by Zia Ur Rehman

August 22, 2012

KARACHI – With militant acts on the rise, Hindus in Sindh Province, Pakistan, have been falling victim to an increased incidence of forced conversion, extortion and kidnapping for ransom.

Now, in response to calls from human rights groups, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered the formation of a committee to prepare a draft constitutional amendment designed to protect minorities’ rights and to prevent the forced conversion of Hindu girls.

Amarnath Motumal, vice-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, hailed Zardari’s decision and said Pakistani Hindus are looking forward to an end to forced conversions of Hindu girls.

Civil society activists outside the Karachi Press Club protest against kidnapping and forced conversion of Hindus August 10. Militant activity is harming religious harmony in the region, the activists say. [Zia Ur Rehman]
The Hindu community has been calling for help since the alleged kidnapping and forced conversion of Rinkal Kumari in February, according to media reports, and the August 7 abduction and forced conversion of 14-year-old Manisha have sparked a mass exodus of Hindus from Sindh, minority rights activists say.

Such violence against the Hindu community is killing the spirit of religious pluralism that has long been a hallmark of Sindhi culture, said Ali Hassan Chandio, head of the Sindh National Movement.

It is high time for political parties, civil society, enlightened religious scholars and media to act together to prevent such insanity in the interfaith tranquil province of Sindh, he said.

The governmental response is multi-faceted. Legislation to deal with the issue is under consideration in the National Assembly and the Sindh Assembly, Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Maula Buksh Chandio said.

Also, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah announced plans to spend Rs. 50m (US $530,000) for the welfare of poor Hindus and development of worship places. Shah also has ordered implementation of a 5% quota for minorities in government jobs, according to an August 15 press statement from Chief Minister House.

Shah directed the provincial police chief to ensure timely co-operation on complaints of kidnapping, robberies and forced conversions within the Hindu community, the statement said.

Increase in faith-based violence in Sindh

Pakistan’s 2.7m Hindus constitute the country’s largest religious minority, according to the 1998 census. Most Pakistani Hindus live in Sindh Province, which has seen an increase in faith-based violence in the past few years, said Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, head of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

“The minorities are vulnerable to religious exploitation, complaining of an increase in forced conversions, targeted killings, extortion, looting, kidnapping, religion-based discrimination, and troubles linked to their places of worship,” Vankwani said.

In recent sectarian violence, three Hindu men were gunned down November 7 in the Char area of Shikarpur when a Muslim local clerk incited the Bhayo tribe to attack them, local media reported, and the Sindh government last September deployed Rangers in Pannu Aqil to stop Muslim rioters from destroying Hindu houses and shops.

Such events have lent momentum to the trend of Hindus abandoning their motherland, Vankwani told Central Asia Online.

However, some activists and governmental officials challenged the reality of a mass exodus.

No official statistics exist on how many Hindus have fled Pakistan, Eshwar Laal, a Sukker-based leader of Hindhu Panchayat, an organisation representing the Hindu community, said.

However, more than 1,000 such families have left Sindh in recent years, he said. More than 200 Hindus had left for India in recent days, but they were visiting religious sites and were expected to return, Chandio said.

The committee has met with leaders of Hindu communities and learned that many Hindu families have shifted to Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe, but they are leaving “for their children’s higher education and better future, and not because of lawlessness,” Chandio told Central Asia Online.

Those who are leaving are generally “in search of better economic prospects,” Motumal agreed.

Militancy gaining ground in Sindh

Some districts of Sindh, a province known for its non-violent and secular traditions, are becoming religiously intolerant of minority communities, civil society activists contend. “We, the minorities, know that Islam has nothing to do with militancy and fanaticism, but the extremists are misusing the name of religion to attack minority communities,” said William Sadiq, a minority rights activist associated with the Karachi-based Action Committee for Human Rights.

“Due to deep-rooted influence of Sufism and progressive politics, militancy has never flourished in Sindh, but the proliferation of militants is posing a threat to what has been a liberal society for many years,” said Afzal Junejo, a Larkana-based intellectual.