Thursday, December 7, 2023

Once Revered, Pakistani Sikhs Discarded From Homeland

by News Desk

Pakistani Sikh community is being driven out of their historic homeland in a new wave of sectarian violence. In Peshawar, Sikh families are leaving their homes following the growing intolerance of the Muslim majority.

97 percent of Pakistanis are Muslims but are terrorizing and killing non-Muslim minorities purporting the claim, ‘Islam is under threat’. But what from? The 3 percent harmless second-class citizenry of Pakistan?

Easily identifiable in their turbans, Sikhs have been targeted increasingly in Peshawar. What was once the ‘city of flowers’ is now sprouting radical Islam conservatory.

In the Battle of Nowshera (1823), Peshawar was awarded to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the leader of the Sikh Empire, after he defeated the Pashtun tribesmen. Sikhs in Pakistan since then have moved from a respected society to the bottom of the pyramid. Today, the prayer services at Gurdwaras are hijacked in the birthplace of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak.
The anguished faces of the community members reveal their urgent conditions. The history has repeated itself. A decade ago, 600 Sikh families had migrated to Peshawar from Orakzai Agency and Khyber Agency due to the Taliban problem, and now they have to leave behind established businesses, in Peshawar.

On June 24th, a 35-year-old shopkeeper Manmohan Singh was killed on his way home in Peshawar. Following the incident when the Sikh delegation demanded more security from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Governor, he half-believingly replied that the protection of minorities is enshrined in Pakistan’s Constitution.

The brother of the slain 40-year-old shopkeeper Dyal Singh, a victim of religious persecution said that Dyal would specially reduce the prices of goods in Ramadan so the lower Muslim class could buy necessities without compromise. He used to throw Iftar parties for Muslims despite his financial limitations. Even then, no Muslim came to the family’s rescue during their testing times. In a few other incidents where Sikhs narrowly escaped their attackers, they lodged FIRs but no action was taken against their assailants.

The Chief Minister of KPK announced a compensation of $980 to one such injured Sikh, and of $3,267 to the family of the deceased Manmohan Singh. What is more shocking than the lowballed price of life of Sikh minority in Pakistan, is that the cheques for these financial compensations were never handed out! The grieving families are making rounds to the Deputy Commissioner’s office with no luck.

To add to their troubles, the recent amendment of the blasphemy law – an automatic death penalty – is a sword over their heads. Just as in the recent horrifying incident in Jaranwala, clerics in mosques practice hate speech against Sikhs on loudspeakers in Peshawar. This has given more power to the attackers. In July, a shopkeeper in Peshawar, Savinder Singh, received a letter reading, “Next target soon. Wait for your turn. InshAllah and Allahu Akbar”.

In an environment where open threats are indirectly encouraged, minorities are subjected to all kinds of injustices and violence, especially when there is no one to back them up.

Sikh activist Gurpal Singh has revealed that there are about 15,000 Sikhs left in Pakistan. An estimated 2 million Sikhs lived in the Pakistani province of Punjab during the partition in 1947. Today, about 7,000 Sikhs live in the province, concentrated in Nankana Sahib and Lahore, and 6,000 Sikhs live in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Another human rights activist and Chairman of the Minorities Rights Forum revealed that targeted killings began after calls of extortion and kidnappings among Sikh community members starting in 2013 in Pakistan. By 2016, the terrorists were emboldened enough to assassinate Dr. Soran Singh, the then provincial minister for minorities affairs! A decade later, the situation of Sikhs has worsened and the flawed judicial system of the country has allowed the perpetrators to walk freely.

Pakistan has shrunk space for minorities’ existence in their nation. Most of the Sikhs are either doctors or hakims (traditional apothecaries). How they will make a living without their physical assets, the country does not care. Leading minority communities to nomadism is Pakistan’s strategy for their quiet, definite extinction. Besieged by radical Islamists, and discriminated against by Blasphemy and other discriminatory laws, where should the religious minorities in Pakistan go?

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