Attack on Sikh shrine exposes Pakistan’s disdain for minorities

The 'deep state' and the Imran Khan government should care about the pitiable condition of minorities in their own country instead of worrying about Muslim and Sikh minorities in India, writes Jai Kumar Verma for South Asia Monitor
Jai Kumar Verma Jan 08, 2020

On January 3, a mob of more than 400 extremists attacked Nankana Sahib Gurdwara, a Sikh shrine barely 62 kms from Lahore, in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The crowd was reportedly led by Mohammed Imran Attari, the brother of Mohammed Hassan who had kidnapped and forcibly converted a Sikh girl named Jagjit Kaur, daughter of the gurudwara’s priest. The demonstrators shouted anti-Sikh and anti-Hindu slogans. The protestors were threatening to kill all Sikhs and change the name of Nankana Sahib to Ghulam-e-Mustafa. Many Sikh and Hindu devotees were stranded in the gurudwara when the fundamentalist mob began throwing stones at it.  Gurdwara Nankana Sahib is a deeply revered shrine, built at the site of the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith.

It appears that the administration has been supporting the demonstrators as Jagjit Kaur was kidnapped, converted and married on August 27, but no arrest has been made so far. Kaur’s parents have alleged that she was forcibly abducted, converted and married against her wishes. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, cases of forced conversion and forced marriages of minorities have considerably enhanced in 2019.

There was sharp reaction in India to the attack on the shrine. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in a statement, said, “India strongly condemns these wanton acts of destruction and desecration of the holy place.” The statement further sought stringent action against the culprits and asked the Pakistan government to urgently take requisite steps to safeguard the security and welfare of the Sikh community in Pakistan.

The Sikh shrine governing committee, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC), announced that a four-member delegation would be sent to Pakistan to assess the situation and meet authorities there, including the Chief Minister and Governor of Punjab.

Instead of penalising the culprits, the Pakistan government asserted that there was no damage to the shrine and the demonstration was neither against Sikhs nor against the gurdwara. The demonstration was the result of a fight between two local Muslim groups over a minor issue. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been trying to raise the Khalistan issue and trying to show that Pakistan is a true well-wisher of the Sikh community. Hence it is downplaying the attack on the gurudwara and twisting facts.     

Meanwhile, two days after the attack on Gurudwara Nankana Sahib, Ravinder Singh, a young Sikh, was shot dead at Peshawar. He was the brother of Harmeet Singh, who works with a news channel. Ravinder Singh, a resident of Shangla District, was working in Malaysia and was in Peshawar to purchase things for his own wedding. His killing, in broad daylight, was condemned by the Indian government and other Indian political parties and organisations.

These two incidents, which occurred in the first week of 2020, indicate that religious minorities in Pakistan are tormented and are under attack. Minorities are not treated well not only in Pakistan but also in several other Islamic countries and, in some countries, their existence is in danger. The minority population in Pakistan is dwindling rapidly. In Pakistan, Ahmadiyas, who comprise 0.22% of the population, have already been declared non-Muslims, while Shias, constituting 22%, are facing attacks from Sunni extremist outfits. Deobandi and Salafi organisations frequently attack Shia religious places. Prominent Sunni terrorist organisations include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Jundallah (affiliates of Islamic State). These organisations believe that Shias are not true Muslims and they should be exterminated. General Zia ul Haq, who ruled the country from 1977-88, followed the strategy of state-sponsored Islamisation.

According to Asian Human Rights Watch, 20-25 Hindu girls are abducted and converted to Islam every month just in Sindh province. There are several radical Islamic organisations who oppress and forcibly convert Hindus and Sikhs to Islam. These extremist outfits get full support from the administration and physically eliminate or crush the secular voices. It is essential for international human rights organisations, the United Nations and democratic nations to pressurise Pakistan so that minorities get equal rights.

The 'deep state' and the Imran Khan government should care about the pitiable condition of minorities in their own country instead of worrying about Muslim and Sikh minorities in India. 

(The author is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst)

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