(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Sikhs flee Swat, seek refuge in shrine

Sikh IDPs from Swat at the Sikh shrine in Hasanabdal
Abdul Razaque Channa/ILAP

Among the tens of thousands who have fled their homes in Swat Valley and the adjacent Buner District, North West Frontier Province (NWFP), are about 2,000 Sikhs who have taken refuge in a Sikh shrine in Hasanabdal, a town about 50km from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

According to Gulbeer Singh, head priest at the Sri Punja Sahib shrine, about 207 families from Buner District and 96 from Swat had taken refuge there. The number of Sikh internally displaced persons (IDPs), he said, was roughly 1,800-2,000. The first set of families started coming from Buner on 30 April.

Some 20,000 Sikhs live in Pakistan, according to the US Department of State,  and a study on Swat’s Sikhs by the Islamabad-based Quaid-i-Azam University in 2005 estimated the Sikh population of Swat to be about 2,000.

“We have 307 rooms and can accommodate 6,000-8,000 people at a time,” said Singh. “They will be safe here,” he said.

Manisha, a 14-year-old girl who fled on foot from Swat Valley with her 16-member extended family, said: “I saw a woman wailing with the dead body of her 15-day-old baby. The baby had been dead for two days but she was unable to give him a proper burial.”

Sukhvinder Kaur, who fled Swat with her two daughters and husband, wondered what would happen to her home. “We just came to this `gurdwara’ [Sikh temple] with the clothes we are in,” she added.

“I heard the Taliban looted a jeweller’s shop and a general store [on 8 May]. While we were still there, they broke into a bank,” Kaur said.

Displaced Sikh children try to continue their studies

Abdul Razaque Channa/ILAP
Displaced Sikh children try to continue their studies
Monday, May 11, 2009
Les sikhs fuient Swat pour se réfugier dans un sanctuaire
Displaced Sikh children try to continue their studies

Photo: Abdul Razaque Channa/ILAP
Displaced Sikh children try to continue their studies

“Smooth flow of buses”

But the Taliban “never stopped us from leaving, as is being reported in the media… In fact, in the absence of police, it was the Taliban who ensured a smooth flow of buses leaving with civilians,” said Kaur.

Suran Singh, another displaced Sikh from Buner, said the group he had helped get together included doctors, government officials, professors, lab assistants and businessmen.

Manjeet Singh, 37, a primary school teacher in Swat, who was a caretaker at the only Sikh temple in Swat’s principal city, Mingora, said: “I was not sure whether to leave or not, but when a mortar fell just a few yards from my house, then I made up my mind that the place was no longer safe for my children.”

Sundar Singh, a medical technician at Pakistan Telecommunication Company, said this was his family’s second migration. “We moved out of Swat in January, but when the peace deal was signed between the Taliban and the government [on 16 February], we moved back to Swat,” he said.

Meanwhile, Abdul Razaque Channa who visited the Sikh shrine on behalf of the Interfaith League Against Poverty, a local NGO, said “they are managing the whole thing very well… The place was very comfortable and clean, unlike the government-run camps. But I’m not sure what will happen when more come here.”


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