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Thursday, August 06, 2020

Day after bus accident, tiny Sikh community in Pakistan mourns a sea of loss

At least 22 people, including 20 Sikhs were killed when the driver of a coaster bus they were travelling in reportedly tried to take a shortcut to avoid a railway crossing and rammed the vehicle into a passenger train near Farooqabad in Sheikhupura of Punjab province.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana | Updated: July 5, 2020 11:03:14 am
Day later, tiny Sikh community in Pak mourns a sea of loss People of Sikh community mourn around the caskets of their family members, who were killed in the Friday’s accident, in Peshawar on Saturday. (PTI)

A group of 25 members of Sikh community had started from Nankana Sahib on Friday for Peshawar after attending the antim ardas (prayer meet) of a person from the community who had died of coronavirus a month ago. Only five of them reached home.

At least 22 people, including 20 Sikhs – nine men, 10 women and a child – were killed when the driver of a coaster bus they were travelling in reportedly tried to take a shortcut to avoid a railway crossing and rammed the vehicle into a passenger train near Farooqabad in Sheikhupura of Punjab province. The bus had 27 people on board.

A day later, the tiny Sikh community in Pakistan is yet to come to terms with the loss. Most families affected by the accident lost more than one member. A man has lost his wife, brother and a four-year-old daughter while a six-month-old girl and her three brothers have been left orphaned with both their parents dead. A family has stood witness to its six members being wiped out in one go.

The bodies reached Peshawar early on Saturday. Amidst recital of prayers, the last rites were performed at a cremation centre in Attock.

Speaking to The Sunday Express over phone from Peshawar, Gurmeet Singh, who lost six members of his family, said they were yet to come to terms with tragedy. The accident claimed lives of Gurmeet’s father Kaka Singh, 58, mother Pooran Kaur, 50, paternal uncles Jai Singh, 43, and Papinder Singh, 35, Papinder’s wife Jeet Kaur, 35, and brother-in-law Ravinder Singh, 32.

“My parents are gone. My uncles are gone. My uncle Papinder and his wife have left behind four children, including a six-month-old daughter Kawaljit who survived the accident. What was the fault of these children? How will they survive the loss of parents at this young age?” Gurmeet asked.

Papinder’s sons —Manwinder, 15, Parmeet, 10 and Ishmeet, 5—had stayed back home. We have not yet told “them that their parents won’t return,” Gurmeet said, adding, “My father had three brothers. Two of them were with him in the bus. The fourth one lives in Delhi. He was shattered on hearing the news of the death of his three brothers”.

Gurmeet’s sister Arinder Kaur and her four-year-old son Gulraj survived. “My sister is injured. She has lost her husband,” said Gurmeet, who runs a cosmetic store in Peshawar.

Another person, Jagmohan Singh, lost his four-year-old daughter (Jagmeet), wife (Daljit Kaur) and brother (Iljit Singh) in the accident.

All of them had gone to attend the antim ardas of Raghubir Singh, the maternal uncle of Gurmeet. “There are around 200 Sikh families who live in Mohalla Jogan Shah of Peshawar and all of them are connected. Some members of each family went to attend the prayer meeting at Nankana Sahib,” added Gurmeet.

The Sikh community, he said, wants a proper inquiry to be conducted. “We want a proper inquiry conducted into the incident and the guilty to be punished,”said Gurmeet.

Imran Gondal, deputy secretary (shrines), Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETBP), said that a “compensation of Rs 1 lakh for each deceased’s family has been announced”.

Gurmeet, however, said they “haven’t been informed of any such compensation yet”.

Contacted, Amir Singh, general secretary, Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC), said that they do not have the latest numbers of minority Sikh population in Pakistan as per the latest census, but “we believe there are just 20,000-22,000 of them left”.

“Almost 400 Sikh families live in Peshawar and have been keeping Sikhi alive,”he added.

Dalvir Pannu, author of the book ‘The Sikh Heritage: Beyond Borders’, said, “This accident has come as a huge loss to the tiny Pashtun Sikh community in Pakistan. Most of these families were already leading hand to mouth existence and now they have also lost their breadwinners. The Sikh organisations working worldwide need to step up to help these families.”

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