In his 1993 BBC television series Akbar S Ahmed, former ambassador from Pakistan to Britain and presently Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington DC, stated that Jinnah had created Pakistan so that India’s Muslims could be “safe from Hindu reaction”. But he has remained largely silent on the Hindus of Pakistan who have been the victims of Islamic ‘reaction’, aside from a few meaningless platitudes towards communal harmony. In this he is far from alone.
When British India was partitioned in 1947 Hindus and Sikhs constituted about twenty percent of the population in what is now Pakistan. Now it is barely one percent. This is a demographic catastrophe which has hardly warranted attention in the media, or from human rights groups and other NGOs. While India is constantly berated for having severe problems with an amorphous communalism, Pakistan is rarely brought to task over this same standard. In one way however Pakistan can be said to have resolved the communal issue; by simply having negligible numbers of minorities to strive for equal rights.
The constitution and legal system created for Pakistan openly discriminated against Hindus with a high level of crime and harassment against them. This was exacerbated by periods of tension between India and Pakistan which were always the worst times for Hindus in Pakistan, with large numbers killed and expelled by pogroms by the majority community who were supported by their government. In 1965 The Enemy Property Act was passed, which openly legitimized the confiscation of the property of Hindus whether it was their homes or temples that were destroyed and helped to further reduce the Hindu population in Pakistan.
This was dwarfed by the war of secession which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. A huge undocumented number of Hindus were massacred by the Pakistani army in which the estimated death toll was probably three million.
At independence India chose a secular constitution. Admittedly, along with its parliamentary democracy, has met with varying degrees of success. But it has endured. India has had heads of state which come from minority communities and minorities are active in many spheres notably government service, cinema, music, academia, the media and sport. Pakistan however chose a stridently theocratic form of government right from its inception, in which anyone not adhering to the majority faith and the being part of the majority community was always going to be suspect. By stating that the head of state had to be Muslim that built uncompromising discrimination into the constitution itself.
The pandering to extreme religious intolerance by the secular whisky-drinking Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was taken to new levels by his nemesis General Zia ul-Haq who introduced Islamicisation programmes which utterly changed the nature of the country. The injection of despotic legal changes such as the Hudood Ordinance, Blasphemy Law, Sharia law and a host of other procedures mitigated against democracy and reduced women, Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadis to lesser citizenship. This was the time when Saudi influence made itself felt ideologically through Wahhabism as madrasas proliferated and the centuries-long native Sufi tradition of Madhu Lal Hussein, Bulley Shah and Waris Shah was smothered. Under the 1973 constitution Bhutto made Islam the state religion of Pakistan and established a separate electorate for Muslims and non-Muslims so that Hindus could only vote for Hindu candidates. The majority community could therefore ignore the minority Hindus with impunity. Musharraf abolished the separate electoral system in 2002. It is ironic how a democratic ‘socialist’ leader promoted discriminatory legislation which was only later rescinded by a military dictatator who had seized power from an elected government. Even so, in Pakistan’s political system, the minorities, such as Hindus, Christians and Sikhs remain outcasts.
Pakistan is home to some 2.5 million Hindus, 95% of them living in the southern Sindh province. Most are poor peasants living as serfs on the estates of landlords, similar to the caste from which the Bhuttos hailed. However there are also some successful some businessmen. In Sindh, they are a hot commodity for bandits. They have become increasingly subject to kidnapping for ransom which the largely impoverished members of the community can ill afford. Rape, forcible and pressurised conversion to Islam have also become a matter of course for Hindus living in that oppressive state. As with kidnapping the conversion of Hindus is a profitable business in this country.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan stated in 2010 stating that at least twenty-five Hindu girls are abducted in Pakistan every month. In July of that year around sixty members of the minority Hindus in Karachi were attacked and ethnically cleansed when a Hindu youth drank from a water tap near an Islamic mosque. But even more sinister plans have been afoot. Hindu minorities under Taliban rule in Swat were forced to wear red headgear such as turbans as a symbol of their inferior status. Promulgation that Hindus are inferior is however the norm as it is officially sanctioned in textbooks used in governments schools. In November 2011 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom warned that text books in Pakistani schools foster prejudice and intolerance of Hindus and other religious minorities, while most teachers view non-Muslims as “enemies of Islam”. In the words of its chairman Leonard Leo:
“Teaching discrimination increases the likelihood that violent religious extremism in Pakistan will continue to grow, weakening religious freedom, national and regional stability, and global security”
In 2006 the last Hindu temple in Lahore was demolished to make way for commercial development. In Dera Ismail Khan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a group has illegally acquired the 700-year-old Kali Bari Mandir and is now using it as a hotel. The issue of Kali Bari is not an isolated example. In Islamabad, Hindus have no access to a temple situated at Saidpur model village. Meanwhile the Raam Kunday Mandir in Islamabad, once considered a sacred site by Hindus, is being converted into a picnic spot. Eminabad in Gujranwala region has several temples dating back to the 15th century, which are in shambles today. Most of them are being used as stables to provide shelter to donkeys, horses and other animals. In Punjab’s Bakkar city, Sheeran Wali Mandir has been used by Islamic clerics as a madrasa. Nearly 360 sacred Hindu sites are located in Pakistan, including Hanglaj Maata Mandir in Balochistan, Sadho Beela Mandir in Sindh, Hanuman Mandir in Kotri, Kali Ma and Shiva Mandir in Punjab’s Imanabad, Ganga Khogi in Saidan Shah Punjab, Kali Bari Mandir and Kala Sathi Kewal Raam in Dera Ismail Khan, Raam Takht in Swat and a Shiva Mandir in Mansehra. But neither is the government ready to ensure the upkeep of these sites, nor is it willing to hand them back to the Hindu community. At a wider level cultural prejudice has become part and parcel of language itself. Hindus are referred to as “na pak.” Na means “un” and pak means “pure.” Given that the word “pak” is part of the word “Pakistan” – which means Land of the Pure – somebody’s impurity suggests that they are not really Pakistani. So the ‘impure’ Hindus are not seen as belonging to the country.
Under these circumstances it is no surprise that those Hindus which were not forcibly expelled from Pakistan on its creation in 1947 have decided to leave, mainly for neighbouring India. In the wake of the world’s silence on their systematic persecution they decide as with previous generations to vote with their feet, denied as they are an equal voice in Pakistan’s shaky quasi-democratic process. In doing so they make immense contributions to their new host countries where they can at least breath the air of freedom.
One thinks of the prosperous Sindhi community which was uprooted en masse from their native homeland in 1947. But we must also remember filmstars Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, and Sunil Dutt who trace their birthplaces and ancestral homes to Pakistan. Independent India’s first Test cricket captain, Lala Amarnath hailed from Lahore, prime ministers I K Gujral and Manmohan Singh are also from the part of what is now the province of Punjab in Pakistan. Former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani was born in Karachi. Nearly all of these individuals left their homes due to the violence and turmoil of independence setting what seems like a precedent for future generations of Hindus in Pakistan who will complete the exodus from lands that were once an integral part of Hindu culture and ancient Indian civilisation.
While western democracies are keen to ignore what they brush off as a ‘Hindu’ problem the events in neighbouring India should give us cause for concern. Those who are keen to promote the cause of Kashmiri ‘freedom’ such as the Conservative Party Chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi conveniently ignore the rather inconvenient fact that this would bring death and destruction to Hindus, just as she and other powerful voices avert their gaze from how almost the entire indigenous Pandit community was ethnically cleansed from the Vale of Kashmir by mujahadeen at gunpoint in 1989. To this day they eke out a miserable existence in refugee camps in Jammu.
The Pakistan backed Kashmiri terrorists have since extended their massacres and atrocities to Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in the whole region. With Pakistan a hotbed for terrorism, awash as it is with weapons and drugs to compliment the intolerance and sense of general hopelessness, with neighbouring Afghanistan due to fall once again to the Taliban once NATO forces withdraw, Iran developing a nuclear weapons programme, and Pakistan’s imperial masters in Riyadh presently expanding their colonial interests using their Salafi minions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, western democracies should be very worried. Otherwise they will face a ‘Hindu’ future. As Pastor Martin Neimoller warned regarding his incarceration by the Nazis:
They came for the Communists, and I
didn’t object – For I wasn’t
They came for the Socialists, and I
didn’t object – For I wasn’t a Socialist;
They came for the labour leaders, and I
didn’t object – For I wasn’t a labour leader;
They came for the Jews, and I didn’t
object – For I wasn’t a Jew;
Then they came for me –
And there was no one left to object.
So who will there be to object when ‘they’ come after the western democracies and there are no Hindus left?
By Ranbir Singh