It seems the promised school for Peshawar’s Sikh community will not be seeing the light of day anytime soon as despite multiple tenders and the appropriation of funds, any work on the project is yet to begin.
The school, whose ‘ground-breaking’ was conducted in June this year, has been a longstanding demand of Peshawar’s Sikh community — said to be in the several thousands. Most of the city’s Sikhs operate various businesses as the community’s literacy rate is abysmally low. While a school — Rising Hope — was serving as an avenue for the community’s children since 2014, it was operating out of a congested space in Jogan Shah locality which limited the number of students and classes, and had to be abandoned recently as the landlord repossessed the building.
Sikh community leader and director of Rising Hope school, Baba Gorpal Singh, informed Sabaat that in November last year, on the occasion of their founder Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday, community leaders pleaded the government to build a dedicated school for their children.
Resultantly, the then-education minister announced a high school and in this year’s provincial budget, a total of Rs23 million was earmarked for the school. The Communication and Works Department has since twice issued tenders for launching construction work but a ‘technical’ fault has reportedly ceased any further developments.
Gorpal Singh explained that the government has allotted an 8-marla plot in Jogan Shah neighbourhood of the city — which houses the majority of the city’s Sikh population — and is providing funds for construction. However, some residents have objected to the choice of location, informed Singh, adding that nevertheless he is sure the matter will be resolved amicably.
When contacted, Chief Minister’s Special Assistant on Minorities Affairs Wazir Zada assured that the delay is merely ‘technical’ and construction work will begin soon. He explained that the government will construct the school building while its operations will be managed by the community. He also said that the students will be taught the syllabus being studied across the province, along with their own religious and cultural teachings.
The provincial lawmaker from the area, Awami National Party’s Samar Bilour, said the Sikh community has historical roots here and that “their issues are our issues”. She explained that the objection to the school is not on religious grounds but reflects concerns regarding the functioning of a school in an already-congested residential area. She assured that local elders will resolve the matter after convening a Jirga this month.
However, some members of the Sikh community are apprehensive about the delay and fear some other, sinister forces may be at play.
Peshawar-based Sikh journalist Manmeet Kaur shared that Sikh students enrolled in various private and public schools stand out due to their turbans and thus become prone to ridicule. Additionally, their present level of education is devoid of their religious teachings. She said a dedicated school for the community is much-needed so their children can pursue education at ease, including their own history and culture. She was of the opinion that as Jogan Shah already houses the majority of their community, along with their gurdwara, the school should be built there, and hoped that all differences can be set aside for this noble purpose.