Their lives from birth to death is an ordeal of indignity, humiliation, insecurity bereft of basic human rights.
The frightened father with his wife and three scraggly toddlers soldiered on. Hope was on the horizon. He could see the beacon of safety in a distance. Behind him lay the land of his oppressors, to his right was the Arabian Sea and in front was his promised land or that is what he thought. He heaved a sigh of relief as he crossed the boundary of modern Bharat—at last he and his family were safe. But suddenly a bunch of ugly ogres fell upon the hapless family screaming profanities, some had names just like him and others bore the names of his oppressors; they kicked him, abused him and pushed him back into the land of misery. Two of his children ran unknowingly towards the water; the mob pursued them and pushed them into the sea.
The job done, the mob proclaimed loudly: We believe in equality and the Constitution of India. Next day the news media hailed them as champions of liberty. The moral corruption of an ancient civilisation was complete: right was wrong and wrong was right.
The dignity of human life lies in its acknowledgement of human milestones—the joy of birth, the sanctity of marriage and the ritual mourning of death; and importantly the acceptance of one’s existence by fellow inhabitants. Take away these essential artefacts of life and you reduce human beings to mere creatures; sub humans, no better than animals.
The dehumanizing of one man by another has been a constant refrain in the history of mankind: the slavery of blacks in America, apartheid in South Africa and closer to home the ill treatment of Dalits.
The world has changed for many of these oppressed communities. But for one community the misery is still a stark and unaccepted reality; a galling truth that mocks the increased awareness of human rights in a globalized world—they are the Hindus of Pakistan.
But it was not always so. The Hindus of Pakistan were once a proud, vibrant people; the bearers of an ancient civilisation that flourished on the banks of the River Indus. They stood their ground as one invading army after another passed by on their way to subjugate India, even as their numbers dwindled by killings and forced conversions. But worse was still to come. In 1947, the British with the stroke of a pen disenfranchised them and the ancient civilizational state to which they bore allegiance abandoned them. They became nobody’s children.
Prior to 1947, Hindus constituted between 14% to 23% of the population of what is now Pakistan, that is more than the current percentage of Muslims in India. Cities like Karachi (about 50%) and Lahore (roughly 30%) had sizeable number of Hindus. Today, as per the 1998 census, Hindus comprise a mere 1.6%.
Life for a Pakistani Hindu from birth to death is an ordeal of indignity, humiliation and insecurity bereft of even basic human rights. Discrimination is an institutionalized phenomenon endorsed by the Constitution, taught in schools and facilitated by the police and courts, with the Muslim civil society complicit in this calumny—there is no recourse for redress.
The list of atrocities perpetrated against Hindus include forced conversions, forced abduction of young girls, lack of voting rights and desecration of places of worship—to name a few.
However, the most barbaric of these monstrosities is the forced abduction of young Hindu girls.
In March 2019, two minor Hindu sisters—aged 13 and 15—were kidnapped from their hometown in Sindh’s Gotki district, forcibly converted to Islam and married to two Muslim men. A video of their hapless father wailing and beating his chest in front of the police station went viral provoking international outrage.
But official investigations into such incidents go nowhere. For these are not random acts but carefully planned conspiracies as this report indicates:
As an article in Scroll pointed out, “A few shrines, such as Barchundi Sharif in Gotki, are particularly notorious for facilitating the abduction process. In the hundreds of such kidnappings…it is this shrine that has prepared conversion documents, which are then used by lawyers to draw up marriage certificates. Once the legal proceedings have been undertaken it becomes difficult for the Hindu families to get their daughters back.
And in August, a 19-year-old Sikh Girl, the daughter of a “granthi” (priest) of Gurudwara Tambu Sahib in Nankana Sahib was married off at gunpoint to a Muslim.
The Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) estimates that more than 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam annually. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) indicates that about 20 to 25 girls are abducted every month.
So, Hindus or other non-Muslims minorities live in perpetual dread: parents are not sure whether their beti, who left for school or college in the morning, will return home at night. Even their homes are not safe: armed goons barge into their homes and blatantly cart away their daughters.
Shockingly for nearly 70 years after Pakistan became a country, there was no law for registration of Hindu and Sikh marriages—effectively there was no legal document to prove these marriages. This made Hindu and Sikh women vulnerable to abductions and forced marriage. Lack of a marriage certificate also meant no state benefit for couples and no inheritance for widows.
However, the Hindu Marriage Bill 2017 (passed by the Pakistan National Assembly) is not an ironclad guarantee; it contains provisions to appease religious fanatics. Clause 12(iii), which states that “a marriage will be annulled if any of the spouses converts to another religion” can be easily exploited to continue the practice of forced abductions.
The Hindus and Sikhs also suffer from a dearth of places to worship. Desecration of Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras are not a thing of the past, but a reality of present-day Pakistan.
Post the demolition of the Babri-Masjid in 1992, 120 Hindu temples were destroyed. Of the 428 Hindu temples at the time of Partition, 408 of them have been converted into toy stores, restaurants, government offices and schools and even toilets. The Varun Dev Mandir in Manora Island Beach, Karachi, which is estimated to be 1,000 years old is being used as a toilet for visitors. Only 20 major Hindu temples remain operational.
Moreover, the administration of the remaining temples is fraught with irregularities. The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), tasked with managing Hindu temples lacks Hindu representation and illegal sales have resulted in a lack of crematoriums. Hindus and Sikhs are not spared ignominy even in death; they are now forced to bury their dead.
Blasphemy laws are another bane of minorities; a law that is maliciously invoked by Muslims to settle personal disputes as this news report indicates: “Nautan Lal only scolded a Muslim boy for not completing his homework. The boy accused him of blasphemy and that triggered violent protests in the city.”
According to rights groups, around 1,549 blasphemy cases have been registered in Pakistan between 1987 and 2017. More than 75 people have been killed extra-judicially on blasphemy allegations.
With regards to voting rights, the less said the better. In 1980s, Zia ul-Haq introduced a system under which non-Muslims could vote for only candidates of their own religion. To date, there has been only one Hindu candidate who has won a general seat in the Pakistan National Assembly.
Jizya persists in parts of Pakistan even today. In 2009, 150 Sikh and Hindu families fled NWFP after being targeted by the Taliban for not paying jizya: the Sikhs were asked to pay Rs 50 million a year.
Caste discrimination also exists in Pakistan. The fact that Dalits constitute more than 80% of the Hindus in Pakistan adds another element of discrimination into the equation. Most of them are illiterate and work as agricultural labourers, making them more vulnerable to exploitation by Muslim landlords.
In this context, it is important to remember Jogendra Nath Mandal, a prominent Dalit leader and an associate of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 to further the ideology of Dalit-Muslim unity. Mandal served as a founding member of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly.
But less than three years later, Mandal resigned and returned to India unable to tolerate the rampant discrimination against Hindu Dalits in particular. He was a disillusioned man. His notion of Dalit-Muslim amity in a shambles, he spent the remaining years of his life helping Hindu refugees from Pakistan.
It is ironic that Dalit leaders like Chandrasekhar Azad and Mayawati are opposing the CAA instead of supporting it in memory of Jogendra Nath Mandal.
In a nutshell, the life of a Pakistani Hindu, Sikh or Christian is an existence of unmitigated suffering. He/she has limited voting rights, their marriages were not recognised till recently, their daughters are mere chattel and any moment they can be charged with blasphemy and dismembered.
Is this a human existence and can anyone with even an iota of conscience deny this community refuge?