* Thousands flee, seek asylum in India
* Pressure on Centre to protect Hindus, abandon ostrich-like approach
Last week, as a new batch of Pakistani Hindus arrived at Wagah border with long-term visas for India, there was the familiar litany of horror stories of forced conversions, rape, intimidation and kidnappings of Hindu girls. Last week, for instance, Manisha Kumari, a 14-year-old Hindu girl was kidnapped from Jacobabad, converted to Islam and forcibly married off. Here is a chilling statistic: In 1951, Hindus constituted 22 per cent of the Pakistan population; today, the share of Hindus is down to 1.7 per cent.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies this state of affairs more than the tragic story of Rinkle Kumari, a 19-year-old Hindu girl who was kidnapped from Ghotki province in Pakistan and forced into marrying one Naveed Shah. The case became a cause célèbre in Pakistani political circles; her abductor Mian Mithu, belongs to the powerful Pakistan’s People’s Party, and had threatened dire consequences if Rinkle was taken away from him. Pakistan’s Supreme Court later allowed the two to live together, citing that Rinkle, now Faryal Shah, had herself converted to Islam and had chosen to live with her husband of her own free will.
The case has even spawned a Facebook page, called ‘Justice for Rinkle Kumari’. But as with most cases, it is a case of too little too late.
So, what has gone wrong with Pakistan’s much-touted secular traditions? How did it allow things to come to such a pass? Why does no one lend a helping hand to the nation’s minorities, who continue to suffer injustice and persecution? It is not easy giving answers to these. Perhaps the answer lies in Pakistan’s feudal society, which assigns a low status to women; others ascribe it to the mullahs who cleverly twist koranic injunctions to justify all kinds of horrible atrocities against its defenceless minorities.
Four years ago, in an article in The Guardian, Ali Etaraz, had said the blame lay squarely with the Pakistani mullahs. He had written, ‘To make matters even worse, Pakistani mullahs teach a very supremacist version of the Islamic creed, the kalima. Usually, the kalima reads simply: “There is no god but God and Muham-mad is His final messenger.” The version that children are taught, however, reads as follows: “The first kalima is Tayyab; Tayyab means Pak (Pure); There is no god but God and Muhammad is His final Messenger.” He went on to say, ‘Do you see how the word “Pak”—which denotes both purity and connects to citizenship in Pakistan – is smuggled into the Islamic creed? Since in Urdu this little ditty rhymes very effectively, this is the version of religiosity that most children repeat their entire lives.
As a result, while they grow up, they psychologically equate Hindus with impurity, with uncleanliness, as not Pakistani, and therefore less than, both Islamically and as citizens.’
The matter has been made even more convoluted due to two laws, which justify persecution of minorities, who are considered second-class citizens in Pakistan. The first, which made Islam the state religion of Pakistan, was drafted in 1973. It proposed a separate electorate for Muslims and other minorities and said Hindus can vote only for Hindu candidates.
This unjust law was thankfully annulled in 2002. The other, an even more pernicious law, was passed during the reign of Zia ul Haq, the Pakistani dictator, who was a virulent anti-Indian. This was the notorious blasphemy law. This law gave a convenient cover to anyone who wished to kill, murder, maim or abduct any member of a religious minority. This could be justified by pointing out the ‘accused’ and claiming he/she had blasphemed Islam.
This law showed its ugly face to the world when Dr. Sajjad Farooq was lynched by a frenzied mob outside a police station in Gujranwala, Pakistan, in 1995, on the charge of having insulted the Quran.
The Indian government has done little to alleviate the misery of persecuted Hindus in Pakistan, who live in constant dread of being kidnapped; their businesses smashed and their womenfolk carried off and converted. Even religious establishments of minorities have not been spared.
A couple of months ago, the historic Gorakhnath temple in Peshawar was vandalised thrice within the span of two months. On the third attempt, many of the temple’s idols were vandalised and some religious pictures burnt. Ironically this was after the Peshawar High Court had ordered the temple to be re-opened, having been closed since Partition. The matter is made worse by the Pakistani school curriculum, whose books foster hatred against Hindus, branding them the ‘eternal enemies of Islam’.
Recently, a horde of 250 Hindus arrived from Pakistan on tourist visas; many of them, after entering the Indian border, promptly claimed they had no intention of returning to Pakistan. Many had sold their businesses and said they would apply for asylum here. Many of these have been accommodated in filthy refugee camps spread across Delhi and parts of Rajasthan. India is generally tolerant towards asylum seekers, so it is hoped that they would get permanent residence in this country.
Though Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has constituted a three-member Parliamentary Committee to look into the grievances of the Hindu community in Pakistan’s Sindh province, it is clear that much more is needed to preserve and protect the interests of the country’s minorities, who face a bleak future in the times to come in Jinnah’s ‘secular’ land.
At the time of partition, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had dreamt of a secular Pakistan, one that would allow all religions equal freedom under its skies. In 1947, the year the theocratic state Pakistan came into being, he had famously said, ‘In due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims—not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual—but in a political sense as citizens of one state’. His secular credentials established, he moved on with the gargantuan task of governing the fledgling country. But his premature death in 1948 put paid to all his plans and plunged the country into crisis. The secular thread of Pakistan, already fragile, began to rapidly unravel. If the touchstone of a truly secular state is how it treats its minorities, it would seem that Pakistan has well nigh failed the test on all fronts.