Exodus of minorities amid rising extremism in Pakistan. By Asif Aqeel, Director Center for Law and Justice, Lahore, Pakistan


The Pakistani nation was baffled by the news on Thursday, August 9, that 250 Hindus had been debarred from crossing into India by the Interior Ministry despite these folks had valid Indian visas. Interior Affairs Minister Rehman Malik appeared on TV channels and stated that the Indian embassy had “hatched a conspiracy” against Pakistan by issuing 250 visas to the Hindus. Malik, whose Senate membership was suspended by the Supreme Court over dual nationality but was restored when he revoked the U.K.’s citizenship, said that the Hindus could leave only after issued “no objection certificate”. The matter has got so much attention that the Indian parliament and Pakistani Parliament are discussing Hindus’ exodus from Pakistan.
Before these Hindus were allowed to cross the Indo-Pak border, they shared their woes with the Pakistani media. They said that “their shops were looted, their houses were raided by unknown men and their women were forcefully converted” to Islam in the province of Sindh. These stopped Hindus held a protest after which the Pakistani government allowed them to cross over to India the next day. This embarrassing news made the Sindh Chief Minister Kaim Ali Shah and President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari take notice of the incident. A presidential inquiry committee was set up to end plight of Hindus. There is very little hope that the committee’s recommendations would bring any change that could halt exodus of religious minorities. In 2009 the Pakistani government set up a judicial commission to inquire the Gojra attacks in which dozens of houses of the Christians were set alight and eight Christians were killed. The judicial report identified responsible elements and also suggested amendments in the blasphemy laws. Alas! To this day, no attention has been paid to the judicial commission’s recommendations. The outcome of this presidential inquiry can be assessed from the fact that Malik’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has submitted its report that no exodus of Hindus is taking place and the Hindu lackeys in the government have also denied any migration of Hindus.
Rather than taking note of flight of 250 Hindus, the government should identify and mitigate the migration push factors that force minorities to leave the country. There are roughly 200 million Muslims living in India but their migration to Pakistan is almost non-existent. It is religious intolerance which just does not scare religious minorities but even Muslims, especially those belonging to the minority sects.
Few very recent examples would be sufficed to show how intolerant the Pakistani society has become. These days, the Pakistani Muslims, like rest of the Muslim ummah, are fasting in the month of Ramadan. The police in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, are raiding cafes in posh areas to enforce Ehtram-e-Ramazan Ordinance, 1981 (the ordinance prohibits public eating during the month of Ramadan from morning till evening). It is not enough! The people themselves take law into their own hands for implementation of this rule introduced by a military dictator in 1981. On July 30 nine Christian nurses in Karachi were given poisonous tea to avenge their eating and drinking during Ramadan. No arrest could be made in this incident. On July 30 Airport Security Staff lady inspector on an airport in Lahore “severely thrashed” an assistant of passengers handling “for taking a phone call of her husband on her cell minutes before Iftar” (the fast breaking time). Religious zealotry by civilians does not stop to beating but can go as far as taking life of the offender in Pakistan. In a recent harrowing incident, a fuming mob beat and burned alive a mentally ill man in the city of Bahawalpur for “throwing pages from the Holy Quran onto the street”. On July 04 the police had formally arrested this mentally ill person and locked him up in the police station. But this did not satisfy the angry protestors, numbering from 1500 to 2000. The protestors surrounded the police station, torched four vehicles, overpowered the few police officers present there and dragged the mentally ill man in the middle of the road where they burned him to death. These very recent incidents show that not just religious minorities but even any Muslim man or a woman is not secure in Pakistan.
Religious intolerance, introduced by the Urdu-speaking migrant leadership for political mileage in ethnically divided Pakistan, has been evident since 1947. The Objectives Resolution, introduced in 1949, divided the nation between Muslim and non-Muslim. The Hindus were the first, then were the Ahmadis, in 80’s were the Shias and Zikris and with the dawn of the 21st century the Sunni sects of Brailvi and Deobandi have got engulfed in its flames. The pre-partition communal violence between Hindus and Muslims has now been replaced by Muslim mobs ransacking houses of Christians and setting them on fire.
The Hindu minority which is in news these days has been perceived with suspicion and was dubbed as a fifth column during and after 1971 India-Pakistan War. Pakistani school textbooks and Urdu media paint Hindus as treacherous, mean, evil and enemies of Pakistan and Muslims. Hindu temples are closed, vandalized, or turned into schools or hotels. In response to demolition of Babri Mosque in India by Hindu extremists in 1992, more than 1000 Hindu temples were destroyed by Muslim mobs across the country.
The Pakistani Hindus can be divided into two sections: high caste and untouchable Hindus. Both of them are fleeing Pakistan for different reasons. The high caste Hindus, who are smaller in number but are educated and wealthy traders, face a challenge of abduction for ransom in the cities of Quetta and Karachi. On the other hand, the untouchable Hindus, the main bulk of the community, are shunned as evil. There are separate utensils for these people at eateries in the province of Sindh. Barbers refuse to give them haircut because it involves touching them. Even the untouchable Hindu children at school are mistreated by Muslim students and teachers alike. These Hindus are mostly uneducated and poor. They serve as bonded laborers and some of them are locked up in private jails of Sindhi landlords if they try to flee bondage. Manu Bheel is a living story of such an ordeal of the untouchable Hindus. Nine members of his family are in a private jail of a landlord since 1998. He is protesting outside the Karachi Press Club for almost a decade but to no avail. Even the Chief Justice of Pakistan, who recently sent the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani home over contempt of court, has failed to recover these nine missing persons. These untouchable Hindus in 2011 devastating floods were forced to live under the sky because the Muslims did not let them in the relief camps. At the same time, both the high caste and untouchable Hindus face the same challenge. Their young women are abducted, forcibly married and converted to Islam. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported in 2010 that 20 to 25 Hindu women were being forcibly abducted each month and converted to Islam.
The Hindus are not the only minority in Pakistan who are leaving the country since 1947. Evacuation of Pakistani Christians is also taking place for similar reasons. Like the Pakistani Hindus, the Pakistani Christians can also be divided into Anglo-Indian and Goan Christians – who mostly lived in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore and now have settled abroad – and the Punjabi Christians who are mostly backward, poor and uneducated. The Anglo-Indian Christians were the first to leave the country due to the changing socio-cultural environment. In early 60’s and 70’s they migrated to Canada, U.S., the European continent, New Zealand but mainly to the U.K. and Australia. Today, we can hardly find an Anglo-Indian Christian in Pakistan, though few Goan Christians are left, but bulk of the Christians is of the Punjabi descent.
The Punjabi Christians are comparable with untouchable Sindhi Hindus. They are mostly uneducated, poor and leading their lives in suburban ghettoes. Almost 75 percent of their population consists of laborers, brick kiln workers and sweepers. The Christians in the Punjab are treated as untouchable and disparagingly called “Chuhra”. Their mere touch is considered abhorrent. In several parts of the Punjab they are refused haircut because it involves touching them. For example, in Sikandarpura, Kasur District, we can find a tea stall that has separate crockery for the Christians. This crockery – dirty, used and having broken edges – is handled by the Christian clients and even washed by them after use.
On one hand these Christians are perceived as untouchable because of their background but on the other hand they are associated with the West. The Hindus are called as agents of India while Christians are perceived as agents of the U.S. According to Lahore Archbishop Saldanha hundreds of Christians were accused of espionage and arrested during 1965 Indo-Pakistan War. The archbishop in his book “Hamari Dastan” (Our Story) says that all the accused were released because no charge was proved. In several instances infuriating mobs have attacked Christian ghettos over blasphemy accusations, especially after 9/11. Shantinagar (1997), Sangla Hills (2005), Bahmaniwala (2009) and Gojra (2009) are the most notable incidents when the Christians of these areas had to flee. Their houses were ransacked or burned and in the Gojra incident eight Christians were burned to death. The only Christian national cabinet minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in March 2011 by terrorists for speaking against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. After his assassination, the Indian government included Pakistani Christians and Buddhists who could get long-term visas “with ultimate intention” of getting Indian citizenship. Earlier, this visa type was limited to the Hindus and the Sikhs. Hence, these are incidents of intolerance that play role in minorities’ evacuation from the country.
Like Hindus and Christians, the Pakistani Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jews and Jains have also decreased in number over the decades. At the time of independence, there lived the fourth largest Zoroastrian (Parsi) community of the Indian Subcontinent in the city of Karachi. This community played an exceptional role in Pakistan’s development but their number has steadily decreased due to Islamization in the country. Similarly, a small but vibrant community of Jews lived in Karachi but it decreased especially after Arab-Israeli wars. Today, like the Jews, the Jains are also non-existent in Pakistan. Several names like Dhalla (now given Islamic name as Liaquatabad) and Bhabra in Lahore remind Jains’ presence before partition but hardly a Pakistani knows this fact. There are several Jain temples here in Pakistan but these deserted religious places are mistaken for Hindu temples. For example, the Jain Mandir (Jain Temple) in Lahore was demolished by angry Muslim mobs in 1992 after the Hindus demolished Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India. The intersection next to this demolished Jain temple was named as Babri Chowk (or Babri Cross) after the temple was demolished.
Although the religious minorities are fleeing the country, it would be inappropriate to say that only they are the ones who are leaving. In 2010 Pakistan was the 8th largest asylum seeker in industrialized countries. There was 66 percent increase with more than 18000 Pakistani asylum seekers in 2011 and “Pakistan jumped from eighth to fifth place in the list of countries of origin for asylum seekers”. Obviously, religious minorities make a very small percentage of these asylum seekers. There are about 2.2 million Pakistanis living in Europe and most of them are Muslims. In Germany the majority of Pakistanis are Ahmaddiyya. Hence, it would be inaccurate that this is only the religious minorities who are fleeing. It would be more appropriate to say that all insecure sections of society are evacuating the country. The poor Pakistani Hindus and Christians are far behind in this struggle due to lack of resources.
Pakistan needs to revisit its policies that are causing economic meltdown and increasing instability and insecurity. Flight of religious minorities should be used only as a yardstick but not for witch-hunt if Pakistan is serious to bringing a phenomenal change in its social and political landscape and making it congenial for their living. Religious minorities are fleeing the country because the founding father Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s words have long been ignored. “No civilised government can be run successfully without giving minorities a complete sense of security and confidence. They must be made to feel that they have a hand in government and to this end must have adequate representation in it. Pakistan will give it”, he told to Associated Press of America on November 8, 1946 when Pakistan had yet to come into existence. If the President of Pakistan, the Interior Ministry and provincial governments really mean to address grievances of religious minorities then they must pay heed to the Pakistan which Mr. Jinnah envisioned for minorities.

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