Exodus of Sikhs from Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Following May Killings

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    Exodus of Sikhs from Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Following May Killings

    Fear prevails among the Sikhs of North-west Pakistan after two Sikhs businessmen were shot dead on May 15 in Peshawar. Sikhs feel that the police are not doing enough; nor, for that matter, are lawmakers doing anything to ensure their safety, they say.

    Members of the Sikh community in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are living in fear and are slowly moving out of the province after two Sikh traders were shot dead during business hours in Peshawar on 15 May. The Islamic State-Khurassan chapter claimed responsibility for the murders.

    The killing of two Sikh traders, Kanwaljeet Singh and Ranjeet Singh is giving the Sikh population sleepless nights and Peshawar’s Sikh businessmen have begun leaving Peshawar.

    Two of the slain men’s brothers have already shifted to Lahore in Pakistan’s Punjab province after the killing while many other of the community are planning to leave Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for good.

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    Narendra Singh, Kanwaljeet’s brother, said his father the remaining family to immediately leave Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and shift to Punjab. Narendra explained that his father was shocked by the murder and feared for the lives of the rest of the family. “He says he won’t be able to bear another loss.”

    There are about a dozen shops owned by the Sikh traders in Peshawar’s Batatal Bazaar. They downed their shutter for a week after the killings, partly in protest and partly due to fear.

    The Sikh families originally belonged to the Tirah area of Khyber tribal district and shifted to Peshawar about 15 years ago where they opened a spice shop.

    “We used to live with our Muslim brethren in both the Tirah Valley and Peshawar and we have never done anyone harm,” he said.

    Sikhs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 

    Narendra Singh is still at loss to understand why Ranjeet and Kanwaljeet were murdered. “Ranjeet was so much in love with Muslims that he always used to give discount to them in Ramzan,” Narendra said.

    Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s 1100 Sikhs families who live in close proximity to the district’s only Gurudwara, were not counted separately in the 2017 Census. Gurpal Singh, a Sikh resident of Peshawar claimed in the recent past, many Sikhs families have shifted to Peshawar fearing the security situation.

    The first incident of targeted killing of a member of Sikh community of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took place in January 2014, when unidentified attackers shot dead Bhagwan Singh at his pharmaceutical store.

    Radesh Singh Tony, Chairman of the Minority Rights Forum Pakistan said that 24 Sikhs have been killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2014. Tony said that there has been no progress even a single murder case involving Sikhs.

    He said that as Sikhs were easily identifiable among minorities due to their distinctive headgear, thus falling prey to the targeted killings. This is why they have been apprehensive about their security in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and are shifting to Punjab, Tony said, adding that even police have put the recent killings in the cold storage after the IS-K claimed responsibility for the killings. “There has been no progress in this case,” he said.

    The only police action following the killings was to secure the bodies from crime scene and handing them over to the relatives after post-mortem.

    Supreme Court Ruling

    Earlier in 2014, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, had directed the authorities to take immediate action after attacks on the minority community. But nothing has come out of it, Tony said. The Supreme Court had also directed for setting up a special force for the protection of minorities. Nothing of the sort has happened over the past eight years.

    Ashwani Kumar, the Balochistan National Party’s provincial finance secretary said that some of the youth from the minority communities like the Hindus and the Sikhs have been hired by the police force to protect their places of worship. However, he said, this does not resolve the issue as the attacks on the minorities have spiked over past two years.

    Sikh Politicians

    Kumar said that families of almost all Sikhs who were killed in targeted killings had left their homes in merged districts for the safety of other provinces in Pakistan. The police have not been able to reassure the Sikhs, he said.

    Neither has the police tried to enquire into the killings, often waiting to for a terrorist group to claim the assassinations.

    While the police and other law enforcement agencies failed to protect the minorities, politicians too must take the blame for failing to stand with the attacked minorities, Ashwani Kumar said.

    He said that the minorities after being attacked desired the chief minister, governor and other politicians to share their grief. This has rarely happened. Even after the latest killings in the month of May, a single politician, Samar Haroon Bilour of the ANP visited the grieving families.

    Worse, Kumar said, elected minorities representatives do not fight for the minorities, often saying that the minorities never voted for them, a ruse for following the party line.

    But Ranjeet Singh, a MPA from the minority community in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly vehemently denied these assertions. The MPA said that he always raised his voice for the minorities on the assembly platforms. “Whatever I say at the floor of KP assembly are not personal views or demands, rather, it reflected the views of the community,” he said.

    In addition to this, the MPA said that he has also raised his voice for the crematorium for minorities and graveyards for Sikhs. I recently raised the issue reserving quota for minorities in education card scheme, in my budget speech at the floor of provincial assembly, he said.

    He said that even after recent targeted killings, he raised his voice for minorities particularly about Sikh community.

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