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Peshawaris Strive to Keep Their Identity Alive


The Tribune, Apr. 14, 2005

Photo: Former residents of Peshawar sporting traditional headgear

It was a hard decision for more than 3000 odd families of Hindus and Sikhs to leave Peshawar - the land of Pathans, where they did not suffer even a single casualty during the holocaust of Partition.

However, they preferred India - the land of their faith - to the ancestral place and started thronging this holy city from Wagah since 1955-56. Their first destination was Amritsar, from where they moved to Jalandhar, Khanna, Ferozepore, Delhi, Rajasthan and other places of India.

In Amritsar, about 500 Peshawari families live in the locality on Amritsar-Wagah road. They have converted their temporary sheds to beautiful mohalla.

Many innocent lives had been lost while crossing the Radcliff Line, created by the British in 1947. The hospitable Pathans protected their Hindu and Sikh brethren like their own folk. This was the reason that no exodus took place during Partition, and Hindus and Sikhs, most of them big landlords, preferred to stay in the picturesque hilly areas of Peshawar.

Dr. Basant Lal Chanden, who runs an R.M.P. shop outside the Peshawari Mohalla, was nostalgic about his youthful days in Peshawar. Recalling the happy old days, spent in his motherland, he said hospitality reigned in Peshawar - the land of contrast and beauty - and most of them were not prepared to come to India. Peshawar enjoyed the reputation of being the centre of attraction for tourists since centuries.

However, massacre of Hindus and Sikhs in other parts of the newly-created Pakistan had inculcated a sense of insecurity and they started approaching the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, for permanently settling in India, so that their religion would not be endangered at any point of time.

'Our decision stood vindicated even as our relatives who preferred to stay back now repent. Whenever they visit Punjab, they hardly go back,' says Dr. Chanden. Narrating the recent incident of kidnapping of a Hindu businessman in Peshawar (Pakistan), he said that his cousin Balwant Ram was kidnapped by local goons who demanded ransom of Rs. 15 lakh. He said such incidents had forced more migrations in 1980 and 1999.

Recently, one Roop Chand arrived from Pakistan to leave his wife and children. He plans to wind up his flourishing business in Peshawar to permanently settle here. The local Peshawaris say that after five years of stay or so, they normally get the Indian citizenship.

Many of the old Hindu Peshawaris still wear their traditional Pathani kurta pyjamas and Pathani kulla turban, while Sikhs wear unique turbans that differentiate them from the locals. They prefer to converse in Pushto and local dialect of Peshawar when they talk to each other. However, the new generation does not copy their elders and dresses like others.

Mr. Devi Chand (70), who hailed from Tira, a tribal area of district Kohar (Pakistan), says that he wants to visit Peshawar to meet his old friends. He says that his relatives and friends from Peshawar cannot visit them, Punjab still being a 'disturbed area.' The other grouse he nurses is that the younger generation of Peshawaris does not understand Pushto, what to talk of conversing in local dialect of their tribal area.

Being courageous and hard working, the Peshawaris know how to settle themselves in strange lands. After remaining in camps in Lahore and then its twin city Amritsar their exchange with Muslims, who wanted to go to their 'newly created country Pakistan' was peaceful. Wherever they went they were able to mingle with the local public and live in most harmonious manner.

In Amritsar, the Peshawaris constructed beautiful temple and gurdwara, adjacent to each other, presenting unique communal harmony. Interestingly, president of gurdwara is Mr. Anant Ram, a Hindu. He says the Peshawaris don't discriminate against anyone on the basis of their faiths.

City of Flowers

Peshawar derives its name from a Sanskrit word Pushpapura, meaning the city of flowers. Peshawar's flowers were even mentioned in Mughal Emperor Babur's memoirs.

Peshawar is old, so old that its origins are lost in antiquity. Founded over 2,000 years ago by the Kushan Kings of Gandhara, it has had almost as many names as rulers.

After the Kushan era, Peshawar declined into an obscurity not broken until the 16th century. Mughal Emperor Babar came to Peshawar. He found a city called Begam and rebuilt the fort there in 1530. His grandson, Akbar, formally gave the name Peshawar which means 'The Place at the Frontier' and improved the bazaars and the fortifications.

Earlier it had been known as the 'City of Flowers' and the 'City of Grain.' In the days of the Kushan King, it was called the 'Lotus Land.'

Sher Shah Suri, his successor, turned Peshawar renaissance into a boom when he ran his Dehli-to-Kabul Shahi Road through the Khyber Pass. Thus Mughals turned Peshawar into 'City of Flowers' by planting trees and laying out gardens.

Peshawar was the centre of Buddhist Gandhara civilization and an important place of pilgrimage. As Buddhism declined in international importance, Peshawar also fell on hard times.

In the 9th century the provincial capital was shifted by the Hindu Shahi kings to Hund on the Indus. After the invasion of Mahmood of Ghazni, all traces of gentle, artistic Gandhara were lost. The great Babar marched through historic Khyber Pass to conquer South Asia in 1526 and set up the Mughal Empire in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Peshawar did not regain any of its former glories until the advent of the Mughals in the 16th century.