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Islam and Human Rights ( 11 May 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistani Sikhs flee Jizya-wielding barbarians, the Taliban of the Swat Valley

By Tarun Vijay

11 May 2009


I have seldom read such fictional defence of the barbarians — except in the propaganda sheets of Goebbels and Saddam Hussein — as was so painfully manifest in Mariana Babar’s account of Swat Sikhs. This account first appeared in The News, Karachi, and was later recycled by an Indian magazine.


I will comment on the version that appeared in Karachi, for the sake of presenting a Pakistani intellectual’s obsession with marginalizing the pains of non-Muslim minorities in their land of Islamic justice.


The gem of her two-part series is the line told to Mariana by a Swati refugee Sikh: “Believe me, the state of Pakistan treats us like a gul (flower). We are better off than the majority Pakistanis.”


When she asked about the protests in Jammu, a Sikh gentleman retorted, “We hope that these Sikhs there would stop this. They compromise our position as Pakistanis. Pakistan is Mecca for Sikhs because this is where Baba Guru Nanak was born. This soil is holy for us. In Pakistan it is our religion alone that is our protection.”


Now compare this with what other reporters have said about the Sikhs and the Hindus in Swat.


The Times of India ( reported: "On seeing reports about Sikh families in Pakistan being driven out of their homes and being subjected to `jaziya' and other such impositions, the Indian government has taken up the question of treatment of minorities in Pakistan with the government of Pakistan,” said MEA official spokesperson Vishnu Prakash. ... According to reports, Taliban militants have demolished 11 homes of members of the minority Sikh community in Pakistan's troubled Aurakzai tribal region after they failed to pay `jaziya'.


PTI reported from Islamabad: The National Assembly or lower house of the parliament adopted a resolution recommending that President Zardari should accord approval to the Nizam-e-Adal Regulation to implement Shariah or Islamic laws in Swat. The resolution was passed following a debate in the House. The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has offered its full support to the Regulation. (Rezaul H Laksar , April 13, 2009)


And on this appeared: After the Hindus, it is the Sikhs who are fleeing the restive Taliban dominated Swat region in Pakistan. At least 200 Sikhs have fled the Swat region and are taking shelter in various gurudwaras in Pakistan.


ANS reported this under the headline “Christians, Hindus, Sikhs forced to flee Swat: Catholic Church”: The minorities in Pakistan’s Swat Valley have been forced to flee as the Taliban have imposed a tax on non-Muslims, Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC) president Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha has said, urging the Pakistani president and prime minister to intervene. Expressing concern over the government’s move to allow the imposition of Sharia laws in parts of the North West Frontier Province, the archbishop said in his letter to the Pakistani leaders: “We note with sorrow that your government has failed to take stock of the concerns of civil society in Pakistan in your decision. “Christian, Hindu and Sikh families have been forced to flee because the Taliban imposed on them Jizia, a tax levied on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule,” he said. “Besides jeopardising the socio-economic and cultural growth in Swat and Malakand, the decision has also given legal sanction to the diktats of the trigger-happy Taliban,” the archbishop’s letter said.


But Mariana comfortably tries to mix sentiments with a state- sponsored propaganda and reports they didn’t flee from Swat because of fear of the Taliban. She quotes a Sardarji from Swat, “What is this propaganda that we have been forced to flee Swat and Buner because of the Taliban’s oppression? Please, the media has to distinguish between what happened to the Sikhs in the Orakzai agency, and why we have come here”.


They are “relaxed and comfortable”, and have no fear from the Taliban, according to the Pakistani reporter. In fact, they are lovable friends, she says. Mariana quotes a Sikh, “The heavily armed Taliban came to our village, stopped their vehicles in the bazaar and greeted us. We too greeted them and offered them cold drinks. They said they would pay but we insisted. They have been around for quite some time now, but have left us alone.”


So, who were the Sikhs brutalized by the Taliban? Her friend clarifies: “They were from Orakzai and have now gone to Peshawar gurudwara!”


She creates the same confusion as a section of the Pakistani press created post-26/11 that the Mumbai attackers were a part of “CIA-MOSSAD-Hindu radical” plot, and quotes another Sikh, “God only knows whether the ones in Orakzai who are victimizing the Sikhs are even Taliban or not. They could be someone else in the guise of the Taliban.”




Sikhs from Swat, taking refuge in Panja Sahib gurudwara, Hasan Abdal, are in a ‘Spartan’ surroundings, ‘better than the Swati Muslim refugees’, 'girls speak impeccable English’ and are dressed ‘smartly' and “none of the Swati baggy gypsy dresses for them”. And lo and behold, in spite of being forced to leave their home and hearth, the way they are being treated makes their every day as celebrative as Baisakhi. She quotes a woman, “Every day has been Basaki (sic) for them since they have been here.”


So what’s the fuss about?


News reports about Taliban brutalizing, imposing Jijia on non Muslims, Pakistani army being pushed into action against them under US pressure, in one day 55 Taliban reportedly killed by Pakistani army — all became irrelevant if one believes this kind of a “report”.


She has had Sikhs saying things which Taliban would like to hear.


Naturally so. If you are a Hindu or a Sikh in Pakistan, you are required to sing paeans to the perpetrators of atrocities in order to survive


yet another day. Accept purdah the Muslim way, don’t read Hindi or Sanskrit to study your religious scriptures — read them all in Urdu. Don’t sport a bindi on your forehead. Learn to greet everyone the Islamic way. I have seen Hindu Pandits in Karachi’s famous Shiva temple wearing Muslim skullcaps inside the temple. Perplexed, when I asked the reason, they smiled and said: “It helps to be like the majority here.”


It was like Imam Bukhari wearing a Gandhi cap while addressing the faithful in Delhi's Jama Masjid and reading Koran in Hindi with a smile on his face saying, it’s nice to be like the majority.


Acceptable? It’s acceptable only if the minorities happen to be Hindus in a Muslim-majority country.


The tribe of such professionals never asks a question why the number of Hindus and Sikhs has been continuously on the decline in Pakistan since 1947? Why do they have no voice in the politics and governance, in the administration and social sector? Just one Sikh was admitted to the army sometime ago and it made international news!


The fact is the growing Talibanization of Pakistan is a direct result of strengthening of Deobandi school of Wahabism, which has accelerated the process of Arabization of Pakistani society and governance. Till Zia ul Haq, textbooks had a lesson on Ramayana and Hindi was taught in schools having a sizable Hindu students. Not any more. I searched almost all the bookshops in Karachi, Pakistan’s intellectual workstation, to find any book, in any language, on Hindu or Sikh pilgrim centres of Pakistan. I could find none.


Yet the common people are astoundingly different, they still nurture the relations which are mostly based on caste and language affiliations. Rajputs, Khatris, Gujjars, Sindhis have extraordinary bonds with their counterparts across the border cutting the religious fault lines. I saw it during my pilgrimage to Mata Hinglaj in Baluchistan three years ago. Besides that, there exists a section in Pakistan society that is well meaning, reasonable and works hard to see Hindus and other non-Muslim minorities are accorded a respectable place. But they are gradually being reduced to a negligible minority and the Taliban elements train their guns on them more severely. One of such scholars Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, who is a Professor of Physics of Quad-e-Azam University, Islamabad, recently wrote an eye-opening piece. It’s worth reading and for the benefit of readers I must quote a few lines:


“To understand Pakistan's collective masochism, one needs to study the drastic social and cultural transformations that have made this country so utterly different from what it was in earlier times. For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian Peninsula.


“This continental drift is not physical but cultural, driven by a belief that Pakistan must exchange its South Asian identity for an Arab-Muslim one. Grain by grain, the desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a rich Muslim culture in India for a thousand years.


“Villages have changed drastically, driven in part by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers.


“As a part of General Zia-ul-Haq's cultural offensive, Hindi words were expunged from daily use and replaced with heavy-sounding Arabic ones. Persian, the language of Mughal India had once been taught as a second or third language in many Pakistani schools. But, because of its association with Shiite Iran, it too was dropped and replaced with Arabic. The morphing of the traditional "khuda hafiz" (Persian for "God be with you") into "allah hafiz" (Arabic for "God be with you") took two decades to complete. The Arab import sounded odd and contrived, but ultimately the Arabic God won and the Persian God lost.”


But as the discernible readers would have marked, even a reasonable Pakistani scholar like him had no words to say about the plight of non-Muslim minorities. There are sincere human rights activists taking up the cause of the minorities. Most of them have close links with the Indian Left and so keep a distance from India's Hindu responses. Yet, they serve a purpose worth an applause. I have met a Pakistani medical practitioner who has been helping build a temple for Hindu Valmikis (those who are still considered outcasts by an arrogant ritualistic Hindu section considering itself as 'high caste'.) and propagating vegetarianism. Every time he comes to India, invariably he would take a few small size stone sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses for his friends. He says, “My ancestors broke too many temples. Let me do my bit to heal the Hindu wounds.” Extraordinary tale. I too wouldn’t have believed it if I had not met him personally.


Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy's article gives an honest account of what a section of Pakistanis feels about the transformation that has taken place there.


We have good people everywhere, even in Saudi Arabia. So what? Do they have the strength and courage to finally stand up and provide protection to the hapless Hindus and Sikhs? In the last three months more than 6,000 Hindus were forced to flee Peshawar and Orakzai and take shelter in India. Did it make any difference to the seculars here? If a Hindu majority state remains unperturbed at the plight of Hindu refugees from Kashmir, how can we expect them to take any action to help Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan? Socialist leader Lohia in the sixties had clearly stated that the Indian state will always remain responsible to ensure protection and guarantee of life and faith to the Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. In 1971, the hero of the Bangladesh liberation, Lt Gen J F R Jacob, had asked Mrs Indira Gandhi to ensure that the Hindu minorities were guaranteed safety and honour in the newly liberated state. Nothing happened. Indian leaders, remain silent and have their confused Pakistan policy mired in friendship diplomacy, which Islamabad has never reciprocated honestly.


Though Talibanization of Pakistan is affecting Muslims too, it has harder lessons for non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan who have been denied equal civil and religious rights in a country which owes its birth to an intense hate-Hindu mindset. Is that what makes Pakistani Hindus and Sikhs say they are being taken care of like a gul (flower), that too in Buner?



PAKISTANI SIKHS: Pir Baba's Orphans

Sikhs flee Swat Valley as Pakistan army launches operations against the Taliban in the region




It’s a memory that lingers from my childhood years in the 1960s—of my Pashtoon father, who was the first Muslim commander of the Armour Corps Centre, Nowshera, talking wistfully of his Sikh friends who chose to migrate to India at the time of Partition. One gifted a lock that only a set of two keys could open, symbolising the inseparable bond they shared; a refrigerator kept for decades at home because another friend of my father had left it in his custody before leaving Pakistan; those sepia photos of ‘different-looking’ men in turbans who were my father’s mates at the Prince of Wales Royal Military College, Dehradun, and later became comrades-in-arms during the World War II in Burma.


"Pakistan is Mecca for Sikhs. This is where Baba Guru Nanak was born. Our religion alone is our protection here."  


 My father said they were his best pals. "The uniform I wear forbids me to be in touch with my friends across the border," he’d say in a doleful voice. These images surface as I stand, on a hot May day, before Gurudwara Sri Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, only an hour’s drive from Rawalpindi. I’m surprised to see such a large collection of Sikhs who, according to the Evacuee Property Trust Board, number just 35,000 countrywide. Revered for the impression of Guru Nanak’s palm on a sacred rock, Panja Sahib has now become the temporary abode of 400 Sikh refugees who have fled the fierce battle between the Pakistan army and Taliban in Buner and the Swat Valley. They weren’t expelled from their homes; their fate isn’t that of those from their community on whom jazia or religious tax was imposed in Orakzai Agency. They are frightened, distraught children of the insurgency, as much marked as their Muslim brethren among whom they lived only weeks ago.


As I walk into the gurudwara, I see clean-shaven men, wearing shalwar-kameez, sitting on charpoys. They are conversing in perfect Pashto, an eloquent testimony to how deeply rooted they are in the NWFP (now named Pakhtoonkhawa), where 99 per cent of the Sikhs in Pakistan reside. Soon, Dr Suran Singh, who sports a flowing beard and a red turban, joins us and says, "What’s this propaganda that we have been forced to flee because of the Taliban’s oppression? Please, the media has to distinguish between what happened to the Sikhs in Orakzai and why we have come here." Even as we speak, groups of Sikhs continue to trickle in from Buner and Swat, the elders clutching small bundles, and children running to greet others of their age among the fresh batch of refugees.


As many voices rise to second him, I begin to get a sense of what happened to Pir Baba village. Apparently, the Taliban has been around in the area for nearly three years now, but refrained from establishing direct control or Islamising the people. Weeks ago, though, they swept into the village and stopped their vehicles in the bazaar. And though the district authorities had either fled or become ineffectual, the heavily armed Taliban didn’t diplay their firepower as is their wont. Says Suran, "Look, I’m sitting inside a gurudwara where I bow my head to the ground in prayers. Could I lie at such a holy site? We greeted the Taliban and offered them cold drinks. They said they would pay but we insisted they shouldn’t. They have been around for quite some time now, but left us alone. After all, we are not a threat to anyone."


Fear, however, began to seep into Pir Baba on April 28 when the Pakistan army initiated military operations, and the Taliban dug in their heels for a bloody battle. Pir Baba had become a veritable battle zone. Jaswant Kaur, a middle-aged mother of four, recalls the sudden decision to evacuate the area: "I was preparing breakfast and getting the children ready for school when a vehicle drove in.

We were told to leave. No one cared to ask why. Not a woman or child has stayed back in Pir Baba." Some Sikh men, including Jaswant’s husband, did, hoping to protect and secure their property. As Suran says, "The fierce fighting would have blown us into smithreen. We are not armed. Our ancestors have lived in Buner for thousands of years and it was the fear of the ‘uncertainty’ that made us flee."


Uncertainty looms over these Sikh refugees—about those still in Pir Baba, about disrupted studies and dreams. Jaswant’s daughter, Roma, who speaks impeccable English, says pensively, "We can’t call our father because the communication system has been snapped. But, surprisingly, I got a call from my father early this morning. He’s alive." At the time of evacuation, Roma and other girls were taking school and college examinations. Amrika Kaur laments, "I was taking my second year exams. What will happen now? Please beg the government to allow us to take the Swat board exams wherever we are. Some were sitting for their improvement exams. This is their only chance to improve their grades. What will happen to them now?"


Impressed by their zeal, as also their smart dresses, I quiz these girls about the Taliban and their dress code, their opposition to education. Astonishment is palpable on their faces. They say the Taliban, in the three years of their presence in the area, never ordered them to stop studying; they only asked them to observe purdah. A girl cheekily says, "When we step out for school, we borrow the burqas from our neighbours." Adds Jaswant, "We are Pathans living in a village and purdah is our custom, our culture. So what, if the Taliban stressed more on covering up, we women really don’t mind."


Surely, they must feel apprehensive about the Taliban who have imposed jazia on the Sikhs of Orakzai Agency? Dr Suran, who has assumed the spokesperson’s role, says, "God only knows whether the ones in Orakzai, who are victimising the Sikhs, are Taliban or not. They could be someone else in the guise of the Taliban." It’s possible they fear retribution, consequently choosing not to get sucked into the volatile politics of the region. Suran is opposed to the Sikhs in India protesting against the imposition of jazia in Orakzai Agency. "They compromise our position as Pakistanis," he says. "Pakistan is Mecca for Sikhs because this is where Baba Guru Nanak was born. This soil is holy for us. In Pakistan, our religion alone is our protection."


Indeed, unlike the Sikhs, displaced Swatis have been living in miserable condition in Rawalpindi; Afghan refugees continue to languish; and when a batch of Bosnian refugees were brought here, many girls attempted suicide because they couldn’t fit in the alien culture. Wary of poor publicity, Islamabad has endeavoured to ameliorate the plight of the Sikhs. The gurudwara’s head granthi, Harindar Singh, says he has just received Rs 50,000 from Evacuee Trust Property Board, Lahore. "They told me over the phone that once this amount is exhausted, I only have to call them to receive fresh funds." Adds Dr Manoj Kumar, a Pir Baba resident who returned from the UK to serve his community, "The state of Pakistan treats us like a gul (flower). For example, many wanted to get a bridge built at Pir Baba but could not. Then I pursued the matter. I succeeded."


I say my farewell. They invite me to their village. A confident voice mutters, "Don’t worry, this too will pass." As I drive to Rawalpindi, I realise I have new memories to cling to and some old myths to re-examine.



India conveys concern to Pak over harassment of Sikhs in Swat

2 May 2009, 0301 hrs IST, TNN


NEW DELHI: With reports from Pakistan suggesting that Sikhs in the Swat valley and several other places are being subjected to `jaziya'

(religious tax) and other forms of discrimination, India on Friday conveyed to Pakistan its apprehensions about the treatment being meted out to minority communities in the country.


"On seeing reports about Sikh families in Pakistan being driven out of their homes and being subjected to `jaziya' and other such impositions, the Indian government has taken up the question of treatment of minorities in Pakistan with the government of Pakistan,'' said MEA official spokesperson Vishnu Prakash.


Sources said that the foreign ministry summoned a Pakistan diplomat and expressed about the treatment being meted out to the minority communities.


According to reports, Taliban militants have demolished 11 homes of members of the minority Sikh community in Pakistan's troubled Aurakzai tribal region after they failed to pay `jaziya'.


The militants acted after a deadline set by them for payment of `jaziya' by the Sikhs expired on April 29, the reports said. The Sikhs had discussed the possibility of leaving the area at a meeting of the community but were unable to reach any decision.


Though Sikhs have been living in Aurakzai Agency for centuries, the Taliban asked them earlier this month to pay Rs 50 million a year as `jaziya'. The militants claimed this was being done as Shariah or Islamic law had been enforced in the area and all non-Muslims have to pay what they described as protection money.


The statement by MEA came a day after minister of state for foreign affairs Anand Sharma refused to draw a parallel between the treatment of Sikhs in Pakistan and the situation in Sri Lanka. Sharma said in Patiala that while the problem in Sri Lanka was 25 years old, the Taliban had only recently imposed `jaziya' on Sikhs. He, however, said India would raise the issue with Pakistan.


"It is incumbent upon the government and state of Pakistan -- their political leadership, their administrative leadership and their military leadership -- to neutralise the Taliban and other terrorist organisations so that this region can have peace which is an essential pre-requisite for prosperity,'' he said.


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