As chairman of the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Pakistan, 24-year-old Sardar Ramesh Singh, feels confident that he has the support of the 5,000-odd community in Sindh province.
However, because he is not a graduate, the enterprising young man cannot contest for elections. This rule has been in place prior to the 2002 general elections. What is ironic, says Sardar Ramesh Singh, is that there are only about four or five Sikhs in Sindh province who have the required qualifications and can stand for elections. “But they are not interested and as a result, we have no political representation in the province,” laments Singh.
The lack of education in the Sikh community has more to do with the fact that most of the bread earners here are into business and trade. A few exceptions are government servants. Almost all have lived in the city for at least two generations and apart from the issue coming under focus during the elections, education has never been a priority here.
“Our elders have stressed more on money and business,” comments Singh. As a result, most Sikh boys here drop out of college and follow their parents into business.
However, despite the change in the electoral system, the Sikhs say they are happier with the arrangement now. Many in Karachi voted for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in the recent polls. “They have done so much for us,” said one. The MQM-led city government gave salary in advance to its Hindu and Sikh employees ahead of their religious holidays and also gave them the day off. “The first I have seen it happen,” said one community member.
For social worker Ramesh Singh, while not being able to contest elections is one thing, for all practical purposes he continues to the lead the community. In 2005, it was he who headed a Jatha to Amritsar comprising 150 people. “We got such a warm welcome, it was overwhelming,” he recalls with pride, adding that “people were curious to see the Sikhs from Karachi”.
In the separate electorate system, one seat was reserved for Sikhs, Bahais, Parsis and Buddhists. This seat has now been abolished, and under the new system, all religious minorities, including the larger Hindu and Christian communities, have been bunched together into one reserved seat.
This means the chances of a Sikh being elected an MP has further dimmed. Despite that, members of the community are optimistic that there are others now who can raise a voice for them. “We have hopes in the people elected under the joint electorate. I don’t think they will disappoint us,” he said.