World State Of Neglect: Sikhs In Nepal


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
State of neglect

Despite being born and raised here, Nepali Sikhs and their contributions are ignored by the state

by Jaspal Singh

The word ‘Sikh’ means ‘disciple’. A Sikh is a person who believes in One God and the teachings of the Ten Gurus enshrined in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Scripture. This holy book was compiled and edited by the fifth Guru, Sri Guru Arjun Dev in 1604 AD. This is the only scripture in the world which was compiled by the founders of a faith during their own lifetime.

During India’s freedom struggle, a large number of Sikhs kissed the hangman’s noose, faced all kinds of brutalities, braved bullets and suffered long-term imprisonment in order to save their religion and liberate the country.

Although there are only about 28 million Sikhs worldwide, they have made a name for themselves in almost all walks of life, such as the armed forces, agriculture, sports, industry, education, medicine and engineering and politics through sheer dint of hard work, honesty and a missionary dedication. Their enterprising nature has taken them to almost all countries. But in Nepal, their existence is in grave danger.

Sikhs in Nepal

It was in the 18th century or about 175 years ago that Sikhs entered Nepal. Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab had good rapport with Amar Singh Thapa, despite engaging in a number of small wars with the former. After Ranjit Singh passed away, the British East India Company began to trouble his youngest wife, Maharani Jind Kaur. But Maharani Kaur managed to escape from the Punjab disguised as a servant girl and came to Nepal via Nepalgunj. The Nepal government gave her shelter and regarded her as her own. Later, she went to London but those who remained in Nepal started their livelihood here. Generation after generation, their population grew and there is now a substantial population of Nepali Sikhs—over 7,000 residents, according to the 2011 Census. A few Nepalgunj territories near the Indian border are still called Shikhhanpurwa, Jamunah and Bankatwa.

While most Sikhs in the Tarai are farmers, a number are engaged in business, especially the automobile sector and the selling of general goods in department stores. Nepali Sikhs also introduced the Shere Punjab Hotel, which provided a taste of Punjabi food to Nepalis. Nepali Sikhs also initially imported cold drinks like Coca Cola from India.

Just 15 years ago, there were many Nepali Sikh families but sadly, this number has declined. Many young generations Sikhs have started to migrate to India to live and work. Furthermore, the Maoist insurgency paralysed the Sikhs’ transportation business due to regular bandas, prompting many to migrate across the border to sustain themselves.

State failures

Despite the contributions and sacrifices of Sikhs, the Nepali state has not acknowledged them or given them due credit. Rather, they have been denied citizenship, despite having been born and brought up in Nepal. Lacking citizenship, they have had to purchase their properties and land under the names of others who hold citizenship. These land and property holding people have betrayed the faith of the Sikhs countless times, prompting the latter to lose heart and leave Nepal.

Furthermore, there is no social security for Sikhs. Even those who only gained citizenship recently look down on us with disdain and treat us like foreign citizens. How long can we wait and believe that the situation will get better? Another emotional matter for Nepali Sikhs is that there is no representation of the Sikh community in the Constituent Assembly, which is known as the most inclusive government body in Nepal’s history. New Nepal has included each and every category of people—from kings to paupers, every caste, colour and creed, the disabled and the third gender, but where do Sikhs stand? What about our religion, culture and language?

How we can believe that the Sikh identity is secure in Nepal? There are hundreds of political parties in Nepal but none of them have ever approached our community for support. Perhaps Sikhs also need to conduct peaceful processions and if that doesn’t work, hold strikes.

The situation of the Sikh community in Nepal is very pathetic. The state must take preventive measures to control over the displacement of its legitimate citizens. The country has been declared a republican state and a new constitution is going to be drafted but Sikhs are still largely ignored.

While Madhesi parties are forming alliances with the Madhesi people and Muslims, they are ignoring Sikhs, Punjabis, Sindhis, Marwari, Gujaratis, Bengalis and many more who were born and brought up in Nepal and the Tarai. Many are not even aware of the existence of Nepali Sikhs. But Sikhs reside in Nepal from Mechi to Mahakali. We don’t have many demands, simply that we be recognised and perhaps a holiday declared for our the founder of the Sikh religion and our first guru, Sri Guru Nanak Dev.

Singh is a social worker and Sikh activist from Shreepur, Birgunj


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