PESHAWAR: Gurmeet Singh ran a grocery store until he along with hundred other members of Sikh community had to leave his native Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency to escape the wrath of slaughtering militants.
The 32-year-old prides himself as a Kukikhel Afridi tribesman but unlike his fellows, he and others of his community had been pushed from pillar to post to get attestation and verification of documents to secure national identity cards.
From 400 to 500 families of around 2,500 Sikhs had to shift lock, stock and barrel to Peshawar due to insecurity, particularly, nearly when a dozen of their community members were kidnapped and killed, some of them beheaded by militants then controlling Tirah.
But while some members of the religious minorities, particularly in rural Sindh, have left Pakistan to seek asylum in India due to alleged persecution, the Sikhs from Tirah, have stayed put.
“Pakistan is our home. Why would we go anywhere else?” Gurmeet said.
“We had to move to Peshawar,” he said. And this, he said, made it all the more difficult for his community to go search for the elders from his fellow Kukikhel tribe for attestation of important documents.
“We thought that being bona fide Afridis and being sons of the soil, we too deserve to have our own community tribal elders. We know our people and we can vouch for their credentials and antecedents,” he said.
Say returning home will be their ultimate happiness
An application was filed with the political administration for recognition of their status.
This is the first time in history that members of religious minorities in the tribal region have been granted the status of tribal elders.
“There was logic in what they were saying,” said Khyber Agency political agent Shahab Ali Shah.
“Sikhs and Christians living in Khyber Agency are domicile citizens of the tribal area but they did not have their own community tribal elders to attest documents and become part of the traditional tribal Jirga to gain audience with the high-ups including the Governor,” Shahab said.
Last month, his ordeal and those of his other community members came to an end when the political administration in Khyber Agency finally granted him and another member of his community the status of tribal elders.
“This had made life easier for us,” Gurmeet Singh told Dawn.
The selection process was easy. The administration asked the Sikh community to nominate two individuals to get the status of the tribal elder, officially called the Lungi holder.
Lungi in Pashto means turban.
“The community sat down and selected two of us to receive the status,” Singh said.
Sikhs were not along to have received the Lungis, officials say that two members from the Christian community of 1500 individuals, who have been living in Landi Kotal for generations, have also been granted the status.
But Gurmeet said while becoming a tribal elder was an honour and a matter of elation for him and his community, the ultimate happiness would be when they, along with fellow tribesmen, ultimately return to their native Tirah.
“That is our home,” he said.
The military recently concluded Operation Khyber-2 in Tirah after wrestling control of the scenic and potential tourist hotspot from militants. Officials said that repatriation could begin as and when civil administration was established and proper security arrangements were put in place.
Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2015