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 http://petitiononline.com/scfp2003/petition.html 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.'

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