There is a sense of insecurity among the Sikh community living in Pakistan after the kidnapping of one of their community members from Peshawar last week. This followed the kidnapping of a Sikh man in Khyber Agency in November last year. His beheaded body was found a month later.
Last week, armed kidnappers took away a 40-year-old cloth dealer, Raghbir Singh, from near his house at Quaidabad on the outskirts of Peshawar. Media reports said that Singh, a father of four, was on his way back home from a gurdwara when he was overpowered and bundled into a car and taken away. A Sikh seller of herbal medicines, Mohinder Singh was kidnapped from his house at Jogan Shah in the Khyber tribal region earlier.
His beheaded body was found later, sending shockwaves through the small minority community. A terror organisation, Tauhidul-Islam claimed responsibility for the crime.
The Akal Takht and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) were quick to demand the Centre’s intervention in ensuring the safety of the community members in Pakistan. Terming it as a heinous crime against the minority community, Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh said the Union government should immediately take up the issue with the neighbouring country.
Living peacefully for generations in the region, the Sikh community remained unaffected even during the height of the Punjab militancy in India.
The Indian Sikh militant groups, however, found support in Pakistan during those days, as the top terrorist leaders continued to lead operations in India, while sitting in Pakistan. All of them fled from India to find refuge there and none of the Sikhs living in Pakistan were known to have supported the Khalistan movement then.
Sikhs, who had a significant presence before independence in Pakistan’s part of undivided Punjab, were left to be a very small community after the partition of 1947 following an exodus to India, mainly from Punjab and Sindh. Smaller numbers remained however in the north-west where they are mainly concentrated now, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region. Their numbers swelled to an extent after a massive influx of refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by the United States. A small number of Sikhs live in the Peshawar area; an even fewer number lives in the troubled tribal regions close to the Afghanistan border. Most of the members of the community had moved to Peshawar in 2009 after local militant groups imposed jazzia, a tax applicable only to non-Muslims. The family of Mohinder Singh, whose beheaded body was found, was among those who fled. His brother, Baswant Singh, too was kidnapped earlier, but was released after his hair was chopped off.
In February 2010, a 33-year-old Sikh IT professional, Robin Singh was kidnapped from Peshawar. He was however, released two months later. In January the same year, another Sikh, Jaspal Singh was murdered while he was travelling with his two relatives to visit family in the Khyber Agency.