, the Greek philosopher, had righty put, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. Interesting shift was also seen on the social media, after Pakistan violated LoC and indulged air space violation activities; some section of sensible netizens started the movement with hashtags- #IamAgainstWar. Many of my classmates hailing from border area towns including Abohar and Fazilaka of Punjab state share same sentiment and pray against the evil of war.

My offer still stands for those craving war, stay in border area towns to get the real picture and feel.

(The writer is faculty member at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGS Indraprastha University, New Delhi)

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