Karachi Sikhs Demand Return of Gurdwara

Sikh community scrambles to save its place of worship

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 Sri Guru Sikh Sabah, be handed over to them. The Gurdwara is located on Plot No. AM355 near Preedy Police Station in Saddar Karachi.

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 Gurdwara 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 3,000 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 2010.

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 Sardar 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 Saradr 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 Gurdwara is closed since then.

The SNSP members claim that this property is in the name of Sri 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 Office.

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.

Karachi, Pakistan - The minority Sikh community, which is said to have 3,000 registered voters in Karachi, is extremely disturbed because it fears that its only place of worship in the city, the Gurdwara Ratan Tala, situated on plot No AM355 near Preedy Police Station in Saddar, would be demolished soon.

The Gurdwara Ratan Tala was established in 1932 in the heart of the city but during the government of military dictator General Ziaul Haq in 1984,  Govt Nabi Bagh Z. M. Science College was established in its compound and the area was taken over by the Sindh education department. However, the Gurdwara remained untouched and the Sikh community kept performing their rituals until some six months ago when police intervened on the pretext that "college students were disturbed by their worship," according to Sardar Ramesh Singh, chairman, Sikh Naujawan Sabah.

A delegation of minority communities led by Sardar Ramesh Singh called on the Former Sindh Education Minister, Dr Hameeda Khuro, on  February 25, 2006 and narrated the plight of the Sikh community in Karachi. According to Singh, the education minister assured the delegation that the Gurdwara would not be demolished. She also ordered EDO Education Dr Rafique Siddique to conduct a survey of the valuable property, according to Singh.

The delegation of the minority communities that called on the education minister comprised Sardar Krisahn Singh, Dr Tasneem Kauser, president (minorities) Pakistan Muslim League, Sindh (Q), Sardar Dhoni Singh, Waryal Das and Sardar Ramesh Singh.

In a letter dated Feb 25 and addressed to the Sindh education minister, Sardar Ramesh Singh wrote that  Govt Nabi Bagh Z. M. Science College was built on one quarter of Sri Guru Sikh Sabah property which was against the constitution of Pakistan.

"This is the only Gurdwara of Karachi, which is the property of Sri Guru Sikh Sabha. Sadly a college has been erected on its place and Sikhs have been left without any place to worship.

"Being the descendents of Sikh of Sindh, we kindly request your honour to please hand over our Gurdwara and associated free space to us, on the above said plot so that we can continue practicing our religious rituals in the Gurdwara."

The Chairman, Sikh Naujawan Sabah, Sardar Ramesh Singh, has also sought help from the Sikh community abroad, American Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee including the Sikh Missionary Society U.K.

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