Islamabad - Sikhs still rue the moment when Master Tara Singh rejected the blank cheque offered by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to annex the Eastern Punjab with Pakistan in 1947.

Punjabis of both Indian and Pakistani Punjab bore the brunt of the partition that split them. With the benefit of the hindsight, you can say that Pakistani Punjabis have an edge on the Indian Punjabis who are deprived of their due rights and have become subject of worst state torture many times in history.

Dr Sajid Awan, former head of the National Institute of History and Cultural Research (NIHCR) and editor of Journal of History and Culture, has a deep insight into history and cultures of the sub-continent, particularly of Punjab. Actually his personal romance with Punjab has spotlighted his academic focus on this land of love, its antiquity, diversity and profundity. Talking to this scribe, he said both the Punjabs are the bread baskets of India and Pakistan. Admitting that farmers are wronged by the government in Pakistan, Dr Awan said that their plight is nothing compared to Indian Punjabi farmers, who are so much exploited by the anti-people government of Delhi that they are committing suicides. He said Modi is giving India death and destruction and ultimately pushing his country towards darkness. Enlightened and educated Indian Punjabis do not buy his warmongering and still find heroes in some pro-Pakistan characters of history, he added.

Baljit Singh Cheema, a PhD student at Punjabi University Patyala, is doing his doctoral thesis on Sir Fazal-e-Hussain. Sir Fazal-e-Hussain had founded the Unionist Party in Lahore in 1923. Following demographic and secular patterns, the party had its president a Muslim, general secretary a Sikh and joint secretary a Hindu. Within no time, it became a popular party and took hold of the politics of Punjab. This party was a unique model of pluralistic polity accommodating the interests of all the three communities in the province i.e. Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, said Dr Awan.

After partition Baljit’s family migrated to India from Sialkot. He named his village and Dr Awan, being familiar with the place, described to him its scenic beauty, traditional well and other things. Dr Awan said that Dalir was quick to match the description with accounts of the village his forefathers had told him. He says that Baljit wanted to come here and see the place but the Indian government has put in place excessive visa restrictions.

Dr Awan has many other such stories to share. For example, Dr Jaspal Kaur Dhanju, a professor and head of the Department of History at Punjabi University Patyala, traces her origin to a village in Faisalabad. She and her husband were lucky enough to get through all visa restrictions and see the place where their ancestors lived. There is a well in the village in which her parents name is still carved because it were they who dug it in their own land. Dr Awan said that on this Independence Day on August 14, Kaur sent her a historic message in the form of a Punjabi couplet: “Lali ankhan de pai dasdi ai, Roy tusi we ho roy assi we han (Redness of eyes tells; you and us both have wept).”

Another such glaring example is that of Prof Sardara Singh Johl, the Chancellor of Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India. An Internationally acclaimed agriculture economist, policy-adviser and Padam Bhushan Awardee, Dr Sardara Singh Johl was born in a village in Lylpur (now Faisalabad) in 1928. He got his early education in his village school and still remembers his primary school Muslim teacher master Din Muhammad whom he declares his mentor. Dr SS Johl told Dr Awan that he managed to visit his native town in Faisalabad, traced his teacher, visited his school and announced ten scholarships after the name of his teacher — Din Muhammad Scholarship — for the students of that school every year. This scholarship is still open regularly. Countless such examples can be found scattered on both sides of the border.

Dr Awan says it is not a one-sided romance. There are many Pakistani students who have researched pre-partition Sikh characters like Bhagat Singh. A generation of students has grown reading steamy writings of Khushwant Singh, he says. Lahoris have foiled the attempts to rename places like Ganga Ram Hospital, Guru Mangat Road, Dial Singh College, Dial Singh Library etc that have been named after non-Muslims.

In a young age, Dr Awan has contributed to promotion of researching history and culture of the sub-continent considerably. His research papers are widely cited and his PhD students are excelling in the field. During his stay as NIHCR director, the institute made tremendous progress but his stay was cut short by direct intervention of the top management of Quaid-e-Azam University in the institute.