In the Buner district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a member of the Sikh community, Sanat Singh, is affectionately referred to as the “Mini Bank” within his district. Since 1950, he has held the trust of locals, safeguarding their cash and precious jewellery.
Despite the prevalence of modern banking facilities, the people's trust in Sanat Singh endures, as they entrust him with their wealth, without any expectation on his part of gain or loss – a tradition maintained steadfastly even in the current year of 2024.
In Buner, over 500 Sikh families reside. Most of them are engaged in entrepreneurial pursuits. The district has five gurdwaras and five crematoriums, where Sikh customs are fully observed.
A significant portion of Buner's Sikh population, approximately 50%, resides in the Pir Baba area, with others spread across Dewana Baba, Ghurghushto, Jangai, and Changali areas of Buner, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.
Sanat Singh, hailing from Pir Baba, has earned the name of “mini-bank” for his role in safeguarding the community's finances since 1950, a service rendered without charge.
Following in the footsteps of his father Kundan Lal who ran a clothing business and earned community trust, Sanat Singh has managed the family business professionally for over three decades after his father's demise.
Buner is home to over 1,200 Sikhs, the majority of whom are involved in commerce. Alongside the gurdwaras and crematoriums, Sikh religious practices thrive without hindrance.
Sanat Singh, reflecting on his family’s 122 years in Buner, recounted their forefathers' migration for trade, emphasising the peaceful coexistence between the Sikh and Muslim communities.
Stressing the familial bond between Sikhs and Muslims in Buner, Singh reiterated his commitment to lifelong service to his community, akin to a familial duty.
“My father used to keep locals' money and valuables, and I continue to do so,” he says.
Despite the existence of banks, locals continue to rely on Singh, entrusting him with savings ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 1 million, particularly funds sent from family members working abroad.
Established at a time when formal banking was absent in the district, the 'mini-bank' serves as a vital financial intermediary.
Fazal Rahim Khan, a local, noted the historical business ties with Sikh traders, expressing confidence in Sanat Singh amid perceived shortcomings in the banking system. Rahim highlighted the fact that the majority of those entrusting their savings to Sanat Singh are Muslims, which points to his widespread reputation for honesty.
Balool Bacha, a resident of Daggar, echoed the sentiment, citing Sanat Singh's esteemed standing in the community as the basis for entrusting him with their savings.
Kulsoom Bibi, a resident of Pir Baba, shared her experience, praising Singh's reliability in remitting funds from her husband abroad, viewing his practice as an act of devotion.
The harmonious relationship between the Muslim and Sikh communities in Buner exemplifies religious tolerance and harmony, pointing to the minority's adherence to their beliefs in a spirit of brotherhood and peace.