Starting over: In a violent city, migrating Sikhs find peace

Published: February 11, 2013

Pashto-speaking Sikh families leave Khyber Agency due to worsening conditions post 9/11.

KARACHI: 

Known as a city of migrants, Karachi and its inhabitants are not usually considered the most welcoming hosts but for Hakeem Sardar Manmoon Singh Peshawari, a Pashto-speaking Sikh from the Khyber Agency, it has become home to his family and practice. 

The young hakeem from valley Tirah spends his Wednesdays at the Hakeem Peshawari’s clinic at Masan Chowk – a Pashtun area near Karachi port – prescribing medicines to a growing line of patients.

The clinic at Masan Chowk is one of many – with education in herbal medicine from Peshawar, the hakeem now attends to around 1,200 patients visiting his clinics in different areas of the city. “I make Rs50 from one patient,” said Peshawari. “People from all communities and religions visit my clinics.”

He is among the few Pashto-speaking Sikhs in the city who migrated from Khyber Agency due to the worsening situation in Afghanistan and surrounding tribal areas after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

“I was in Kabul in late 2001 but it became impossible to live there. That is when I moved to Karachi and opened a private clinic in Hub,” explained Peshawari. “Later, I shifted to Clifton.”

Apart from his nine family members who live with him in Karachi, the rest are in Peshawar. “We are all Pashtuns and our forefathers came from Afghanistan. We are original Sikhs and have been strictly following our religion for centuries.”

Though Peshawari and his family had to relocate from the Khyber Agency, their reasons had nothing to do with their religion. “Around 25,000 Sikhs live in Tirah and the Muslim Pashtuns there are proud of us and respect our beliefs,” Peshawari told The Express Tribune. “If we were not living in their areas, we would have left this country ages ago.”

Finding new homes

Pramjeet Singh, a 40-year old hakeem also hailing from Tirah, is another Pashto-speaking Sikh settled in Karachi. “I grew up in Tirah and my family, all Pashtuns, has been living there for centuries,” said Pramjeet, who runs his clinic in Landhi.

Despite his Pashtun background and language, he has never ever faced any problems in Karachi due to his ethnicity. “I have always been welcomed in all areas of the city – whether dominated by Urdu-speaking people or Pashto-speakers,” said Pramjeet. “I never felt any hatred towards me due to my background. I can run my clinic freely anywhere in the city.”

According to Sardar Ramesh Singh of the Pakistan Sikh Council, around 10 families of Pashto-speaking Sikhs from the Khyber Agency are now living in Karachi. “Most of these families moved to Karachi, rural Sindh and Punjab when the law and order situation in Khyber Agency deteriorated.”

Building communities

Business is the main reason why Sikhs choose to live in Karachi, Sardar Ramesh told The Express Tribune. “They visit each other and share their joys and sorrows” he said, explaining that their native language is Gurmukhi Punjabi but some of the Sikhs have adopted the language of the areas they have been living in for centuries. “Sikhs from Sindh speak Sindhi while those from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa speak Pashto.”

Pashto poet, writer and critic Prof. Dr Raj Wali Shah Khattak told The Express Tribune that although Sikhs are not Pashtuns by origin, they speak the language and share some of the cultural traits.

“I don’t think the Sikhs have roots in any of the known 3,500 Pashtun tribes,” said Khattak. “But they have been living long enough with the Pashtuns and follow parts of their culture. In my opinion, they should be acknowledged officially as Pashtun Sikhs.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Khurram
    Feb 11, 2013 - 4:14AM

    Dr. Raj Wali Shah Khattak is not absolutely correct, there are both ethnic Pashtuns and Non-Pashtun Sikhs. There were conversions to Sikhism from some tribes way back in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries from some tribes namely Khalils, Mohmands and even his own the Khattaks. Since the Sikhs do not use the family names that is one of the reasons that most of us do not consider them ethnic Pashtuns. But there is truth in what this Sikh Hakeem is claiming regarding his ancestry.

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  • Syed
    Feb 11, 2013 - 6:43AM

    Karachi and its inhabitants are not usually considered the most welcoming hosts

    I am actually offended by the opening statement! Karachi is the most hospitable city in Pakistan, no wonder the population of Karachi grew from 12 million to 21 million in 12 years .
    Its pretty abysmal what people outside Karachi think bout Karachi and Karachiites !!

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  • Raj Kafir
    Feb 11, 2013 - 7:04AM

    I am a Sikh and since 1972 I have observed ethnic developments in Pakistan with keen interest. Pakistanis treat Sikhs better than Hindus. I have also noticed that Hindus of Sind are becoming Sikhs to avoid discriminated treatment. I wish all minorities of Pakistan be treated like Pakistani Sikhs.

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  • abc
    Feb 11, 2013 - 7:07AM

    Always welcome in Karachi, be safe :)

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  • Sajida
    Feb 11, 2013 - 8:06AM

    Karachi’s per capita violence is nothing. US cities are much worse;let alopne cities in latin America.

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  • Shah
    Feb 11, 2013 - 11:04AM

    @Sohail Khattak

    Known as a city of migrants, Karachi and its inhabitants are not usually considered the most welcoming hosts

    What study/research did you base this theory on?

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  • Nazim
    Feb 11, 2013 - 12:05PM

    @Syed: I too strongly feel about the opening line. Every Karachiite is witnessing the settlement of persons of virtually every linguistic back ground. It is shamefull that journalist can not describe the situation correctly, and thier few words disfigure the reality and words go down in the history accordingly.The writer, it seems, has personal biase against Karachi.

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  • Karachite
    Feb 11, 2013 - 12:07PM

    We love Sikhs, or as a matter of fact a person from any religion is favored. We as humans and Pakistanis need to understand that no religion allows one to judge another person or discriminate against them due to ethnic background. All good human beings are welcomed in my home, Karachi and they have the freedom to live here as if their own home!!

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  • Rabiya Asad
    Feb 11, 2013 - 12:22PM

    Yeah, the opening statement was kind of offensive. My dad always talks about how Karachi has always been so welcoming to migrants from all over, but, we, the people, in turn have not given back to the city what it deserves.

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  • Careless Whispers
    Feb 11, 2013 - 12:30PM

    Known as a city of migrants, Karachi
    and its inhabitants are not usually
    considered the most welcoming

    contradiction in ur own statement????

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  • The Real Bloch
    Feb 11, 2013 - 12:52PM

    Soon this peaceful blog will be infected by Indian’s soon. Sikhs are our brothers, Quaid asked Sikhs of Indian Punjab to join Pakistan but Congress led this to false promises. They have more commonalty with us and it wasnt for 9/11 things would have been much better.

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  • Billoo Bhaya
    Feb 11, 2013 - 1:01PM

    Good news. When are your brethren from East Punjab coming to claim their properties in West Punjab that they left behind in 1947??

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  • Hina
    Feb 11, 2013 - 1:24PM

    One cannot say the same about the same treatment for Muslims in India. SRK even said it but propaganda is Pakistan is not welcoming to minorities.

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  • indian
    Feb 11, 2013 - 2:05PM

    @The Real Bloch: dont worry u will get ur freedom… :D

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Feb 11, 2013 - 7:06PM

    @syed
    I agreed and what a shame say that about karachi this city is allways a wellcoming city
    and sind allways is wellcoming province no matter peoples came from india or bengal or berma or afghanistan.

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  • Sam
    Mar 16, 2013 - 3:18AM

    There is no such thingh as “Gurmukhi Punjabi” punjabi is language and gurmukhi is a writing system like nastaleeq fro urdu, devnagri for hindi and roman script for english. and sikhs do not have a same mother tongue its a universal religion originated from pakistan. kashmiri sikhs are kashmiri natives and their mother tongue is kashmiri, bihari sikhs are natives of bihar especially patna sahib where guru gobind singh ji was born and bihari sikh’s native language is bihari, sikhs in UP india are not punjabi they are natives and their mother tongue is hindi and urdu. then there are punjabi sikhs whose mother tongue is punjabi, sindhi sikhs are sindhi natives whos mother tongue is sindhi, there are multani sikhs livning in india whos mother tongue is multani, there are 100,000s of white converted to sikhism whos mother tongue is canadian english, there are thousands of both white and black sikh converts in USA whos mother tongue is american english only, some thousands of white australian converts whos mother tongue austrailian english. pusto sikhs are pathans their mother tongue is pusto, aghani sikh’s mother tongue is afghani they are natives not diaspora. mother tongue latino sikhs is spanish. its just often mistaken sikh’s language as punjabi since most of them are punjabis. guru granth sahib ji was written in bhakt bhasha and not in punjabi, how every gurmukhi script (mean the writing system the alphabet) was invented by the second guru, guru angad dev ji and used to complie the literature. the only punjabi writting in guru granth sahib ji is the muslim sufi Baba Farid ji who used punjabi language for his kafis. and a little bit by guru nanak dev ji. Sikhism is the post islamic native heritage of pakistan along with sufism and bhakti movement as Guru Nanak Dev ji was a Pakistani

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