Baldev Kumar (main picture), a former legislator from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, has sought asylum in India for himself and his family. Kumar, a former member of the provincial assembly from the minority-reserved Barikot seat of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is currently in Khanna, in the Indian state of Punjab, where his in-laws reside.
The 43-year-old politician is in India on a three-month visa for medical treatment of his 12-year-old daughter who is a Thalassemia major patient.
Kumar alleges that Pakistan is an “unsafe country” and that Imran Khan-led government mistreats minorities there. In a DW interview, Kumar spoke of his concerns for Pakistan’s Sikh community, particularly those residing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including the semi-autonomous tribal region that shares a border with Afghanistan.
DW: Have you taken a big risk by seeking asylum in India? What prompted you to take this decision?
Baldev Kumar: There are many Sikhs in Pakistan who are worried about their safety and their families. I took a risk, but a calculated one, and that is why I planned my escape from Pakistan. My brothers were worried if I would make the journey successfully, and that I could get killed.
I took the gamble and it paid off. I hope this journey is worthwhile and will highlight the plight of other Sikh families.
Since Imran Khan became Pakistan’s prime minister, things have turned worse. He is a mere puppet following instructions. He has failed to deliver. Security has become a major concern for many minority communities there, and abductions and forced conversions have only heightened the climate of fear.
Did you leave Pakistan because you were accused of involvement in a murder case?
That is not true. In 2016, Suran Singh, the then special adviser to chief minister and a member of the provincial assembly, was assassinated. I wrongly faced charges of involvement in this murder case and was subsequently acquitted in 2018.
I don’t know what his family members think of me, but I have been cleared by the court. In fact, the government owes me remuneration for two years. The speaker’s office is withholding my arrears without reason.
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What have you witnessed that substantiate your fears that Sikhs and other minorities live in fear in Pakistan?
The Sikh population in Pakistan is declining. The number of Sikhs in the country has come down drastically, from about 50,000 two decades ago to around 8,000 now.
A lot of things happening in the country, like forced conversions, do not get the publicity they deserve. Only recently, on September 3, a Sikh girl was allegedly abducted and converted to Islam in Pakistan’s Sindh province. She was the daughter of a “granthi” (priest). This was the second incident of forced conversion within a week. Such incidents are happening in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. I fear for my life there and therefore I’ve left Pakistan.
What do you think of the Kartarpur Corridor, which is supposed to allow Sikh pilgrims from India to visit Kartarpur Sahib shrine in Pakistan’s Punjab province?
It is a good idea and I hope it happens. But I have a feeling that politics might ruin this good proposal. The project will link Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Narowal district.
It would be great if both sides could reach a deal on the corridor by the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak [the founder of the Sikh religion]. But we have to wait and see.
What is your next course of action?
I humbly request Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to relax visa conditions so that people who are suffering in Pakistan can come to India and stay here. It is extremely worrying what is happening there and I want to highlight the problems being faced by the people.
I sincerely hope I will be allowed to stay in India. There is no way I can return to Pakistan. I simply cannot and do not want to. I need asylum in India.
Baldev Kumar is a former legislator from Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party and represented Barikot constituency in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly.
The interview was conducted by Murali Krishnan.