PESHAWAR: A United Kingdom-born researcher, writer, historian and award-winning filmmaker, Bobby Singh Bansal, has said 90 per cent of the Sikh heritage sites are located in Pakistan, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The writer, who is considered an authority on the Sikh history and heritage in Pakistan, visited Peshawar and other parts of KP for a week to explore the community heritage sites for his upcoming book, “Sikh Monuments of Pakistan and India.”
Talking to The News, the 45-year old writer said during his Pakistan trip he visited for documentation various forts built during the Sikh rule. “I have already been to Jamrud and Shabqadar forts and saw the Balahisar from outside. Other Sikh-era forts include those in Bara, Lockhart, Michini, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Haripur, Mansehra and Oghi. I have explored the ruins of Khairabad, Akora Khattak and Jehangira forts [in Nowshera district] built by the Sikhs,” he explained.
Bansal visited the site of the famed March 14, 1823 battle of Nowshera and located Samadh of Bhai Phoola Singh Akali, a general of the Sikh Army who fell in the battle and was cremated on the site located near the northern bank of Kabul River at Pir Sabak.
Asked what motivated him to document the Sikh heritage sites, he said although he was born in England, his roots were in Pakistan. “My parents belong to Rawalpindi. I used to visit the holy Sikh sites in this country. This created a desire to conduct research on the subject and give it the shape of publication or film,” said Bansal, who has authored, “The Lion’s Firangis: Europeans in the Court of Lahore” in 2010 to trace the history of the chief European officers in the service of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh right up to their present descendants living in various parts of the world.
Bansal said the response to his first publication encouraged him to produce and direct in 2012 a documentary film “Sikhs of Kabul” that highlighted the plight of the community whose numbers have dwindled considerably in the Afghan capital. This year he produced another film “Sikhs of Burma” to be screened in March next year.
“I have a strong belief that this is our shared heritage and not just for the Sikhs of Pakistan but for Sikhs globally,” he said. He called for conservation of the ancient monuments, gurdwaras, forts and havelies associated with his community in Pakistan.
Bansal believed documentation of the Sikh heritage sites would also benefit Pakistan. “I want all the Sikh heritage sites here documented and put on the tourist map. Every year thousands of Sikh yatris come to Panja Sahib and Nankana Sahib. It is my wish that these yatris should also visit sites of military, historic and religious significance for Sikhs when they are in Pakistan. This will boost tourism and help the Sikhs to know about these places and strengthen their identity,” he stressed.
The researcher has the conviction that the heritage sites should be owned and conserved without any discrimination. “During my current visit, I discussed issues pertaining to gurdwaras that are falling apart and are in need of urgent protection. The problem of paucity of funds can be overcome once the matter is publicised at the international level,” said Bansal, who is father of two.
He deplored that there is a lot of propaganda about the security situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. ” I have been to this province several times and even during my present visit I found security situation satisfactory. The people are kind and hospitable. But it is strange that there is negative impression about this province in the outside world that needs to be dispelled,” he said.
In his quest for searching the Sikh history, Bansal went to Italy recently because the second Sikh Governor of Peshawar from 1838 to 1842, General Paolo Di Avitabile (October 25, 1791 – March 28, 1850) was an Italian. He met the family members of Avitabile in Naples. He wanted Peshawar and an Italian town Agerola of Naples declared sister cities.
The researcher even brought a letter from the Agerola mayor about the twinning, but is yet to be contacted by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to help materialise the plan. “Just think of the attention Peshawar will get when an Italian or any tourist learns that Agerola is a sister city of Peshawar,” argued Bansal.
“Peshawar is an important ancient living city. During my current visit I went to Gurwarda Bhai Joga Singh Sahib in Dabgari and met several fellow Sikhs. I attended the 91st birthday of legendary actor Dilip Kumar (Muhammad Yousaf Khan) in his hometown and met government representative on the minorities’ affairs Sardar Soran Singh. I visited several other towns and delivered a lecture at the Hazara University at Mansehra on the Sikh heritage monuments of Pakistan. I am returning to Britain with fond memories and this will compel me to come again” he added.