In his 50s today, Sardar Raj Singh Khalsa grew up hearing stories of the 200-year-old Siri Guru Singh Gurdwara, situated on Masjid Road in the heart of Quetta. Since he used to hear stories about the revered place from his elders, it had been his dream to pray at the gurdwara.
Sardar hails from Jhat Pat, now named Dera Allah Yar, in Jafferabad district of Balochistan. His family of seven still lives there along with a small number of other Sikh families.
While visiting Quetta once, he decided to go to the site even though at the time it had been converted into a government school for girls. While he could not pray, he spent time at the premises hoping that it is handed back to the community and gains its rightful place.
Recently, when his two sons visited Quetta, they came to know that the provincial government handed over the old gurdwara back to the Sikh community of Quetta in July this year.
The good news was passed on to Sardar and he eagerly waited for his sons to return home so he could rush to Quetta. During the five-hour journey, Sardar remembers being impatient with excitement for finally being able to see and pray at the worship place which he had heard about from his elders all his life.
As compared to other provinces, Balochistan did not witness much bloodshed at the time of Partition in 1947. Author Reena Nanda of “From Queta to Delhi: A Partition Story” does note some incidents, however, where properties of Hindus and Sikhs were damaged and community members assaulted in the streets of Quetta. Following the migration of a majority of Hindus and Sikhs from the province, properties and religious places left behind have since been administered by Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB). Despite the ETPB’s responsibility to safeguard the properties, many were occupied by land grabbers or converted into government buildings, depriving the minorities of the province their rightful places of worship.
“Due to our petitions in the court, the provincial government handed over first the Zhob Gurdwara to us (Sikh community),” notes Sardar Jasbeer Singh, who is also chairman of the Sikh Community Committee in Balochistan. “After Zhob, we have been now handed over the gurdwara in Quetta after 73 years.”
“I cannot express how happy I am right now,” said a jubilant Sardar while at the gurdwara, adorned with traditional Sikh attire. “We have also been given a room to live along with my family,” he shared, adding that he planned to spend a week at the worship place. Calling it a ‘heaven on earth’, he thanked the provincial government for handing over to Guru Nanak’s followers their place of worship.
While visiting the gurdwara, a Sikh woman from Nushki district shared her own experience vis-à-vis the worship place. In 1998, when she had come to Quetta, she recalled living close by to the place and always fixing her eyes towards the lights of the place from her rooftop. “I always wanted to pray there and today, I am here,” she said with pride.
Sikh community members asserted that they had been making efforts at all levels, including the courts, to be handed back their religious places across the province. They hope the practice continues not only in the province but across the country.