Our next stop in India was the Punjab region and the city of Amritsar. My dad’s family originally comes from Punjab and I was very curious to see what life was like there. Without getting into too much history or claiming to be an expert on this topic, I’ll give some context as to why this region is so complex.
The Punjab region is home to diverse groups of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. If you are reading this, you probably know my family is Muslim and they associate with being from Pakistan. Back in the first half of the 20th century, India was under British colonial rule. At that time, “India” encompassed not just modern day India as we know it but also modern day Pakistan. I’m not totally clear on the timeline but my family moved to Uganda (also under British colonial rule at that time) around the time that India gained independence from Britain in 1947. At the time of independence, “India” was partitioned into India and Pakistan by the Brits via a border that cut right through Punjab. The Pakistan side was to become a Muslim nation while the Indian side of Punjab was dominated by Hindus and Sikhs. There was a lot of violence and riots on both sides leading up to the partitioning as well as from the British who were trying to maintain control. It seems like most of these issues related to power struggles and identity politics.
You may have heard in the news recently about the 100 year anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar. Indian people had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh square in peaceful protests of British rule and were cornered and shot at by British troops resulting in 379 (official) fatalities. We went to the memorial about a week before the anniversary. It has been turned into a beautiful park with an eternal flame monument to honour the victims. This massacre is an example of the tensions of the time.
Once the new border was revealed by the British in 1947, many people who had lived their whole lives in Punjab found themselves on the wrong side of the border based on their religion. This led to one of the biggest mass migrations in history as Muslims and Hindus moved from India to Pakistan or vice versa. It was also a violent time of unrest and many died trying to make the journey to the other side.
Steve and I visited the Partition Museum in Amritsar to learn more about it. It was a great museum with lots of information and artifacts from that time period. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed in the museum.
Despite the sombre mood at some of the sites we visited, Amritsar is a resilient city and attracts many domestic tourists to its main attraction, the Golden Temple. It is a stunning pilgrimage site for Sikh followers comprised of the Golden Temple itself surrounded by holy waters surrounded by marble outbuildings.
We went at night when it was lit up and it was spectacular. We also went to the Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan. Yes, the border crossing has been turned into a tourist attraction. I will explain in my next post…