KARACHI: The huge colonial-era hall is full of men, women and children, all sitting on the floor. On a cemented platform under the wooden canopy, is a bearded man, wearing the traditional Sikh turban. He is reciting from Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh sacred book.Located along Karachi’s Burns Road, near Aram Bagh, this historical Sikh Gurdwara has been opened recently. Every day in the evening, a large number of people gather here for prayers. Majority of the participants are not Sikh, but Hindus, or what they call themselves, Nanik Panthi Hindus.Many of them initial converted from Hinduism to Nanik Panthi Hindus.“I and my entire family were Hindus. However, we have now converted to Sikhism, as we believe this is the true religion,” said Ashok Kumar, a trader, native to a small town in Jacobabad district but now lives in Karachi.Prior to Sindh Rangers’ operations, northern Sindh districts were a hub of criminals. In these districts, dacoit gangs were involved in extortion and kidnapping for ransom. Clashes between different tribal communities added to the trouble of people. Tribal chieftains usually settle disputes after taking huge gifts. Most of the upper caste Hindus of these areas are traders and businessmen.Being a minority community, they were targetted by criminals and tribal chieftains. Due to the worsening situation, a large number of Hindus have left their native areas and have now settled in Karachi.“We lived in a small town in Shikarpur district, where we dealt in agriculture production. We were living happily there,” said Haresh Dudeja. “However, in 2013, my brother, Ashok Kumar was kidnapped by a dacoit gang. Later we learnt that a tribal chief was involved in the kidnapping. We had to pay Rs 4 million in ransom. We then moved to Karachi,” he said. Now, Dudeja and his family live in an apartment building in Clifton. He has now doing business as a rice exporter. Most upper caste Hindus are businessmen, involved in the export of rice, onions, sugar and other commodities. They also run wholesale shops in small villages, towns and cities in the northern Sindh districts where they buy grain, cotton, sugarcane, chilies and other agricultural commodities and sell pesticides, fertilizers and other equipment used in agriculture. Believed to be billionaires, they have strong business ties with powerful landlords. However, they have to pay a certain percentage of their total income to these feudal lords who pretend to be their business partners.People who have moved to Karachi are living in the northern districts of Sindh, including Khairpur, Sukkur, Shikarpur, Ghotki and Jacobabad. There are no official figures about these families who have moved to Karachi. However, the Hindus, almost 50 percent population from these districts has migrated to Karachi in last seven to eight years.Hindus from northern Sindh districts, which are around 15 percent of total 7.6 million Pakistani Hindus, have left their native places and migrated, not to India, but to Karachi, the country’s commercial hub.In Karachi, culture, traditions, language and even religion of these upper caste Hindus is changing. Many of these Hindus, who were already Nanik Panthi Hindus, are now converting to Sikhism.Most of these Sindhi Hindus have started talking in Urdu to avoid becoming victims once again on linguistic basis.“We do not talk to each other in Urdu. However, we do so only with school-going children as most of the schools in Karachi use Urdu as medium of instruction,” said Satiesh Kumar, a banker who came from Sukkur and now lives in Saddar, Karachi.He said that some of the Hindu families owned two homes; one in their native places where male members lived to continue their business and other in Karachi where the rest of the family members lived. “These Hindus only visit their native places to celebrate religious festivals. However, with the passage of time, even this is changing,” he said.He said that Hindu women did not leave their homes without male family members in their native areas for fear of being kidnapped. “However, in Karachi, our women move freely without any fear,” he said. Published in Daily Times, October 13th 2017.