Sikh trader setting an example in Tirah
On Friday, April 15, in the weekly trade fair at Lar Bagh, Tirah valley, the local vendors were selling food items carried on their push carts. In the middle of the fair market, Prehlad Singh, 53, had established a temporary stall where he was distributing free food.
Prehlad Singh has distributed 450 kg dates, 400 kg sugar, 100 kg lemon, 150 bottles of Rooh Afza, and fruits among the Muslim community in Tirah valley, once known for its hardcore militants and cannabis trade.
Singh belongs to Tirah valley. Due to militancy his family migrated to Peshawar in 2002 and established a successful business at Dabgari Garden. He is now running a medicine business. However, he never forgot his birthplace, home and friends in Tirah. After living away for two decades, he still remembered the places where he had played with his friends. He has maintained a strong bond with the land of his ancestors and often visits there on special occasions.
For the last 265 years, the Singh family has been living in harmony in the Tirah valley. He still owns property in the valley. During the military operation, hundreds of Muslims and Sikhs migrated to other cities, but a few Sikh families decided not to leave their homeland. Instead of migrating and settling in some other cities they are still living and running their business in Tirah valley.
Asked about the free distribution of food in Tirah, he says every year Sikhs donate a tenth of their income. It is called “Daswandh.”
“This Ramazan, we purchased food items worth a hundred thousand rupees in Peshawar and distributed them in Tirah. We chose Tirah for two reasons; one, the people are living in extreme poverty; two, I have spent a part of my life there. I sympathise with the Muslim community where we shared each other’s joys for years,” Singh says.
When he had distributed the entire food package in the Bazaar, there were still some people waiting for their share. “I could not see them return to their homes empty-handed. So we decided to distribute cash. We gave Rs 45,000 to those who didn’t get a share in the food package,” he adds.
Sher Muhammad, the president of the Tirah Trade Union says that for the last 300 years the Sikhs and Muslims have been living in peace and harmony in the scenic valley. During the militancy, no one harmed any Sikh in the valley. “This is not the first time that a Sikh neighbour has distributed food and cash among the Muslims. Last year, Prehlad Singh had installed a 450-metres water supply connection to a seminary at Tirah valley.”
Prehlad Singh has established good relations with religious leaders in Tirah. He spent two days among the Muslims. “Apart from the food package we donated 100 bags of cement for three under-construction mosques in Lar Bagh,” he adds.
Baba Gurpal Singh, a representative of the Sikh community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says: “Three years ago, we had arranged iftari for the Muslim community in Peshawar. We received positive feedback from our community. Now another Sikh community in KP is following the example and helping the Muslims. “We are the followers of Baba Guru Nanak, who preached harmony. We believe in humanity,” Gurpal Singh says.
There are many Pashto poems and tappas on interfaith harmony. In one tappa, “Yar me Hindu za Musalman Yam, Da yar dapara daramsal jaru kawuma” the poet says (my beloved is a Hindu and I am Muslim, I clean the Mandir to keep him happy.)
Tayyab Ullah, an Islamabad-based author, says interfaith harmony is a recurring theme in Pashto literature. For centuries, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims have lived here. “During the Hindu-Muslim riots and 1947 partition, lives and livelihoods of many Sikhs and Hindus were protected in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” Tayyab says.
Sher Muhammad says in Tirah currently there are more than 2,500 shops, of which ten shops are owned by the Sikh community. “During the militancy, hundreds of shops were destroyed. Now the Muslim traders are demanding that the provincial government compensate the Sikhs who had lost their business due to prolonged militancy,” he adds.
In KP, Khyber is the only district where Sikhs live in large numbers. To know the exact number of Sikh communities in Khyber, The News on Sunday (TNS) contacted the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). It said: “The data on Sikh community was not collected in the 2017 census. We regretfully inform you that the requested data is not available. As per court order, the data will be collected and shared in the upcoming census.”
Sher Muhammad says distributing food among poor Muslims in the holy month by a Sikh trader has set an example in a valley once known for militant ideology.
The author is a radio producer. He tweets @daudpasaney