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Roots of Sindhi-Hindu Exodus From Pakistan

By Zulfiqar Shah

25 August, 2012

The morning of August 10, 2012 carried news of exodus of Hindus from Pakistan. Immigration authorities detained 250 families having valid documents and visas at Wagah-Atari border of India and Pakistan near Lahore. Later on, they were allowed to travel to India after signing commitment bonds for returning. More families thereafter have also left Pakistan for India.

The news went viral. Media on either side of the border ran heated debates on the issue which occupied the front pages of many dailies for the next three days. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik tuned the same old mantra of ‘Indian conspiracy against Pakistan’. President Asif Zardari immediately formed a three-member committee of parliamentarians to resist possibilities of an exodus. They held meetings with the Hindu community leaders and civil society representatives in Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi, but the latter declared that meetings were not enough, some concrete steps regarding the protection of Hindus and all necessary legislations should be made. Sindhi nationalists also launched a movement against forced exodus of Hindus.

Hindu Exodus is historically referred to as the mass migration of Hindus from newly formed Pakistan after partition of the Indian subcontinent on August 14, 1947. Partition is now a sixty-five years old story but it is still going on like a big-bang process. In fact, the formation of two sovereign countries out of united India under British rule on the basis of religion has vitiated the situation in Pakistan. The country has leaped one eighty degrees into religious extremism against the liberal and secular ethos of various communities mostly due to the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan. This has made Hindus, Christian and other minorities vulnerable through the establishment supported activities of forced conversions, abductions, and plunder and life threats.

Hindus are 5.5 percent in Pakistan and most are from the indigenous population of Sindh, where they count 7 million. Several factors exist to cause a possible massive forced exodus of Sindhi Hindus. In the recent exodus attempt, authorities as well as the community numerously mentioned ‘security’ as a reason of exodus which if seen carefully embodies the various connotations of ideology, economy, power politics, fanaticism, feudalism and demography.

Sindh is a demographically vulnerable province of Pakistan where the indigenous Sindhi, nearly 17 percent of whom is Hindu, are facing threat of being converted into a permanent minority on their historical homeland. In August 1947, they were 98 percent of the province out of which 35 percent were Hindus. They are now reduced to 65 percent only. In fact, Sindh has become a large refugee receptor from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Tribal Areas along with other three provinces of Pakistan.

The history of political and social conflicts in Pakistan is a history of the demographic conflicts based on invasions and struggles for securities among the federating states and particularly between Punjab province and the rest. It is an emerging public concern in Sindh that north of the province is being converted into the second Taliban hub of Pakistan through extraordinary support to religious extremists, frequent settlement of ethnic Pashtuns and Punjabis and increase in the anti-Hindu activities. This demographic threat has also been a major factor in harboring the recent secessionist wave among ethnic Sindhis, who, according to Pakistani English and Sindhi dailies of March 24, 2012, took to the streets of Karachi in hundreds of thousands on March 23 and demanded separation of Sindh from Pakistan. A couple of dozens of militancy incidents have been reported in the province thereafter.

The law and order situation is worst in northern Sindh since the uprising against military rule during 1980s. Sindh was non-tribal before 1990; however, its northern districts are now tribal fiefdoms. The widely considered milestone among Sindhi people for this retrogression is the establishment of Pakistan’s largest cantonment in Pano Aqil, Sukkur of the northern Sindh during late 1980s. Strangely, most of the military installations in Sindh are near Hindu settlements; therefore, one assumes that a demographic strategic-security notion of the establishment might have been one factor behind displacing Hindus from there. Ironically, Hindus are being considered a demographical threat by the security establishment, majority of which considers Hindus and Indians interchangeable. Evacuee property law of the country validates this argument when it categorises the property of Hindus who left Sindh after 1971 as an ‘enemy property’.

Sindhi Hindus are a trade and business backbone of the province. Their exodus will hence create a new business space for ethnic Punjabis, Pashtuns and Urdu-speaking people. On the other hand, Sindhi feudal lords are gradually losing their economic, social and political power base; therefore, weaker among them are allying with Mullahs for their sustenance. Majority of feudal lords is traditionally secular, which was historically witnessed during the partition of India; when communal violence gripped the subcontinent, Sindh was peaceful and harmonious. However, feudal lords today are tilting towards religious extremism in northern Sindh.

After recent wave of Sindhi nationalism and freedom movement, a Hindu exodus is the most suitable for the establishment to convert ethnic Sindhis into permanent minority on their historical land, who may easily be outnumbered in any post exodus scenario by the immigrant and settler Punjabis and Pashtuns and the Urdu speaking Muhajir.

Northern Sindh, once eastern business hub of Subcontinent and housing a large number of Hindus, has now become hub of Madrasahs of politically motivated and radicalbrands of fundamentalists. Being just a ten hour road journey from both Kandahar and Delhi, (if border-entry diversions are not considered),it was a trade hub with Eurasia, Central Asia and Afghanistan during early 1990s. Hindus in Sindh and particularly in its northern parts are often kidnapped, plundered, murdered and are forcedly converted to Islam by these Mullahs or their associate criminals.

At times, one finds ideological conflict as the cause of violence against the Hindus, while at others it becomes a pretext. Pakistan’s civil and military bureaucracy is largely ethnic Punjabi, followed by the Pashtuns and Urdu-speaking community. Majority of the Punjabi and Urdu-speaking bureaucrats are the first or second generation of the refugees who migrated during the partition of India. Therefore, anti-Hindu mindset based on hatred caused by the violence of partition is still hounding Pakistan.

Pakistan, no doubt, desperately needs to carry on anti-Taliban campaigns at the Afghan borders; however it primarily needs to liberalise state ideology and mindset of bureaucracy; de-Talibanise Pakistani society; control radical Madrasah’s, secularise academic curriculum and ensure security and equal rights to Hindus, Christians and other minority groups. It also requires urgent federal reforms, assuring demographic and ethnic sovereignty to the federating provinces. Separation of religion from the state is a prerequisite for it. Otherwise, the legacy of partition will space out too many sub-partitions in Pakistan.

Zulfiqar Shah is human rights activist and political analyst. He is Executive Director at The Institute for Social Movements, Pakistan