Radesh Singh is one of about 200,000 Sikhs living in Pakistan, mostly in the conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province along the border with Afghanistan. The Sikhs are easily identifiable because of their tightly wound and often colorful turbans, and because they share the surname Singh.
Singh said attacks by the Taliban and lately also the Islamic State group have forced thousands to leave the province, including his son. The radicals, Singh says, are killing both fellow Muslims and members of minority groups.
He is campaigning as an independent candidate in Peshawar, the provincial capital, and refuses to leave.
“I wanted to show that a poor man can fight, run his own campaign and compete against these rich candidates … who take the poor people’s votes but then give them nothing in return,” said Singh.
On a street lined with small shops in his neighborhood, he stops at each store, run by his Muslim neighbors, and is greeted with a smile. An elderly neighbor, Allah Mir, gave Singh a gentle hug, shook his hand and promised him his vote.
“I don’t care about his religion,” Mir said. “I care only that he is a good man.”
Hindus make up Pakistan’s second-largest minority, with more than 2 million, living mainly in southern Sindh province where they are among the poorest.
Many live as indentured slaves on the estates of some of Pakistan’s largest landowners, working on the farms.
The Hindus also suffer widespread discrimination because of the decades-old rivalry between Pakistan and neighboring India, a majority Hindu nation.
Whenever relations between the two countries deteriorate, the treatment of Pakistani Hindus gets worse. Rights activist also routinely raise concerns about forced conversions of Hindu girls to Islam.
Veeru Kohli was born a slave but fled bondage, walking for three days until she found offices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to help her. She then returned to the landowner to recover her children and free eight other families.
Kohli is now running as an independent candidate.
If she wins, she will become the second Hindu woman in parliament in Pakistan. In March, Krishna Kumari, a member of Pakistan People’s Party, was elected to the 104-seat Senate, the upper house of parliament — becoming the first Hindu woman elected, albeit in a vote by parliament members and not a popular election.
Though Muslim, Pakistan’s Shiites have suffered enormous losses, with hundreds slaughtered at the hands of radical Sunni Muslims who consider Shiites heretics and believe it is their religious duty to kill them.
However, unlike other minorities, Shiites in Pakistan are not allocated any special seats in parliament and can run either on their party’s ticket or as independents.
Ahmadis revere the 19th century founder of their Muslim sect, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a messiah, challenging the basic tenet of Islam that Mohammad is the final prophet.
Since Pakistan declared them non-Muslims in 1974, their numbers are difficult to gauge; they are believed to number several hundred thousand. Hundreds have been killed by zealots and their places of worship have been targeted; thousands more have fled Pakistan.
Saleem Uddin, a spokesman for the community, says Ahmadis plan to boycott Wednesday’s elections after being put on a separate list of registered voters.
“It means we are not the same as other Pakistanis,” said Uddin. “Why?”