Sikh community scrambles to save its place of worship

Karachi, Pakistan - The minority Sikh community, which is said to have 2,500 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 AM335 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, Nabi Bux Government 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.

Singh told The News that now the principal of Nabi Bux Government College, Prof. Allah Bux Awan, has sent a letter to the Sindh education department to demolish the gurdwara on the grounds that it was in dilapidated condition. The market value of the place is worth millions of rupees.

"Gurdwara Ratan Tala remains the only place of worship for Sikh community in Karachi after a gurdwara in Arambagh was sealed in 1995 after a clash between members of the Sikh and Hindu community," Singh said.

Singh, the 22-year-old chairman of Sikh Naujwan Sabha Pakistan, is running from pillar to post to save the gurdwara from demolishment. He said he contacted Rahila Tiwana, the deputy speaker in Sindh Assembly, and narrated the ordeal of the Sikh community.

In a letter Tiwana wrote to the Sindh education minister on Feb 25, said: "Gurdwara is the holy place of Sikh community, where they worship. It is the property of Shri Guru Sikh Saba. It is learnt that the education department has issued orders for the destruction of the building of gurdwara, which is illegal.

"I know the details of gurdwara, which is very old. Due to the rise in prices of land, some people are trying to use it for their benefits."

Tiwana requested the education minister to completely hand over the gurdwara to the Sikh community to enable them to perform their religious rituals and prayers and orders of bulldozing it should be cancelled immediately.

A delegation of minority communities led by Sardar Ramesh Singh called on the Sindh Education Minister, Dr Hameeda Khuro, on Saturday 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 Shri Mahant Babu Lalger Maharaj, Dr Tasneem Kauser, president (minorities) Pakistan Muslim League, Sindh (Q), Sardar Dhuni 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 Nabi Bux College was built on one quarter of Shri Guru Sabah property which was against the constitution of Pakistan.

"This is the only Gurdwara of Karachi, which is the property of Shri 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, including the Golden Temple in India.