By Nithin Sridhar
The Modi government has recently taken a decision to exempt persecuted minority refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh from relevant provisions that govern their entry and stay in India. These provisions include rules made under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946.
The exemption ordered by the government will allow the persecuted refugees to stay in India even after the expiry of their Visa. This will help minority refugees belonging to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, and Christian community who are fleeing Pakistan and Bangladesh because of religious persecution.
The immense relief that the recent decision may provide to these persecuted refugees can only be understood by looking at the magnitude of religious persecution that continues to take place in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Status of Minorities in Pakistan
The Hindu population in Pakistan stood at roughly 15% after partition in 1947 and got reduced to just 2% by 1951. In 1998, the Hindu share stood at 1.6%. Hence, within four years between 1947 and 1951, most of the Hindus in Pakistan either migrated to India or were killed in the genocide that followed the partition.
The tiny portion of Hindu population that survived the genocide has continued to face persecution and harassment especially after Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq came to power in Pakistan. Hindus are not the only minorities who have faced persecution. Christians in Pakistan have also faced a similar discrimination and harassment.
Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik in his ‘Religious Minorities in Pakistan’ report states: “Physical attacks, social stigmatization, psychological insecurity, forced conversions, and continued institutional degradation characterise the position of religious minorities in Pakistan.”
He further says that religious hatred is also used to forcefully acquire properties belonging to minorities such as properties housing temples, churches etc.
He adds: “Aside from religious feuds and socio-cultural/economic deprivation, the official policies of appeasement and the emphasis on religious uniformity have allocated second or even third-class citizenship to millions of Pakistanis.”
Education is another sector that is hostile to the minorities. The curriculum taught in not only the madrassas but also in public schools promotes hostility towards non-Muslims. The blasphemy law is another tool that has been used to target non-Muslims.
Many churches and temples have also been attacked and destroyed. In one incident, after torn pages of Quran were strewn around, 13 churches and 700 households were destroyed by a 10,000 strong Muslim mob.
In his 2009 article, Amir Mir says, “Of the 300 Hindu temples that Pakistan inherited in 1947 at the time of partition, hardly three dozen have managed to survive, many of whom are in ruins and are set to disappear with the passage of time if due attention is not paid to their maintenance.”
He further points out that, at least 200 Hindu temples were destroyed in Pakistan after the unused Babri Masjid was razed in India.
He sums up the condition of Hindus in Pakistan thus: “Together with the apathy of the general public, the Hindus of Pakistan remain a forgotten and voiceless people who have to live a low-profile existence and have to put up with many insults to their honor and dignity, without any safeguard. The Pakistani authorities rarely intervene to help their Hindu nationals, despite the fact that there are frequent reports of the kidnapping of Hindu women and children and looting of Hindu property, besides other forms of discrimination and persecution.”
Regarding the condition of Christians in Pakistan, a report by Jinnah Institute describes them as being “on the frontline of the persecution and violence against minority communities. From interviews conducted with Christians from a variety of professions and ages, it is clear that many feel they are treated as second-class citizens and discriminated against in all aspects of life.”
Therefore, there is a systematic and persistent persecution of various religious minorities in Pakistan. Apart from violence, kidnapping, and forceful marriages of minority girls, minorities in Pakistan are also subjected to legal discrimination, economic exploitation, and social prejudice.
Status of Minorities in Bangladesh
The condition of minorities in Bangladesh is no better. Before Bangladesh was born in 1971, it was called “East Pakistan.”
In the years that followed the formation of India and Pakistan, East Pakistan faced complete discrimination from its western counterpart. As a result, there was a rebellion in East Pakistan against its western masters.
The Pakistani army, which had been under the control of West Pakistan, tried to crush the rebellion by adopting a genocidal campaign against the ethnic Bengalis.
Thousands of Hindu Bengalis were killed and a large number of ethnic Bengalis, most of whom were Hindus were forced to flee from East Pakistan. One report puts the number of ethnic Bengalis who fled to India at 10 million.
But, the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Bangladesh was not limited to 1971. Instead, it had been going on for last seven decades. The Hindu population in Bangladesh area in 1947 was around 31% which got reduced to around 19% by 1961, to around 14% by 1974 and currently stands at around 9%.
According to an estimate by Professor Abul Barkat, around 8.1 million Hindus went missing from Bangladesh from 1964 to 2000– around 600 Hindus per day. A large portion of this missing population has invariably come to India as persecuted refugees.
The minorities in Bangladesh, especially the Hindus, face large-scale discrimination and persecution. The properties of the minorities are grabbed, their places of worship are razed and various forms of violence and sexual exploitation are imposed on them.
Md. Rajib Hasnat Shakil in his report on the persecution of minorities in Bangladesh says: “An overwhelming 98.68% of the rape victims are minority, and rapists happen to be from the cadres of the ruling parties. Nearly 200 Hindu women were gang raped in Char Fashion, Bhola, in one night at a single spot. The police do not allow the minorities to press charges against the rapists, and if they insist, they are given a run around for a few days so the evidence of rape disappears, and then, the police officers themselves persecute them.”
According to a 2014 human rights report, at least 1699 temples have been destroyed in Bangladesh during 2013 and 2014. The recent killings of the atheist bloggers are well-known. But, what is not well known is that around 302 minorities have been killed and another 2900 have been physically assaulted during 2013 and 2014. Also, around 5000 families have been displaced from their lands during the same period.
These clearly depict a very disturbing picture of the condition of minorities in Bangladesh. They face persecution and discrimination in all aspects of life- political, economic, social, and religious. They receive support neither from the government nor from the society.
In the face of such life-threatening situations many minorities from both Pakistan and Bangladesh are forced to flee to India with the hope of survival and a better life. Many Hindus from Pakistan have come to India on a tourist visa but have refused to go back. According to one estimate, there are around two lakh Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are living in India.
Therefore, the present decision by the Modi government will provide relief to large number of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and other persecuted minorities who have fled from Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is a humanitarian step taken in the right direction and the government must be congratulated for it.