Pakistan Has Inveterate Enmity with Hindus, says community leader

Pakistani flag

During the British Raj, the Indian Deobandi and Barelvi Islamic schools worked tirelessly to portray Hinduism’s survival as an existential threat to the Islamic civilization. The rulers supported this agenda because, among other things, it served to weaken national unity and divert public attention away from colonial masters’ resource thievery, barbarities, and carnage.

The irreparable schism eventually enabled the British in establishing a Muslim Pakistan on the premise that mutually hostile Muslims and Hindus would fail to govern a united India. It should therefore come as no surprise that Pakistan’s foreign policy has been largely based on anti-Hindu sentiment for the past seventy-five years.

Every year, Pakistan’s rulers spend a sizable portion of the country’s resources instilling Hindu hatred in the populace. Policymakers believe that anti-Hindu propaganda is critical to bringing together various Muslim racial and sectarian groups in order to keep the country from disintegrating. The rulers have based the country’s Kashmir policy on Hindu xenophobia, allowing the military to frame the separation of Kashmir from India as an Islamic duty. Military leaders are well aware that as long as they can link the country’s security to the Hindu threat, they can use the Kashmir conflict as a primary source of revenue and claim an unlimited amount of funding from the national budget.

As a result of indoctrination through fabricated history taught in schools, the vast majority of Pakistanis believe that a Hindu-majority India is constantly conspiring against their right to sovereignty and development. This distorted perspective allows rulers to blame alleged Indian interference for their own incompetence, blunders, and treachery. Even today, blaming India for Bangladesh’s uprising against Punjab’s apartheid qualifies as a measure of patriotism in Pakistan. In addition, the rulers use the media to blame India for the ethnic unrest and extrajudicial killings of Shias, Baloch, and Pashtuns.

Pakistani rulers also use India as a scapegoat for Gilgit Baltistan’s continued deprivation of basic rights, as well as for the closure of roads along the de facto border, which prevents families in Ladakh and Baltistan from regularly visiting one another. India is also accused of plotting to prevent Russia from establishing strategic ties with Islamabad as well as for the United States distancing itself from Pakistan’s duplicitous behavior.

India also gets blamed for sowing discord among Pakistan’s neighbors, including Iran and Afghanistan. Many analysts believe that, more than communism, the perception of growing Hindu influence in Afghanistan has kept the Pakistani army’s terrorist operations in the Pashtun belt going. In this context, Hindu hatred acts as a powerful magnet for attracting and recruiting Islamic terrorists.

Pakistan’s army has fought four wars against India and lost all of them. Unfortunately, the resentment and anger generated by failed invasion attempts has fallen on Pakistan’s poor Hindus, who are routinely discriminated against and attacked by Muslims. Additionally, Hindus are frequently attacked in Europe, America, and Australia as a result of Pakistanis spreading their anti-India prejudice on a global scale. Last year, British Muslims vandalized Hindu businesses and religious symbols in Leicester following Pakistan’s loss to the Indian cricket team in the Asia Cup.

In 2021, the US State Department designated Pakistan as a country of particular concern for religious freedom violations. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, discrimination against Pakistani Hindus is becoming more visible in both society and the law. According to Indian media, Hindus are allegedly targeted more frequently during the Holi and Diwali festivals. In March of this year, Jamat-e-Islami goons attacked and injured many Hindu students celebrating Holi at Punjab and Karachi universities.

In its 2023 report, Amnesty International urged Pakistan’s government to protect Hindu girls from kidnapping, torture, and involuntary conversion and marriage. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2019 report on Pakistan, over a thousand Christian and Hindu girls are kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam each year, with the government doing little to prevent this. Hindu conversion is a major source of revenue for religious charities.

In March 2023, hundreds of Hindus marched from the Press Club to the Sindh Provincial Assembly to protest forced conversions and marriages. Among them were victims who had lost daughters and sisters to Muslim captors, as well as those who had lost ancestral land to Muslim mafia and developers. According to media reports, no human rights organizations were represented at the protest. Furthermore, no political party officials attended the rally because they cannot afford to lose significant Muslim votes by supporting anti-conversion protests.

Among the protesters was Marui Meghwar, whose daughter Sheela was abducted and converted in a local Madrasa on March 19. The police had refused to admit her daughter’s case for fear of retaliation from the religious community. Her father stated that he observed her wearing a hijab to conceal bruises on her eyes and neck. Another participant, Chanda Maharaj, was there to seek government assistance in reclaiming her two daughters from the Muslim captors. Her daughters were taken to a safe house after a medical examination revealed that they were minors. In Pakistan, a converted child is usually placed in Muslim foster care rather than returned to non-Muslim parents.

Pakistani Hindus are subjected to systemic discrimination in all aspects of life. They are denied justice, basic socio-economic rights, job opportunities, and adequate salaries because of their religion. Many Hindus, like other non-Muslims, make a living as bonded laborers. Given the circumstances, some convert to avoid discrimination and violence.

During the COVID lockdowns, Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis, and even Shias faced discrimination. Hindus were excluded from social welfare programs and aid that the government received from foreign donors. According to reports, many Hindus received aid only after agreeing to convert to Islam. Those who refused to convert remained unattended and many died as a result of starvation and lack of medical attention. In Sindh, extremist Muslims attacked a Shia organization for distributing aid to COVID-impacted Hindus.

In the article “Poor and Desperate, Pakistani Hindus Accept Islam to Get By,” Zia ur-Rehman of the New York Times quoted Lal Chand Mahli, a former Hindu lawmaker, as saying that influential Muslims exploit illiterate Hindus to convert in exchange for food, medical attention, jobs, and land. Ms. Ispahani, a former Pakistani legislator, also told the New York Times’ Maria Abi-Habib that even during difficult times, such as the 2010 floods, which displaced millions; Muslims refused starving Hindus access to meal centers.

Blasphemy laws, which promote demographic changes and violence against religious minorities, are an integral part of Pakistan’s constitution. In its 2022 report, Human Rights Watch urged Pakistan to protect Hindus from the abuse of blasphemy laws that lead to the death penalty and mob attacks on Hindu villages. Many Hindus have been charged with blasphemy simply for speaking out against socioeconomic discrimination and religious persecution. Notan Lal, the principal of a school in District Ghotki, had his school attacked and destroyed in 2019 after one of his Muslim students accused him of insulting Prophet Muhammad. The mob marched to his neighborhood, where they also destroyed Hindu businesses, homes, and the local temple. Lal is now in prison serving a life sentence. Similarly, in August 2021, a Muslim mob attacked and damaged a Hindu temple in District Rahim Yar Khan after an 8-year-old Hindu boy was accused of dirtying a carpet at a Muslim school.

In its 2021 report, Pakistan’s Minorities Rights Commission painted a depressing picture of the country’s Hindu religious sites and specifically charged the government with negligence. According to the commission’s response to the Supreme Court, revered Hindu sites are in a state of oblivion and decay and face theft and encroachment.

Muslim marauders destroyed seven Hindu temples between 2020 and 2021. In 2020, hundreds of Muslims led by a local cleric destroyed and set fire to District Karak’s ancient temple. Similarly, ahead of the Holi festival in March 2021, a Muslim mob attacked a hundred-year-old temple in Rawalpindi. As the military prepares to expand its Chaklala garrison in Rawalpindi, 54 Hindu families fear displacement and the destruction of their temple and graveyard. This is the same Maharishi Valmek Swamiji temple that was set on fire by a Muslim mob in 1992. Reports claim that there are now only two temples left for Rawalpindi’s seven thousand Hindu residents.

Sindh is home to more than 95 percent of Pakistan’s Hindus. This province is ruled by Bilawal Bhutto, the country’s face of liberal and progressive politics. Non-Muslims see Bilawal as their last hope, but he has been unable to prevent Hindu and Christian attacks on his home turf.

Due to religious persecution and forced conversion, approximately five thousand Pakistani Hindus flee to India each year. Bhagwan Das, one of 71 Hindus escaping to India in 2015, claimed that Pakistani Muslims treated them as second-class citizens. Further, their children had no access to adequate education or healthcare. Children were forced to read the Quran, and girls were sexually abused. Fearing for their lives, they reduced temple visits and prayed at home the majority of the time.

Ishwar Lal, who moved to India in 2014, said he felt liberated and was experiencing religious freedom for the first time in his life. He believes that in India, everyone respects each other’s faith. Another Hindu refugee, Pahlaj, claimed that almost all Pakistani Hindus desired to leave the country to avoid persecution. Since 2011, the Indian government has granted citizenship to over 1,400 Pakistanis, the vast majority of whom are Hindus.

It is reassuring that Pakistani Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs have found safety in India; however, this has resulted in large-scale demographic changes in their ancestral lands. It also has a negative impact on the economy and social fabric of Hindu-dominated districts, such as Tharparker and Umerkot.

Today, Pakistan’s economic situation is such that not only non-Muslims, but also the vast majority of Muslims, are trying to leave the country. This situation would not exist today if the money spent on hurting India and Afghanistan had been used to boost regional trade and the manufacturing industry. This year, India allocated $14 billion to Kashmir’s developmental budget, while Pakistan is scrambling from pillar to post to pay its debts to China and Saudi Arabia. The rulers must implement radical policy changes that shift away from an anti-Hindu agenda and towards transnational integration to avert the country’s implosion.

Senge Sering is the President of Gilgit Baltistan Institute in Washington D.C.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor

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