Living in fear in the land of Nanak’s birth

Living in fear in the land of Nanak's birth

Like Shia Muslims, Christians and other minorities, Sikhs live in a paranoid and hostile world.

Every time someone walks into his pharmacy in the volatile Pakistani city of Peshawar, Amarjeet Singh prepares for the worst.

“I don’t know if it’s a customer or an assailant who will reach out for his gun,” Amarjeet, a member of Pakistan’s tiny Sikh minority, told Reuters.

Singled out

Easily recognised because of their colourful turbans, members of Pakistan’s Sikh community say they have been singled out and attacked increasingly in the South Asian nation where radical Islamist militants see them as infidels.

Their plight highlights a growing atmosphere of intolerance in a country long plagued by sectarian violence. Like Shia Muslims, Christians and other minorities, Sikhs live in a paranoid and hostile world where every stranger is assumed to be an attacker.

Many Sikhs see Pakistan as the place where their religion began: the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 in a small village near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

Wearing a large pink turban and sitting cross-legged in his shop, Amarjeet (40), said the community was so afraid that most people stopped showing up for prayers in the traditional Sikh place of worship — the Gurdwara, or the gateway to the guru.

Last month, Harjeet Singh, another Sikh shopkeeper, was shot dead at his herbal medicine shop in Peshawar, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan which is home to most of the country’s 40,000 strong Sikh community.

Peshawar, a sprawling and chaotic city of 3.8 million, lies in a conservative region awash with radical Islamist ideology. Pamphlets praising Islamic State (IS), a group fighting to set up a global Islamic caliphate, have recently appeared.

Eight Sikhs killed

According to police, at least eight Sikhs have been killed in the past year and a half — the first ever recorded sectarian killings of Sikhs in Pakistani history.

Sikhs have a long and colourful history in Pakistan. Originally persecuted by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century, they fled to the remote mountains on what is now the Pakistan-Afghan border and settled among Pashtun tribes.

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