07/28/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Hindus and Sikhs threatened by the Taliban and Sharia

Fareed Khan
Members of minority groups must either pay ‘jizya’ for protection or leave. All women, even the elderly, cannot go out alone and have to wear a burqa. Men must wear a beard and a head cap. Hundreds of Sikh and Hindu families have already emigrated.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – The Taliban in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have issued an ultimatum against local Hindus and Sikhs: either you pay “jizya”, an Islamic poll tax for religious minorities that is akin to protection money, or you leave. Many Hindu and Sikh families have already left for Peshawar and neighbouring provinces.

Threats against Sikhs and Hindus are but the latest in a series of warnings against religious minorities in the NWFP, including Christians who have had to pay jizya and submit to Sharia.

“We were living under fear: fear of the Taliban, fear of Lashkar-e-Islam and fear of other armed groups,” a Sikh man told the Daily Times.

Some 400 Sikh and 57 Hindu families have already left the towns of Bara and Tirah. Local Sikhs are employed mostly in trade in cloth, but also run grocer, garment and herbal medicine shops.

“Minorities in Orakzai agency and Khyber were warned by some militant groups to convert or leave the area. This was a real threat,” said the Sikh man, whose name is Singh.

“They’re running a parallel government. Hindu and Sikh families did not feel safe, in Orakzai, in Bara and in Tirah. We preferred to migrate, at least here we can breathe in peace and feel safe,” he added.

In the region of Orakzai, the Taliban have imposed the tax on adult male Sikhs as well as forcibly occupied Sikh-owned shops and houses.

After two months, the tax spread to Khyber Agency, the legendary tribal region on the main supply route to Afghanistan.

Here Lashkar-e-Islam, a group headed by Mangal Bagh, announced that Sikhs and Hindus could be free to live anywhere —as long as they paid jizya.

But threats have made the situation very tense. Hundreds of Sikh and Hindu families have fled to neighbouring areas, especially Peshawar.

Much like the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Islam acts like a morality police, enforcing prayers five times a day and punishing people accused of prostitution and other vices.

Muslim and non-Muslim women are not allowed outside the home without a male relative. In fact all women, even the elderly, have to wear a burqa.

For their part, men have to grow a beard and wear a cap; otherwise Lashkar extremists will beat them or fine them 200 to 500 rupees.

As a result of an agreement between the Taliban and the provincial government (backed by the central government), Sharia was imposed on most parts of the NWFP earlier this year, in Malacan division for instance.

But Pakistani authorities eventually went back on the deal, and launched an offensive against the Taliban.

The NWFP government however still supports enforcing Sharia on the entire population.

On several occasions the Catholic Church has come out against forcing non-Muslims to submit to Sharia because it is a form of violence against minority groups whose rights and liberties are guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan.

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