By Nithin Sridhar
Hindu activists in Pakistan have accused the Khyber Pakthunkhwa government of practicing discrimination against Hindu minorities. According to a news report published on October 11, the members from All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movements (APHRM) protested against the alleged exclusion of Hindus from the benefits of the newly enacted RTI act.
If the allegations turn out to be true, it would add yet another incident to the long list of discriminatory actions of the Pakistani government towards Hindu minorities.
Hindus in Pakistan have suffered humongous loses right from the days when Pakistan was newly created. Hindus and Sikhs were not only massacred during the riots that accompanied the partition of India in 1947, but a large number of them were also forced to migrate into India leaving behind their home and property.
As a result, the percentage of Hindus in the then West Pakistan underwent drastic reduction within four years after Partition from 15% in 1947 to 2% in 1951. In Karachi alone, the population of Hindus decreased from 51% to 2%, whereas Muslim population increased from 42% to 96% during those four years after Partition. This clearly establishes a mass exodus of Hindus from Pakistan into India in the years following Partition.
But, the hardships of the Hindus who stayed back in Pakistan have continued to the present. They face discrimination in almost every aspect of social life, be it education, jobs, or marriage. Moreover, they are frequently exposed to various forms of oppression- violence, abduction, forceful conversions, etc.
Consider the case of marriages. Pakistan is yet to legally recognize Hindu marriages. The Hindu marriage Bill, which has been tabled multiple times, is yet to be adopted even after 69 years of Pakistan coming into existence. Just this year, in July, the government again deferred the proposed Hindu marriage bill. Previously it was tabled in 2008, 2011, and 2012 and each time it failed to get consent.
The marriage bill is very vital for Hindus in Pakistan because without it they are being exposed to various kinds of socioeconomic discrimination in the society. Hindu women are especially at a disadvantage because without any evidence to prove their marriage, they are exposed to physical exploitation, forceful marriages, and conversions. Further, Hindu women face various difficulties be it in booking a hotel room, getting official documents like National identity cards, or on inheriting husband’s property after the husband’s death.
Regarding the condition of Hindu women in Pakistan, Amritsar-based activist and historian SurinderKochchar says: “They are abducted, raped, and forcibly converted after a forced marriage. They never get justice as neither their families, nor they, can prove that they were married. They also cannot apply for a divorce nor get alimony or remarry as they do not possess any marriage certificates,” as quoted in the Daily Mail.
US Commission on the International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report for 2015 describes Pakistan as representing‘one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom.’ It further describes Pakistan’s legal environment as being ‘particularly repressive due to its religiously discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, including its blasphemy laws.’
The Hindu American Foundation’s report on Human Rights of Hindus in South Asia for the year 2014-2015 quotes a report by the National Commission for Justice and Peace that revealed that around 76% of minority women in Pakistan reported that they were sexually harassed. The HAF report further quotes various NGO’s that estimate that around 1000 Hindu and Christian girls are abducted and forcefully converted to Islam every year. According to another estimate, as many as 20-25 Hindu girls are abducted and converted to Islam every month.
This continued kidnapping and eventual conversion of Hindu women into Islam was also noted by the USCIRF 2014-15 report that stated: “Allegations of kidnappings of Hindu women, followed by forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages to Muslim men, continued to rise throughout 2014.”
Blasphemy laws are another concern for Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan. Defiling of Quran and/or the name of Prophet are considered as Blasphemous. Further, misuse of epitaphs reserved for holy personages are also considered blasphemous. Yet, there is a lack of clarity on what actions exactly constitute as defiling. The punishment for blasphemy is generally a life imprisonment or death.
The UNSCIRF 2014-15 report calls these laws as ‘problematic’ and ‘against human rights protections’. It further notes that: “There is no clear definition of blasphemy, which empowers the accuser to decide if a blasphemous act has occurred. No proof of intent is required, nor must evidence be presented after allegations are made.”
Hence, these laws are highly vague and open for misuse especially against religious minorities. A report by Jinnah Institute states: “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws disproportionately affect Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadis. Hindus have been arrested and abused in recent years due to their religious identity.”
Education is yet another area of concern. The school curriculum is not only factually incorrect at many places but is also highly biased towards religious minorities. A USCIRF’s 2011 study revealed both private owned madrassas and state run public schools ‘devalue religious minorities’ in classroom teaching as well as in textbook contents.
The HAF report quotes a report from 2012-2013 study of textbooks used in Pakistan that revealed that at least 55 chapters from 22 textbooks used in Sindh and Punjab region used discriminatory language against minorities. The HAF report states that: “Hindus have particularly been singled out for criticism in the textbooks, with negative depictions of Hindus pervasive through both“historical distortions and the framing of concepts through religious language that promotes the superiority of Islam over Hinduism.”
This was reiterated in an older report of USCIRF quoted in Dawn newspaper that states:“Hindus are repeatedly described as extremists and eternal enemies of Islam, whose culture and society is based on injustice and cruelty, while Islam delivers a message of peace and brotherhood, concepts portrayed as alien to the Hindu.”
Employment condition of Hindus is no better as well. Religious minorities, including Hindus are mostly confined a low wage, menial employment. A Minority Right’s Group report quotes Asian Human Right’s Commission, according to which a large portion of Hindu women in Pakistan’s cities are employed as scavengers or as sanitary workers. They have very low wages and are without any basic labor protections.
Further, the menace of bonded labor also affects the Hindu community in Pakistan. According to one estimate, there are between three and eight million bonded labors in Pakistan. And poor Hindus, especially Hindus of Scheduled Castes are especially vulnerable to this. The HAF report states: “This modern day form of slavery, which disproportionately impacts poor Hindus, operates on a debt bondage system and is characterized by patterns of abuse, detention, and exploitation. Bonded laborers work in a number of sectors, such as agriculture, brick-kilns, mining, and domestic households.”
The marginalization extends to politics and civil services as well. The representation of Hindus in the provincial legislatures as well as in government services is marginal. According to HAF only 0.21% of the federal civil servants are from Hindu community. Further, out of 342 seats in the National Assembly, only 10 are reserved for minorities.
Another issue that Hindus face in Pakistan is the lack of adequate place of worship. A 2014 survey had indicated that out of 428 places of worship for Hindus, only 20 were operational. The remaining places were leased to residential or commercial purposes by the Evacuee Trust Properties Board(ETPB) that was supposed to manage these properties. Further, there are frequent attacks on Hindu holy places and on the pilgrims who visit them. After Babri masjid was destroyed in India, around 30 temples were attacked in Pakistan.
Therefore, there is a sustained and systematic marginalization, discrimination, exploitation, and persecution of Hindu minorities in Pakistan. Moreover, there is a lack of implementation of the few legal protections given to the religious minorities that further exposes Hindu minorities to exploitation.
Though the Pakistan’s constitution provides few rights and protections to religious minorities, they are often either misinterpreted or simply ignored while dealing with issues concerning minorities. The situation is further complicated by some police and law enforcing agents who continuously engage in activities that threaten the security of religious minorities.
As a result, every year, thousands of Pakistani Hindus migrate to India on the pretext of visiting relatives or tourism and refuse to go back. Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a member of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), revealed in the PakistanNational Assembly, in 2014, that every year around 5000 Hindus were migrating to India.
The dilemma in which most Pakistani Hindus live can be best summed up in the words of Kapil Dev, a Human Rights activist, who wrote in the Dawn newspaper thus: “That question has always perplexed my mind. Why are we treated as second-class citizens by the state and why are we discriminated in every walk of life just because we are Hindus?
“I can safely say this on behalf of my community that we often feel like citizens of “no man’s land” because here in Pakistan we are treated as Indians and those of us who migrate to India are called Pakistanis. For our love and patriotism for Pakistan, right-wing Indians call us ISI agents, while here just for being Hindu, we are labeled agents of RAW. Where should we go?”