Minorities under threat in Pakistan
Hindus, Christians denied civic and religious protection
A recent report submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has pointed out increasing discrimination against minorities in Pakistan. Although minorities like Shias and Balochis have been target of state-supported sectarian and extremist groups, the report highlighted the plight of lesser known minorities like the Hindus living in Pakistan. The report, prepared by Pakistani Sindhis living in exile, said the Hindus were being subjected to kidnappings, forced abductions, conversions and bonded labour.
The condition of the Hindus in fact has been deteriorating since 1947. At the time of Partition, Hindus comprised 15 per cent of Pakistan’s population. Today, one estimate puts it at 2 per cent while another suggests 5.5 per cent with majority of them living in Sindh. The report in question concentrates on the status of Hindus in Sindh.
The first issue is that of forced marriages and forced conversions of girls and young women. The report alleged young Hindu girls were being kidnapped and forced to marry to Muslim boys and converted to Islam. The Asian Human Rights Commission documented that there are 20-25 forced conversions every month in Sindh. According to the report, in 2011, kidnappings of teenage girls in the Aaklee village, Sindh, forced about 71 Hindu families to flee to India. The plight of the Hindu girls were raised in the Pakistan National Assembly but without much success. In March 2011, for instance Pakistan People’s Party member of National Assembly raised the issue of Hindu girls being forcibly married to Muslim boys. In October 2010, the Pakistani Senate State Committee on Minorities Affairs also pointed out the increasing incidences of Hindu girls being abducted and converted to Islam.
The most dramatic incident has been the testimony given by a Hindu girl in the Supreme Court in March this year. Rinkel Kumari, aged 19, was kidnapped by a gang of men who delivered her to a Muslim scholar. Her parents were then told that she would be converted to Islam and would marry the Muslim youth. The police refused to file the FIR and take any action. The Muslim man was a close relative of a National Assembly member. The family was threatened by the man’s relatives and they were forced to take shelter in a gurudwara in Punjab. The local judge, who heard the case, decided that the girl be handed over to the Muslim family as she had converted to Islam and she was subsequently named Faryal Shah. When her case came up before the Supreme Court, Rinkel appeared before the judges and said: “In Pakistan, there is justice only for Muslims; justice is denied to Hindus. Kill me here but do not send me back to the kidnappers”.
Despite such protests, the number of Hindu families fleeing Pakistan has only increased. In 2010, 500 Hindu families in Baluchistan, because of fear of abduction for ransom or death threats, migrated to India. Some Hindu organisations believe that as many as 10 families migrate to India from Sindh and Baluchistan every month. In 2009, a Times of India report put the total number of Hindus migrating to India at 5000.
What has made the matters worse is the indifferent attitude of the police and insensitive judicial system. Police often refuse to register FIRs and in cases they do, the courts send the teenage girls to Islamic school centres or back to the kidnappers’s home instead of the girls’ families and women shelters. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its report on ‘Working Group on Communities Vulnerable Because Of Their Beliefs’ said the courts often decided such cases against the girls’ families even if the girls were of 12 or 13 years of age. According to Dr. Nazir Bhatti,, President of Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), it was common knowledge that the women shelters known as Darul Aman were run by provincial governments and were staffed entirely by Muslims. These shelters had a reputation of running ‘forced prostitution rings’. The victims are also forced to keep quiet on the grounds of ‘apostasy’, which decrees death to those who leave the religion after conversion.
There is a similar spike in the kidnapping for ransom of Hindu business in Sindh and other areas in Pakistan. In Balochistan, the situation is more serious than that of Sindh. Between 2008 and 2011, 43 Hindu businessmen were kidnapped. In the first five months of 2012, over 20 Hindus have been kidnapped in Balochistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its 2009 report pointed out the Hindus in Baluchistan faced increased “kidnappings for random and forced conversion of girls.” The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child reported that 23 Hindu children were kidnapped between 2008 and 2010. The families do not often go to the police for help fearing retaliation. The police often refuse to file cases and even if they do, fail to pursue the matter diligently. The families are often forced to go to the criminal gangs instead and pay protection money. Those who fail to do so get killed.
A large number of Hindu labourers are living like slaves in Pakistan today. The estimated number of such bonded labourers is 1.7 million. Anti-Slavery International, in a report, pointed out that majority of the slaves belonged to scheduled caste Hindu population. Various surveys have pointed out that the women were the worst sufferers—Hindu women have been kept as slaves because of religious hatred and debt.