Friday, 26 February 2010

Plight of Hindus in Sindh and Balochistan

Author: Khaled Ahmed
Publication: The Friday Times
Date: May 14-20, 2004

We don't know much about Hindus living in Sindh and Balochistan. Because the mainstream media remains silent and we don't get to know about their real plight. The TV channels in the private sector should focus on these forgotten communities

The Commission sent a team to the province, which observed the Hindus of Kalat, Mastung, Machh and Kolpur and discovered that the Baloch and Brahui tribes kept them to do jobs (musicians, carpenters, merchants) considered below their honour by the Muslims. The author noted that Hindus were visible in Baloch areas but were scarce in the Pakhtun areas although in 1941 most of the 54,000 Hindus of Balochistan lived in the Pakhtun areas. After 1947, the Hindus in the Pakhtun areas declined by 93 percent but only by 11 percent in the Baloch areas. Now Balochistan had 27,000 Hindus in all.

The incidents of atrocities and caste-based discrimination on Dalits are increasing day by day in Tharparkar - a district where 35 per cent people belong to different Dalit communities among a million people - because of growing awareness and assertiveness of the Dalits. Several hundred Dalit employees of low-caste communities were transferred to far-flung areas under different obnoxious pretexts. Cases were initiated against the Dalit political activists. Their rural folks were threatened and even disallowed to graze their livestock on government lands called Gauchar.

Speaking on Geo TV (25 March 2004) federal education minister Zubaida Jalal said that she had grown up reading the same (biased) textbooks and that Pakistan had not been harmed by them. She said the Hindus of Balochistan and Sindh had not suffered because of these textbooks.

There is very little information about the minorities in Pakistan, which are 5 percent of the total population and are remembered in the flag of Pakistan by the white strip. While Christians have highlighted their problems in Punjab, very little is known about the Hindus of Balochistan. Scheduled caste (Shudra) and Untouchable (Dalit) Hindus in Sindh have been hit by the double whammy of ill-treatment at the hands of the Muslim feudal lords and the upper caste Hindus. They have also been targeted at times by the intelligence agencies because they live close to the Indian border in Tharparkar and are suspected of spying for India. Bheels and Kolis, untouchables or Dalits, have been in the news for bonded labour.

In Balochistan, Hindus were 22 percent of the population in 1941; today they are only 1.6 percent, according to the 1998 census report, which may be 27,000 Hindus in all. After 1947, their exodus from the Pakhtun areas of Balochistan was considerable while they tended to stay in the Baloch areas. The exodus was the characteristic of the entire population of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. There was a tendency among the lower caste Hindus not to migrate. The pattern of settlement today is such that Sindhi-speaking Hindus live in the Baloch areas bordering Sindh while further West near Quetta and the region called Jhalawan the Seraiki-speaking Hindus call themselves Punjabi.

Hindus in Balochistan: The latest facts about the Hindu community in Balochistan have come to light in a report by Minority Rights Commission of Pakistan titled Religious Tolerance in Balochistan: Myth and Reality (2003) by Akram Mirani. The Commission sent a team to the province, which observed the Hindus of Kalat, Mastung, Machh and Kolpur and discovered that the Baloch and Brahui tribes kept them to do jobs (musicians, carpenters, merchants) considered below their honour by the Muslims. The author noted that Hindus were visible in Baloch areas but were scarce in the Pakhtun areas although in 1941 most of the 54,000 Hindus of Balochistan lived in the Pakhtun areas. After 1947, the Hindus in the Pakhtun areas declined by 93 percent but only by 11 percent in the Baloch areas.

In Kalat there are seven Hindu temples but the Hindu streets are separate from Muslim streets. There are even two Hindu doctors in Kalat. The only Brahman in town is Maharaj Roshan Sharma in charge of the Shiv Mandar there. Hindu merchants still control the wholesale trade of the area. But in 1992, after the Babri mosque incident in India, it was the Pakhtun community who intruded and subjected the Hindus to violence. The police in Balochistan is hardly organised. It keeps no record of violence against the minorities and is barred from operating anywhere outside the province's major cities. Conditions have been bad in the Pakhtun areas of Balochistan.

Anti-Hindu violence in Balochistan: The Friday Times reported in its issue of March 23-29, 2001, as follows: 'Hundreds of Hindus have been forced to flee their homes and cross over into Sindh. Three Hindus were reported to have been killed in the town of Chaman after clashes between Hindus attempting to protect their homes and Muslim mobs in October. Temples and homes were set ablaze and property, including Hindu shops, destroyed as the growing social intolerance assumed alarming new proportions in Balochistan. In all cases, local extremist groups played a role in triggering the attacks.

'Though the precise number of families which fled was unknown, reports suggested almost half the community of 10,000 Hindus in Lasbela had been forced to leave their homes over the year. In almost all cases, the increased activism by militant religious groups imposed new strains on relations between the majority Muslim and the Hindu communities, who had lived peacefully alongside each other for many decades. The efforts to forcibly convert the Hindus, especially female school students, had a direct role to play in violence against Hindu settlements. At least five Hindu temples were vandalised over the year, with their structures damaged and the idols and other objects of worship broken. Amidst the uproar caused by the conversion issue in Lasbela, activists of religious parties launched an assault on two old Hindu temples and threw to the ground the idols placed in them.'

At the time of partition, when sectarian riots ravaged the subcontinent, the Hindu population of Balochistan remained unharmed, mainly due to two factors. First, the major portion of Balochistan native/princely Balochistan where majority of Hindus lived was under the Khan of Kalat, the chief ruler of Kalat state, Yar Mohammad Khan, who respected indigenousness of the Hindu community. He had assured them of economic and religious freedom in case they decided to continue living in Balochistan. Second, reciprocity of mutual relationship between Muslims and Hindus, and prosperity in business encouraged them to abandon the idea of migrating to India. They live in Quetta, Kalat, Sibi, Mastung, Dahdar, Duki, Dalbandin, Chaman, and Gandawa. In Gandawa, a tiny town and newly raised headquarter of Jhall-Magsi district, they have a big temple, which is claimed to be the fifth largest Hindu temple in the subcontinent. They dwell in their own little colonies, usually not away from their temples. They belong to business class, without any major interest in education and government offices. Some of them are wealthy merchants owning large jewellery and general stores, but the majority is of middle and lower middle class businessmen with their shops/stores in the bazaars of various towns.

Plight of Hindus of Sindh: Newsline(Dec 2000), pages 77-79, stated that 'the status of the 2.7 million Hindus in Pakistan, who are largely concentrated in Sindh, does not make for a very encouraging picture. Despite the fact that the Hindus in Pakistan have generally maintained a low profile, the general attitude towards them is one of suspicion. A case in point: the editor of a Sindhi newspaper demanded a car from a Hindu businessman. When he refused the former wrote an editorial in his paper declaring that the gentleman was a RAW agent who had been supplying weapons to terrorists in the country. In another incident in Hyderabad in September, Ashok Kumar, a Hindu inspector of the Income Tax Department, along with the army monitoring team went to Sadar to collect tax return forms from shop owners. Instead of complying with the authorities, one of the shop-owners alleged that the Hindu inspector had threatened to grab him by his beard if he did not give him the form. Within no time the shopkeeper managed to muster a group of his colleagues, who shuttered their shops and took out a procession demanding that the government hand them the Hindu so that they "could teach him a lesson." There followed a two-day strike in the city, as a result of which Ashok Kumar was not only suspended from his job, but also jailed after a case of 'blasphemy' was registered against him.

'Hindus in Pakistan have faced the greatest trials when there has been tension between India and Pakistan. Says an analyst, "From the first Indo-Pak war to the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Hindus in Pakistan have been perceived as enemies and persecuted." Kidnapping, extortion, and even killing are, meanwhile, common crimes perpetrated against Hindus in Sindh today. In September this year, Dr. Kanaya Lal, a Hindu eye specialist, was kidnapped from Larkana from the heart of the town. He was released after one week following a ransom payment of 5 lakh rupees (500,000 rupees). Another Hindu, Dr, Darshan Lal, was killed in Badah town in Larkana when he offered resistance to dacoits who were attempting to kidnap him from his house. At least four Hindu have been kidnapped from Sukkur during the last two months, and remain in the custody of the dacoits who have demanded hefty amounts of ransom for their release. 'Many Hindus pay regular sums as 'bhatta' to different groups of extortionists merely in order to be aloud to live in peace. Pak Autos, an automobile outlet belonging to a local Hindu trader in Larkana, was torched a couple of months ago when he refused to cough up the sum demanded by activists of a political party. Another Hindu businessman disclosed that he had received a call at his Karachi residence a few months ago from an activist of a Sindh nationalist party who demanded the payment of a sizeable sum from him. He tracked down the number the caller had phoned from and discovered it belonged to an agency. When he contacted the authorities and gave them this information, he was not only refused help, he was told that "the activists of different groups are important to the establishment, while the Hindus are of no use," thereby implying that he should not expect any assistance. Says the businessman "Instead of concentrating on business, most Hindus in Pakistan are expending their energies in developing their PR with the authorities and entertaining various influentials to try and build up a support base for themselves."

Dalits of Sindh want justice: The Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan has a website which addresses a petition to the President of Pakistan asking for a redressal of the plight of the Dalits. It is a flattering website as it talks more about Islam than about Hinduism.

'In Pakistan, the Dalits face different issues. Since they are part of a tiny minority that is 5 per cent of country's total population, and also due to lack of education and literacy, they continue to stick to different forms of Hinduism whatever their half-literate Gurus impart them. Caste Hindus continue their domination only in southern part of Pakistan, especially former Mirpurkhas division, where more than one million Dalits dwell as landless peasants and labourers. The Caste Hindus, though small in numbers, dominate the minority politics through support of their convert relatives and government functionaries. The incidents of atrocities and caste-based discriminations on Dalits are increasing day by day in Tharparkar - a district where 35 per cent people belong to different Dal it communities among a million people - because of growing awareness and assertiveness of the Dalits. Several hundred Dalit employees of Dalit communities were transferred to far-flung areas under different obnoxious pretexts. Cases were initiated against the Dalit political activists. Their rural folks were threatened and even disallowed to graze their livestock on government lands called Gauchar.

'Dalits also suffer in many instances from de facto disenfranchisement. During elections 2002, those unpersuaded by typical electioneering were routinely threatened and beaten by a pro-government political party strongmen in order to compel them to vote for certain candidates. Already under the thumb of local landlords and police officials, Dalit villagers who do not comply had been victimized, beaten, and harassed. In Tharparkar, violence against Dalits is normally treated as a very minor and marginal issue, even by the law-enforcement machinery, whether be it police, the prosecution, or the medico-legal fraternity or often even the judiciary. Non-registration of crimes against Dalits is one of the main problem in Tharparkar. Political influence over the police, and caste, class, religion and gender biases are rampant. It is extremely difficult for helpless Dalits to file complaints, particularly against the powerful individuals and or perpetrators. The theft of livestock of Dalits in Tharparkar is rampant as police never registers any such case. These are very few examples as to how Dalits are dealt with if they display an act to show equality. Hundreds of the incidents of caste discrimination go unreported.'

Sunday, 7 February 2010

"Three Idiots" give society words of wisdom
Dr Shura Darapuri
It is a great satire on the education system and the attitude of society. It tells us rote learning can be very harmful. That knowledge is to ‘know’ and not just in the name of educating ourselves memorise whatever comes our way. Learning without understanding can prove to be very dangerous. Unfortunately we have been patrons of such system from time immemorial. Read more

Rote learning used to be important during the ancient times when education was being monopolized by a section of society, while rest of the masses remained illiterate. No doubt in spite of their educational exclusion, they had more knowledge than the so-called literates of the society. Even without getting the benefits of formal education, they understood their work and transmitted it generations after generations with utmost efficiency and dexterity. The cobbler, the agriculturalist, the blacksmith knew their work and carried it out very well and transmitted it also, without any compulsions of memorizing any kind of written text. Their knowledge was useful for every section of society and their service so important for the progress and development of the country.

On the other hand, so called ‘formal education’ was the monopoly of a particular section to maintain status quo. It was of help to no one but its patron alone. It was constantly meant to remind their coming generations that their caste was born to subordinate a large section of society. That the masses below them have to be denigrated to the extent that they easily give in and without any resistance believe in the superiority of the few above them and in their own inferiority. Anyone indulging in physical work has to be looked down upon and regarded as illiterate and uncivilized. But the question that comes in one’s mind is that, who is to be considered more literate and more civilized. A caste using its skills in the service of others from generations together is to be considered more civilized or a caste making rules for others, cleverly putting ones name at the top and the rest below them are strictly instructed to serve?

But generally, the serving caste without some amount of knowledge and skill couldn’t possibly move an inch, be it growing wheat for the nation, or making tools for industrial or any other purposes, or fixing a wall even. Every work requires skill and intelligence, and one needs a large heart to build houses for others and themselves stay in shambles. The servile castes have been doing this ‘godly gesture’ for ages together, no wonder Gandhiji used the word ‘Harijan’ to address them. They have exhibited remarkable amount of tolerance and willpower. Their stomach might remain hungry but not for a day they would take leave to take rest but continue to work in unison to achieve the target. Their children might be ill or injured but not for a moment they stop their work. They grow our crops, they make our tools, and they build our hospitals, but seldom are allowed to get proper treatment there. They build our schools but without any grudge, accept it as their fate of remaining unlettered and allow us to get literate.

But our studying in Convent or a great University abroad doesn’t teach us to be as sacrificing, tolerant and selfless as the so called illiterate, serving castes. The aim of the literates is to get high marks by hook and crook, to prove themselves in the rat race, through a false degree or anyhow get into a prestigious college later on by any means, give a ‘religious babu’ some amount of bribe so that he can also take his family to a trip to Vaishno Devi in the coming summer vacation of his siblings. But in the rat race of getting high marks human values ‘go down the drain’. It is evident that in the so called prestigious centres of higher education the same ‘high grader’ shows he can be a great villain for real and in ragging the junior students he puts to shame even the worst of criminals. Where from he got those lessons one fails to understand?

Convent education, public school education, high caste well preserved 'sanskars' given at home takes a backseat and the hidden “goonda” comes out. The mantra that time is, tradition has to be followed without questioning it! We were not spared we will not spare others! In the modern times there are so many other ways of entertainment but they still insist on going for sadistic pleasures! Is higher education so simple that allows students to indulge in such luxuries of wasting time? What is ultimately derived out of it, has the so called high graders, given a thought to it? It is here that is reflected that how dangerous rote learning can be. It kills inquisitiveness, reasoning, rationality and worst of all creativity. Like a dodo we fail to respond in an appropriate manner to the crisis situation, serial train accidents, children falling in borewell or students committing suicides under psychological pressures day in and day out! Our senses remain numbed to the utmost, failing to react till another mishap occurs. Everybody waits for a miracle to happen or someone else to do the job for them! Their marked indifference reflected in their attitude.

Sitting on high pedestals not for a moment they give thought to the idea what example they are setting before the society. Lalu Prasad ji was right when he said recently “we are totally devoid of civic sense.” For the same reason we still need ‘proper toilet training’ and other mannerisms while travelling in VIP trains atleast! Most importantly an attitude of concern for others has to be developed alongwith a feeling of belonging to a nation, which is like a plant that is to be nurtured unitedly. Right from nursery class we have learnt by heart patriotic songs we still might remember some lines here and there but spirit still remains lacking in our character. That's the reason on slightest pretext we are ready and more than happy to move to other country, braving ‘racism’, waiting for years together to get hold of a green card or a more permanent citizenship right. But would certainly object in our own country if a person of other state tries to get a job in our state.

We have learnt by heart ‘Saare Jahan se Accha Hindustan Hamara’, or our National Anthem but still cannot clearly understand what it is to be like living unitedly as one, in a nation and contributing to its development. If only we would have tried to understand before blindly memorizing our lessons! There is a rule that when we understand something it takes less effort to remember it! That is what is reflected in the movie 'Three Idiots' and that being knowledgeable doesn't end at achieving high marks alone, but there should be an effort on our part to know, understand and most importantly be concerned about the welfare of others and 'treat others the way we would like to be treated by others'. Three Idiots have certainly given society words of wisdom.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Ravidasia Religion, or a prayer for identity

Amrita Chaudhry Posted online: Wednesday, Feb 03, 2010 at 0130 hrs

Ludhiana: Dera politics and rows in Punjab got another twist last Saturday when Dera Sachkhand Ballan took one step further and announced the setting up of a separate religion, Ravidassia, with a religious book, Amrit Bani Guru Ravidass, a separate symbol, Hari, and a separate motto, Jai Gurudev.
It was another indicator that Dalit assertion has come to stay in a state that has long suppressed the community despite it making up almost 29 per cent of the population. Till recently a struggle for equality, the Punjab Dalit movement has now changed its character. Dalits are no longer asking for an equal space in society, they are claiming their own personal space. They are also no longer shy of their identity, with announcement of a “new religion”, showering of shobha yatras with flowers from a chopper, and the deluge of music albums in the market celebrating Dalithood pointers of the same.
The social change is expected to impact Punjab politics too, with experts afraid that the Dalit assertion — seen by some as more reactionary than rational — could be both creative and violent.
It was late on Saturday that Dera Sachkhand Ballan announced the “Ravidassia religion”, at Seer Gowardhanpur in Benaras, the birthplace of Guru Ravidass. It was the 633rd birth anniversary of Ravidass, a saint of the Bhakti movement. The call for a separate religious identity for Ravidassias came eight months after the killing of Sant Ramananad, the deputy of dera head Sant Niranjan Dass, in Vienna by alleged “radical Sikhs”.
Well-known academic on Dalit issues and the chairman of Department of Political Science, Panjab University, Dr Ronki Ram, sees the development as “an assertion of identity” and not as a “separate religion”. “The manner in which the process is unfolding is not new. The Dalits of Punjab have always laid claim to a separate religion called the ‘Adh dharma’ and this Dera has a registered symbol. The Dalits are doing well economically and this has given them an upward mobility. They are now asserting,” says Ram.
Dr Harish Puri, a Dalit who retired as Head Professor of Dr B R Ambedkar Chair, Department of Political Science, Guru Nanak Dev University, warns against dismissing the developments as mere “reactionary”. “Radical Sikhs killed the Dera head in Vienna and in reaction the Dera decided to assert a separate identity. The manner in which our political bosses handled the murder and the protests that erupted later was to convert the same into a law and order situation and suppress it. No one addressed the anguish of a community, and now we have the results which will have a bad impact on our politics.”
Puri feels that this kind of assertion arising from anger is “destructive”. “No one is talking about upliftment of Dalits. These things are the handiwork of a very small section of Dalits who are either settled abroad and are doing well or those Dalits who come from Doaba where NRI population is high. These people can afford to assert. But no one is addressing the problems of a large section of Dalits who continue to live in highly condemnable conditions.” Dr Puri is also apprehensive of politics getting into the debate, with a large section of political leaders from Doaba followers of one or the other Dera. “How these politicians use these changes will script the future of our politics,” he points out.
Balbir Madhopuri, well-known Dalit writer whose novel Chhangeya Rukh was translated into English by Oxford University Press recently, has another objection. “I do not agree to what Dera Ballan has done, for this is no assertion. This action limits the preaching of Guru Ravidass to a very limited section. Adh dharam, which was established in 1925 and recognised by the British in 1930, incorporated the teaching of 36 gurus belonging to lower castes. Ravidaassia or the Amrit Bani Ravi Das (containing 240 hymns of Guru Ravidass) is very limiting.”
A literary critic and known Dalit scholar, Dr Sarabjit Singh, also cautions against taking the development lightly: “This change is dangerous and disturbs the socio-political fabric of Punjab.”

Dera Sachkhand Ballan is one of the most powerful and famous Deras of the Ravidass sect in Punjab situated some 10 km from Jalandhar. Other equally famous Ravidass deras include Temple Ravidass Chak Hakim near Phagwara and Dera of Sant Jagatjit Giri near Pathankot. These two Deras are said to have been instrumental in bringing social consciousness among the Dalits of Punjab.
Mangoo Ram, founder of the ‘Adh dharam movement’, is said to have visited the Dera Ballan and sought its support to popularise the image of Ravidass among the Dalits of Punjab.
The Dera Sachkhand Ballan was founded by Sant Pipal Dass, father of Sant Sarwan Dass, and is popularly known as Dera Sant Sarwan Das or simply Dera Ballan.
The Dera shot into fame June last year when Sant Ramanand, deputy of Dera head Sant Niranjan Dass, was killed in Vienna, Austria, allegedly by some radical Sikhs. The Dera head was grievously injured in the attack. The incident led to arson in certain parts of Punjab with dera heads announcing shifting of the Guru Granth Sahib from its temples.
While Dera Ballan is not a Sikh institution, as part of tradition, its deras install and worship Guru Granth Sahib. Some of the followers sport Sikh appearances while others could be clean shaven, though the latter are not necessarily Hindus.
Since the Vienna incident, the sect has been since asserting itself, though quietly.