Friday, November 18, 2011

Persecuted Hindus migrating from Islamic Pakistan in hordes

 The News International Pakistan
Saher Baloch
Friday, November 18, 2011

A year back, when Himesh Kumar’s* son was kidnapped from outside his school, he knew he had to do something drastic.

He had been getting phone calls for extortion for quite some time, but he had ignored them — thinking they were mere threats.

As a contractor working in Malir for the past 12 years, Kumar got the shock of his life when he was informed by his driver one afternoon that his eight-year-old son, Nitin*, had been kidnapped. Fortunately, his elder kid, a 13-year-old girl, was spared.

After a gruelling few months of negotiations with the kidnappers, Nitin was finally released. As soon as he saw his son, Kumar arranged for the family to move to India. Informing a few close friends, they wound up their business and left quietly.

Draupati Mandhan, a mother of two, left her home in Jacobabad in the month of Ramazan to move to Karachi to pursue a career in medicine.

After months of house-hunting in the city, she zeroed in on a small apartment, owned by an old man, in Delhi Colony. The rent was reasonable and the place was comfortable.

“My husband had to stay back to settle the old debts that we had in Jacobabad. So I came alone with the children.”

But all her excitement of shifting to a big city vanished when the owner did not let her in the house. Embarrassed but still forcing a smile, she says that at first she did not understand the man. “But then he started calling me and my children Paleet (impure) and asked me to forget about the deal.”

Completely at a loss, she frantically phoned her husband. “Thankfully, I had enough money. But the thought of my staying at a hotel did not go well with my husband.”

She eventually stayed at a friend’s house for a few days and went back until another place was arranged. Even today, she is unable to comprehend what had happened to her.

The Cover-up

The patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council says over 200 Hindu families from different areas of Karachi have left Pakistan in the last couple of months.

The Pew Research Centre of Religion and Public Life has rated Pakistan the third least tolerant country in terms of religious diversity while the recent killing of three Hindus in Shikarpur has set alarm bells ringing for the minority community living in Sindh for centuries.

Amarnath Motumal, Vice-Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Sindh, gave a politically correct statement at first when asked about the fate of minorities. “Pakistan is secure enough for us than India; the present government is doing a lot for minorities.”

But when prodded a bit and given examples of the recent cases, he slightly changed his stance. “There is lawlessness and insecurity. Those who are rich are leaving in hordes but the poor are bound to suffer in silence.”

Forced Conversion

Ramesh Kumar Wankwani, the patron in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, was way more candid. “A case of forced conversion takes place in Sindh almost every week.”

Over 93 percent of all Hindus in Pakistan live in Sindh. The recent abductions of Hindu girls from Khairpur, Dadu and Jacobabad have forced the Hindu families to flee their ancestral villages where they had been living for hundreds of years. In Ghotki alone, the locals say, as many as 800 families have fled.

Wankwani claims that most of such cases go unreported as families cover up victimisation to avoid public humiliation. “And when they do seek help, the police never co-operate. Most of the families, who have reported incidents of victimisation to the police, come back with complaints that the police have refused to register an FIR. It is only through contacts that you get an FIR registered.”

No official figures on forced conversions are available but the HRCP believes that the numbers are high.

In most cases, young Hindu girls are abducted, converted, and forced to marry Muslim men. In some cases, they have also been forced into prostitution.

In Lyari, 16 girls have been abducted and forced into prostitution so far, according to Wankwani. In the latest case, Poonam Wasu was drugged and married off to her friend’s brother. Fortunately, she ran away and was reunited with her family. For Poonam’s family, migration is not an option as they are willing to fight.

Banu, from a scheduled caste family, was abducted in the beginning of 2010 and is still missing. Her father, Devjee, is looking for a job at the age of 55 to arrange money to fight his daughter’s case in court.

In 2007, Wankwani filed a petition in the Sindh High Court against forced conversions. Four years have gone by and he is still hopeful that something concrete would come out of it. “I have a firm belief in the judicial system of Pakistan. Let’s see.”

Kidnapping for Ransom

Kidnapping for ransom is another cause of concern for Hindu families. Dr Khushal Das, the founder of the Rajput Veterinary Services, is awaiting he safe recovery of his two nieces for the last two months. The two women were on their way to Dr Das’s home when they were kidnapped from Bahadurabad. One was a 27-year-old mother of two and other a 21-year-old student.

Dr Das received a call from his frantic sister-in-law that her daughters had not come back home. “They had left around 2 in the afternoon and my Bhabhi called me around 2 at night,” he said.

In a hushed tone, he said that what was more shocking to him was the attitude of the authorities. “I have given 30 years of my life to this city and after this incident people are behaving as if they do not know me at all,” he said with a rueful smile.

The only time he felt a bit hopeful was when he received a missed call on his mobile phone one night. Cautious, he informed the police who told him that the call was made from Abbottabad which was out of their jurisdiction.

But the apathetic attitude of the police did not disappoint him. He went from person to person of the higher ranks to find some clue to his missing nieces. “I am financially secure and can pay money to get my nieces back. But tell me honestly would someone want to stay in this country after such an incident?”

‘Flawed’ Education System

Sitting in his well-decorated office, with Jinnah’s portrait hanging high on a wall, Misri Ladhani, a government officer, blames the flawed education system for migration of his community members.

This year, Ladhani, a self-confessed patriot, completes 30 years in Pakistan. Brought up in a religiously diverse neighbourhood, Ladhani says it was different in the beginning. “We would sit and speak for hours with our neighbours. I never remember my mother locking the entrance door of our home. It was open for everyone,” he gets nostalgic.

With the start of Ziaul Haq’s era, things started dilapidating. “Unfortunately no one took notice of the fact that our nation was headed towards a downward spiral”, he explains.

The radicalisation that followed had long-lasting effects, but Ladhani believes that despite blaming external factors, one should look inward. “This is where the prejudice comes from.”

Last month, he moved the Sindh High Court on behalf of his son against the compulsion of studying Islamiat in O levels. In his appeal, he stated that the subjects subscribed to the O level students were Islamic Religious Culture and Islamiat for Muslims. However, there was no apparent choice for the minority students to study anything other than Ethics.

Due to this, he said, his son was unable to get an equivalence certificate to appear in the MBBS entrance exam. The SHC promptly allowed the boy to appear in the entry test.

But Ladhani feels that the problem is much deeper than that. He argues that after studying Islamiat from third standard till intermediate, their children would show as much interest in their own scriptures.

Most of the Hindu children opt for Islamiat because they can easily get distinction in it. “Whereas you get only passing marks in Ethics,” he raises his brows. “The competition should be fair. How about teaching our children Bhagwat Geeta and Ramayana at schools?”

Taking a pause, he cautiously speaks about his daughter. She has married a Muslim man. That came as a shock to many in their community, but he stood by his daughter’s decision. “After all, what can parents do in such a situation?”

But he feared that the marriage might invite the wrath of the radicals. So the first thing he did after getting them married was to ask them to leave the country.

Himesh Kumar* is happily settled in Bangalore now. He has a good job and he does not have to constantly worry about his family. But he misses home. “No matter where I live, I’ll always be a Pakistani,” he told The News on phone.

Wankwani claims that those who have left are still willing to come back. “But equal rights, self-respect and equal opportunities are something that every citizen wants, no matter what religion they belong to.”

* Names changed to protect privacy

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