November 18-24, 2011
by Zia Ur Rehman
Three Hindus – Dr Ajeet Kumar, Naresh Kumar and Ashok Kumar – were gunned down in Chak town of Shikarpur district in Upper Sindh on November 7 in an armed attack. According to media reports, they were punished because they intervened on behalf of two young men of their community who had been charged with criminally assaulting a Muslim girl. A Muslim cleric asked the Bhayo tribesmen to attack them, reports say.
Following the final rites of three men, the Hindu community across the province shut their businesses in protest and announced three days of mourning. “This is not first such incident. There has been an increase in faith-based violence in the country especially in Sindh in the last few years,” said Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, former parliamentarian and head of Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC). “The government has completely failed to protect minorities especially Hindus and this is why the minorities are vulnerable to religious exploitation.”
Hindus are believed to be the largest religious minority of the country with a population of 2.7 million, according to the 1998 census. Most of them live in Sindh. Minority rights groups say that the kidnapping of Hindus and their forced conversion to Islam is rampant and unchecked in Pakistan. This was corroborated by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Minorities’ Affairs (SSCMA) in a meeting held in October last year. It expressed concerns over abduction and forcible conversion of Hindus girls to Islam in Sindh.
“During the last two years, around 29 men from only Kandkhot area have been kidnapped and several women forced to convert to Islam,” Pitanber Sewani, a minority MPA from Sindh, said. He said some extremists were using the name of religion to attack minority communities.
“Hate speech and violence against the Hindus community has continued unchecked for the last several years,” a civil society activist said. “Often in Friday prayers, clerics call the Hindu community agents of India.”
On September 8, more than two dozen armed men hailing from the Kalhoro tribe raided a Hindu neighbourhood in Pannu Aqil and attacked and robbed their property.
Last year in June, statues of Hindu gods in temples of Tharparkar district – where 55 percent of the populations is Hindu – were desecrated, angering the Hindu community across the world. Such incidents occur in Sindh on a regular basis.
Members of the Hindu community said many of them had migrated to India or other countries during a particularly difficult period before 1999, Vankwani said, but after that the situation improved. “The recent events have made the lives of people belonging to different minority communities miserable, and they are being compelled to abandon the country once again.”
Hindu leaders said that Sindhi Hindus of Umerkot, Tharparkar and Sanghar – the districts with large Hindu populations – used to celebrate the colourful festival of Holi on a massive scale until 2009. On March 11, 2009, an angry mob attacked Hindus celebrating Holi because they said some of their signs and slogans were sacrilegious.
More than 1,000 members of the Hindu community, mostly from Sindh and Balochistan, have migrated to India and other countries this year, owing to worsening law and order and threats to their families, Hindu organisations claim. Ram Singh Sodho, a Hindu member of Sindh Assembly, is among these asylum seekers. He resigned from his seat and took refuge in India after he received threats from extremist groups. “Members of our community are migrating to India and other countries because they think no one accepts them in the Pakistani society,” said a Hindu journalist.
The situation of Hindus in Balochistan is no different from Sindh. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Balochistan chapter released a report in September that documents how minorities in the province, especially Hindus, are increasingly being kidnapped for ransom, forced to convert to Islam, and persecuted to such an extent that Hindu families even fear sending their children to school.
At least four Hindu traders have been kidnapped in the past month in Balochistan. On November 4, a Hindu trader, Basant Laal, was abducted from Saryab Road, Quetta. On same day, armed men looted several shops belonging to the Hindu community in Dadhar area. Seth Ado Mal, another Hindu trader, was shot dead in Quetta on September 4.
One senator informed the SSCMA that around 500 Hindus families from Balochistan only have migrated to India for fear of abduction or threats to the lives of their family members. “We have been living with Baloch tribesmen for several centuries, but now, a sense of insecurity is widespread among our Hindu community,” said Amar Laal, a Hindu political activist. He said it was a conspiracy to malign Baloch traditions and secular politics.
The situation in the militancy-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the tribal areas is the worst. In some areas, Taliban militants issued ultimatums to local Hindus and Sikhs: pay “jazya” (protection money) or leave. Hundreds of Hindu and Sikh families have left for other parts of the country, or India.
“We are living under the fear of the Taliban groups who warned us to convert or leave the area,” said a Hindu trader in Khyber Agency. Militant groups didn’t allow local Hindus in Kurram, Hangu, Orakzai and Kohat to perform the last rites of their dead at the Shamshan Ghat and they had to carry their dead to Attock for cremation, news reports said.
Dr Araish Kumar, a Hindu member of National Assembly hailing from Buner, said that threats had made lives of minorities miserable in tribal areas, especially in Orakzai and Khyber agencies. Taliban groups had not harassed local Sikhs in Swat and Buner during their influence in the region, he said.
“Minorities leaders in the parliament are simply representing their political parties and not the minorities and their issues,” said Kumar. “The dire economic conditions in the Pashtun belt, especially in settled districts of KP like Mardan, have led to kidnapping and other abuse of the minority Hindus.”
Abduction for ransom and various forms of discrimination against Hindus are also seen in Punjab. Last year in June, the demolition of a temple adjacent to a Shamshan Ghat in Rawalpindi triggered protests by the Hindu and Sikh communities.
Textbooks in Pakistani schools foster hatred and intolerance of minorities, especially for Hindus, civil society activists say. Teachers view them as “enemies of Islam”. This is also corroborated by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its recent report.
Human rights groups say that there is an urgent need to weed out discriminatory provisions from laws and no instance of incitement to violence against minorities must go unpunished.
The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher and works on militancy and human rights. He can be reached at email@example.com