Pakistan Ex-MLA Seeks Asylum in India: Baldev Kumar’s Complex Tale
A former Pakistan lawmaker, Baldev Kumar, is in India, seeking asylum over what he says is “increasing atrocities” against the minority communities. Kumar, a Sikh hailing from Pakistan’s northwestern province, says, “Not only minorities but even Muslims are not safe there [Pakistan]. We are surviving in Pakistan with a lot of difficulties. I request the Indian government to give me asylum here. I will not go back.”
Though the claim about the poor state of minorities in Pakistan are not unfounded, there is more to what meets the eye in Kumar’s case.
Baldev’s ‘Minority Attack’ Claim Needs to Be Taken With a Pinch of Salt
He was charged with the murder of a Sikh lawmaker, Soran Singh, in 2016, only to be acquitted after two years by an anti-terrorism court, for lack of evidence. He reportedly left for India on 12 August and applied for asylum a month later. It was alleged that Singh and Kumar were political rivals, and the latter had paid around USD 10,000 to a group of shooters to kill him. The shooters were also later arrested by the police.
“Rumours are being spread by the Pakistan government against me since I have always raised [my] voice against injustice,” the accused lawmaker has now claimed, adding that it was very hard for him to decide to seek asylum in India.
Kumar says that the Sikh community, particularly, was the target of ‘hate attacks’ by the majority Muslim community. But is it the sole reason for his asylum request? It needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Criminal Allegations Against Baldev
The deceased Soran Singh’s son, Ajay Soran Singh, says Kumar “fled to India” to avoid court proceedings against him in his father’s murder case. “He knows he will be sent to the gallows as a court in Swat will soon take up the case.”
He contests the claims made by the former lawmaker about the state of minorities in the country and says: “If anyone should seek asylum, it should be my family; our father was killed in broad daylight, but here I am [in Buner], safe.”
Kumar went to India because his wife is an Indian national, hailing from Ludhiana, and he is being facilitated, claims Singh. The claim that Kumar evaded accountability, was also substantiated by a local journalist, Aziz Buneri, who hails from Buner district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Malakand division. He says a Swat court is all set to hear Singh’s appeal against Kumar on 30 September, hence his claims of “minority persecution”.
He says Malakand is the “safest” place for minorities living in the province. He also goes on to accuse Kumar of involvement in criminal activities, saying there have been multiple cases registered against the ex-lawmaker.
Contrary to what Kumar said, the Muslim and Sikh communities live harmoniously in the region, says the journalist. “We share each other’s joys and sorrows,” he says, questioning the former lawmaker’s allegations.
The journalist also says that there was no risk to Kumar’s life whatsoever in Malakand, before or after Soran’s killing. The claim was also corroborated by Kumar’s elder brother, Tilak. He says that the family got to know about his brother’s claims of persecution through media. Rejecting the allegations, he says, “There is no truth to the claims, and that the Sikh and Muslim communities live like brothers.”
“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Is Relatively Safe for Minorities”
There is no doubt that Pakistan is among the least-friendly countries for minorities: there are forced conversions, blasphemy cases, killings in the name of faith, in addition to laws ostracising certain communities.
Kumar echoes the same fears.
But that couldn’t be the case in every asylum case, given the significant increase in Pakistanis seeking sanctuary abroad, sometimes on rather flimsy grounds.
Kumar’s former colleague and ruling party lawmaker, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, doesn’t believe him either. He thinks the former lawmaker is using his faith for citizenship in an “enemy country”.
But how strong his case is will be decided by India upon hearing.
Saiful Malook, the lawyer who represented Asia Bibi in a high-profile blasphemy case, says it is up to India to decide whether Kumar is speaking the truth or not. He, however, also raises a question over Kumar’s choice to pick India for asylum amid heightened tensions.
“Former lawmaker Kumar’s claim about Sikh persecution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) hardly mirrors reality,” says Asher John, a Lahore-based journalist who covers the minority beat. The Sikh and Hindu communities in the province are rather well-off, and KP is relatively safer for minorities as compared to the rest of Pakistan, he adds.
Even though Kumar is a controversial character owing to his alleged involvement in the murder of Soran Singh, his claims cannot be simply dismissed, especially in light of reports that over 7,000 Sikh families from the province have fled to neighbouring India over the past decade.
Instances of Religious Persecution in Pakistan
Over its 72-year-long history, there have been many cases of religious persecution in Pakistan. Among these, the most recent, also mentioned by Baldev Kumar, emerged in Nankana, where six people abducted and forcefully converted a 19-year-old Sikh girl, Jagjit Kaur. However, Kaur was later returned to the family after intervention by the provincial government.
In KP, the last act of violence against members of the Sikh community remains that of Sardar Charan Jeet Singh, a Peshawar-based peace activist who was shot dead by unknown assailants in May 2018.
(Abdullah Zafar is a Lahore-based journalist. He is the political editor of ‘The Current’ and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, and @Ayezee11 on Twitter.)
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