Islamabad, Pak: History was made in the Punjab Assembly last week when Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora became the first Sikh in close to 67 years who entered into Pakistan’s biggest provincial assembly and took oath as a parliamentarian.
Wearing a traditional orange-coloured turban, Sardar Arora walked into the packed assembly hall. Heads bearing warm smiles and broad grins turned in his direction and greeted the new member.
A renowned social worker and leader of the Sikh community in Pakistan, Arora comes with a mission to use the shared religious linkages across borders to further peace and trade between Pakistan and India.
Arora points out that the Gurdwaras in Nankana Sahib and Amritsar, sacred places for the Sikh community, are located only three to four kilometers away from the international border, but both Indian and Pakistani authorities do not let pilgrims from the other country visit the historical and sacred places.
“I will play a key role to promote Pakistan-India diplomacy. We should negotiate with India by passing a resolution that Kartarpur corridors should be constructed to facilitate the visitors,” the Sikh parliamentarian said, adding that business between the two neighbours should be increased.
“Kartarpur doors should be open for Indian pilgrims to easily come to Pakistan.”
Arora, who grew up in in a modest Sikh family from Nankana Sahib in Punjab, before his family moved to the Kartarpur district, Narowal to serve at the Gurdwara Kartrarpur as a Granthi. His services to his community made him aware of the numerous Gurdwaras that are in immediate need of repairs.
“My first job is to get a resolution passed for protection of Sikh’s Gurdwaras in Pakistan in Punjab.”
Arora believes that some of the shrines may even need help from the federal government.
“It’s a responsibility of the federal government to reopen some of the Sikh shrines by doing its homework,” he told The Express Tribune.
As a Sikh, Arora is also troubled by the migration of Sikh community from the militant infested Tirah Valley in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. He complained that the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) was not registering their children and were subsequently finding it difficult to find admissions in educational institutions.
“We are creating a barrier for Sikh children not to go to school. Once they [children] do not get education—it means they are being deprived of their basic rights.”
Several Sikh families migrated to Nankana Sahib, Hasanabad and other cities with Sikh population after some members their community were kidnapped last year by militants in the tribal areas.
Despite this, and media reports, Arora believes Pakistan has a conducive environment for non-Muslims to live.
“There is a very conducive environment for non-Muslims to live here in Pakistan. It’s totally a negative agenda. Pakistan is very much safe for minorities and provides equally opportunity to its minorities.”
Arora strived for protection of minority rights and represented Pakistan’s image about minorities’ rights protection at international forums. The government of Pakistan appointed Arora as a member of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. He promoted the commitment of the government to instill peace, equality, justice and tolerance within the Pakistani society.
Arora follows the vision of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. “The imperative need of the moment is to eliminate all forces of violence, intolerance, extremism and discrimination and to create a peaceful, tolerant society.”