Panel discussion on human rights violations in Pakistan and Bangladesh
IT is no secret that Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan and Bangladesh are forced to lead wretched lives, shorn of all human dignity, an existence almost on the sidelines, so to speak. The statistics are damning: The Hindu population of east and west Pakistan during Partition was 28 per cent and 11 per cent respectively whereas the Muslim population of what became truncated India was 8 per cent. Today while the Muslim population in India has risen to 18 per cent, the Hindu population in Bangladesh has come down to less than 10 per cent and in Pakistan to less than 2 per cent. This begs the question: Where have all the Hindus gone? The answer is as chilling as it is simple.
This has happened because of (and there could be many reasons) forced conversions of Hindus, widespread looting and destruction of minorities’ homes and places of worship, the rape of their womenfolk, social boycott of their families, political apathy, etc. For instance, riots broke out in Bangladesh recently when a tribunal in Bangladesh sentenced Islamist leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi to death for crimes committed during the country’s 1971 war of independence. The Jamaat-e-Islami chief was found guilty of charges including murder, torture and rape. The verdict brought relief to his opponents but set off protests in which at least 30 people were killed, almost all of them minorities. Their houses were burnt and their places of worship desecrated. The Jamaat-e-Islami, a Muslim fundamentalist outfit, rejected the verdict, which is the third issued by the controversial tribunal, which is trying a total of nine Jamaat leaders and two members of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party for war crimes during the 1971 conflict.
In Pakistan, the plight of Hindus is equally miserable. There are about seven million Hindus in the country, according to the Pakistan Hindu Council. More than ninety per cent of them live in urban areas of Sindh province. During Partition, the wealthier Hindus migrated en masse to India but those who were less educated and belonged to the lower classes, remained in the country. Their precarious existence was thrown into further peril during the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq, who initiated a vast programme of Islamising the country, which is the direct precursor to the kind of rabid Islamic fanaticism which we see in Pakistan today. For the minorities, it was the proverbial last straw. From then on, their whole existence was a whirligig of enduring endless persecution followed by moments of comparative calm.
To highlight the cause of these ‘children of a lesser god’, a panel discussion was organized by India Foundation in New Delhi, where two eminent personalities, Shri G. Parthasarthy, the former High Commissioner of Pakistan, and Shri Chandan Mitra, MP (Rajya Sabha), BJP, addressed a gathering on the continuing persecution of minorities in these two Islamic nations. Shri Parthasarthy spoke eloquently on the status of Pakistani Hindus arriving in droves on Indian shores and their difficulties in getting a visa. He felt that this was not just a problem of persecution but related to humanity as a whole. He related how in Pakistan, apart from Hindus, even Islamic sects like Ahmadiyyas are hounded mercilessly, routinely losing members in bomb blasts and other violent attacks. Of all the Islamic sects, the Shias are the most persecuted, he recounted. He recalled when he was the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan, he never refused visas to harassed Hindus; it was against his conscience, he confessed. He branded the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan as unfair and demeaning to all minorities. He said it was a matter of concern that as many as 49 per cent people in Pakistan preferred Sharia law. We all know how Pakistani school textbooks routinely mark Hindus as the ‘enemy’, which fosters religious hatred in the minds of impressionable students.
Going a step further, Shri Chandan Mitra compared the plight of minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan to the suffering of Jews under the Nazi regime. He said that the Indian government was prepared to give visas to Pakistani cricketers and host Pakistani heads of state, but when it came to granting visas to persecuted Hindus, it turns a blind eye, feigning ignorance. In 2011, he related, the visas of 1238 out of 5,000 Hindus expired but they choose to stay here rather than return to Pakistan. He lamented that Pakistan was on the verge of becoming a militant state, where Islamic terrorism is being aggressively promoted. He said he would take up the cause of the nearly 1900 Pakistani Hindus living in India, who were requesting Indian citizenship. He branded the Nehru-Liaquat Pact an utter failure and wondered why the so-called transfer of population was never really done during Partition. Shri Mitra also talked about a study done by a Dhaka University professor which said that almost 400-500 Hindus flee Bangladesh everyday, which was a real cause for concern.
Hanuman Prasad’s tale
WE Hindus live a life worse than dogs in Pakistan. We are harassed and insulted each day. For us, life is an endless torture. When the Babri incident occurred, I spent five days in hiding. I was scared I would be murdered. We are not allowed to celebrate our festivals as it is considered un-Islamic. Shopkeepers are asked to boycott us. When we go to buy utensils, we are given dirty pots and pans which are used by animals for drinking. Even rich Hindus who own factories can be slapped around by any Muslim workman-and they are too scared to complain. Our women are routinely insulted, snatched away and married to Muslim men. There is no one to whom we can turn for help. It took me ages to get a visa to India. And I don’t intend to return. I would rather die here than go back to that wretched country. There is no future for me there.