The ancient enmity between Sikhs and Muslims on the Indian subcontinent has reared its ugly head again, but this time in a very unusual and bizarre fashion.
The government of Pakistan has fired its deputy attorney general Khurshid Khan for the “offense” of polishing shoes and sweeping floors at prominent Sikh temples – including the famed Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Gurdwara Rakab Ganj in Delhi -- during an official visit to India in March.
Khan said he performed those humble duties as a goodwill gesture and to promote better relations between faiths.
Khan was accused of “defaming” Muslim Pakistan by his actions. Islamabad was particularly irate when photos of Khan bent over polishing and scrubbing appeared in newspaper across India.
In July, Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association condemned Khan, charging him with blackening the country’s image.
Of course, that is likely a cover story – Khan told reporters the real cause of his sacking was due to the fact he planned to launch some corruption investigations against some powerful Pakistani government officials.
Pakistan’s attorney general Irfan Qadir did not specify why Khan was canned.
“Deputy attorney general is not a permanent post. It's assigned for three years,” Qadir said.
Meanwhile, some prominent Sikhs in India praised and defended Khan.
"[The] Golden Temple is open [to] people of all castes and anyone could perform voluntary physical service in cleaning, washing or cooking which is a noble task and preached by Guru's" Jathedar of Akal Takht Giani Gurbachan Singh told Times of India, adding that Pakistan should reinstate Khan.
Avtar Singh Makkar, the president of one of the most important Sikh organizations, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, also embraced Khan’s humility and blasted the Pakistani government.
Khan, who is currently in Nepal, has told local media that he intends to return to Pakistan and that he would not be deterred in fighting corruption there.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.