The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) hosts more than 30,000 people from religious minorities such as Sikh, Hindus and Christians.
As the government started military action against Taliban to restore peace in the volatile tribal belt, hundreds of thousands of tribesmen, including minorities, were displaced from their homes.
According to official figures, up to 300 Hindu and Sikh families from Kurram Agency were uprooted due to the ongoing militancy and military offensive in the region.
Rakesh, a Hindu from Kurram agency, explains: “Before the exodus, there were about 300 to 400 minority families in the Agency, now there are only 10. Most of them settled in Peshawar, Lahore and Panja Sahib Hasan Abdal, who are willing to return to their homes.”
Displaced persons who did not register themselves will find it hard to return. Many Christian families left their homes in Kurram Agency to safer places; however infighting started between Sunni and Shia tribesmen a few years ago. Fortunately, they returned to their homes in a few months.
A senior member of the Christian community said many Christians moved to safer places, where some stayed in camps while others preferred to live in rented houses. “None of our community members was either injured or killed in any terrorist acts. However, we face financial constraints as our salaries were withheld for few months,” he told TNN.
About 1.1 million people migrated from North Waziristan due to militancy and military operations since June 2014. The displaced Hindu families live in camps set up in the premises of Balmiki temple by the FDMA, whereas Christian families live in camps inside a Mission compound in Bannu district.
Tariq Das, an ex-janitor in a government college in Miransha, explains that life in these camps is difficult; people suffer in the summer heat and everyday chores such as washing clothes and cooking is problematic. There are financial problems as well in meeting the needs of the family.
Irfan Maseeh ran his own business in Miranshah, but now that has stopped. He is concerned about the halt in his children’s education, and the difficult choice he has to make between feeding them and providing them with an education.
Jameela, an elderly woman from the Hindu community, tells TNN “The facilities in the camp are insufficient. We are fed up with poor quality of food given to us.”
Ijaz Maseeh, another displaced Christian says “our businesses have suffered due to which our family and children are suffering .In Miranshah, we could get items on credit as most of the shopkeepers were familiar with us. Unfortunately in Bannu, we have no familiarity with the traders and that is why they do not give us anything on credit.”
Many minority families in Khyber Agency moved to Peshawar and in Punjab, leaving behind their businesses due to which they now face severe financial problems.
Many are now returning home as the situation is improving in the agency.
However, Arwel Singh, a resident of Malik Din Khel area in Tirah valley, paints a grim scene. ”Our houses and shops were torched, businesses were ruined and agriculture was destroyed.”
Shevnat Sharma, from the Bara subdivision of Khyber Agency, spoke to TNN about how the community used to freely practice their religion before militants took over. “If you ask any elderly person he could tell you about the religious festivals of Sikhs and Hindus. But the brotherly relations between us still exist – as we continue to meet one another in good times and bad,”
Though their businesses were destroyed, they still prefer to return to Khyber Agency. “We would not be able to recover from losses even in next ten years. Let’s just say it is our sacrifice that we paid for the sake of peace,” Sharma said.
Sudbeer Singh, who belongs to the Aka Khel tribe, says there were about 500 shops owned by the Sikh community in Bara bazaar. With the closure of the bazaar, the community faced huge financial losses and the government did not offer any help.
“I used to run a herb shop in Bara. Most of the goods perished as the bazaar remained closed for six years. We tried hard to get financial assistance from the government, but to no avail,” Singh says.
Dozens of Sikh and Hindu families were residing in Feroz Khel, Dabori and other areas of the Orakzai agency. These families migrated to Nankana Sahib, Hasan Abdal in Punjab and other areas where their communities’ people were living.
Awtar Singh’s family used to live in Feroz Khel area of the Agency. “We relocated to Nankana Sahib and took shelter in a gurdwara,” says Awtar Singh. “Just as other tribesmen have been sent to their homes, the government should make arrangements for our return as well. We want to go back to our homes and take care of our lands. We are not happy living in gurdwaras because there is no privacy, especially for women. The government should reconstruct our damaged houses and compensate us for the losses we incurred,” he told TNN.
Awtar Singh further added his family’s businesses and shops are now ruined due to military operations. “We want our businesses to be revived and ask the government to announce special financial package for us,” he continues.
He thanks his community for their ongoing support, saying they survive on their contributions while the government has not given a single penny.
FDMA officials say it is difficult to estimate the exact number of people from minority communities who are displaced from their homes in FATA.
FDMA official Adil argues that the registration process has its own limitations. “Religion is not a criterion. We register people whose addresses in their National Identity Cards match with the affected area, we did a favor to them (minorities) by registering them without verification from NADRA.”
He adds that as per policy, only people verified by the NADRA are given rations, money and other facilities. In this case, minorities are treated as exceptional cases and are given cash and other facilities without NADRA verification.
Furthermore, special programs were also arranged on Christmas in Bannu in which the Commissioner of Bannu and DG FDMA also participated in.
Regarding the repatriation of minorities to their homes, Adil says they will be returned to their homes in due course and with dignity, adding further that the returning families will be given cash, transport charges and ration. “Unregistered persons will be issued a special resident facilitation card by security agencies so that they can be facilitated to return to their homes”.
Adil explains that as per government policy, those whose homes were completely damaged will be given Rs. 400,000 in compensation, while Rs160,000 will be given to those whose homes were partially damaged.
He maintains that the compensation policy is equal; whether a person is Muslim or non-Muslim, he/she will be compensated for the damaged houses.
Mosques, temples, churches, hospitals and schools will also be reconstructed in FATA, concludes Adil.
This article has been translated from the TNN programme Badloon, which discusses political activities and reforms in FATA. The programme was produced by TNN producers “Shan Muhammad” and “Abdul Qayum Afridi”.
Contributors: Nabi Jan Orakzai, Gohar Wazir, Saleemur Rehman, Malik Azmat and Ali Afzal.