The Express Tribune – Across religious divides: For Sikhs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there is no other place like home

Ahtisham Khan

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 12 October 2019. Where grim occurrences of violence routinely taint the news, the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shines as a beacon of light for religious harmony in the country.

Amidst the lush green valleys and the rugged mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Muslims and Sikhs enjoy a rich culture of mutual-corporation and hospitality that transcends the bounds of faith, and embrace each other in the name of humanity.

Thousands of Sikhs migrated to Pakistan after the split of the subcontinent, settling in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where they’ve lived in peace with the Muslim Pashtuns for time immemorial, sharing roofs, meals and a long-established sense of brotherhood.

Through the ages, the Sikh community has remained at the forefront of charity in the face of calamity, be it the massacre of APS, the suicide attacks in Kohati Gate or the attack on All Saints church in Peshawar.

“If there’s death in the family of our Muslim brothers and sisters, we extend our shoulders, take part in their prayers and share our food with the grieving family. If there is festivity, we open our homes for their ceremonies and take part in their festivals” told Muneet Kaur, a Sikh resident of Peshawar, while speaking to The Express Tribune.

According to Dr Sahab Singh, Ex-City Leader, the Sikh population in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is approximately 30,000 with 1100 families, while in Peshawar, their number is almost 7000. Yet, despite the large numbers and the prevalent extremism, there has never been an occurrence of a major scuffle between the members of two faiths.

Although the Sikhs were compelled to move out of the tribal areas in the wake of deteriorating law and order situations, they reiterated that it was not possible for them to forsake their Muslim brethren, told Singh.

During the previous years, members of the Sikh community were victim to target killing and were forced to move from Peshawar to Punjab in pursuits of peace. Sardar Soren Sigh, a PTI worker and MPA from Buner, who actively campaigned for minority rights, was murdered in cold blood on the 22nd of April 2016.

However, the man accused for his murder, Buldev Kumar, also a former PTI lawmaker, sought political asylum in India.

Another prominent Sikh social worker and leader of cross-border religion committee, Sardar Charan Singh, was murdered in the Budhper area of Peshawar on the 29th of May 2018, which devastated the morale of Peshawar’s Sikh community.

Although the two men involved in the target killing were soon arrested, Singh’s family was left with crippling financial constraints and with no option but to move to Bahawalpur in Punjab.

“The relations between Sikhs and Muslims have always been cordial and whenever the birthday of Guru Nanak comes, the Muslim brothers welcome Sikh pilgrims with carpets, which is a gesture of honour and respect.

Besides this, Sikh community is hand in hand with the Muslims in their religious festivals too; we hold Iftar parties in Ramadan and I share all my joys and sorrows with my Muslim friends,” shared the General Secretary of Gurudwara Bhai Beba Singh.

Pakistan to issue 10,000 visas to Sikh pilgrims

For the past four decades, Sikh traders of Tehsil Jamrud in Khyber Agency, have maintained a tradition of selling food items for exceptionally low prices, in honour of the month of Ramadan.

“Our women clean pulses and peas at homes to facilitate our Muslim neighbours in the holy month,” told Narinjan Singh, a K-P local, while speaking to The Express Tribune.