Heera Lal, 55, lives in the courtyard of the oldest Sikh temple of Karachi. Yet he prays to a lone effigy of Sain Baba that he has at his house. So do the three generations of his family that live with him.
Opposite the Preedy police station in Saddar Town, the Ratan Talao Gurdwara shares plot No 355 with the Government Nabi Bagh Red M Science College. The college was constructed 20 years ago; the temple, as Sikh leaders put it, has been there “since the time of the British”.
The temple, a heritage site, is in shambles; the ceiling entirely caved in, the brick walls broken at places and the arched windows look into a dilapidated, hollow structure that has all but wasted away.
A copy of the Gazette of Pakistan 1963, which shows a list of trust properties before Partition, reveals that plot No 355 belonged to Shree Guru Sikh Sabha, an old trust of the Sikh community in Karachi.
The college was built in the year 1992, without informing the Sikh community. Lal has been working as a watchman at the college since then. Before him, his father took care of the plot.
The plot is surrounded by the college’s boundary wall, making the Gurdwara off-limits to the Sikhs.
In 2006, Sardar Ramesh Singh, chairman of the Pakistan Sikh Council, wrote a letter to the then education minister, Hamida Khuhro, stating, “the Nabi Bagh Government College was built on a quarter of the Shri Guru Sikh Sabha property…This is the only Gurdwara of Karachi that is the property of the Shri Guru Sikh Sabha.”
Ramesh Singh, a bearded, turbaned man who laughs whole-heartedly, shares that the response he received back then was positive, and he could see “a ray of hope”. But years have gone by with no follow up whatsoever.
Surprisingly, the community does not ask for demolishing the college building. “In our religion, education is worship itself. Let the building stay, but give us back our Gurdwara too.”
Singh has a peaceful solution; he wants the college and the Gurdwara to co-exist.
“If the government gives the Gurdwara back to us, we will turn it into a community centre. Every community needs a centre where it can meet in times of joy and sorrow.”
He maintains that in the absence of a community centre, press conferences have to be held at hotels, costing the community several thousand rupees.
Nasir Ansari, director colleges, told The News that he would look into the matter.
“The issue goes back to many years. But I will have to see who the real owner is. If the land belongs to the Sikhs, then returning them the Gurdwara would be considered. But if the land belongs to the college, no inch of the land will be given to them.”
Lal, on the other hand, laughs at the prospect. “In my 20 years here, the issue has been raised several times. Our elders come, look at the remains of the once glorious temple and consider rebuilding it, but the rubble and the ruins remain unchanged.”