An armed policeman stood guard outside the 300-year-old Sikh temple, known as a Gurdwara, in northwest Pakistan. He kept a watchful eye on everyone who passed him on the narrow street, looking for a suspicious gesture, or a bulge beneath the clothes that hints at a hidden gun or a bomb. Earlier this month, the […]
An armed policeman stood guard outside the 300-year-old Sikh temple, known as a Gurdwara, in northwest Pakistan. He kept a watchful eye on everyone who passed him on the narrow street, looking for a suspicious gesture, or a bulge beneath the clothes that hints at a hidden gun or a bomb.
Earlier this month, the gurdwara in Peshawar’s crowded Old City opened its doors to worshippers for the first time in 73 years. The reopening was celebrated by Pakistan’s tiny Sikh minority, but security is a constant concern.
The newly-opened gurdwara has a 24-hour Sikh Security detail as well as police guards, but their Muslim neighbors believe an attack is inevitable.
“Security is very necessary … for the people who want to come here for prayers without any fear,” said Gurpal Singh, security chief for Peshawar’s Sikh community.
Gohar Iqbal, a bookseller who works at a busy stall opposite the temple was certain the building would be targeted by militants. “We are worrying because of the children if something happens,” he said, gesturing to the white cement building that houses a girls’ high school, which abuts the gurdwara.
Few in this overwhelmingly Muslim neighborhood welcomed the gurdwara’s opening. Apart from the security risks, many simply don’t want Sikhs in their midst. The Sikhs that lived in the area and attended the gurdwara left when it closed in the 1940s.
It is not known how many Sikhs live in Pakistan today. The vast majority migrated to India in 1947, the year Pakistan was created as a homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent. The CIA Factbook estimates that 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 180 million people are non-Muslims, including Sikhs, Christians and Hindus.
Sikhs are among the smallest minorities. They are easily identifiable because of their tightly wound and often colorful turbans, and because they share the surname Singh.
Many of the Sikhs living in Pakistan are internally displaced, having fled their traditional homes in Pakistan’s tribal regions as the threat posed by militants increased.
to their original owners — as happened with the gurdwara — and at other times they are given to those who migrated from India to Pakistan, provided they can prove they owned property of a similar value in India.
Despite receiving a chilly reception from their Muslim neighbors, the Sikhs of the gurdwara are giving shelter to an elderly Muslim woman.
In one of the ramshackle buildings lives Begum Shafqat Ara, a diminutive old woman who believes her age to be around 90. She has lived in the gurdwara for some 60 years. She never married and taught at the vocational school, where she continued to live after she retired.
“I didn’t have anywhere to go, no family. This is my home,” she told AP, sitting on the purple carpeted floor of the gurdwara’s prayer hall.
Charanjeet Singh says Ara will stay. The Sikh community takes care of her and has promised to continue to do so for as long as she lives. Ara smiled a mostly toothless grin as she heard this and affectionately rested her hand on the knee of a nearby Sikh volunteer who had helped her to the prayer hall.
~ Source: bigstory.ap.org