Ranjeet Singh,28, did not come to the city out of choice. He belongs to one of 1,500 families who moved out of Bara, Khyber Agency as security conditions in the area deteriorated.
“Three people from my family were killed and our shop was destroyed when mortar shells hit our herbal medicine store five months ago,” he said after prayers at the gurdwara in Dabgari. Ranjeet and his family now live with a relative in the provincial capital.
Most people are reluctant to say anything about the situation in Bara or name any group responsible for the mayhem. They even choose to remain silent about their own plight for fear of getting kidnapped or killed.
“No one can freely talk about this because everyone knows they will have to face the consequences,” Ranjeet said, adding the recent abductions and murders of Sikhs are preventing people from speaking up.
Minorities living in Bara had for long enjoyed equal rights and no one interfered in their religious activities. However, when banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Islam rose to power, their leader Mangal Bagh imposed jizya on the Sikhs. Those who refused to pay the tax were kidnapped and then executed.
“We had been living in Khyber Agency for centuries, running our businesses and carrying out our religious activities without any fear,” said Santok Singh, adding that now it is very risky for them to even move about freely.
Jawal Singh migrated from Shalobar. He used to run a general store in Bara Bazaar. “My family of eight lives in miserable conditions in a rented house. We cannot even afford our daily expenditures.”
An elder of the Sikh community, Sahib Singh, says the government is always making claims of maintaining peace, but the use of force has further deteriorated the security situation in the once peaceful tribal belt.
He said the government and the Supreme Court need to help the Sikhs out of this situation, put an end to the curfew and help them restart their businesses in Bara. He also urged them to announce compensation packages for the affected families and shop owners in
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Religious and Minorities Affairs Namroz Khan said the current government has taken several steps for the rehabilitation and welfare of displaced Sikhs. In the last budget, Rs100 million were allocated for the welfare and development of minorities, he said adding that he visits the affected families often.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2013.
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