Whenever they meet you in a market in Peshawar, at any social gathering or during any business deal, they greet you in the local or tribal Pashto dialect and with a friendly smile. For the last many days, a number of Sikhs can be seen arranging iftar for local Muslims in one or the other city neighbourhood. Kids as young as 8 years, wearing colourful turbans, can be seen offering lassi, sharbat, fruit and other food to those breaking their fast after the sunset.
Sikhs in this city are mostly into traditional businesses like grocery stores, selling cell phones and practising traditional medicine — treating diseases with herbs etc. A lady from inner Peshawar city, Manmeet Kaur, has earned much fame as a journalist. She is the first Sikh female reporter of any private television in Pakistan.
The country went into shock after one of the community’s leaders, Charanjeet Singh, was shot dead by unidentified armed men outside his grocery shop in Scheme Chowk, a suburban locality on Kohat Road in south of Peshawar. An active leader of Sikhs in Peshawar, promoting interfaith harmony, he was one of the main people behind arranging iftar for the local Muslim community for the last couple of years.
“Charanjeet was an active member of various forums promoting interfaith harmony. He was a true patriot and a kind soul. People like him and Sardar Suran Singh (a member of the KP Assembly who was assassinated in Buner in 2016) leave this world so early,” says Babaji Gurpal Singh, a leader of the Sikh community. He terms it a conspiracy against the Sikhs and Pakistan. “We are peaceful citizens of Pakistan but many of us, including my real brother, have been killed in attacks on our community in the last few years,” says Gurpal.
Gurpal informs they have been regularly arranging iftar for some time now. “We arranged iftar for Muslims on 29 days last year at two or three places daily. This year we have arranged iftar at a number of places already with the help of local charities,” says Gurpal. The community could not get permission so far for arranging iftar on their own due to security reasons and that was why they had to seek the support of local organisations in hosting fasting Muslims this year.
Despite living in Peshawar as well as Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai agencies as well as Buner and some other districts for centuries, the Sikh community is still struggling for some of the facilities. Sikh community has been demanding a shamshan ghaat in Peshawar for long, in the absence of which they have to take the bodies of their people to Attock for the last rites. The same was done on May 30 when the final rites of Charanjeet had to be offered.
People from all walks of life have condemned the killing of Charanjeet. “I strongly condemn the brutal murder of human rights activist and leader of Sikh community, Charanjeet Singh in Peshawar. Such acts distort the pluralistic image of our society and sabotage the efforts for interfaith harmony,” tweeted Mian Iftikhar Hussain, central general secretary of the Awami National Party. Members of the civil society held a protest demonstration outside the Peshawar Press Club on Thursday, demanding early arrest of Charanjeet’s killers.
Police have constituted a high level investigation team under the senior superintendent of police to probe into the murder.
There have been incidents of Sikh killings in Peshawar and other parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district in the past years. However, no such incident was reported in Peshawar since 2014. The last attack was in Shabab Market in Hashtnagri in 2014 when one Jasmot Singh was killed while Bahram Singh and Manmit Singh were wounded by armed men.
Many Muslims condemned it in their own way. A local lawyer and former deputy attorney general of Pakistan Khurshid Khan used to visit the worship places of Sikhs in past years. He/they would clean their shoes and place them in the rack to promote interfaith harmony and to express respect for the peaceful community.