By Amar Guriro –
The fear and tension among the Hindus (both upper and lower caste) will not diminish until the government does not take measures to ensure that Hindu girls are not kidnapped and forced to convert
Raj Kumar and his younger brother Ashok Kumar were prosperous grain traders in Jacobabad, Sindh. Distressed by steep aggravation in the law and order situation, exacerbated by reduced income after the 2010-11 floods, many friends advised them to consider India for migration. The siblings obtained visas and left for India with a caravan of 252 Hindu pilgrims belonging to 24 families, for a stay that was originally for 28 days. The brothers though intended to stay over for three months to study business prospects.
As the caravan left the city, self-imposed president of Jacobabad Hindu Panchayat (unregistered community council) Babu Mahesh Kumar informed the local media that imbued with a deep sense of insecurity spawned by kidnapping for ransom and incidents of Hindu girls abducted and their forced conversion to Islam, the entire caravan of this super-rich business class Hindus controlling local business in the district had already migrated to India.
The Sindhi satellite channels immediately latched on to this story, with the national media following suit. The massive coverage created a perception of massive exodus of Hindus. Federal government intervened, and on instruction from interior minister Rehman Malik, the Wagah-Atari bound caravan was questioned at the Lahore railway station before allowing it to proceed to India. An Indian media always keen to create a stir every time Pakistan is mentioned, started airing special programs on this so-called Sindhi-Hindu exodus.
President Asif Ali Zardari took a serious note of this, and constituted a three-member parliamentary committee headed by federal minister Senator Mola Bux Chandio to visit different parts of Sindh to express solidarity by reassuring them of their security and well-being on his personal and the government’s behalf.
“The Sindhi satellite channels immediately latched on to this story, with the national media following suit. The massive coverage created a perception of massive exodus of Hindus”
On one such visit of the committee at Jacobabad, Babu Mahesh Kumar and other local leaders confirmed that the Hindus have indeed migrated, and if the prevailing security situation persisted more families will do the same. On how that could change, they presented a four-point: one, stop kidnapping of Hindu businessmen for ransom; two, no more abduction and forced conversion of Hindu girls; three, the Hindu parliamentarians must be elected instead of allotting them reserved seats; and, lastly, the government must ensure that the quota allocation of five per cent for religious minorities in the public services should actually go to them.
Meeting with a Hindu delegation led by president Jacobabad Hindu Panchayat, Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah assuring them to provide security also announced Rs50 millions for the different schemes there and also 25 jobs in public services for the Hindu youth of the district and ensured them to provide security.
Retraction and allegations
Afterwards former president of the Jacobabad Hindu Panchayat Lalchand Seetlani, Sunil Kumar Walwani, Athoomal Piryani and others addressed a press conference at Jacobabad Press Club, rejected the media reports, conceding that only two families had migrated, while the rest were only pilgrims.
They also alleged, it was Babu Mahesh Kumar who had used media with such fake information to get attention of the government. The threesome also alluded to Babu Mahesh using his audience with the Sindh CM to get his liquor shop license renewed. “We Sindhi Hindus love our motherland and we will prefer to die here instead of migrating to India or elsewhere,” said Seetlani during press conference.
The Jacobabad story hadn’t died down when there were reports of another 200 Hindus consisting of 50 Hindu families Hindus arriving at the Karachi Cantonment Railway Station in the last week of August to go across the border by the Karachi-Jodhpur Thar Express.
Intending to perform religious pilgrimage in different parts of India, the Hindus were happy and jovial. The papers published their pictures flashing smiles but the accompanying report talked of their intent to migrate, which was untrue.
Unlike Islam and some other religions, the Hindus are not bound to undertake pilgrimages during their lifetime, but a great majority of those who can afford go for such sacred sites visits.
Majority of the sacred Hindu sites such as salvation bath in the Ganges River where every year millions from all over the world converge for religious rituals, Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela, held every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad, and the Purna (complete) Kumbh every twelve years, Ayodhya, Dwarka and many others.
To visit these and other sacred sites, on average around 200 Hindus leave for India everyday and then return to Pakistan. But due to the absence of knowledge, Pakistani media now portray every Hindu caravan’s departure as forced migration.
Ironically this religious tourism is two-way. Many Indian Hindus visit their most sacred sites located in Pakistan, such as the historical Shiva Temple at Umerkot in Sindh and the Katasraj Temple at Chakwal in Punjab and the Hinglaj Mata Temple in Balochistan.
The unwanted media focus is perturbing for the Pakistani Hindus, for they believe that fake reports of their migration might disrupt their religious tourism as it may make it difficult for them obtain Indian visa.
The uncomfortable truth
The affluent upper class Hindu minority, controlling major businesses and over-represented in the assemblies, often spreads such rumours of Hindu migration from Pakistan for its own vested interest.
There are 32 seats for religious minorities in the Pakistani assemblies and in the senate, out of which 19 are Hindu and out of these all but one is a lower caste Hindu. In the senate, three Hindus – Amarjeet Malhotra (ANP) from KPK, Hari Ram Kishori lal(PPP) from Sindh, Hemandas (JUI-F) from Baluchistan – are upper class Hindus. In National Aseembly only single parliamentarian is from lower caste Hindus that is Dr Khatu Mal Jeewan (PPP), while seven others including Mahesh Malani (PPP), Kishanchand Parwani (PPP), Lalchand (PPP), Dr Araish Kumar (PML-N), Dr Darshan Lal (PML-N), Munawar Lal (MQM) and Ramesh Lal (PPP) are from upper caste Hindus. In the Sindh Assembly, six MPAs including three ministers are upper class Hindus.
“The affluent upper class Hindu minority, controlling major businesses and over-represented in the assemblies, often spreads such rumours of Hindu migration from Pakistan for its own vested interest”
That’s these upper class Hindus have a strong voice in the assemblies and in the higher echelons of the government. And when these local leaders want to ratchet up pressure on government to extract their pound of flesh, they indulge in rumour-mongering about Hindus migrating to India.
Though, some of the Hindu families from upper or northern Sindh shift from their districts to Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur division, only rarely some families migrate to other countries including India. But one has to concede that their major bugbear is abduction and conversion of Hindu girls.
The situation on abduction of Hindu girls and forced conversion to Islam in Sindh can be gauged from data of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Sindh Chapter that in seven months of 2012, 455 such cases were reported in Sindh.
In an interview famous human rights lawyer and council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Sindh Chapter, Amarnath Motoo Mal said on an average 10 to 14 Hindu girl, majority of them teenagers are abducted and converted forcibly every month. He said, the HRCP Sindh Chapter has found that around 455 such cases were reported in the last seven months (January 2012 to August 2012). “The actual number of such cases is much higher, but they are not being reported as families of the victims are afraid to disclose such cases,” he said.
Though, the number of girls of lower caste Dalits Hindus who are kidnapped, raped and forced converted is much higher but as they are poor and have no representation in the assemblies, their case is not being highlighted. Whereas, the number of upper caste Hindus is much lesser, but they manage to get it reported in the mainstream media.
The fear and tension among the Hindus (both upper and lower caste) will not diminish until the government does not take measures to ensure that Hindu girls are not kidnapped and forced to convert.
Until this real and present danger to the Hindu honour and identity persists, whether Hindus flee from Jinnah’s Pakistan in numbers as big as being bandied about or in a mere trickle, the shame for us would be the same. And abiding!
The writer is a journalist and IVLP Fellow based in Karachi.
Pakistani Hindus: Of haves and have-nots
According to national census, Hindus numbering 5.5 million are the biggest religious minority of the country – with its majority living in Sindh. They can be neatly stratified in two main categories: upper class and lower class.
Lower Caste or Dalits: Majority in a minority
With 4.9 million or a whopping 91 percent of all are lower caste Hindus, also called Dalits or untouchable. During former dictator Ziaul Haq’s government, they were officially declared as Scheduled Castes. They are poor, mostly landless peasants, and live in different districts of Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas division of lower of Southern Sindh including Sanghar, Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Tharparkar, Badin, Thatta and Umerkot. Working the fields of powerful Muslim feudal lords, they remain poor and despite working day and night along with their entire families they do not get proper food and other facilities. The landlords are relentless in keeping them under their thumb as bonded labour, raping their women at will.
Despite their overwhelming majority, being only one representative out of the total 19 Hindu parliamentarians is from them – the rest are all upper caste Hindus. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) since 1992 has recovered 35,000 families comprising 150,000 people. In Kotri town of Jamshoro district they live without shelter, jobs and security. No one is bothered to take care of them. Despite such sub-human conditions, these lower caste Hindus cannot afford to migrate to India or even to relocate somewhere else within Sindh. Their voice goes unheard on the media.
Upper Caste, Upper Crust: Minority in a minority
Only 0.6 million, or nine percent are the upper caste Hindus. Majority of them are , rich businessmen living in different districts of Sukkur and Larkana districts of northern or upper Sindh, Qamber, Shahdadkot, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Kashmore, Sukkur, Ghotki and Khairpur.
These districts of northern Sindh – notorious for honor killings and tribal wars are common, many of which have sustained for generations with hundreds from rival tribes having been killed – are haven for criminals. Armed robberies, kidnapping for ransom and killings are a routine here. A tiny population of upper caste Hindus has suffered the most at the hands of criminals as well as in the crossfire of tribal feuds.
The biggest issue for them is extortion. Almost every Hindu businessman seeks protection from small dacoits and robbers by aligning himself with a powerful Muslim of the area – taking him on-board as ‘partner’ without investment any equity. Most powerful tribe of the district, Jakhranis have such ‘partnerships’ in almost every business of the district. The common prevailing rate for such ‘partnership’ is five percent of the total income. Like the extortion mafia in Karachi, here too everybody knows everything but no one will talk on record.
The upper caste Hindus have absolute control of wholesale markets in interior Sindh, where the majority of rural population is attached to agriculture.
Rural Sindh is a big market all things related to agriculture. Either a shop sells seeds, fertilizer, pesticide and insecticide. When the farmers, growers or landlords need to sell agricultural produce, they go to the wholesale market. Either way, the entire business is controlled by Hindus. They are merchants, selling agricultural inputs and buying the agricultural produce.
Other than that these Hindus businessmen are also running wholesale grocery and medical stores, cloth shops and even many of them own vast agricultural land. Some Hindus also own cotton ginning and rice processing factories.
The influence of these Hindus traders on the local business can be measured from the official Sindh data: out of 750 rice processing units and factories in the province, 340 are in Larkana and Kamabar-Shahdadkot districts and 80 percent of these are owned by Hindus businessmen. The Hindus hold sway over private sectors jobs as well, always preferring to hire Muslims from different powerful tribes just to get them on their side. According to Rice Millers Association of Larkana’s data, these 340 rice processing small units and factories are providing 1,800 permanent and 7,000 seasonal jobs.
So, from agricultural inputs to purchase of paddy and other crops, processing and supply around the country and its export, the Hindu businessmen are holding the control. – A.G