August 2012

 

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Forced Conversions and Religious Intolerance
Forcing Hindus to Abandon Pakistan


Altaf Hussain


The mass exodus of minority Hindus from Pakistan, particularly from Sindh Province, has stirred the lethargic and ignorant government authorities who had otherwise kept quiet over the security concerns of the Hindu community. A significant number of families of Pakistan’s Hindu community reportedly have started migrating to the neighboring country of India because of forced conversions, extortion and kidnappings for ransom.

Hindus, whose sizeable population lives in all the districts of Sindh, have been facing continued incidences of violence, compelling them to live under the dark shadows of insecurity. The trend has now continued for many years. However, the recent spur of events has given impetus to the unfortunate trend of forcing the indigenous dwellers to abandon their motherland.

The current wave of migration began with the backdrop of the abduction of a 14-year-old Hindu girl, Manisha, in the town of Jacobabad of Sindh on Aug. 7, 2012, that generated fear of her being converted.

The aftermath of this incident has witnessed the sudden mass departure of Hindus from different parts of Sindh and Baluchistan Province to India with some families rejecting the idea of permanent settlement and others sticking to the widely reported aim to migrate to India for the rest of their lives. It is of utmost significance to look into the issues to analyze the myth and reality behind Hindus abandoning Sindh.

Eashwar Lal, president of the Pakistan Hindu Panchayat (PHP) in Sukker Division and Sukker District, however, categorically states that Hindus migrating to India in significant numbers are going due to the forced conversion of their girls, kidnappings and the waning law and order situation for Hindus, especially in Sindh.

“Our girls and women are not safe here,” Lal repeatedly claims. “We do not want to abandon Sindh, but the continuous onslaught on us and our women by the criminal elements and indifference towards our issues from law enforcement agencies and political representatives have pushed us to the wall to take these steps.”

At the time of independence in 1947, Hindus constituted about 15 percent of Sindh’s population, which has been reduced to about 6.5 percent as indicated by the 1998 census.

The local landlords-cum-politicians and the police have been blamed for their nefarious character of patronizing extortionists and criminals and other elements that carry out kidnappings of girls, resulting in forced conversions, ransoms and extortion.

“The police and local politicians have turned a deaf ear to our grievances; and due to that, criminal elements are at large,” explains Lal.

He says that the Hindu community in different districts of Sindh have informed the police and district administration of the growing incidences of kidnappings and forced conversions of their girls, extortion and kidnappings for ransom but to no avail.
He also lamented about the Hindu parliamentarians, saying they are not representatives of the Hindu people but have been imposed by the political parties on them against their will.

After events began unfolding in quick succession, the interior minister of Pakistan barred Hindus from crossing the border, which resulted in a further public outcry from civil society. The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, then constituted a two-member committee, comprised of Sen. Mola Bux Chandio and Sen. Hari Ram, to look into the matter and submit an initial report to him.

“We have put some demands in front of them,” says Lal, “including our one-on-one meeting with the president. Our major demand is security and the safety of our girls and women.”

Pakistan Young Hindu Panchayat convener, Dr. Dileep Daultani, notes that Sukker and Larkana Divisions in Sindh are increasingly becoming religiously intolerant for people in the minority communities, especially for Hindus.

“Hindus are quitting their motherland because their families, businesses and lands are no longer secure here,” he says. “Seventy percent of the Hindus going to India are going to settle there; others who have other options are also thinking to settle in Europe and America.”

He suspects that the conspiracy has been hatched by expelling Hindus from Sindh and turning the local people into a minority in the face of the changing demographic paradigms of Sindh in particular.

“Committees are no solution to the problems of the Hindu community,” he says. “Nevertheless, we have presented them with our demands, including setting up a minority desk at the district level in the police and district administration for the redressal of the complaints of minorities, particularly from the Hindu community.”

Some people claim that the migration of the Hindu community to India and other cities of Sindh, like Karachi, started in the wake of the abduction of the Hindu girl Rinkle Kumari on Feb. 24, 2012, from Ghotki District in Sind. She then converted to Islam at the behest of the local member of the National Assembly (MNA) from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and his cronies. The case was addressed at the highest level by the Supreme Court of Pakistan through a suo moto [meaning on “its own motion”]. Kumari in the end decided in favor of her Muslim husband. Kumari’s relatives, however, alleged that she was forced to decide in favor of her husband. The Supreme Court’s suo moto thus did not yield any dividends for the Hindu community.

Raj Kumar, uncle of Kumari, says that the Hindu community had previously submitted to the kidnapping for ransom practices against them. However, the kidnappings of girls, followed by forced conversions, alarmed his community whose fear started increasing with every passing day.

“Our people have started shifting to India and elsewhere after Rinkle’s incident,” says Kumar.

Kumar’s contention is also substantiated by other activists too. The migration of the Hindu community to India and other cities of Sindh is a direct offshoot of the neglect this community has been experiencing for many years, notes M. Parkash, chairman of the Pakistan Minority Commission. “The impetus to this trend was provided by Rinkle’s case,” he says.

Civil society activists believe the government and its institutions have allowed the current situation to worsen because of its willful neglect. Muhammad Parial Maree, a human rights activist from Shikarpur in Sindh, says that the government has failed in ensuring good governance in the province.

“Honest and neutral police officers and district administration is extremely necessary for the protection of the rights of citizens, including minorities,” he observes.

Committees and meetings have never resulted in producing tangible results in Pakistan. It is important that both the Sindh government, as well as the federal government, take steps to ensure protection of the life, religion, dignity and property of minorities in general, and Hindus in particular. The introduction of a minority desk at the district level with close liaison with the police and district administration may help in taking timely and appropriate measures to stop kidnappings, conversions and extortion. The government must also ensure that Article 25 of Pakistan’s Constitution is implemented in its spirit, which mandates the State to treat all citizens equally without any difference based on religion, caste or creed.


* Altaf Hussain is a researcher at the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research (PILER) and can be reached by e-mail at <pinjaro1@gmail.com>.