The assassination of 28-year-old Harjeet Singh in the busy Nauthia Bazaar, Peshawar on September 6 was the third targeted attack against the Sikhs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the past one month.
Harjeet’s family had migrated to Peshawar from the militants-infested Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency in 2009 hoping that the provincial capital would be a safer place than their ancestral village located in the midst of the tough Afridi tribes.
Harjeet’s brother Inderjeet Singh told TNS that Harjeet’s death was the third in the family in recent days. “Our grandmother passed away a month ago, while our aunt died 10 days before my brother was killed. It is easy to live with the natural deaths but Harjeet’s brutal killing is unforgettable. I don’t have the courage to look at his three daughters and little son,” he said, fighting off his tears.
To compound the Sikh community’s tragedy, 45-year-old Amarjeet Singh was stabbed to death in his cosmetics shop in Mardan two days before Harjeet’s murder. It was the first attack against the Sikh community in Mardan where at least 55 Sikh and 62 Hindu families live.
According to Amarjeet’s elder brother Rawail Chand Kakar, the unknown killers dragged his brother to the washroom at the back of the shop and stabbed him five times. “They stabbed Amarjeet in the back, stomach and three times in the neck. He must have resisted as both his hands had cut marks caused with knives,” he recalled.
The fear among the Sikh community in Peshawar, Mardan and Charsadda has risen to a worrying level after the two killings. Many are afraid to visit Gurdwaras for worship as they believe they could be attacked anytime.
The recent wave of attacks on Sikhs started on August 6 when Jagmohan Singh, Pram Singh and Manmit Singh of Mohallah Jogan Shah were shot by a lone attacker in their shops in Khushal Bazaar in Hashtnagri, Peshawar. Jagmohan lost his battle for life on the way to the Lady Reading Hospital while the other two are still recovering from their injuries.
Following the attacks, Secretary Home and Tribal Affairs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Akhtar Ali Shah told a meeting that the provincial government had prepared a special plan for the security of minorities and foreigners. It didn’t help the Sikhs as the attacks continued.
Unlike the Christians, the local Sikhs and Hindus fluently speak Pashto along with other languages. Majority of the Sikhs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are associated with the cosmetic and clothes businesses. Some Sikhs earn their livelihood in hikmat offering traditional treatment. The mainstream Hindus mostly run their small businesses while members of the Hindu Balmik caste mostly do low-income jobs like cleaning.
More than 200 Sikh families live in Mohallah Jogan Shah in Dabgari, Peshawar. Sikhs also inhabit Buner, Swat, Mardan, Lakki Marwat and Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in Tirah and Bara in Khyber Agency and Kurram Agency in Fata.
A Sikh community leader told TNS on condition of anonymity that they were afraid to send their women to their places of worship and had to take extra care sending their children to schools. “Is it just to force a minority to such an extent that they stop worshipping their gods due to fear for their lives,” he asked.
The Sikhs and Hindus understand the fact that the common Muslims are not against their existence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan.
According to Haroon Sarab Diyal, Chairman All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement and Commission for Peace and Minority Rights, their Muslim neighbours and friends have always been on their side in testing times. “They have always protected us, our properties and our places of worship. The ones attacking minorities are people who want to destroy the harmony we have with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” he argued.
Gurpal Singh, a hakeem (healer) has reasons to believe Muslims are their protectors because their family friend Zahid Khan tried to save his brother Param Jeet Singh in the attack in Shabqadar Dehri, Charsadda on March 13. “My brother was killed inside his homeopathic clinic. His Muslim friend Zahid Khan came running to the clinic to rescue Param but broke his arm in tussle with the attacker before he was killed by a bullet that pierced his head. Zahid died protecting his non-Muslim friend. The government should acknowledge people like Zahid as heroes,” Gurpal stressed.
However, there are complaints galore against the provincial government, especially its Auqaf department, as the minority communities want it to do more for the protection of minorities and their sacred places. “A Dera built in 1846 next to the Baba Karam Singh Gurdwara in Mardan was demolished by the land mafia in 2011. The Auqaf department also awarded piece of land inside the premises of Nehr Kinaray Gurdwara to people who wanted to build a shopping plaza,” complained Rawail Chand.
Malik Noor Salim, chairman of the provincial assembly standing committee on Auqaf, Hajj, Religious and Minority Affairs, said the land grabbing issue was discussed in the first and only meeting of the committee. “I directed the concerned departments to provide record of encroachments. It is not just about places of worship of minorities as our own shrines have been encroached with the connivance of the Auqaf department,” he said.
Harjeet’s murder was the ninth attack on Sikhs in the past one year, but Haroon Sarab Diyal said they are still waiting for help. “We have lost trust in people in power. We were helpless and insecure and now also hopeless because no religious, political, judicial, constitutional institution or international community is ready to provide Pakistani Sikhs and Hindus protection under the constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he maintained.
He added that the population of minorities had shrunk from 33 percent at the time of partition in 1947 to less than 1.75 percent. “We have about 125,000 Christian families living in KP while the number of Hindu and Sikh families is 47,000 and 15,000, respectively. The Hindu population in Pakistan is 4.2 million followed by 3.9 million Christians and about 50,000 Sikhs,” he said.
Haroon does not rule out foreign hand and also anti-state elements in the killings of Sikhs. He felt religious hatred could also be a factor. “Our textbooks have anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh and anti-Christian texts. Children are taught to suspect non-Muslim Pakistanis. Certain religious groups publish literature against non-Muslims and this make some Pakistani Muslims believe that killing non-Muslim is their religious duty,” he opined.
A number of well-off Hindus and Sikhs with professional skills have already migrated to European countries and Canada. Known orthopaedic surgeon Dr Suresh Rajpal was one of them as he left Mardan to settle in Canada. Many more are taking their chances to move to somewhere they can live peacefully.
But that is not the path for Haroon Sarab Diyal who is convinced there is no place better than his homeland. “I will sacrifice my life for the motherland and live and die here.”
Echoing his view is Ashok Kapoor, general secretary of Hindu Sikh Sudhar Sabha in Mardan. Ashok, who belongs to Garhi Kapoora village near Mardan city, claimed his grandfather sacrificed his 800 acres of cultivable land because he did not migrate to India after independence.
“He was asked to make a claim like others and go to India but he refused. He preferred to stay among fellow Pakhtuns. He lost all his land as it was given to refugees coming to Pakistan,” he added. Despite the loss, he said their family never repented the decision of not moving to India. “It hurts when people who have known us for generations start questioning our patriotism.”
Lawmaker Dr Soran Singh, special assistant to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister for minority affairs told TNS the PTI government was committed to provide security to minorities. “The chief minister has formed a committee led by him that includes the IG police, chief secretary and home secretary to explore reasons of the attacks and suggest ways to prevent such incidents in future.”
A council of Sikh elders from all over Pakistan met federal authorities of the Evacuee Trust Property Board to seek help for ending the attacks. Dr Soran Singh said the council would appeal to security agencies to at least find the reasons of attacks on Sikhs. “We have sacrificed our lives for Pakistan and accepted it as our homeland. What sin have we committed? We have not cheated in our businesses; we have not even slaughtered anyone’s chicken. Why are we targeted then?” he asked.