The recently reopened Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, said to be two centuries old, has proven to be a source of immense joy for the Sikh community in Balochistan’s capital after its restoration.—Photos by the writer
The recently reopened Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, said to be two centuries old, has proven to be a source of immense joy for the Sikh community in Balochistan’s capital after its restoration.—Photos by the writer

QUETTA: There is something poetic to be said about the lively gurdwara on Masjid Road, in the heart of the Quetta valley. The recently reopened Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha [ZS1] has proven to be a source of immense joy for the Sikh community, who continue to visit from all over the province ever since it started hosting religious activities again.

Like other religious groups, Sikhs had been living in Balochistan for centuries. But for many, their long roots in Baloch soil were severed at the time of Partition, when they, like the local Hindus, were attacked and subsequently forced to flee east. Reena Nanda, author of From Quetta to Delhi: A Partition Story, notes incidents of the properties of Hindus and Sikhs being damaged and community members being assaulted in Quetta. Thankfully though, Balochistan was lucky to avoid bloodshed at the scale seen elsewhere during that fraught time.

Following the migration of most of the Hindus and Sikhs from the province, their properties and religious places were taken over and administered by the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). Despite it being the ETPB’s responsibility to safeguard these properties, many were occupied by land grabbers or converted into government buildings, depriving those who chose to stay in Pakistan of their rightful places of worship.

It took more than seven decades of waiting before the Sikhs community could once again call the Quetta gurdwara their own. The place of worship, said to be 200 years old, had been used as an APWA Government Girls High School since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. It was restored to the Sikh community in 2020.

Sardar Raj Singh Khalsa, in his late 50s, said he had wished to worship in the ancient gurdwara all his life. “The wish has been fulfilled now,” he told this correspondent. “I am in a state of bliss.”

Attired in plain white clothes set off with a yellow turban, he strolled around the courtyard of the gurdwara. He has been a regular since its restoration. His family of seven still lives in Jhat Pat — now named Dera Allah Yar — in the Jafferabad district of Balochistan, along with a small number of other Sikh families.

He tells this correspondent that he used to visit the gurdwara on each visit to Quetta, even when it was still a school.

“I made a wish on each visit: that it be restored to us,” he recalled. “Following its reopening, I feel like we have been re-attached to our religious roots back in our own land.”

Jasbir Singh, chairman of the Sikh community in Balochistan, sits in his office inside the gurdwara attending to visitors.

“Due to our petition, the Balochistan government handed our gurdwara over to us after 73 years,” he said, putting his hands on the table. “We, the Sikh community, welcome the government’s move. It has fulfilled our long-lasting wish.”

Sikh visitors from outside of the province have also been visiting to worship. Sardar Shankar, who hails from Punjab, explained it thus: “I feel like I have returned home after a long time.”

Baloch Sikhs, including women and children, make up most of the visitors, some having travelled from remote parts of the province. Most of those who spoke to this correspondent described the gurdwara’s reopening as a shining example of religious harmony in Balochistan, which has remained traditionally pluralist.

Like the Sikhs, the Hindus go back centuries and have their own ancient temples in the province. One of them is the Hinglaj temple in Lasbela. The provincial government of Balochistan recently handed over another ancient temple to the Hindu community in Zhob. Like the gurdwara in Quetta, the temple had been used as a government school for over 30 years, but the school has now been shifted to another place.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2022

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