“No one is safe in the tribal areas – be it Sikh, Hindu, Christian or Muslim,” says Sardar Saroop Singh, a Sikh business owner in Moti Bazaar.
“We had to leave Peshawar due to security threats and have been running our business in Moti Bazaar for the last six years now.”
Pashto-speaking Saroop Singh, who is in his mid-sixties, hails from Khyber Agency.
One of the few Sikh traders who shifted to Rawalpindi due to security concerns in Peshawar and northwestern areas of Pakistan, Saroop Singh used to be a clothes merchant in Koochi Bazaar in Peshawar.
After a number of kidnappings from among the Sikh community in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and other tribal areas, his family and quite a few of his relatives decided to wind up their shops in KP and relocate to Rawalpindi.
According to Saroop Singh more than 20 Sikh families have taken refuge in Hasanabdal.
|Harpaal Singh sits in his shop. The picture below is of artificial jewellery on display at his shop.|
“Hasanabdal is a much safer place for the Sikhs to live, as it is one of our holiest sites. Our families feel much secure there, living among other Sikhs in Gurdwara Punja Sahib. Peshawar is not safe,” said Singh, adding that “the bomb blasts and killings that we witnessed there forced us to move here”.
“Who will pay the ransom if “they” kidnapped one of us,” he asked.
According to him, incidents involving kidnapping of Sikh traders or people from other religious minorities are very common in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas.
The kidnappers demand exorbitant ransoms which the victim’s family cannot afford. They then kill the abducted person, he added. One such kidnapping incident was widely reported earlier this year.
In February, two Sikh businessmen were kidnapped from Dera Ismail Khan and released after Rs4 million were paid to the kidnappers.
Saroop Singh said he set up his shop in Moti Bazaar six years ago. He deals in traditional wedding dresses. He says that Rawalpindi welcomed him and doing business in this bazaar has always been peaceful.
“I don’t have any plans to go back now. It looks like we will permanently settle here as business is good too. It’s a peaceful city,” he added.
Singh notes a very high demand for unique designs and modern dresses among the shoppers of Rawalpindi.
“Women often mention actresses and TV soaps’ characters to describe their choice of designs, like Prateeksha’s Saari, Kareena’s Saari etc.,” he added.
Other shop owners in the market have also found Saroop Singh and other Sikh businessmen very practical and down to earth.
Nasir Khan, employed by Saroop Singh as a salesman, said: “It’s my first job and I have been working here for the last three years. I have decided that if I have to work I shall work with the Sikhs because they have always been kind to me and not for once in these three years, they have used harsh words with me.”
Manjeet Singh, another business owner in Moti Bazaar, runs a cosmetics and costume jewellery shop. Most of the items he sells are of Indian make. Fluent in Urdu and Pashto, Manjit said: “I started working to support my family after matriculation”.
He goes on to add that “Peshawar wasn’t safe for us but business in Rawalpindi is going good and we don’t feel threatened here.”
“It feels like home,” says Harpaal Singh, another young Sikh assisting Manjeet Singh in his business.
Like these shop owners, we came across several other Sikh traders, on Murree Road, Moti Bazaar and Purana Qila markets in Rawalpindi city, all echoing the same story of having found comfort and relief in this city.
Published in Dawn, Aug 3rd, 2014