The recently-held National Press Club elections have marked the beginning of a new era with the election of the first Sikh member to its governing body.
In an interview to Sabaat, Harmeet Singh informed that their family hails from Haripur originally and moved to Shangla in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa around the 1900s. It was there when their ancestors were asked by the local magistrate to move to India if they wanted to after the Subcontinent stood divided in 1947. “They said we cannot leave our motherland,” he narrated, adding that nevertheless some of their relatives did decide to leave but most stayed back, despite the dire circumstances that followed.
He said as the new country for formed, divisions among the once Muslim, Sikh and Hindu brothers became deeper and there was newfound intolerance and hostility for the ‘others’. From his own childhood, Harmeet said he remembers how armed locals would harass and threaten them when they would go to Hassan Abdal to celebrate Vaisakhi or mark Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary at Nankana Sahib. “But now the security situation has improved and such incidents are rare,” he asserted.
Discussing the institutionalised bias and hatred against minorities, he recalled how one of his teachers in school prodded his classmates to convert him to Islam, warning that if they do not do so they will have the doors of Heaven closed for them all. Harmeet said when he talks to his young nieces and nephews back home, he is saddened to learn that such things are still ongoing in today’s classrooms. He regretted that this obsession with converting people is ingrained in our society. “This change of attitude and inclusion of tolerance needs to begin at home,” he emphasised, stressing the role of mothers in rearing their children with values of tolerance and acceptance.
Talking about the misuse of spaces for minorities, he recalled how a community centre in their village, which was established for the local Sikh population, was forcibly occupied by health officials. “In the same way, posts advertised for minorities are grabbed by non-minorities, except for the lowest-grade posts such as those of sanitary workers, which are almost always kept open for members of minorities – an act of discrimination in itself,” he shared.
Harmeet also regretted how the doors of Parliament have been closed off to the country’s minorities as only ‘selected’ minorities members can become lawmakers and thus are beholden to special interests. “They do not work for the welfare of the greater community and are in fact not even aware of the on-ground issues,” he claimed.
“We love this country. We chose to stay in Pakistan as it is our home. I just wish people would understand and respect this,” he affirmed, explaining that this land holds a special place in the hearts of Sikhs across the world as the founder of their religion as well as several religious leaders were born and buried here.
“When I became a news anchor I made sure to wear my turban so the world can know that minorities also live in and love Pakistan.”
Thankful to the leader of his group in the press club for nominating him as a member of the governing body and grateful for the members who reposed their confidence in him, Harmeet said he looks forward to playing a positive role from his new position, both for the welfare of journalists as well as to highlight the issues of minorities.