BANNU: Among half-a-million displaced tribesmen of North Waziristan tribal region, about 86 families were of Hindus and Christians who took shelter in two missionary schools in the adjacent town of Bannu, while dozens of other such families living in a relatively safe locality in the battlefield were spared the bitter experience of migration.
As compared to displaced Pashtun tribes, they live in a far better condition in these schools constructed by British Catholic and Protestant Christian missionaries. About 46 of migrated families live in Pannell Missionary High School, while 40 presently reside in Janbaz Catholic Missionary School. A displaced family of Shia community also lives at the Pennell Missionary High School, built by Dr Theodore Leighton Pennell, a British missionary, in 1893.
Those who were left behind reside inside a colonial era fort of Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary force, in Miramshah town, headquarters of North Waziristan. The ancestors of these Christians and Hindus were employed by the British rulers of India on low ranking government jobs in North Waziristan. Every member of this community has his/her own sorrowful tale to share since they left their homes for Bannu in the wake of military offensive. “We were informed through pamphlets and announcements on loudspeakers by local Taliban-led by Hafiz Gul Bahdur to vacate the region by June 10 as the military has planned to start operation,” said Pervez Iqbal Masih, president of minority community in North Waziristan.
Emanuel Basharat, a Christian by faith, started his journey along with his ailing wife, two daughters and 18-year old son on a motorbike from Miramshah. “When we reached at Chashmai area, 15 km form Miramshah, the tyre of our bike busted. Meanwhile, the condition of my wife Sarah Bhatti, suffering from diabetes and heart problem, started deteriorating. We made her sit on the bike and walked with it for 12 km. My elder son Shamir helped me a lot in this painful exercise,” Basharrat said and added that when they reached Edik town, a kind-hearted truck driver stopped his vehicle and helped them in bringing to Bannu. The health of Bhatti, a teacher by profession, is now stable and she teaches displaced children of her community in school, her temporary abode.
Zahid Chand, a Hindu by faith, has been working as sweeper at the office of Political Agent in Miramshah. He was appointed on this position after the death of his father Ithbaari Laal. Being the only bread earner for his eight-member family, Chand was lucky to adjust himself with some migrating families which had lessened his transportation expenses.
“In the region where every person is armed, we are the only exception. Not a single member of minority possess weapon. But at the same time our security has been ensured by these tribesmen who exceptionally give us regard. When Taliban established their writ in the start we were concerned that we might be forced to convert. But when they learnt about this they approached us and fully assured that you would be as free as you were before and follow your faith and way of life,” Chand said.
Khalid Iqbal Masih, president of minorities in North Waziristan, said there were 500 registered votes of minorities in North Waziristan. “Despite having a five percent quota in government jobs we are not allotted even one percent. Though, we have graduates among us but still we don’t get a fair share. We cannot imagine of getting any blue or white collar jobs at all,” he said, adding that a son of sweeper will remain a sweeper. Zafar Iqbal, his elder brother, said that even the military was not aware about the presence of minorities in North Waziristan. “We live a low-profile life but our association with our motherland is very deep. We cannot even think of leaving Waziristan. Not a single Hindu or Christian family has migrated from North Waziristan in last 20 years,” Zafar Iqbal said.
Every person of minority community is as familiar with drone flights and strikes as the rest of tribal people. “Drone flights were a routine matter and its sound was so terrifying when it flied at low altitude. Initially we were sacred but later on we got familiar with this deadly aerial vehicle that then did not bother much. As it roamed our kids used to make fun that Bengana (as most tribesmen call drones due to its buzzing sound) has come again,” said Dia Kumari, a housewife. When asked whether any person from minority community was ever killed in a drone strike, “No” was her straight reply.
Before the partition there were too many Hindu families in the area however, after partition, majority of them migrated to India. “There used to be a Hindu temple in Miramshah Kelay, (a village in the suburb of Miramshah town), where we worshiped and also cremated our dead but after the migration of Hindus the activities of Mandir almost stopped and later the building was converted to a primary school for girls,” said Jamila Mai, 80.
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