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S Asia Sikhs In Pakistan Pick Up Pieces Of Their Shattered Lives

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
Islamabad, Nov 1 (IANS) A group of Sikh families, who fled from Pakistan's Orakzai tribal agency after Taliban rebels unleashed a reign of terror, have now returned home. Said a beaming 11-year-old: 'I'm very happy to have returned to my village.'

The family of 11-year-old Rajindar Kaur, a resident of Sam Ferozkhel village in the Orakzai tribal agency, along with dozens of other Sikh families abandoned their village and fled as heavily armed Taliban guerrillas advanced.

Rajindar is happy to have returned to her village located in the thickly-forested mountains and surrounded by walnut and apple orchards.

'I'm very happy to have returned to my village,' Rajindar told The Express Tribune.

The Sikh girl said they were concerned that they may never see their village again when they left.

'We returned to our village after the authorities told us that the area is safe.'

Kaur's family is one of the 26 Sikh families who left the area about 18 months ago. They had been living in Orakzai Agency for generations.

The Taliban, after establishing a stronghold in the area, imposed jaziya - a tax levied on non-Muslims in an Islamic state - on the local Sikh community.

The Sikhs found it hard to meet the demand and they quietly left, leaving behind their businesses and household items that were looted by militants.

Pakistani soldiers flushed out Taliban insurgents and Lower Orakzai has been cleared of the rebels. This helped the displaced Sikh families to return Oct 27.

Sikh families are now attempting to rebuild their lives.

'We left our homes and took with us just the clothes we were wearing,' Jaswant Singh, an elder of the Sikh community, was quoted as saying.

'We went to Peshawar and rented a house there.'

He added: 'The Taliban asked us to pay Rs.12 million in jaziya. We were able to come up with just Rs.6.5 million. But then they started raiding our houses, demanding the remaining amount. We had no option but to leave the area.'

Preetam Singh, who too had fled, said that he had rented out his farmland for Rs.50,000. 'When I was leaving the area, my crop was worth Rs.1 million and was ready for harvest.'

Abdul Wali, a Ferozkhel tribesman, said they were pained by the Sikh community's problems.

'We tried to protect the Sikh community as best as we can, but we were helpless after the Taliban banned us from carrying weapons,' he said, adding: 'Initially, we tried to resist the Taliban but gave up after losing 50 of our men...We could not fight a much stronger force for long, that too without any government help.'

An army official said that security forces have cleared '90 percent of Orakzai Agency' of militants. This enabled displaced tribesmen, along with the Sikh families, to return.

'We are taking good care of them. They are being provided extra security,' the official said.




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