Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Sikhs of Nankana Sahib: Life Under the Shadow of Towering Hate


By Tahir Mehdi for www.dawn.com

Nankana is to Sikhs what Makkah is to Muslims. The birth place of their holy prophet, Baba Guru Nanak. There are relics of Sikhism all around as Baba had spent the early part of his life in this town situated in the middle of Rachna Doab. Each of these relics later became a place of worship and a pilgrimage point.

The young Nanak’s father gave him 20 rupees to start a business of his own but he instead donated it to the poor and the hungry; and to avoid the admonishment from his father, hid under a collection of vann bushes which latter became Gurudawar Tamboo Sahab. Tamboo in Punjabi means a protective roof-like cover.

I stayed under the same cover on my second night out with my friend Kalyan Singh who is a lecturer of Punjabi at the Government College, Gujranwala. Punjabi is sacred to Sikhs as it is the language of their holy book, Granth Sahab. But the lingua franca of the 200 plus Sikh families here is Pashto as almost all of them have migrated from tribal areas and Pakhtunkhwa. Nankana Sahab is their last hope. They are trying to take refuge under this tamboo of which barely a piece is left.

Spending some time with them, I realised that all of their time references are very different from the rest of us, and that is a sorry tale in itself. If you ask some to narrate his or her life story, it will go like this, “After the 1971 Indo-Pak war, my sister’s family migrated from Peshawar, at the demolishing of the Babri mosque in 1992, many of the brothers also quit and my parents finally moved out after the 9/11.”

Sadly, they are not yet short of new time markers of the same kind. I met Sher Singh here who migrated from Dera Bugti some five years ago, after the armed conflict there made it impossible for them to survive.

This tiny community living under the shadow of the walls of Gurudwaras faces grave problems. Gurudwaras are sacred for Sikhs but for the most Muslims of Nankana, they are real estate, profitable plots of land. There are businesses and residences settled all over the occupied land and the promotion of religious intolerance makes simple business sense for these occupants.

No politician is ready to take up the issue. The Sikh votes are too few and the community too insecure and vulnerable to take any political sides. Their depoliticisation is enhanced by their disenfranchisement which is a result of the difficulties that they face in getting an identity card.

There are some legal complications related to their migration from tribal areas; they themselves do not enjoy the status equivalent to that of fully settled areas. But most of the time, it is the ‘cautious’ attitude of the officers that makes simple services like securing a B form, that makes your children legal citizens, from the local office of NADRA a life time of effort. Nobody wants to take risks or, to be blunt, no officer wants to be quizzed by the intelligence agencies, when it is so much easier to just shoo away a non-Muslim.


Kalyan Singh who is pursuing his doctorate at tge Punjab University had bruises on his hands and face the day I met him. He told me that while in a government office today, he was shoved and pushed to the ground by a stranger for nothing. “It happens many a times, people misbehave with us in public for the fun of it,” he told me with a grim face. I am afraid that some must do it for a sawab as well.

And if you think that I am being a cynic, I have concrete evidence to prove you wrong.

A massive mosque is under construction just next to Gurudwara Janam Asthan. Its minaret is so tall that it could not be constructed the way minarets of most mosques are. So, it has a special design that enables the maulanas to snarl at this minuscule community from the heights of their hateful selves. The mosque is designed to dwarf the Gurudwara. A further element of insult, that is cast in concrete is that the prayer compound of the mosque is constructed on an unusually high platform, that is higher than the highest point of the prayer hall of the Gurudwara. So that the Muslims can remain a floor above. Does that make them nearer to God?

The eateries in the entire bazaar that is frequented by the local Sikhs either plainly refuse to serve them or have separate cups and glasses for them. Kalyan Singh who has spent almost his entire here can even tell you which rehri wala will serve him and which won’t.

The more debilitating of their problems are again about the documentation of their citizenship status. There are cases when a child was not able to sit for their matriculation the matric exam for want of a B form.

The two glasses in front are reserved for Sikhs while the cups are for Muslims.


Most Sikh children study in a school that is set up especially by their community but they admit children of other faiths as well. It is headed by a Muslim educationist and the teachers are Muslims too. The school teaches the subject of Islamiyat to all children as no alternative to this subject exists in the government prescribed syllabi.

Just when I was struggling to invent hope in this hopeless environment, I found it. A tale of two friends – may it blossom for ever. Meet Mahnoor and Balvinder Kaur:

My account will not be complete unless I share with you a shred of the past that I found at the foot rest of Gurudwara Tamboo Sahab. A meek indication of what it used to be in the good old times. I am not sharing with you the recording of the talk I had with him, just to avoid some unwarranted reactions.

He called himself a dervish who has come to pay a tribute to Baba Guru Nanak and was not ready to differentiate on the basis that Baba was not a Muslim. “He was an Allah-wala of a very high stature. That’s all I know,” he concluded.

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