Hindus flee persecution by Muslims in Pakistan

Sadly, in recently months hundreds of Hindu families from Pakistan, especially from Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, have been feeling the country and migrating to India because of persecution and violence against them. Another group of 171 Pakistani Hindus, including women and children, cross the border on September 9 to get refuge in India, Pakistan’s neighbouring country. Most of them were from Hyderabad and Sanghar districts and belong to Bheel tribe. According to the Indian media reports, the leader of the group said that they were seeking a refugee status in India for the sake of self-respect, religious freedom and their children’s future.
 
Just days before Pakistan’s 65th birthday, significant number of Hindu families fled Pakistan to India. They said they wanted to escape the routine harassment, discrimination and feared for the lives of their daughters, who were allegedly being kidnapped, forcibly converted and married to Muslim men.
 
To go to India, Pakistani Hindus get the 30-day visa for pilgrimage to the Hindu holy places, but many use this opportunity to stay in India for ever.   
 
In August this year, the pilgrimage visit became an issue when some sections of the Pakistani media broadcasted the news, that the Hindus are actually fleeing from Pakistan to India, which was also confirmed by the Hindu Panchayat of Jacobabad. This episode once again cast a spotlight on Pakistan's minorities’ plight in general and Hindus particular.
 
Pakistani Hindus, the largest minority, crossed over the border near Lahore by train and road to India. As the media broadcasted the news about the first batch, the second batch of 250 Hindus was stopped by the immigration authorities on Wagah border on August 10. Immigration officials said they would be allowed to travel once their no objection certificates (NOCs) were received. In fact, they were only allowed to travel after their leaders gave assurance to the authorities that they would return. On August 11, on Minorities Day, 104 more Hindus crossed the border. Another group of 30 Pakistani Hindus reached Amritsar by the Samjhota Express on August 13 and stated that they had no desire to return to Pakistan.
 
Human rights groups acknowledge that minorities, including Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus and Sikh, do not feel safe in their own country because their lives and properties are under attack, and they are not treated equally under the law. Apart from discrimination, persecution and social injustices, Hindus have been facing two major problems in their home land; abduction for ransom (mainly traders and children) and forced conversion to Islam of Hindu young girls for marriage.
 
During a Ramadan show a Pakistani TV channel showed a Hindu boy converting to Islam, making a religious act as an entertainment. For many, the message was clearer that this is the only way for minorities to survive in the land of pure. 
 
Since independence of Pakistan, generally, Hindus have been living in a hostile situation. Many Muslims called them a Kafir (an infidel), coward and an Indian agent; all of these are considered as derogatory remarks.
 
Despite their hue and cry, the atrocities against them are worsening now. There are reported incidents in cities that their shops were looted, houses were raided and women were converted to Islam. In the rural areas' fundamentalist elements seizing the land and other property attached to Hindu temples and low caste Hindus. Low caste Hindus work as bounded labourers on agricultural land of powerful landlords-cum-politicians. Along with other problems, after the murder of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a Baloch nationalist leader, many Hindus are facing pressure from agencies and fundamentalist groups because of suspicion that they are sympathetic to insurgents of Baloch nationalists.
 
Sadly, this community is routinely affected by communal incidents because of Pakistan’s hostility with India and the issue of Kashmir. The school curriculum and right-wing Urdu media generally present their picture negatively. Miserably, state refuses to acknowledge mayhems.
 
Hindu Panchayat Chairman Laxmandas Perwani, a former member of the Sindh Assembly, stated that around 70 Hindu families’ homes were robbed, and two young boys were killed for not paying ransom money to the Muslims in the past months. Therefore, nearly 20 families from Mirpurkhas, Sindh, left the county because they have been targeted by criminal on the regular basis.
 
The persistent kidnappings of Hindus in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces are on the rise. Community leaders say in the last few months more than two dozen minor children, traders, shopkeepers and businessmen were reportedly kidnapped for ransom. They seem as an easy target because they have no political backing. In a latest series of crime, three Hindu traders from Thul in the district Kashmore (Sindh) and three prominent Hindu traders near Kalat, (Balochistan) were abducted by unidentified armed men in July. Last year alone, 93 incidents of kidnapping were registered with the police, but the actual figures could be higher than that.
 
Forced conversion of young Hindu girls is a common complaint of the community. In the recent months high profiled cases of kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindu girls, including Rinkle Kumari, Dr Asha and Lata, were widely reported in the local and the international media. 
 
One of the latest cases of the kidnapping of Manisha Kumari, 14-year-old Hindu girl, on August 7 from Jacobabad has once again sparked widespread concern in the community and triggered the exodus of several Hindu families from the region. Manisha, now Mahvish, a ninth-grade student, was reportedly kidnapped and been taken to Sukkur. After being kidnapped and then forced to convert and marry a Muslim man Ghulam Mustafa Channa, she phoned her parents and told them about her “voluntary conversion.” However, her uncle Sanjay Singh claims that it seemed that she was clearly under pressure when she was speaking on the telephone.
 
A Catholic priest from Lahore, Father James Channan said that the terrible thing is that when the Christian and Hindus girls are kidnapped the Muslims say they have become Muslim and are now married to the Muslim men. After that their family members cannot even touch or come in contact with them. “It is forced conversion and is really a shameful act,” he claimed.  
 
A Hindu leader raised pertinent questions and says why Hindu girls are not converting at seminaries, but only at marriage ceremonies; and why only young and beautiful girls are the target, not otherwise.
 
Appallingly, Hindu marriages are not registered in the country and a bill to recognise their marriages has still been pending in the parliament, although there are some Hindu members present in the National Assembly and also in the Senate. As a result, this makes it easier for young Hindu women to be abducted and forced to conversion for remarrying. Though, the Provincial Minister Zahid Bhurgari has said a bill regarding the Hindu marriages would be tabled in the Sindh Assembly soon.
 
Although the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's report 2010 stated that at least 25 Hindu girls were abducted in Pakistan every month and converted to Islam, the actual figures could be much higher. As Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission reported that 1800 women from Hindu and Christian groups were converted to Islam in 2011 by different methods, particularly through abduction and rape. According to Comrade Amar Lal, a Hindu leader, during the last 10 years, 2,500 Hindu girls were forced to convert to Islam.
 
Gloomily, if a Muslim girl got married to a Hindu boy, the couple could be murdered, as it was happened in the case of Shabana Maher of Sukkur and Pawan Kumar in June 1999, but it is a jubilant time for Muslims when a Hindu girl marries a Muslim boy.
 
There are cases in which Hindu girls are run away to get married who they loved, but in most of the cases, abducted girls are intimated and forced by their abductors to accept their version in the court otherwise their whole family would be wiped out. In most of the cases, Hindu girls accept their abduction as their fate because of the fear that nobody will accept them in the community after returning, and nobody will be ready to marry with them. Generally, after sometimes the abductors ask them to leave their homes and then these girls live without help in miserable conditions. In some cases, these girls are ended up in prostitution also.
 
After coming back from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit, President Asif Ali Zardari has asked Sindh government to legislate on forced conversions. Surprisingly, a few months ago Saleem Khurshid Khokhar and Pitanber Sewani (two minority MPAs of Pakistan People Party - PPP) moved a resolution against forced conversions in Sindh Assembly, but they faced opposition from their own party legislatures.
 
Political and social leaders of Hindu community said that no doubt Pakistan is their home, and they do not want to leave it, but they are forced to do it because nobody is ready to address their concerns seriously. “This is our land; we have businesses and properties here, and our entire families are also here. It is not easy to take a decision to migrate somewhere permanently,” Hindu leaders said. While it is a painful decision, they say they have no other alternative. They suggest that powerful local Muslim leaders are behind most of the crimes against them. Consequently, police and local authorities are unable to take action against offenders, and do not provide protection to the community.   
 
It is a well-known fact that some members of the Hindu community are fleeing Pakistan because of human rights abuses against them. Ironically, the authorities and even some Hindu leaders deny those claims, and the government ministers issued stereotypical statements stating that all is well, and Hindus have no serious security problems in Pakistan.   
 
Mir Aijaz Hussain Jakhrani, a Muslim Member of National Assembly of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) from Jacobabad, said that Hindu community members were going to India on a pilgrimage, which they performed every year, unlike the perception that they were permanently leaving the country. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah said investigations confirm that the Hindus have gone to India only for a short-term religious pilgrimage. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has also confirmed that no exodus of the members of Hindu community from Sindh and Balochistan is taking place. On the other hand, the Interior Minister Rehman Malik tried to find controversy behind it. Instead of stopping the maltreatment of Hindus in Pakistan, the minister tried to ban their travel to India. It shows that the government is downplaying the seriousness of the issue.
 
However, President Asif Ali Zardari took notice of the matter and formed a two-member committee of Senator Mola Buksh Chandio and Senator Hari Ram to meet representatives of Hindu community to listen to their grievances. Sindh government also formed a three-member committee for the same purpose. So, five members of those two committees, including Senator Hari Ram (a Hindu), Member of National Assembly Lal Chand (a Hindu) and Federal Minister Moula Baksh Chandio, Federal Minister Science and Technology Mir Changez Khan Jamali, Provincial Minister Mukesh Chawla and Mohan Das Kostani, met Hindu leaders in Sukkur, Jacobabad and Hyderabad. The Hindu leaders complained that despite their regular protests, the government has completely failed to protect their lives and properties. The committee on September 4 presented its report to President Zardari and confirmed that some Hindus had complained about abduction of their girls and their forcible conversion to Islam.
 
Historically, the majority of Sindhi Hindus are supporters of PPP, and they expect that the PPP government will provide better protection to them, but they are having an opposite experience. Allegedly, some PPP leaders are also involved in crimes against Hindu, as PPP MNA Mian Mitho played a controversial role in the case of Rinkal Kumari, a Hindu girl.
 
While, some Hindu leaders are optimistic after President Zardari’s intervention and are encouraging the community not to leave Pakistan, still some are sceptical. Former MNA Kishan Chand Parwani rejected the committees and said that the committees are not the solution to the problems but now some strong actions are needed to bring peace and change.
 
The migration of Hindus is not a new phenomenon. This process has been going on since 1947. There were around 22 per cent Hindus living in Pakistan in 1947, the majority in Sindh province. Sindh has undergone distress when Hindus, included doctors, lawyers and highly educated people, were forced to migrate to India in 1947, aftermath of communal riots. Many Hindus also migrated after 1965 and 971 wars between India and Pakistan. On December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya (India) by BJP supporter, the reaction of fanatics in Pakistan was very strong. Many historical Hindu temples and their localities came under attack, which triggered another migration of Pakistani Hindus to India. There were 428 functioning temples in the country in 1947 but now only 26.
 
According to the human rights groups, last year, 151 Pakistani Hindus migrated to India to sought asylum. In 2011, around 7,000 Hindus visited India but around 6,000 returned. More than 90 families migrated to India in 2010. From every pilgrimage group around 70 per cent Hindus have been claimed asylum over there. Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Patron of Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), claimed that at least 20-25 families from Sindh leave Pakistan for India on a weekly basis.                   
 
Hindus are still the largest minority of Pakistan. According to the 1951 census, minorities were 5 per cent (including Hindus but excluding Ahmadis) of the total population of the country. However, according to 1998 censuses, the total population of Hindus was just 1.7 per cent. While state figures say that 3 million Hindus live in Pakistan, Hindu Council claims that their number is 9.9 million (5.5 per cent). Around 93 per cent Hindus live Sindh, mainly in Tharparkar, Tando Mohammad Khan, Mtyari, Tando Allahyar, Jacobabad, Larkana, Ghotki, Khairpur, Sanghar and Umerkot districts.
 
This is an encouraging sign that after the recent migration of Hindus to India, many political parties raised voice for the rights and security of Hindus. Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Pakistan’s Sindh spokesman Mohammad Aslam Ghouri said that it was sad that the minorities are not being protected in their own country. On August 13, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) filed an adjournment motion in the National Assembly on migration of Hindus to India.
 
Although Pakistani Hindus migration to India created uproar because of both countries' bitter history, but it is not only Hindus who are migrating. There are many Ahmadis, Christians and Sikhs, and even Shia Muslims, who are also leaving Pakistan for security reasons and because their lives, worship places and even their graveyards are not safe from the wrath of fanatic elements. Now and then militants kill Shia Muslims in broad day light. Therefore, exodus of Hindus should be a wake-up call for all the ruling elite in Pakistan. They should address minorities' concerns seriously and make Pakistan a pluralistic country before more negative developments emerges, which will certainly disrupt peace and development of the country. The COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani also feels the need of a pluralistic society in Pakistan, so he raised the issue in his Independence Day message in which he said Pakistan should be a homeland for all communities and groups.       
 
It is not easy to stop people migrating to other countries; however, it is necessary to give them a sense of security, so they do not leave their own country due to hostility. What Pakistan needs is to create a conducive atmosphere for minorities, so they feel, in true terms, equal citizens of the state and be proud to live in their motherland without intimidation and fear of their lives, properties, beliefs and their holy places. END   
 
Spero  columnist Aftab Alexander Mughal is also the editor of e-magazine Minorities Concern of Pakistan.

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