MUSLIM VIOLENCE AND SIKH STEADFASTNESS

June 9, 2010

In my post WHY DO SIKHS WEAR TURBANS? I explained that preserving the hair of the head is a sacred tradition for the Sikhs ordained by the Tenth Guru more than three hundred years ago. “That’s a very picturesque custom,” North American readers might think, “though a little out-of-date in modern times.”

In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sikhs co-exist with Pashtun Muslims, members of the Taliban. To them, the subject of sacred top-hair is a very serious matter. On January 19th, 2010, three Sikh businessmen from Peshawar were abducted by Pashtun members of the Taliban. They were kidnapped for ransom, an ancient custom that has now become organized crime.

Holed up in a remote place, the Sikhs were told to accept Islam. When they refused, they were handcuffed and their hair was cut. They were tortured for almost forty days. One Sikh, Jaspal Singh, was taken away while the other two were kept shackled.

The Taliban were asking fifty million Pakistani rupees ransom. Sikh organizations protested to their governments all over the world until finally, on March 1, 2010, Pakistani soldiers arrived in helicopters. The Pashtun tribesmen ran away after a brief fire-fight.

(From Left) 1-2 Newspaper coverage; 3 Jaspal Singh's file photo; 4 Jaspal Singh's dead body before cremation

1. - 2. Newspaper coverage; 3. Jaspal Singh's file photo; 4. Jaspal Singh's body before cremation

The two Sikhs who survived reported that they never saw the Taliban men reciting Salah, – the daily prayer of the Muslims. The men only pretended to be devout Muslims when in fact they were unscrupulous thugs out to make easy money. Extortion has become a business in the name of Islam.

Now you may ask, “What were the Sikhs doing there? Why would anyone try to do a deal in a Taliban-controlled place?” Way back in 1947, when Pakistan was created for Indian Muslims, some Sikhs stayed back in the Pashtun frontier on promise of safety, working as money lenders, produce exporters and grocery store owners, among other things. As tradesmen, they are wealthier than their Muslim counterparts in this area who are mostly farmers or soldiers.  Thus, the opportunistic Pashtuns pretend to promote Islam while they exploit the Pakistani laws to advance their economic and political goals. In fact, all Sikh traders survive by paying bribes to the local thugs.

Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Pakistan Punjab

Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Pakistan Punjab

About 10,000 Sikhs still live in the Pashtun areas even though the Taliban jizya or religious tax imposed in 2009 drove many to flee to other Pakistani cities. The Taliban has only been operating in this area for fifteen years but its power here is felt throughout the world. When the kidnapping of the Sikhs occurred, the Punjabi Chief Minister summed up the situation: “There are certain people, who do not want peace in Punjab. To this end, three people have been kidnapped, one has been killed.”

Sikhs everywhere – whether in Surrey in Canada or Peshawar in Pakistan – have three mandates from their Tenth Guru: tenacity in fighting or working for a cause, trust unless wronged, and steadfastness in belief. With this legacy, the Sikhs do not confuse their political position with their religious convictions. The Khalsa Panth is the basis of their behavior in all aspects of life, from personal meditation to military might to political negotiation. Yogi Bhajan said to his Americans followers, “It is better to die as Khalsa than to live as anything else.” Not everyone understands such a sentiment. We see this distinction between Sikhs and Muslims in their histories as shown in the pictures below.

(From left)  1. 9-yr old Zorawar & 7-yr old Fateh Singh, sons of the Tenth Guru in 1705. 2. They defy Wazir Khan the Governor and refuse to accept Islam. 3. The Qazi - Muslim Priest - of the Court recommends bricking up alive quoting from the Koran. 4. They were beheaded when the masonry came to their necks, becoming the youngest martyrs.

(From left) 1. 9-yr old Zorawar & 7-yr old Fateh Singh, sons of the Tenth Guru in 1705. 2. They defy Wazir Khan the Governor and refuse to accept Islam. 3. The Qazi - Muslim Priest - of the Court recommends bricking up alive, quoting from the Koran. 4. They were beheaded when the masonry came to their necks, becoming the youngest martyrs.

Businesses like kidnapping for ransom, narcotics and dealing in illegal weapons have been the main sources of earning for tribesmen living in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan for millennia, whereas the Sikhs have contributed to the building of the military. Since the eighties, such illegal activities have become religiously recognized trades and devout tribesman consider these crimes justified by Islam.

The world has so far been trusting the Pakistanis, but the kidnappings and deaths of citizens who are contributing to the economic development of the frontier areas cannot be tolerated. Prepared statements by Pakistani politicians should not be taken on face value. America must cooperate with India as well as Pakistan to end this drama once and for all. The news that President Obama will be visiting India is a step in the right direction.

The next time you see a Sikh in a turban, instead of thinking of it as a quaint custom, recognize it as a statement of tenacity, trust and steadfastness at a time of international military tension.

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