Religious apartheid: Hindu Pakistani soldier denied ‘shahadat’ because of his religion

By Rukma Singh

Ashok Kumar, the Pakistani Hindu soldier who sacrificed his life for the Pakistan army (while fighting in Waziristan in 2013) was recently awarded Tamgha-i-Shujaat on March 23, 2015.

But his name was suffixed with “late” and not “Shaheed” (martyr) as used for Muslim soldiers who sacrifice their lives. The fact that Ashok died while in Pakistan is a clear evidence of his loyalty towards the country.

But why was he not called a martyr just like the Muslim soldiers?

It was because of his religious identity, the fact that he was a Hindu. But the question is, does his religion make his life any less valuable than the others?

If he didn’t think twice before dying for a Muslim nation, why did Pakistan hesitate to consider him equal to a Muslim soldier?

It is unfortunate that his life wasn’t important enough because of the age old strained relationship between India and Pakistan; Hindus and Muslims.

Discrimination against Pakistani Hindus

Reports suggest that most of the 2 million Hindus in Pakistan are compelled to pay regular sums, as a type of ransom, to extortionists and local leaders in exchange for the physical security of their families and themselves. Furthermore, they’re even required to have some kind of contact with a Muslim, as a sort of protection, so as to be able to efficiently carry out any sort of business.

Instances of discrimination between Non-Muslims in Pakistan aren’t new. The biggest evidence of the unfavorable treatment meted out to Hindus is evident from the very fact that the numbers of Hindus in Pakistan have gone down from 15-24% during the time of partition in 1947 to 1.6% presently. Thus, religious apartheid happens to be a very prevalent practice.

Religious apartheid practices 

Hindus were not allowed to join the armed forces until before 2000. This is in contrast with the country’s Christian community whose members have been serving in the army for much longer with many of them having been on senior postings.

This goes to show that the discrimination isn’t against any ‘outsider’ but specifically, and much more strongly for the Hindus.

The practice of Dhimmi

Hindu minorities living under the influence of the Taliban in Swat, Pakistan, were forced to wear red headgear such as turbans as a symbol of dhimmi. Dhimmi was the name applied by the Arab-Muslim conquerors to indigenous non-Muslim populations who surrendered by a treaty (dhimma) to Muslim domination.

Using school textbooks to incite hatred

A very important evidence of the religious apartheid happens to be the ‘alleged Hindu hatred’ taught in Pakistani school. It is a part of the textbook syllabus for students.

A report recently published by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad said:

“Four primary themes that emerge most strongly as constituting the bulk of the curricula and textbooks…are that Pakistan is for Muslims alone; Islamiat is to be forcibly taught to all the students, whatever their faith, including compulsory reading of Qu’ran; the ideology of Pakistan (sic) is to be internalised as faith, and hate be created against Hindus and India; and students are to be urged to take the path of Jehad and Shahadat.”

Further, “Associated with the insistence on the Ideology of Pakistan has been an essential component of hate against India and the Hindus..”

The Islamisation of textbooks began under the US-backed rule of army dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, who courted Islamists to support his rule. Fearing rebellion from Pakistan’s right wing polity, the State does not take up this issue so as to be on the safer side and avoid risks.

”Teaching discrimination increases the likelihood that violent religious extremism in Pakistan will continue to grow, weakening religious freedom, national and regional stability, and global security,” said Leonard Leo, the chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

”The anti-Islamic forces are always trying to finish the Islamic domination of the world,” read one passage from social studies text being taught to Grade 4 students in Punjab province, the country’s most populated.

This inciting of hatred results in children growing up with closed minds and flawed mindsets. Teaching young kids twisted information to suit one’s political stance is an act of insensitivity and an effort to induce violent.

Unending instances of discrimination

The plight doesn’t end here.

Sandhya Das

According to a BBC Hindi report, on May 29th, 2015, Sandhya Das, a Pakistani national, was declined admission in the Peshawar University because she was a Hindu. Das had graduated from the same university.

Peshawar University

Sandhya’s family desperately needed money for the treatment of her father, who was suffering from an acute heart ailment. Even though she had the required qualifications, she was denied the job as she wasn’t a Muslim. The report also quoted human rights  activist Rakshanda Naaz as saying that the condition of Hindus living in Khyber Pakhtun area  is really bad.

Vandalism induced by religious intolerance

In July 2010, around 60 members of the minority Hindus in Karachi were attacked and ethnically cleansed following an incident when a Hindu youth drank from a water tap near an Islamic mosque.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan came out with a report in 2010 stating that at least 25 Hindu girls are abducted in Pakistan every month.

In January 2014, in an attack on a temple, the guard was gunned down.

Guru Gorakhnath temple at Gorgathri, Peshawar

In 2012, Unidentified men stormed the 160 years old Hindu temple of Guru Gorakhnath and Lord Shiva in PeshawarThe Idols of Shiva and Nath Gurus were destroyed, holy books are set on fire, human excreta were thrown and so on.

According to reports, the attackers burnt images and took away idols from the temple in the Gorghathri area, and fled the scene after the incident

Haroon Sarblal, a representative of the Hindu community, condemned the incident as ‘unacceptable’. He called upon the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to arrest the vandals and provide security guards for the temple.

“If the government wants the Hindu community to remain calm, it should arrest the vandals and punish them accordingly,” Sarblal told The News Agencies.

At a two-day workshop conducted by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pushpa Kumari broke down into tears as she narrated the incident when a body of a 17-year-old girl was taken out from a graveyard because she was buried in a Muslim graveyard.

Carrying a bunch of newspapers dated last week, she said, “There are five cases of sexual harassment of Hindu women in Sindh, including the gang rape of a teenager.”

With each passing day, evidences of religious apartheid are increasing. Religious minorities and those brave enough to speak out against intolerance have often been killed, seemingly with impunity, by militant sympathizers. Lack of cooperation from police and administration adds insult to the injury.

With such vandalism and discrimination dotting the landscape of Pakistan, the Hindus are left looking for a home.