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Migrating Minorities of Pakistan


By Durriya Hashmi

September 7, 2012

While the Hindu community has a slight possibility to escape the hatred and extremist violence, Pakistani Christians --- the usual suspects in blasphemy cases --- ask where are they supposed to go?

“It’s not only the minorities of Pakistan who wish to flee the country rather any sensible person who wants to live free and happily finds it impossible to live in this insecure society” says Zainab Naqvi, a resident of Allama Iqbal Town, Lahore. She is indeed worried about the rapid transformation of her local mosque into a grand madrasa.

A recent Gallop poll suggesting that one third of Pakistani people wish to leave the country backs up this common sentiment. When inquired by an anchor about this mass discontent Pakistan’s former Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, curtly replied: “Why don’t they leave then? Who’s stopping them?”

Probably learning from the criticism the comment had received; Interior Minister Rehman Malik tried to stop hundreds of Pakistani Hindu pilgrims from crossing the border amid reports of Hindu families migrating from Balochistan and Sindh to India. Terming it a conspiracy, Rehman Malik assured the media that Pakistani Hindus were not fleeing their country. While Mr Gillani’s solution to the deluded majority of Pakistan was not to force anyone who wishes to leave, his successors response to the resentment of the country’s minority seems to be a pretention that no one is leaving. Thus what followed the arrival of 250 Hindus in India on August 10 was a ruckus over the number, purpose and the procedure of Hindu migrants.

Though Zainab, like all other Pakistanis, is not sure whether the news of Pakistani Hindu families leaving their country is true but she thinks, “It was quite possible that some of the pilgrims might have decided to live in India but would they be able to survive there?”

In the past few weeks India also witnessed worst communal riots which claimed lives of 100 people as violent clashes erupted between the local Bodo tribes and minorities i.e. Bengali speaking Muslims of Assam forcing 40,000 people to flee the state.

However, Ramesh Jay Pal, Chairman Scheduled Caste Rights Movement Rahim Yaar Khan, says: “The question is why these non-Muslim Pakistanis are opting to migrate?” He cites forced conversions of young Hindu women as a basic factor behind the Hindu exodus, especially in Sindh. “Each day young Hindu girls are being raped, kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men. In last month alone 16 Hindu girls have been forced to convert to Islam. Just a few days back, Muslim men molested and raped a 14 year old Hindu girl in Rahim Yar Khan only for the heck of it but when the Hindu community protested the crime, the victim was forced to convert to Islam”.

According to the 1998 Census of Pakistan, Hindus make up 1.6 per cent of the total population. However, the figure excluded the scheduled castes of Pakistani Hindus (Dalits).

The Pakistan Hindu Council claims there are around 7 million Hindus in Pakistan. Extremist excesses against this religious minority recently came into spotlight when Rinkle Kumari, a young Hindu woman, was reportedly forced to convert to Islam by her abductor.

Jay Pal admits that Hindus are surely not happy to migrate from Pakistan since it is their homeland too. “We are also citizens of Pakistan and as patriotic as others. Minorities are part of the society but the people of Pakistan must acknowledge their rights and realize the discrimination against non-Muslims instead of accusing them of treason”. However, he insists that due to a surge in violent attacks on Hindus and discriminatory laws protecting their persecutors, Hindu families have no option but to seek a safe haven. “My father has been an active PPP worker and a prominent leader of the Hindu community. But now he is so disappointed that he is thinking about migration”.

Jay Pal, himself however has not given up and doing his bit by engaging the authorities in Islamabad to settle the issues of forced conversion because “it is debatable whether India can provide shelter or asylum to all Pakistani Hindus since India is already an over-populated country”. He says: “In any case we are not Indian government’s responsibility, therefore, we look to our own state to ensure our safety and integrity.”

He dismisses the impression that Hindus are applying for Indian visa only for religious purposes. “It is only an official statement by the Government of Sindh. In fact, many Hindu families have already left. Everyday hundreds of Hindus are seen around the passport offices who want to get an Indian visa”.

Contrary to Pal’s observations, Jai Prakash Moorani, a senior journalist from Sindh, states: “We cannot call the migration of some families an ‘exodus’ since there are millions of Hindus living in Sindh who have businesses and livelihood in the province. They all cannot flee to India leaving everything behind.”

When asked whether the issues of Hindu 'exodus’ was misrepresented in the media Prakash replied, “Yes of course!”. He explains: “Actually the Indian visa policy is still very strict for Pakistani Hindus and being a journalist and social activist I have observed no relaxation to accommodate Hindu migrants from Pakistan so far”.

Giving a historical background of the migrating Hindus of Sindh, he said: “In fact, migration of Hindus from Pakistan to India has been an ongoing process since the partition in 1947. Hindus in Pakistani keep visiting India to attend religious festivals and meet their relatives. Some of them stay there but owing to India’s strict immigration process, most of the pilgrims or visitors from Pakistan have to return. Pilgrims leaving for India go in large numbers because obtaining Indian visas for religious groups is easier than individual visa”.

Having said this, Jai Prakash Moorani underscores the pressing need to redress the grievances of minorities particularly the issue of forced conversions and victimization of Hindus by local Muslim community to avoid further migration of minorities. “There is an urgent need for legislation against forced conversions. Besides, Hindus also want to be a part of Pakistan’s socio-political system. Hindu had chosen to stay in Pakistan despite communal riots in 1947 since they belong to this land. Yet we have no role in law making or direct involvement in the government”.

While the Hindu community has a slight possibility to escape the hatred and extremist violence, Pakistani Christians --- the usual suspects in blasphemy cases --- ask where are they supposed to go?

“It’s hard for Pakistani Hindu families to settle in India yet they have a religious association with India but for a common Christian Indian visa is not a child’s play. It is no solution either,” says Wasim Gill, a Christian from Faisalabad. He says: “We are not the refugees or foreign invaders then why should we migrate? In fact all those non-Muslims declared minorities today, are the native people of the Indian subcontinent”.

Christians, constituting Pakistan’s largest religious minority, are perhaps the most vulnerable community since they have to face the wrath of Islamic extremism in the aftermath of any global conflict featuring Islam and the West irrespective of their Pakistani nationality. Persecution of Christian Pakistanis on the pretext of blasphemy, mob attacks on churches and Christian community are becoming a great human rights concern. Last year a Christian minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed by a Muslim fanatic for opposing the blasphemy law. Recently hundreds of Christians fled Islamabad in fear when a minor Christian Rimsha Masih, accused of desecrating Quran, was arrested on the charges of blasphemy.

“We are the sons of the soil. We have been living here even before the partition. Why are we forced to leave our motherland?” asks renowned Christian activist and poet Kanwal Feroz. He is determined to fight against the bigotry of extremists and wishes “Pakistan to prosper according to the secular vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah who had fought for the rights of a minority of India.”

He says, “All my children are settled abroad and persuade me to leave this hostile place. But I will never leave my country. I have lived all my life here. I will die here come what may”.

Kanwal Feroz believes “amendment in the blasphemy law can provide great protection to Christians. Any person found guilty of making false accusations of blasphemy should also be severely reprimanded”.

He thinks, “Right wing political parties are responsible for the persecution and insecurity facing the minorities and we don’t trust them”. He acknowledges that “the status of Christians is similar to the Muslims of British India but they don’t want to go anywhere else”.

However, according to Wasim Gill: “Christians live in the fear of blasphemy. They are overcautious. Blasphemy law is a fatal law. Its victim is doomed. Also, Pakistani law is only for Muslims. Our courts take immediate action even if the accused is a minor non-Muslim but when the churches are torched and Bibles desecrated, the justice appears blind despite having substantial evidence and scores of witnesses.”

Unlike Christians and Hindus the Ahmadiyah don’t consider themselves a religious minority. They reckon it a propaganda to declare them non-Muslim. Irfan A Khan, an Ahmadi Muslim who lives in Germany, says: “Ahmadis were not a minority until a law was promulgated to challenge their faith in Islam. The radical Islamists are even turning Shia Muslims into a minority”.

He says, “Ahmadis are not leaving the country en masse. However, the anti-Ahmadi laws protecting the hate-mongers and a continuous victimization of Ahmadi Muslims is forcing many to seek refuge in Europe”.

He pointed out that only recently graves of Ahmadis were desecrated in Hafizabad and Khariyan, domes at Ahmadi mosques were torn down but neither the media nor the politicians condemned it. “In this scenario, I cannot think of going back to Pakistan even if I am concerned about the Talibanisation destroying my country,” he says.

Irfan holds organizations like Difa-e-Pakistan Council, responsible for fanning hatred against non-Muslims. He accuses them of campaigning against the Ahmadiyya community. “The only solution to end the violence against non-Muslims in Pakistan”, he thinks, “is to establish a secular state allowing everyone to follow his/her faith”

Wasim Gill says: “Pakistan is an intolerant society where non-Muslims are relegated to a second-rate citizen status.”

Jai Prakash Moorani and Ramesh Pal pin hopes on the democratic Pakistanis. “We don’t blame the whole country. There are human rights organization and the civil society of Pakistan highlighting our plight and standing by us”.

Prakash says in spite of all the problems he “will not leave the country under any circumstances”. He says, “I lead a team of 400 Muslims who respect me. I cannot get this respect anywhere in the world.”

In his view, “We all need to solve our issues realistically instead of running away from them.”

Duriya Hashmi is a passive activist, blogger and aspiring film maker who writes to vent anguish and believes in art as a catalyst for change.