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

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


Sohail Khattak February 10, 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.

COMMENTS (16)

Sam | 8 years ago | Reply

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

Ali Tanoli | 8 years ago | Reply

@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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