The rise of extremism and the persecution of religious minorities are challenges Pakistan must confront head-on, warns Manzoor Ahmed.
Reports have been cropping up recently from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan about 88 Hindus resident in Pakistan, who had come to India on pilgrim visas, refusing to return home. These Pakistani nationals said they did not want to go back to Pakistan on account of the persecution of Hindus there.
Local authorities who have been monitoring the situation said the Pak Hindus have been staying in Jogiyon-ke-Vas, near Gajroopsagar. The Hindus, who belong to Daharki (Sindh Province) in Pakistan, had come on a six-month visa to India, issued in April 2015. After visiting Haridwar, they went to Jaisalmer via Delhi and Jodhpur. The group then applied for an extension of their visas, as they did not want to go back to Pakistan.
A similar incident occurred last year when Kube Singh of Pakistan, along with 40 other Pakistani Hindus, including 17 members of his family, landed in India on a religious visa. The family came to Gangangar, which has a sizeable number of families belonging to the ‘Auth’ clan. These families also refused to go back to Pakistan, citing religious persecution there as the reason. In a letter to the Rajasthan State Government, Singh stated that they had sought citizenship in India, saying, ‘India is our grandmother and we are natural citizens of this country’.
In 2011, 300 families went to India on a pilgrimage and 60 of them stayed. The Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) claimed in 2012 that there were seven million Hindus in the country, nearly 94 per cent of whom live in Sindh. The 1998 Official Census of Pakistan, however, puts the figure at less than 2.5 million and they constitute around 1.6 per cent of the total population of the country. If the Scheduled Caste Hindus in Pakistan are included, then the total figure would be around 3 million.
A 2014 Report of the US State Department on Religious Freedom states that discrimination against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadis in admission to higher education institutions persists in Pakistan. Minority leaders have reported that their communities face restrictions in securing admissions into colleges and universities. Sikh leaders have said that in some instances, Sikh students have been required to obtain a certificate of permission from the Evacuee Trust Property Board, a lengthy process which seems designed to discourage Sikhs from pursuing higher education. This is just one instance of the widespread repression of minority rights in Pakistan.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan announced a detailed judgment regarding minorities’ rights on June 20, 2014, following its February 23 government action that same year against Hindus in Tando Adam, Sindh, who were denied access to a local temple. The Court directed the federal government to establish a task force to ensure the safety and protection of minorities in the country, develop a strategy for promoting religious tolerance, and evaluate school curricula to promote a culture of religious and social tolerance. The order called on the government to create a National Council for Minorities’ Rights. On July 14, 2014 the government announced it would create a National Commission for Minorities with Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh representatives. The Court also directed the federal government to take steps to discourage hate speech in social media and bring accused violators to justice under the law.
Yet the string of violence against minorities in Pakistan in recent years, especially Hindus and Christians, has forced scores of Hindus to flee the country. Some of these are landless labourers. Most of those who came to India in 2014 hailed from Umerkot in the Tharparkar region (Sindh), which has 60 per cent of the Pakistani Hindu population. The Hindus there are frequently persecuted by landlords and subjected to forced conversions.
Though there have been reports of forced conversion of Hindu girls from different parts of Sindh in recent years, community leaders concede that this was generally ignored because the victims belonged to the lower castes. In 2012, the case of Rinkle Kumari—a Hindu girl who was allegedly kidnapped by the Pakistan People’s Party parliamentarian, Mian Mithu, and forcibly married to his son—hit the headlines. Three such cases came up for hearing before the Supreme Court in Pakistan. However, the apex court sent the girls back to their ‘husbands’, ruling that they wanted to stay married to the men. But the girls’ families maintained they had said ‘yes’ only under duress, as they were threatened with dire consequences. No enquiry was ordered into the actions of Mian Mithu, one of the Pirs of Bharchundi Sharif. This added to the Hindu community’s fear that the 2012 judgment would strengthen his hand.
The Hindu community in Pakistan has seen it coming for a while now, and since early 2012 there has indeed been an escalation in violence, kidnappings and forced conversions of girls, according to Amar Nath, the then Vice Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Sindh Chapter. At that point he claimed that 50 per cent of Hindus living in Upper Sindh had moved out, with the majority moving to Karachi. Those with the means had also gone overseas. In his estimate, 3,000 families had moved to India between 2009 and 2011.
Minority rights in Pakistan are thus regularly trampled upon and radicalisation has emerged as a major societal problem. The challenge before the Pakistan state has been and continues to be to check the spread of radicalisation and extremism, particularly in terms of its impact on minorities. Jinnah’s Pakistan has turned its back on its founder and is today home to the world’s best known extremists, terrorists and religious fundamentalists. That is what the world really needs to focus its attention on.