Peshawar,Pak: “It was at 2am on April 29, 2009, when I was informed about a possible attack by the Taliban. We were left with only one option and that was to leave the area because we could not confront them,” said Kalyan Singh, who was the chief of the Sikh community in Orakzai Agency at that time.
Kalyan then rushed out of his house and knocked at every door where Sikhs resided and told them to leave the agency as soon as possible.
Around 69 families, approximately 500 Sikhs, were residing in Feroz Khail area of the agency. Most of them earned their living from cultivating crops and a few others from small makeshifts at a market, which were barely sufficient to make both ends meet.
Kalyan himself was picked up by militants and offered three options: To embrace Islam, to become part of their jihad or to pay a sum of Rs500 million.
“I could not even consider the first two options. I was released when residents intervened and the Sikh community paid Rs6.5 million as Jizya (protection money for non-Muslims),” Kalyan said.
Residents left the area within half an hour of the warning, leaving most of their valuables behind.
“It was like separating my soul from my body because I was leaving an area where I grew up, spent my childhood and more than 50 years of my life.” He paused to take a deep breath and added: “But we couldn’t risk the honour of our women and had to leave.”
“Once you are stigmatised, you cannot face people and that is why we left our homes and reached Kalaya, headquarters of the Orakzai Agency, where we took shelter with members of our community.”
Apart from Orakzai, around 260 families of the Sikh community in Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency also migrated to safer places.
Some have been living in Mohalla Joga Shah, Peshawar, while others took shelter at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hassan Abad.
Harender Kaur and her daughter Ilmid took refuge in Panja Sahib after Harender’s husband Balwant was kidnapped on November 23, 2008. He was killed two days after he was abducted. After his death, the mother and daughter were granted asylum by the Canadian government.
Another member of the Sikh community, Mahinder, who lives in Hassanabadal, left Bara when he lost his brother and a relative in a rocket attack fired from an unknown location.
“It was Thursday, November 17, 2011. I was home when I heard a deafening sound of an explosion. It was a rocket fired from an unknown location, which hit the shop of my brother Sardar Singh, who died along with one of our relatives in Qamber area of Khyber Agency,” Mahinder said, adding that he left the area following his brother’s death.
Mahinder told The Express Tribune that they lived in Bara for years and had never been bothered by the Taliban until then. “We were dependent on agriculture and spend most of our time in the fields, where rockets are fired from militants and security forces. Because of this, we had to search for other means of earning,” Mahinder said.
“I moved to Peshawar but could not find a job there. I then had to bring my family here to Panja Sahib Hassanabdal.”
When a large number of Sikh families were displaced, the government said it would help the community, but only an announcement was made and no practical steps were taken.
Ultimately, it was the United Sikhs, a welfare organisation affiliated with the United Nations, which came to the help of its community.
Hardyal Singh, a young volunteer and director for United Sikhs, says most of the displaced Sikhs depend on agriculture and had to leave their fields, houses and established businesses. They were asked to leave the area due to the military operation and were promised help, but no one came forward to assist them, he added.
source:The Express Tribune