Presence of Sikhism in Baluchistan dates back to the time of Guru Nanak Dev ji. According to Janamsakhi Mihirban, while returning from Mecca, Gurunanak Dev Ji stopped at Hinglaj Mata Mandir in Las Bela, Baluchistan. It is believed that footsteps of Guru Nanak Dev Ji are still preserved at Hinglaj Mata Mandir. Another place which he visited was Quetta.
When devotees came to see him, he offered them Til (Sesame seeds) as Parshad (Offering). A Gurudwara was later built at this place to commemorate him. This Gurudwara is known as Gurudwara Pehli Patshahi Tilganji Sahib.
Parbat Sachdev an 18-year-old boy narrates with confidence the activities of his Sangat and how his Facebook page – Sat Kartar helps in connecting Baluch people together with ongoing religious activities. Parbat is a Hindu Gur-Sikh (Hindus who follow the tenets of Sikhism). Currently, he is studying in Tameer-i-Nau Public College, Quetta and one day, he wishes to become a doctor.
Unlike Hindus, who are the biggest religious minority in Baluchistan, the number of Sikhs is comparatively low. There are about 30-35 Sikh families in Quetta and in total about 100 families in the entire province of Baluchistan. There are about 200-300 Hindu Gur-Sikhs in Quetta and about 2000 + in Baluchistan.
There are three Gurudwaras in Quetta, the Cantonment Gurudwara, Gurudwara Guru Granth Sahib Singh Sabha and Gurudwara Pehli Patshahi Tilganji Sahib. Except the Cantonment Gurudwara, all the other Gurudwaras are illegally occupied and matters are pending across different courts.
Cantonment Gurudwara is still open, but due to its presence in Pakistan’s defense area, it is difficult for common people to access it. However, there are various Hindu Temples in Quetta which host Guru Granth Sahib Ji, as the Gur-Sikhs adhere to both the system of beliefs. There are two functioning Mandir/Gurudwaras namely – Arya Samaj Mandir and Musafiir Khana Mandir.
There are Gurudwaras in other parts of Baluchistan like – Dera Bugti, Dera Murad Jamali, Dera Allahyar, Usta Muhammad, Sibi, Lehri and Hub. Though the numbers of Sikhs in Baluchistan run into few hundreds, Sikhism here has been kept alive by Hindu Gur-Sikhs.
There have been cases where one of the son’s within a Hindu family has converted into Sikhism. This has been done to preserve the Sikh tradition of Baluchistan. According to Times of India report, Avinash Sandoria rechristened himself as Avinash Singh after being baptized as a Sikh.
He had to fight a legal battle in order to carry Kirpan (Kirpan is among five K’s and is an essential for a Sikh to adhere as part of the religious principles) in the university.
Mr. Anil Kumar Marri Baluch, is a Baluch Hindu migrant who recently received Indian Citizenship and now lives in New Delhi. While interacting with Anil, I came to know that 20 years ago one of Anil’s relative Mr. Gobind Ram too got converted and became Sikh rechristening himself as Gobind Singh.
On 9 November 2019, Pakistan inaugurated the Kartarpar Corridor, which was a long pending demand of the Sikh community in India. Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur is one of the most revered Gurudwaras, as Kartarpur is the place were Guru Nanak Dev ji spent the last few years of his life.
Pakistan has always tried to have good relations with the Sikh community. During 1980’s it supported the Khalistan movement and even after its suppression, it has tried to maintain its relations with Khalistani separatists all around the world. Pakistan treats Khalistan as a proxy to its more recent disputes with India. A clear example of this was Pakistan’s official video of Kartarpur Corridor featuring posters of Khalistan separatist leaders.
But the real intentions of Pakistan in promoting the Kartarpur Corridor are multi fold. An economy in despair, Pakistan is trying to earn out of religious tourism of Sikhs and in the process, it wishes to revamp its tarnished image when it comes to the treatment of minorities. While achieving these two objectives, the promotion and revival of Khalistan movement is looked upon as a side benefit.
If Pakistan had any real intentions to engage with India through a goodwill gesture or if it really cared about its Sikh community, then the Gurudwaras sprawling across Baluchistan and Pakistan would have been free from illegal acquisitions.
Anil Marri recounts that in 2006, when Pakistan Army attacked Dera Bugti in order to kill Nawab Akbar Bugti, it also vandalised Mandirs and Gurudwaras. Some of them were later reconstructed by local residents. According to a dawn report, in May 2019 a historic building known as Ranjit Singh Haveli better known as Guru Nanak Palace was demolished with the help of government officials. In addition to that, those involved in this demolition were allowed to ransack the place.
In case of actual human lives, the situation is furthermore saddening. According to a news report, Jagjit Kaur, daughter of a Sikh priest was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. Thanks to an overwhelming international pressure, that the girl was returned to her parents.
While Pakistan continues to abuse and mistreat the Sikh community and its properties in Punjab, what can we expect in the restive province of Balochistan? Matters there are only getting worse.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that, a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its minorities. The current state of Pakistan which is trying hard to keep its fundamentalists in control, needs to revisit its strategies in dealing with all its ethno-religious minorities.
As a Punjabi who has his roots in modern day Pakistan, I would like to quote Guru Gobind Singhji on the occasion of his Jayanti, – “If you are strong, torture not the weak, and thus lay not the axe to thy empire”.
(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)
Mark Kinra is a corporate lawyer by profession and geopolitical analyst at heart. He primarily works on South Asia, specializing in Pakistan.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.