Pakistani Hindus rejoicing after Indian Parliament passed CAA (File Photo)
CAA provides a new ray of hope to the persecuted minorities including Hindus from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Many among them are living in India since years but not received citizenship till date due to existing laws. CAA is a great Himalayan step for their fundamental human rights
Before Partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, today’s Pakistan, Bangladesh and India was one geographical entity. Due to Partition, 4.4 million of the country’s Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India while 4.1 million Muslims moved to Pakistan. The 1998 census of Pakistan recorded less than 2.5 million Hindus. The overwhelming majority of Hindus in Pakistan settled down in Sindh province. In 1951, Hindus constituted 22% of the Pakistani population (this includes East Pakistan, modern day Bangladesh). In the same year, West Pakistan, equivalent to modern Pakistan, had 2% Hindu population. By 1997, the percentage of Hindus dropped to 1.6% in Pakistan, and 9.2% in Bangladesh. According to the 1998 Pakistan Census, caste Hindus constitute about 1.6 percent of the total population of Pakistan and about 6.6% in province of Sindh. The Pakistan census separates Scheduled Castes from the main body of Hindus who constitutes 0.25% of national population. Number of the Hindus have been deliberately underestimated and actual number is more than the official figure.
Till 1941, Lahore had been a Hindu majority city, in Karachi also Hindus were in sizeable number. The whole demography was radically transformed with the atmosphere of hatred rapidly spread due to Partition, which witnessed slaughter of Hindus and Sikhs in what is known as Pakistan today. It has four provinces—Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan & Kyber-Pakhtunkhawa. Many legendry temples and gurudwaras still exist in Pakistan. Hinglas, Katasraj temples and Nankana Shaib Gurudwara are some of them. Pakistani authors Reema Abbasi & Madiha Ajjaz have written a book entitled ‘Historic Temples in Pakistan’ in 2014.
Pakistan, particularly Sindh province, has been important for Hindus. Harappa civilisation grew here and when Muslims invaded India they interfaced with this area first. The religious beliefs and folklore of the Indus valley people have become a major part of the Hindu faith that evolved in this part of the South Asia. The Sindh kingdom and its rulers played an important role in the Indian epic story of the Mahabharata.
The world’s first university was established in Takshshila in 700 BC. More than 10,500 students from all over the world studied more than 60 subjects. Kautilya was a professor of this university before becoming mentor and Prime Minister of Chandra Gupta Maurya, who created a unified India much bigger than that of the British 2000 year later from the border of Iran to the border of modern Thailand. The river Sindh is sacred in Hinduism and over 75% of it is in Pakistan today.
In March 1940, Pakistan Resolution was passed by the Muslim League and Pakistan was created in August 1947. Jinnah meticulously played ‘Political Islam’ that culminated into conversion of Islamic state of Pakistan and that has dented any space for the protection of the rights of the minorities particularly that of Hindus. General Zia-Ul-Haq institutionalised it and implemented ‘Huddod Ordinance’ in February 1979 and made Hindus third class citizen. Hindus have been persecuted since then on flimsy grounds. Hindus cannot participate in open election. They have been given 10 seats out of 342 National Assembly and 4 Seats out of 104 in the Senate.
Medium of education is Urdu and Islamic studies is a compulsory subject. This situation has practically debarred Hindus to be appointed in the higher services of the country. Army services are totally debarred for the Hindus at least in practice. Majority of Hindu marriage are not registered due to the inherent bias in the established laws. Legislation pertaining to marriages of Hindus and Sikhs has long remained in cold storage, although in 1999 a three-member Supreme Court bench had directed the government to enact relevant laws. Hindus cannot build new temples since Pakistan is an Islamic country, only renovation is permitted. Forceful conversion in Islam and marriage has become a regular phenomenon to harass the Hindus. There are numerous incidents citied by international human rights groups when this instrument has been used against the Hindus and other religious minorities to weaken their mindset. According to world report on Human Rights “Women from religious minority communities remain particularly vulnerable to abuse. A report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan found that at least 1,000 girls belonging to Christian and Hindu communities are forced to marry Muslim men every year. The government has done little to stop such forced marriages.”
Since 1979 when Soviet Red Army entered Afghanistan, Islamic radicalization has increased in Pakistan. Saudi Wahabi ideology within built elements of intolerance against Hindus and other minorities has further worsened their situation. Since October 2001, when US-led NATO forces had launched “Operation Enduring Freedom” against Taliban & Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, bloodshed has become part and parcel of Pakistani system that has killed over 60,000 people. This situation has further emboldened the Wahabi Islamists and Hindus and other religious minorities have felt the heat. There are some isolated examples of Hindus elevation to the top level. Prominent Pakistani Hindus include Pakistani cricketer Danish Kaneria, fashion designer Deepak Perwani, and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Rana Bhagwandas. In January 2020, famous cricketer, Shoaib Akhtar claimed that teammates were not comfortable to eat with Danish because he is Hindu. Many of the Muslims throughout Pakistan still prefer the community surnames of Hindu/Sikh ancestry such as ‘Chouhan’, ‘Bhat’, ‘Rajput’, ‘Sodhi’, and ‘Choudhary’. That proves the fact that they are also converted from Hinduism but one of the earliest converts because Islam came into this region in 10th century only.
Hindus today feel the onslaught of Islamization and migrate to India. The citizenship issue in India is governed mainly by foreigner’s Act 1946 and Citizenship Act 1946. The provisions have been made easier by Vajpayee led NDA Government. Modi led NDA Government has enacted Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019 and it is intended to soften the provisions for granting citizenship to these hapless Hindu and other religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) enables migrants/foreigners of six minority communities from three specified countries who have come to India because of persecution on grounds of their religion to apply for Indian citizenship. It does not amend any existing legal provision which enables any foreigner of any class, creed, religion, category, etc to apply for Indian citizenship through registration or naturalization modes. Such a foreigner has to become eligible to apply for citizenship after fulfilling the minimum legal requirements.
India needs to raise the plight of Pakistani Hindus on international fora and bilaterally as well in an impressive manner. Till date this issue has not figured in the agenda of bilateral talks between India and Pakistan. Their human rights are being infringed by the Islamists upon with the tacit approval of the state. There are other minorities groups (Sikhs, Christian, Buddhists, Jains) in Pakistan being discriminated by the same oligarchy but the ordeal of the Hindus are extremely turbulent and breaching even their fundamental human rights. CAA provides a new ray of hope to the persecuted minorities including Hindus from three countries. Many among them are living in India since years but not received citizenship till date due to existing laws. CAA will make it easier for them. CAA is a great Himalayan step for their fundamental human rights. Modi govt has taken very bold decision and it must be taken in a positive sense.
(The writer is professor in Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi)