The Sikh community in Pakistan lives in fear and the recent killing of two Sikh men in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province adds to a long list of such instances, where those responsible are scarcely ever arrested.
Karachi: Two Sikh men were gunned down on Sunday, May 15, in Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Kanwaljeet Singh, 42, and Ranjeet Singh, 38, were shot and killed in an attack which the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) took responsibility for. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has issued an order to arrest the killers immediately.
The Sikh community has repeatedly been targeted in the province. A Sikh man was murdered in the province last year too, but no arrest has been made as of yet.
But Sikhs are not alone. Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and Shias, too, are seen being targeted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Around 30,000 Sikhs from 1,100 families reside in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In the span of a few years, around 12 to 14 Sikhs have been killed, according to Sardar Ramesh Singh, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Sikh Council. He said that the community does not know who is involved in the killings and that it is the responsibility of the state to arrest and punish them.
“Where is the government?” Singh asked.
Sikhs are ‘soft targets’
Former senator and a renowned columnist Afrasiab Khattak said that Hindus and Sikhs have been part of the indigenous population of Pakhisltunkhwa for centuries; not only in the urban centres, where they are occupied mostly in trade and commercial activities, but also in local communities in rural and tribal areas, where they are well integrated.
Khattak added that the ‘West-supported’ war in Afghanistan changed the environment for everyone. International terrorist organisations and criminal mafias started targeting Sikhs.
Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State) has also taken responsibility for the latest brutal murder of the two Sikh brothers in Peshawar. Being a vulnerable community, it is the responsibility of the government to take special care of the security of Sikhs.
Pakistan’s pro-Taliban state policy has rendered official anti-terrorist forces ineffective. When they protect the ‘good Taliban’, the “bad Taliban” also gain a foothold.
The failure of the security institutions is not confined to the safety of Sikhs. Pashtuns in general are at the receiving end of the new terrorist onslaught, just as they had borne the brunt of it during the last one, said Khattak.
“Non-Muslims are soft targets – that’s the reason they are killed. While Muslims in the province are targeted too, non-Muslims are unsafe, owing to lack of security,” said Ghulam Ghaus, a Peshawar-based journalist.
Another individual, who does not wish to be named, said, “The state has no interest in protecting the Sikh community in Pakistan. Not only Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, even Sikhs in Punjab are having problems.”
“The state has soft policy for Sikhs who are leading the Azadi movement. Otherwise, Sikhs in the state are not their concern,” they continued.
Saroop Singh, who lives in Peshawar, said his cousin was murdered in 2018 and that the government didn’t arrest anyone. He believes that unless government arrests the people responsible for killing Sikhs, such incidents will only continue against his community.
In light of such incidents, many families have left Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for Punjab. A family member of Kanwaljeet and Ranjeet Singh, too, is about to move to Punjab.
“Who will stay in a situation where people are killed and have no protection?” Ghaus asked.
In 2018, Charenjeet Singh, a leader of the Sikh community and a vocal activist for the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan, was shot dead in Peshawar
After his killing, his family, too, moved to Punjab. Now, Sikhs are reluctant to be vocal about their rights, having seen the brutal murder of Charenjeet Singh.
“Non-Muslims are easy to target and Sikhs are a more prominent community because of their appearance. From 2009 to until now, 21 Sikhs have been killed and the government has not made a single arrest in those cases,” Ghaus said.
He added that if the provincial government does not arrest the killers, then doubts will be raised and people will think that the government is giving its support to these attacks.
When asked about who he thinks is responsible for the murders of Sikhs, Ghaus responded that ever since the Taliban took control of the Afghanistan government, various groups in Pakistan have become active and have began making displays of their power. This, he said, has forced the Pakistan government to share power with them.
Balbeer Singh, a member of the Sikh community, said that Sikhs are loyal to the land of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “We never migrated to the province. We speak Pashtu and we are called ‘Pashtun Sardars’,” he said. “Why are we targeted? And why has the government not arrested anyone?”
“The government does not arrest the actual culprits; they show us people who are already in prison to silence criticism,” Balbeer added.
The Sikhs are a business community and have to work for their bread and butter. They have no other source of income. However, since the May 15 incident, no one from the community has gone to work, according to Balbeer.
“How can they feed their families if they don’t go to work?” he asked.
The Sikh community often faces threats; even the Taliban and their various outfits have issued warnings against Sikhs simply moving around the provinces.
Saroop said that he feels insecure even when he leaves the the city or travels for three or four hours.
The safety concerns of Sikhs have caused other issues to spring up as well, such as Sikh families not educating their girl children.
In 2016, a Sikh girl was abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. Saroop said that they still do not know whether she is alive or dead. Despite realising the importance of education, Saroop has not sent his daughters to receive further education because the conditions in the province are not safe.
Ghaus further criticised the government and said that it must ensure safety measures for the Sikh community, including funds for the victims’ families. “Who will support families and their children when their men are killed?” he asked.