The murder of two Sikhs by the Taliban in the restless tribal belt highlights the plight of the minorities there. Rajeev Sharma writes on the situation there.
Two new and disturbing trends pertaining to Hindu and Sikh minorities in Pakistan have come to the notice of the government of India.
One, Hindu families residing in Balochistan have become desperate due to law and order situation in the province and have started to migrate to India after seeking 'visit' visas. Two, Pakistani Hindus have started converting from Hinduism to Sikhism.
Here are a few details. Hindus in Balochistan are a harassed lot. The Hindu community in Quetta has called upon the Balochistan government to check the increasing incidents of kidnapping for ransom and robbery incidents involving its members. In this connection, a group of Hindu community leaders met Minorities Minister of Balochistan Province Basant Lal Gulshan on February 9 sought protection. Hindu leaders stressed that despite their commitment and contribution to the country, they are being discriminated socially and religiously.
The deteriorating law and order problem in Balochistan prompted businessmen of Quetta to observe a day-long shutter-down strike on Februany 10 in Quetta and other cities of the province. The confederation of traders/businessman 'Anjuman-e-Tajiran' had called for the strike against target killing and kidnapping for ransom of traders. The strike had support of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Jamaat-e- Islami, Awami National Party and Shia Ulema Council and evoked good response.
Another interesting trend is that more and more Pakistani Hindus are converting from Hinduism to Sikhism. This trend is visible among Hindus in the North Western Frontier Province/Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan. It is felt that in Pakistan Hindus are more vulnerable to problems than Sikhs. The logic behind this is that by changing religion their interests will be served both in Pakistan as well as India. The Pakistan government woos the miniscule Sikh community. Once Pakistani Sikhs migrate to India, they are fiercely protected by local Sikh community from expulsion by the Indian government after expiry of their 'visit visa'.
Pakistan's treatment of its minorities has been shabby since its birth in 1947 on communal lines. The fundamentalist forces have once again upped their ante in past few months. In April 2009, in a painful case of history repeating itself, Taliban started levying 'Jaziya' (tax) on minority Sikh families in the NWFP.
Taliban militants in their first-ever attack on the Sikh community, resorted to forcible occupation of ten of their houses in Samar Ferozkhel area of lower Orakzai Agency. The militants also took their leader Sardar Kalyan Singh as hostage and demanded Rs 6 crore as ransom. The incidents triggered off an exodus by the Sikh community from the area.
A report by the Daily Times on April 15, 2009 from Hangu said Sikh families living in Orakzai Agency left the area after the Taliban demanded Rs 5 crore as 'Jaziya' from them.
Residents of Ferozekhel area in Lower Orakzai Agency told Daily Times that ten Sikh families left the place after Taliban told them that they were a minority and liable to pay tax for living in the area in accordance with Sharia. The Pakistani newspaper quoted the locals as saying that of the 15 Sikh families in Ferozekhel, ten had shifted while the rest were preparing to do so. On April 30, 2009, Taliban in Orakzai Agency of FATA banished 50 Sikh families from the agency for not paying Jaziya and even auctioned their goods to recover a fraction of the Rs 12 million taxes originally demanded.
The government of India broke its silence on May 1, 2009 when the ministry of external affairs came up with a one-line reaction: 'On seeing reports about Sikh families in Pakistan being driven out of their homes and being subject to Jaziya and other such impositions, the government of India has taken up the question of treatment of minorities with the government of Pakistan.'
According to a private Pakistani television channel's report in April 2009, Taliban in Orakzai occupied houses and shops of the Sikhs and auctioned their valuables for Rs 8 lakhs in Qasim Khel and Feroz Khel areas. Taliban had demanded Rs 12 million from the Sikh community but they had only paid Rs 6.7 million to the Taliban, the channel said. In the wake of this 21st century apartheid treatment being meted out to them, the Sikh families living in lower Orakzai Agency for centuries started leaving their village following threats and forced occupation of their shops and houses by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Eventually, the TTP destroyed 11 houses of the Sikh community, which forced 60 to 65 Sikhs to auction their shops and leave the Feroze Khel area permanently.
The writer is chief editor and senior fellow with the New Delhi-based think tank Vivekananda International Foundation.