By Zia Ur Rehman

August 29, 2014

The publisher of Pakistan’s first Hindu weekly newspaper Sandesh has been thinking about suspending publication because of financial difficulties.

Harji Lal, editor of Sandesh, prepares the newspaper

Harji Lal and Mukesh Meghawar, two Hindu activists from Kotri area of Jamshoro district of Sindh, started the newspaper in 2010, for the Hindu community in the province. Hindus are believed to be the largest religious minority of Pakistan. Because the country has not had a census since 1998, some estimates suggest the size of the Hindu population in Pakistan is around 2.5 million. An overwhelming majority of the Hindus live in rural areas of Sindh and are mainly concentrated in Sanghar and Tharparkar districts which share borders with India. There are small pockets of Hindu population in Balochistan and Punjab.

Lal, who edits and publishes the newspaper, said that Hindu community needed their own news source. “All the main newspapers come from the Muslim community and the Hindus have no voice in the print media in Pakistan,” he said.

Lal belongs to a poor Hindu family and most of his family members are farmers, bootblacks and daily-wage workers. During school, he worked as a bootblack six hours a day. And then in the evening, he read newspapers in the tea stalls in his neighborhood. “I observed that Urdu newspapers are not only giving insufficient coverage to issues of the Hindu community but also fostering hatred and intolerance against minorities, especially Hindus,” Lal said. He said his goal for publishing Sandesh was to highlight the culture and concerns of Hindus living in Pakistan, and to create a peaceful environment between Hindu and Muslim communities.

“Urdu newspapers were fostering hatred and intolerance”

In 2010, Lal printed only 300 copies of Sandesh. Now, he publishes 3,500 copies. “It is a big achievement,” he said. Sandesh is currently published in Sindhi, and plans were underway for an Urdu and English edition both in print and online. But the plans were shelved because of financial constraints, which have worsened to an extent that Lal is thinking about suspending the print edition as well. “Our entire team works voluntarily, but the cost of paper and printing has increased because of inflation, and now we cannot afford it,” he said.

Human rights activists and non-Muslim leaders complain that the media do not promote interfaith harmony, and non-Muslims’ rights in Pakistan. “It is because journalists are not trained in how to report on sensitive issues, especially regarding religious minorities,” said Sanjesh S Dhanja, president of Pakistan Hindu Seva, a Hindu rights body in Karachi. He said textbooks were also promoting hatred against minorities, especially Hindus, who are viewed even by teachers as “enemies of Islam”. The coverage of their concerns is insufficient, he said, and people know little about Hindu culture.

Hindu men read Sandesh

Minority rights groups say abductions of Hindus and their forced conversion to Islam are rampant. Hate speech and violence against the Hindu community has continued unchecked for years now, they say, with clerics speaking against members of minority faiths even in their Friday sermons and branding Hindus as agents of India.

More than 1,000 members of the Hindu community mostly belonging to Sindh and Balochistan have migrated to India and other countries this year owing to the worsening law and order and threats to their families, Hindu organizations claim.

Ram Singh Sodho, a Hindu member of Sindh Assembly, is among these asylum seekers. He resigned from his seat and took refuge in India after he received threats from extremist groups. “Our community members are migrating to India and other countries because they think no one accepts them in the Pakistani society,” said a Hindu civil society activist from Sanghar.

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