Living History

Punjabiyat: A shared inheritance of two Punjabs

Since 1997, members of the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch, various other organisations and people from both India and Pakistan light candles at the Wagah border on the intervening night of 14 and 15 August. The two Punjabs share more than just a border; they share an identity and a legacy that was frayed by the division during 1947. NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images
29 February, 2020

There is an odd-looking sitting area in front of Kulwant Singh’s beautiful home, in the Andlu village of Ludhiana district in Punjab, which does not match the modern architecture of the house. When I asked him about it, Kulwant told me it was a remnant of the Muslim family who used to live in the house prior to 1947—he had retained the sitting area in exactly the condition it was when the family left. Kulwant said, “The reason I did that is, if ever the new generations of the old owners of the home come from lahnde Punjab”—Pakistani Punjab—“they should find at least some vestiges of their ancestors.” He added, “My own family came here after getting uprooted from Lyallpur, in Faisalabad. I never got the chance to see my old home, but at least someone must have this good fortune.” 

The gurdwara in Kulwant’s neighbourhood is built on what used to be a mosque’s land till 1947, but even today the mosque is part of the gurdwara. Kulwant looks after the upkeep of the mosque. According to him, “I have been in charge of the gurdwara for many years; I take as much care of the mosque as of the gurdwara.” He added, “Last year, my nephew who lives abroad sent eight lakh rupees for religious work; I spent four lakh rupees on the gurdwara and four lakh rupees on the mosque. After all, they are both a house of the one true god.”

In Halwara, another village in the Ludhiana district, Jagjit Singh left a pre-1947 haveli that belonged to Muslim Rajput intact right in front of a grand mansion he built for himself in 2009. He told me, “A lot of my relatives told me this old haveli does not look good in front of such a beautiful bungalow; pull it down. But I will not pull it down.” He added, “Sure, my family was not displaced from Pakistan, but the image of our old undivided-Punjab is etched in my heart. I am a person who loves the idea of Punjabiyat. I believe this haveli is my inheritance. How can a man part with his inheritance?”

There are many such examples in both the Punjabs—the state was split during Partition—which exemplify the shared legacy of the Punjabis settled there. One such indicator is the term each uses to refer to the other. Lahnda Punjab translates to setting Punjab or west Punjab, while the term for the Indian Punjab is chhadta Punjab, which means rising Punjab or east Punjab. The Punjabi prefixes refer to the sun’s rising and setting.

Indian Punjab is a border state and the animosity between India and Pakistan has a direct impact on its populace. The people living in the border areas are displaced again and again. Despite this, there is no feeling of enmity towards Pakistan in Indian Punjab, unlike other parts of the country where war is nothing more than news on Doordarshan and the radio. In the past few years, whenever India’s relationship with Pakistan deteriorated—during incidents such as the Dinanagar attack in July 2015, the Pathankot attack in January 2016 and the Pulwama attack in February 2019—the voices raised in Punjab were different from the rest of the country. And whenever Indian and Pakistani politicians have talked of friendship, Punjabis have given it their full support. Guests from Pakistan take part in government programmes whether the state is being ruled by Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress or Prakash Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal. The gurdwara in Nawaz Sharif’s ancestral village, Jati Umra, which is in Indian Punjab, held a prayer meeting for his long life when Sharif was going to be sentenced after being arrested on charges of corruption during Pervez Musharraf’s military rule.

On 9 November 2019, when Pakistan announced the opening of the Kartarpur corridor—the site of the first Sikh commune established by the first Sikh guru, Nanak Dev—Punjab welcomed the decision more than anyone else. I met a devotee in the Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara situated near the corridor, who believed that “this work of opening the Kartarpur corridor happened because of Baba Nanak’s blessings that reached Imran Khan’s heart. The relationship between the countries will become peaceful due to this.” Another devotee, 65-year-old Ratan Singh, said, “My father used to roam the other side on bicycles; he would often tell me many stories from the Kartarpur mela. Many of his Muslim friends stayed back on the other side and till he died, he spent his entire life remembering them.” Ratan added, “It is easy to speak of war sitting in Delhi but only people like us who live in the border areas know what we go through.”

Many years ago, the renowned Indian writer Maheep Singh, wrote an article in the Punjabi daily Ajit. “When I went to lahnde Punjab for the first time, an elderly woman embraced me and said, ‘My life is yours my son. During Partition we lost our gold-like Sikh sons and only the bidi-smokers and paan-chewers fell in our lot.’” She was alluding to the Muslims from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who moved to Pakistan in 1947.

The Punjabi columnist Sukeerat, from Indian Punjab, toured Pakistan twice in February 2019—in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack and the “surgical strike” conducted in Balakot. After his visit, he wrote an article in the Punjabi daily Nawan Zamaana: “An environment of hatred against Pakistan was evident throughout the country, with the exception of Punjab. If you so much as questioned the Indian government’s failure regarding the Pulwama attack, people were ready to pronounce a fatwa in your name. In contrast, when I reached Pakistan, people showered me with love. I would be called for feasts when people would find out that I am from chhadte Punjab. I was interviewed by Lahore radio; I was introduced to the students of the Punjabi department of the Punjab University in Lahore.”

The inception of Pakistan on religious grounds in 1947 ensured that hardliners controlled political regimes in the country since the beginning. Many non-Muslim symbols and statues from before 1947 were brought down. Roads, crossroads and buildings which had non-Muslim names, named after Congress politicians and British officers, were changed. Hindu and Sikh symbols were removed by the orthodoxy, although some tokens from the English imperialist era were retained.

In Pakistan, regional languages were murdered in the name of Islamic nationalism, and Urdu, which is not the mother tongue in any region of the country, was made the national language. The Punjabi language and Punjabiyat have suffered the most because of this linguistic chauvinism. Punjabis account for over sixty percent of the population of Pakistan.

Another tragedy of the Punjabi language is that it has two available scripts. One is the Gurmukhi script, which has 35 letters and is used in Indian Punjab and the other is the Shahmukhi script, which is Persian and is used in Pakistani Punjab. This conflation of religion with language has had a detrimental effect on Punjabi. Till 2013, Punjabi was not even officially recognised in Pakistan. That year, it was finally notified but as a second-grade language. Today, the provincial assembly of the state of Punjab in Pakistan does not allow members to speak in Punjabi even though the language was used in the assembly 20 years ago. The Punjab province is the largest in Pakistan as per population figures and the second largest according to size. Despite this, the mother tongue, Punjabi, is taught from the sixth class onwards rather than in the first year of primary school.

There is not a single Punjabi daily in Pakistan with circulation figures to boast of. Nevertheless, enthusiasts of the language have done their best to keep Punjabi alive. In the 1990s, Sajjan, a Punjabi daily, was immensely popular in the community for nearly seven years, but it shut down due to financial constraints. In 2004, the Khabrain Group of Newspapers introduced a new Punjabi daily called Khabran, but that, too, shut down three years later. Currently, Pakistan has just two Punjabi dailies published in small numbers—Bhulekha and Lokai. There are around fifteen Punjabi magazines, most of them are literary and published weekly, fortnightly, monthly, bimonthly, quarterly or biannually.

In the early 1990s, Ghulam Haider Wyne was chief minister of the Punjab province and considered to be sympathetic towards the notion of Punjabiyat. The central government of Pakistan at that time had given him the option of introducing Punjabi at the primary-school levels, but even he refused.

But now, things are changing in Pakistan. The younger generations are beginning to eschew the old orthodoxy and are charting a new course. The youth there have begun to ask if their heritage and history are just 72 years old. What was the history of their ancestors before that? The younger generations have begun to exemplify Punjabi togetherness. Afzal Sahir, a Punjabi poet born in 1975 in Pakistan, told me, “If someone asks if I am a Punjabi first or a Pakistani, my answer would be Punjabi because it has been only 72 years since the formation of Pakistan but my Punjabi clan is five thousand years old.” The younger generation is employing new stratagems to unite the broken pieces of this shared heritage. They are extremely active on social media and have used it to build connections over music, films, literature and art.

Sahir, whose poem on Partition, Punjab di waar, is popular in both the Punjabs, said that “even after 72 years the new generation is eager to know and comprehend the reasons behind Partition.” He added, “In Pakistan, the younger generation is taught incorrect history because of the hollowness of its religious foundations. If they are taught the actual history, the religious zealots will lose their stranglehold on the history they have stifled and deliberately kept under wraps.”

Monika Kumar, a Punjabi poet born in 1978, told me that her paternal grandfather settled in Nakodar—a small town in Jalandhar district of Indian Punjab—after getting uprooted from lahnde Punjab. “The indelible impact that the uprooting of 1947 left on my paternal grandparents can be seen somewhat in my generation as well. The lessons of Partition, that they passed on to me, still run through my veins.” Kumar felt that the wounds of separation have not healed with time; instead they have deepened. “Maybe, I could never imagine even the concept of a home because of Partition. The division was not just of nations, it was a division of culture and emotions.”

The literature and cultural enthusiasts of Pakistani Punjab have long worked on connecting the two Punjabs. The World Punjabi Conference, which started in the 1980s, has contributed towards bringing together the two Punjabs. There are visible signs of how the Pakistani Punjabis are asserting their own Punjabi identity and its inseparable links with Indian Punjab and Punjabis. In 2012, a crossroad in Lahore reverted to its original name, the Bhagat Singh chowk; in the first decade of the twenty first century, different Punjabi groups took to the streets in support of the Punjabi language’s inclusion as an official language; several organisations have demanded that Punjabi should be the language of proceedings in the provincial assembly of Punjab.

Last year, when the Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan’s government tried to split the Punjab province into two parts, the Pakistani Punjabis protested against the move vociferously. They raised slogans such as, “We will not accept another division of Punjab.” In June last year, a large statue of Ranjit Singh—one of the most well known Sikh monarchs who ruled from 1792 to 1839—was installed in the Lahore Fort on the occasion of his 180th death anniversary. The decision to open the Kartarpur corridor; the announcement of the institution of the Guru Nanak Dev University in Nankana Sahib on Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birth anniversary by the Pakistan government; the restoration and reopening of several historical places related to Guru Nanak Dev for devotees; an International three-day seminar in Lahore by the Pakistan government on Guru Nanak Dev and his Philosophy between 31 August and 2 September last year—Punjabi intellectuals believe that activism by the community from both the Punjabs has led to these decisions.

Historically, most Pakistani Punjabi leaders did not lend their support to the idea of a Punjabi nation as this would render null the founding principle of Pakistan. However, there were some leaders who sympathised with the Punjabiyat cause and raised their voices in support. Three politicians of the Pakistan People’s Party—Muhammad Hanif Ramay, a former chief minister of Punjab and a painter; Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, a law minister and home minister under Benazir Bhutto and a lawyer; Fakhar Zaman, Pakistan’s former minister of culture and a Punjabi novelist—wrote research papers about the idea of Punjabi nationhood. Ishaq Mohammad, a renowned dramatist and leader of the left-leaning Mazdoor Kisan Party in Pakistan, wrote a book called Punjab di Tareekh. The book was published in the Indian Punjabi newspaper Nawan Zamana in three instalments between 15 and 29 September 1996. Ramay wrote an article, Paanch Jawan Mard Punjabi describing the Punjabi community’s five heroes—Porus, a famed monarch of the Punjab region in the fourth century BCE; Dulla Bhatti, famous for a revolt against the Mughal empire in the sixteenth century; Ahmad Khan Kharal, a Punjabi icon famous for his role in the mutiny against the British in 1857;  Nizam Lohar, an outlaw who rebelled against the British in the mid-ninteenth century; and Bhagat Singh, one of the most famous revolutionaries of undivided India. There are similar compositions on Punjabiyat by Asif Khan and Shafqat Tanvir Mirza, both Pakistani Pujanbis. In the early 1970s, Punjabi intellectuals from Indian Punjab, such as Atar Singh, Pritam Singh and Vishwanath Tiwari—the father of the Congress leader Manish Tiwari—also wrote articles about Punjabiyat and the idea of Punjabi nationhood. 

We find glimpses of Punjabi nationhood in undivided Punjab’s literary forms too—the Qissa, which means narrative, and the Kavya, a Sufi form of elaborate poems. Punjab’s qissakars, the Qissa narrators, and Sufi poets have attempted to establish an alternate cultural and political wealth through their works. 

Shah Mohammad, a Punjabi qissakar, penned a qissa called Jungnama: Singhan te Firangian da which translates as, Tale of War: Singhs and the Firangis. The qissa narrates the historic final war between the Sikhs and the British, in which the Sikhs fought bravely but lost in the end and Punjab became a subject of the British Empire. The qissa praises the bravery of the Sikhs and is sad about the Britishers’ win and the Sikhs’ loss. This qissa presents the British-Sikh war in the form of a battle between Hindustan and Punjab. 

“Jung hind Punjab da hon lagga
dovein fauja paatshahi bhariyan ni.
Shah Mohommada vich Punjab de jee
kade nahi si teesri jaat aayi.
Je hove sarkaar tan mull paawe
jo khalse ne tegan maariyan ni.
Shah Mohammad ik sarkaar baajhon
faujan jit ke ant nun hariyan ni.”

Waris Shah, another Punjabi qissakar, gives Punjab an identity different from Hindustan in his qissa Heer. Written in 1776, this is a tale from the time when Punjab, like the other regions in the country, was a province or governorate. At that time, Waris Shah saw Punjab as a nation whose identity was different from India’s. As he describes the kohl glistening in Heer’s eyes, he introduces a distinct Punjabi existence: 

“surmaan nainan di dhaar vich phab rahya charhiya Hind te katak Punjab da ji.”

Here Hind—India—and Punjab are pitted as opposing sides. In every historical era, armies have attacked Punjab from Hind, Sindh and the mountains. Punjab, during Waris Shah’s time, was like a timid boy, but in his poem Waris Shah dreams of victory against Hind. Waris Shah views the Muslim invaders coming from the west, too, as enemies in multiple instances: 

“Waris Shah jiyon Mughalan punjab lutti, tiven jogi di rasad ujadiyon ne.”


“Ahmad Shah ajj gayab thi aan pausee rab raakha jandiaale nun jasiaa ve.”


“Hukam hor da hor hai ajj hoyia, mili Punjab kandhariyan nun.” 

Similarly, Bulleh Shah, a revered Punjabi sufi poet, also sheds tears of sorrow for his Punjab. 

“Dar khulla hashar ajaab da, bura haal hoya Punjab da.”

While Punjabis on both sides share the language, traditions, tales and beliefs, it is important to mention their shared history too. More so because zealots from every religion are attempting to destroy this shared heritage. In India, this work is being done by organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

There are tales of the deep friendship between Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana—he is considered as the first Sikh and was a Muslim—and of the Mughal emperor Humayun who sought blessings from Angad Dev, the second Sikh guru, after Sher Shah Suri defeated the emperor in the Battle of Chausa, in 1539. Akbar, Humayun’s son and the next Mughal emperor, used to go to Amardas, the third Sikh Guru, and partake in the langar along with devotees. Legend goes that he was so impressed with the tradition that in order to keep the works going he donated land to Amardas. The city of Amritsar, in present-day Indian Punjab, is settled on that land. 

The foundations of the Darbar Sahib, another name for the Golden Temple in Amritsar, were laid by the Muslim fakir Sain Miyan Mir at the behest of the fourth Sikh guru Ramdas. And who can forget the Punjabi Sufi fakir Shah Hussain and his friendship with the Brahmin Madho Lal. The legend goes that the bond between the two was so deep that the fakir added his companion’s name to his own and became Madho Lal Hussain. Dara Shikoh, the son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, too, is known to have had close interactions with the Sikh gurus. The Muslim pir—teacher or holy manBuddhu Shah was a firm devotee of Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru. Buddhu Shah and his son died fighting the Mughal army. Sometime around 1705, when the Mughal army had Gobind Singh surrounded in the jungles of Machhiwara, in present day Indian Punjab, two Muslims, Bhai Gani Khan and Bhai Nabi Khan, saved him by disguising him as a Muslim pir. Similarly, another Muslim, Nihang Khan, saved Gobind Singh in his long running battles with the Mughal army. Raikot’s Rai Kalha, too, was a good friend of Gobind Singh. When Sirhind’s Nawab Wazir Khan gave orders to inter Gobind Singh’s sons while still alive, it was the nawab of Malerkotla, Sher Mohammad Khan, who opposed the move. The sons were still interred; however, Sher Mohammad’s protest became the basis of the Sikh-Muslim brotherhood in Malerkotla.

Historical documents and folk accounts record similar tales about Ranjit Singh, who ruled the Sikh empire till his death in 1839. Ranjit Singh’s cabinet of ministers included, Muslim and Hindu ministers apart from Sikhs. The king would also take part in various Muslim ceremonies and visit dargahs.

Ranjit Singh, also known as Sher-e-Punjab, fought his first battle when he was ten years old. His capture of Lahore in 1799 is considered a turning point in the history of the Sikh empire. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Afzal, the Punjabi poet, told me, “Ranjit Singh was a secular ruler. His rule was Punjabi rule in the true sense. He was a spokesperson for Punjabiyat. This is the reason that while he was alive there was no internal tussle.” In the 1820s, Ranjit Singh restored the Sunehri Masjid after his forces converted it to a gurdwara, and his wife Jind Kaur, gifted a collection of handwritten copies of the Quran to the Data Darbar in Lahore.

Writers and authors from India and Pakistan are taught in colleges in both the Punjabs. The Punjabi department at the Punjab University in Lahore, which is among the most renowned universities of Pakistani Punjab, publishes a critical monthly magazine named Khoj in which Punjabi writers from Indian Punjab are included.

About ten lakh Punjabis were killed in the communal riots that followed the division in 1947. By some estimates, one crore Punjabis were displaced. However, the pages of history record examples of mutual togetherness even in those horrific times. In Amritsar district’s Chhajalwadi village, Gahil Singh saved the lives of innocent Muslims who were being attacked by Hindu and Sikh rioters. Sikh zealots called him an enemy of the religion and burned him alive. The sectarians killed Megh Singh and Suba Singh because the two were saving the lives of Muslims. Lyallpur’s Sain Umaruddin was murdered by Muslim rioters for saving the lives of innocent Hindus and Sikhs. These are just a handful of the accounts that have been passed down over the decades following Partition.

Malik Khizar Hayat Tiwana, the chief minister of pre-Partition Punjab and the president of the Unionist Party, proposed to the then governor that Punjab be established as a multi-religious autonomous state separate from both India and Pakistan.

Partition and its effects are remembered in Punjabi literature, not as whispers but as something that has deeply impacted the shared heritage and philosophy of Punjabiyat. Punjabis have never looked at 1947 as the year of independence. This is evident in the Punjabi words used to describe 1947: wadde raule, which translates to the big riots, vandara, which is division, dange-fasaad, or rioting-brawling, halle, or uproar. Punjabi intellectuals believe that while the wounds from 1947 may have healed; their scars will cause grief for generations to come.

The works of Pakistan’s Punjabi writers who have written in languages other than Punjabi also reflect the grief around Partition. Munir Niazi’s entire oeuvre is a litany of Partition. His poem, Kitthe Jaiye contains a poignant mention of the division of Punjab. Similarly, the poets Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Habib Jalib have also written heart-rending pieces about Punjab’s partition.

The Punjabi writer Amarjit Chandan brings a different perspective on Partition in a book he edited, San Santali: Punjab de Ujade di Shayari. The name of the book translates to, Year 1947: Poetry from the devastation of Punjab. In the book, he writes, “In Pakistan, major efforts have been made to impose ‘Pakistaniyat’ in painting, sculpture and literature but not a single Punjabi artist or writer from there has done so. Neither have Muslim Punjabi poets coloured the displacement of lakhs of Punjabis with the religious colour of hegira”—a religious flight to a Muslim country—“the way in which Urdu writers such as Intizar Hussain and Jaun Eliya, who migrated from UP to Pakistan, have portrayed the exodus as a the next step of prophet Mohammad’s hegira.”

Infact, the Muslim Punjabi poets in newly-formed Pakistan found no rest till their dying breaths after getting uprooted from Indian Punjab. An example of this was Ahmad Rahi, who continued to beg till his last breath, “Take me to Amritsar… Take me to Amritsar.” The Punjabi poet Ustad Daman likened the founding principle of Pakistan to Vatvaani de Ror—the loose gravel-like sand used to clean-up after defecation. He says, “Lokan pahadan de pahad palat chhade-asin aaye vatvaani de ror hainda.”

Another one of his poems is about Independence and the Partition.

“Bhavein muhon na kahiye, par vichon vichi, khoye tusi vi o, khoye asi vi aan.
Inha aazadiyan hatthon barbaad hona, hoye tusi vi, hoye asi vi aan.
Kuchh umeed e zindagi mil jayegi, moye tussi vi o, moye asi vi aan.
Jyondi jaan ee maut de muh andar, dhoye tussi vi o, dhoye asi vi aan.
Jaagan vaaliyan rajj ke luttiya e, soye tussi vi o, soye asi vi aan.
Laali akhhiyan di pai dassadi e, roye tussi vi o, roye asi vi aan.” 

The use of the phrases lahnda Punjab and chhadta Punjab to denote the two Punjabs started almost two decades ago. Punjabi newspapers in both the Punjabs started using the phrases when some enthusiasts and writers of the language started using this term, on both sides. The works of writers from lahnda Punjab would often be published in newspapers in chhadhta Punjab and vice versa. This has come about based on the preferences and demand of Punjabi readers.

The state government of Indian Punjab, whether it is ruled by the Congress or the Akali Dal–BJP alliance, has from time to time decorated Punjabi writers from lahnda Punjab with the Punjab government’s highest honour, the Sahitya Shiromani Puraskaar, also known as the Punjab Ratna. In 2001, the award was bestowed upon Najm Hosain Syed from lahnda Punjab. The prize money is to the tune of Rs 10 lakh. The Shiromani Sahityakaar Puraskaar, state government award for writers, which entails a sum of five lakh rupees, has been awarded to several lahnde Punjabi writers such as, Firozdin Sharf, Chaudhary Joshua Fazaluddin, Afzal Ahsan Randhawa, Bushra Aijaz, Fakar Zaman and Ilyas Ghuman.

Since 1972, every Friday, Najm Hosain Syed, from Pakistani Punjab, organises a majalis—gathering—in his home where the works of Punjabi Sufi saints, Sikh gurus and Qissakars and their relevance are seriously debated. A similar majalis is organised by Maqsood Saqib, another Pakistani Punjabi who is the editor of the magazine Pancham and the owner of the publication house Suchet Kitab Ghar. The majalis is held in his home and it revolves around critical reflections on the work of modern Punjabi poets.

Renowned Punjabi writer Jameel Ahmad Paul is the editor of the Punjabi daily Lokai and a retired professor of Punjabi from the Government College University, Lahore. According to him, writers from Indian Punjab are taught in the university syllabus, at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level. Amrita Pritam, Mohan Singh, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Dhani Ram Chatrik are taught in the poetry section. Pritam, Ajeet Cour, Kulwant Singh Virk, Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari and Nanak Singh are taught in prose. Pritam’s poem Naveen Rut is taught to masters’ students and, till some time back, Mohan Singh’s Saave Pattar was also included in the syllabus. A paper on Gurmukhi is mandatory in Pakistan’s Punjabi syllabus at the masters’ level. Writers of Indian Punjab are also taught in the Punjabi syllabus at Pakistan’s Technical University, in Faisalabad. Indian writers are also invited to conferences that happen at the Punjab University, in Lahore. In both Punjabs, Punjabi Sufi poets and qissakars are taught in school syllabi.

The Museum of Partition was opened to the public on 25 August 2017, 70 years after the division of British India into India and Pakistan. The museum aims to document and archive the large-scale communal riots that broke out after what is known as the Partition. NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images

The rise of new media has bolstered the efforts to bring the two Punjabs closer—these efforts are being made especially in Pakistani Punjab. Some Punjabi writers have attempted to break the boundaries of script with the help of websites. Some websites have started editions in both scripts, Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi, the most prominent of which are,, In recent times, The Partition Museum in Amritsar, an archive of the painful memories of that era, has become a topic of discussion. The grief around Partition and the common heritage of the two Punjabs is also being presented to people via YouTube channels. These channels are connecting the hearts of people from the two Punjabs. Sanwal Dhami’s channel Santali Nama is a record of meetings between people who witnessed the trauma of 1947. Dhami started this channel in 2011. A YouTube channel by the name of Punjabi Lehar has content which documents Partition-related memories, interviews with eyewitnesses, homes of people who were displaced and their common heritage. Apart from these, there are other YouTube channels that spread the message of Punjabiyat. Some of these are run by Pakistani Punjabis, such as, Desi Infotainer, Ik Pind Punjab Da, Sanjha Punjab 1947, Dard Punjab Da, Ek Si Punjab, Sabda Punjabi TV, Tarik Gujjar, among many others.

Social media has also helped bring together Punjabis from both sides. Punjabi people from both sides have made Facebook and WhatsApp groups and further cemented their friendships. People from one side communicate with the other and ask them for photos and videos of villages which their elders left behind in 1947. In order to conduct debates around the shared Punjabi culture and heritage, renowned writers from both sides have made their own pages and groups. Karamat Ali Mughal, a Pakistani Punjabi writer, told me, “Social media has mutually connected us and to some extent has also broken down boundaries.”

For the people of both the Punjabs, Punjabiyat is increasingly above India-Pakistan’s geographical boundaries. People from both Punjabs are relentlessly trying to keep the sentiment alive.

Kewal Dhaliwal, an Indian Punjabi, is a renowned name in Punjabi theatre. Dhaliwal established the Manch Rangmanch theatre group and has been doing the work of connecting the two Punjabs via theatre for a long time. He collaborated with Madeeha Gauhar, the founder of Ajoka Theatre, in Lahore, to start a theatre workshop under which, for almost eleven years, theatre artists from Indian Punjab would go to Pakistani Punjab and theatre artists from there would come to Amritsar to receive training. Gauhar passed away in April 2018. The artists collectively performed plays in both Punjabs.

Nirmal Singh, from Indian Punjab, made one such attempt. In 1990, along with like-minded friends, Nirmal started an organisation named Punjabi Sath Lambra. The organisation played an important role to bring writers from the two Punjabs together on one stage. Every year, the organisation felicitates personalities working in various areas. Among those honoured, one person is chosen from Pakistani Punjab. For the first time after Partition, the organisation published poems written in the two Punjabs together in a book called Zulmon Kuk Gayi Asmani. The book includes poems by 200 poets. The organisation has also published a book on stories about the Partition, from both the sides, called, Ambar Kaala Itt Vid Hoya. This includes stories by around hundred writers from the two sides. Children’s literature from the two sides has been collectively published in the book Cheechon Cheech Ganeriyaan. Besides these works, the Punjabi Sath has published the entire Heer by Waris Shah. Chapters of the Punjabi Sath are present in many other countries in the world aside from Indian and Pakistani Punjab.

Kuldeep Nayyar, a journalist who died in 2018, started a similar effort by laying the foundations of the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch, an organisation dedicated to scaling down India-Pakistan animosities. In 1947, Nayyar was displaced from Sialkot, in what is now Pakistan. Every year, on the night between 14 and 15 August, candles signifying peace and love are lit by the organisation at the Wagah border close to Amritsar. What started with a handful of people has now turned into a caravan. The organisation’s general secretary, Satnam Singh Manak, told me, “In 1996, the organisation organised its first event, in which seminars on the subject of India-Pakistan friendship were held, apart from lighting candles. By 1997, common people joined the initiative and some people from the Pakistani side also reached there to light candles. Now every year, there is a large programme organised here on the night between 14 and 15 August in which seminars and cultural programmes are held and ordinary people reach there on tractors and trolleys as if going to attend a carnival. Local people organise food for them on their own.” A few other like-minded organisations have joined the carnival along with the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch, such as the Folklore Research Academy, Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, South Asian Free Media Association and Punjab Jagriti Manch. Apart from these organisations, some more important organisations and people from the two nations are doing the work of connecting the two Punjabs.

The relations between the Indian origin and Pakistani-origin Punjabis living abroad are cordial. Many have built business connections and share a sense of togetherness brought about by similar cultural traditions. More so, because there is no Wagah border that comes between the expatriate Punjabis. Gurpreet Singh, a Canadian of Indian origin and a Punjabi journalist, shared his experience with me and said, “When I stayed in Firozpur I would feel that Pakistan is very close by but due to the border one cannot meet people staying on either side. After coming to Canada, I befriended many number of Pakistani Punjabis. In India, we were close yet far but Canada has made the distance between us disappear.”

One can ordinarily see the cultural and literary togetherness of the Punjabis when abroad. Promoters who organise cultural programmes invite artists from Pakistani Punjab alongside artists from Indian Punjab. Sahib Singh, a Canadian cultural philanthropist is one such example. Canada’s International Punjabi Foundation gives out three prizes for story writing every year. Among the three awards, one is especially for a Pakistani writer. Asif Raza, a journalist based in Lahore, who is connected with the expatriate Punjabi media, told me, “Expatriate Punjabi media, which is mostly run by Indian Punjabis, give work to us as well.” Jasvir Kaur Manguwal, who has been staying in Canada since 2009 and is a Punjabi poet and a rationalist, took the initiative and inspired Indian and Pakistani Punjabis to light candles to mourn the loss of ten lakh Punjabis rather than celebrating the respective Independence Days on 14 and 15 August. Since then, India and Pakistan-origin Punjabis who live in Canada’s Surrey, the tradition has continued.

Nuzhat Abbas, a Pakistan-origin Punjabi poet who lives in London, told me, “I want to give an example of the togetherness between expatriate Punjabis which you’re asking about. Now, as I am talking to you on the phone, an Indian Sikh-Punjaban is sleeping in my house who became my friend two days ago. The reason for this quick friendship is the togetherness in our language, literature and culture which is far above a shared religion. The sense of being Punjabi is what brings us close together.”

Despite the bitterness between India and Pakistan, the hearts of the Punjabis on both sides beat in love; their shared language and culture pull them towards one another. This is the reason that despite the passage of 72 years, the passion among the new generation to understand and know the other side is intact. Punjabis have had to pay a large price for the 1947 division. Today, we must accept that the Punjabis are playing an important role in improving relations between the two sides.

This essay first appeared in Karwan, The Caravan’s Hindi website. It has been translated and edited.