Pakistani Sikh returns home without converting to Islam


LAHORE: Yet another Pakistani national belonging to the Sikh community who was kidnapped by the Taliban militants from Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province in a bid to convert him to Islam has safely returned home to join his family.

The 33-year-old Sikh IT professional, Robin Singh, was kidnapped two months ago on February 11, 2010 by three armed men when he came out of his office in the University Town, Peshawar in connection with his job. “I was blindfolded on the Ring Road and driven for over an hour of drive before being shifted to a basement and shackled. The cell neither had light nor toilet. They did not torture me except at the time when I was snatched,” Robin Singh recalled. “I don’t know who the captors were but they insisted I should change my religion to convert to Islam. They criticised me for keeping long hair and beard but I simply refused to convert to Islam, referring to Islam itself that does not force anyone to change his/her religion,” claimed Robin Singh, who was being greeted by hundreds of his relatives and well wishers at the house of a cousin in Peshawar’s Gulgasht Colony.

Robin Singh’s spouse and three children, two of them twins, were overjoyed to see him after two months. However, despite repeated queries, he refused to tell to the media people whether his captors were Taliban militants or professional criminals. He was also unaware as to why he was released by his captors without fulfilling their demands. “They asked me to get prepared as they were going to shoot me. However, they later they dropped me on the Ring Road, Peshawar. I am still in shock and mental stress after my captivity,” he said. The elder brother of Rajin Singh, a civil engineer by profession, also denied payment of ransom for release of his brother. However, his family circles said Rajin had received a few calls from the captors who had directed him to arrange Rs10 million as ransom to secure release of his brother.

To a question, Rajin Si8ngh said: “It was probably due to the pressure by the Pakistan law-enforcement agencies that the kidnappers eventually decided to free Robin. But we are extremely thankful to Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Interior Minister Rehman Malik for their untiring efforts in ensuring safe release of our brother,” said Rajin, who clarified media reports that mentioned they were Hindus. However, his family sources say that apart from the top Pakistani officials, payment of the ransom money and the influence of the Canadian authorities had played a major role in the return of Robin Singh as his father, Sardar Bishin Singh, a former vice president of the National Bank of Pakistan, is settled along with his wife and a son in Canada for the last many years.

To recall, before the kidnapping of Robin Singh, three other Pakistani Sikhs were kidnapped by the Taliban militants from Khyber Agency area of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan in January, 2010. One of them, Jaspal Singh, was beheaded on February 21, 2010 while Gurvindar Singh and Sarjeet Singh were finally recovered on March 1 following a bloody military operation against the kidnappers belonging to the Lashkar-e-Islami (LI) led by Commander Mangal Bagh. The Pakistan Sikh community had highlighted the case of the three kidnappings. However, the family members of Robin Singh did not make public his abduction due to concerns about his security. Around 3,000 Sikhs live in Peshawar, mostly in Dabgari area, while hundreds of others are living in the Khyber and Orakzai agencies of the FATA and other districts of NWFP.

Sikhs and Hindus are tiny communities living in Pakistan even before partition. But since the beginning of 2009, hundreds of them living in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the country have fled their homes after receiving death threats from the Lashkar-e-Islami militants in an increasingly unstable northwest. After US troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Taliban and al-Qaeda ideologues fled to Pakistan, where they have increasingly focused their campaign and where 2,000 people have perished in bomb attacks over the past two years. Pakistan launched a major offensive in the northwest this summer, under pressure from the US, after Taliban fighters made deep territorial inroads. Militants need an endless supply of funds to buy their weapons, communications and training. Therefore, they are resorting to kidnappings for ransom and sale of drugs to make money.

As a matter of fact, many of the Sikhs living in the Pakistani tribal areas are rich people and mostly trade in cloth besides running grocer, garment and herbal medicine shops. However, circles close to the Lashkar-e-Islami have denied the group’s involvement in the abduction and beheading of Jaspal Singh, saying they don’t believe in killing peaceful minority members. The fact, however, remains that Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians are under directions by the Lashkar-e-Islami chief Mangal Bagh to keep paying the minority specific jazia in exchange for their security in the area. The jazia tax on non-Muslims had been imposed at the rate of Rs1,000 per year per person. Around 10,000 Sikhs, Hindus and Christians live in the Khyber agency area, of which about 7,000 are Sikhs.

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