KARACHI, April 5: A representative body of the Sikh community in Karachi, Sikh Naujawan Sabah Pakistan (SNSP), has demanded that Gurdwara Ratan Tala, which they say exists on the property in the name of Shiri Guru Sikh Sabah, be handed over to them. The gurdwara is located on Plot No. AM335 near Preedy Police Station in Saddar.

Built in the early 20th century in the heart of the city, Gurdwara Ratan Tala is one of three gurdwaras in the city. The one in Arambagh, which was sealed in 1993 after a dispute between the Hindu and Sikh communities, was opened in 2005 for six months but was again closed. The matter has been pending in court since then.

The only place of worship for the 2,500 Sikhs living in Karachi is Gurdwara Karachi Sikh Sangat, located in the Naryan Pura compound in Ranchore Line.

Gurdwara Ratan Tala holds special significance for Sikhs, which they believe is the place where 250 people of their community were martyred in 1947. However, the building was never used for worship till 2005.

A visit to the site shows that the gurdwara is crumbling. A college, Govt Nabi Bagh Z. M. Science College, functions in the compound of the gurdwara. One can also see the residential quarter of the college watchman just behind the gurdwara, where a mosque also stands.

Asked why the Sikhs remained silent over the matter for so many years, Chairman and General Secretary Sikh Naujawan Sabah Pakistan, Sardar Ramesh Singh and Bhola Singh, said: “We have been struggling to recover the gurdwara, but we never had a representative body to raise the issue, while the leaders of the minorities never took the matter concerning Sikhs seriously.”

Also, there was an element of fear being a minority community, points out Karan Singh Rai, a member of SNSP. With the permission of MPA and former principle of the college Syed Shakir Ali, some elders of the community entered the gurdwara in 2005 for the first time and started worship.

This continued for some weeks till a former college principal, Professor Allah Bux Awan, complained to the police that ‘college students were being disturbed by the worship.’

He also requested that the education department demolish the gurdwara as it was in a dilapidated state. An attempt was also made to demolish the gurdwara and the temple is closed since then.

The SNSP members claim that this property is in the name of Shiri Guru Sikh Sabah and that the authorities of Saddar Town have documentary proof. A copy of the documents was denied to the group by the DDO Saddar Town.

However the SNSP’s claim to the gurdwara and its compound is substantiated by Nishan Sahib, a flag which marks all religious places of Sikhs, that is visibly engraved on some bricks of the gurdwara and a remaining section of the old boundary wall.

The SNSP, though, doesn’t want the mosque to be moved. It wants the college and the watchman’s quarter to be shifted to some other place so that arrangements can be made to distribute free food during gatherings, and so that a community centre and guest house for visitors can be built.

At the moment there are 600 students studying in the college. According to Principal Rehmat Hussain Jafri, the college was set up in 1958 and was nationalized in 1972. The property, according to him, was already under litigation by another party.

Shahid Nazeer Khawaja, Administrator Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), Karachi, supported SNSP’s claim and said plot No. AM335 was registered in government records as a gurdwara and was one of the three evacuee properties which were not transferred to the education department on the grounds that the college was functioning in the premises of a religious place. It was given to the education department as a tenant, but the department never paid its dues.

Though Khawaja wasn’t able to confirm the litigation of the said property, he said he only came to know about it through the college principal when he was investigating the issue to write a report on the gurdwara. He said the matter had to be solved in a way that didn’t hurt religious sentiments or the educational cause.

“We don’t want students to come out on the streets and start protesting. I have visited the place myself and have sent a report to the federal ETPB. A team of experts on temples will soon visit the place to sort out the matter.”

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