Mithi, a small city in the Sindh’s Tharparkar district, is famous for its display of interfaith harmony. It is also the only city in Pakistan with a Hindu majority population. The city is a haven for the Hindu community due to the socially inclusive community they have at Mithi compared to anywhere else in Pakistan. A Hindu, when steps out of this haven, however, realises the rest of the country is perhaps not as tolerant as they had thought it would be.
Kapil Dev, a Hindu activist, narrates how their first encounter of discrimination was at educational spaces where they felt “marginalised and otherised”. As a youth from a religious minority, they had never heard the word “non-Muslim”, and they had never realised that their primary identity will become that of a non-Muslim rather than of a Hindu.
“This cultural shock of moving from a quaint town with religious harmony to big cities with little to no tolerance, in hindsight, also helped develop political consciousness in me,” Kapil Dev said.
Many Hindus start recognising the pattern of discrimination, and many, in turn, become activists to help the voiceless in their community.
The microaggression in educational spaces and social interactions looks like discrimination in textbooks, segregation in classes, reserving separate utensils for a Hindu, or being told to go back to their city and being unable to find a place for rent. As intolerance in the daily lives of Hindus increases, it is further perpetuated by acts of violent extremism against the community, showing the community that they are children of a lesser God.
The indoctrination of the majority population in Pakistan regarding the treatment of religious minorities enables people to justify their discrimination and ill-treatment and to sweep most of the incidents under the rug.
The reported cases of forced conversion in Punjab alone are 52% of which forced conversion of Hindu girls makes up 54.3% of it, according to Centre of Social Justice (CSJ) data of 2020. A vast majority of cases of forced conversions are not reported and even if they are, the courts are unable to take action because of the lack of existing laws for the protection of minors and minority groups.
It is believed that most of these forced conversions happen in low-income areas because there is a lack of awareness there. The lack of awareness coupled with financial troubles makes it easy for perpetrators to find their victims and convert them. The lack of accountability enables people to commit crimes and get away with them with little to no resistance.
IS MIGRATION A SOLUTION?
The activist, Kapil Dev points out that migration for him and other Hindu activists is out of the question. They have affiliated themselves with the work they have done and have achieved something for their community.
“It took years to become something. The society has invested in us, leaving is not an option,” Kapil Dev explained.
When the activist was asked if he thinks people from his community prefer migration to India, he told that times have changed, and because of the current fascist regime of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Hindus are not happy with the situation in India either and see it as a step backward with the rise of Hindutva Ideology.
According to the activist, very few people now migrate to India unless they are traders or from low-income households. “India is not an opportunity for a Pakistani Hindu due to a lack of economic growth opportunities, and migration to India will not change the situation for them,” he added.
Many Hindus similar to other religious minorities are, however, migrating to western countries and see them as a far better alternative than moving to India.
In recent years, incidents of violence against Hindus have become common, whether it is demolition of temples or blasphemy cases filed against children as small as 8 years old.
The State has been recently taking action and responding to these hate crimes, making the future slightly more hopeful than it will ever be. During the recent case of a mob attack on a Hindu temple in Rahim Yar Khan district, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swift response on accountability of culprits and order of restoration of the temple glimmered as a ray of hope for the community.
جس طرح حکومت نے اپنی رحیم یار خان واقعے پر اپنی رِٹ دکھائی اور ناقابل اعتبار عرصے میں نا فقط مندر کی بحالی بلکہ ملزموں کے خلاف توہین کا پرچہ کاٹ کر گرفتاریاں کی اور چھوٹے بچے پر توہین کا کیس خارج کیا ہے یقینٱ قابل ستائش ہے۔ امید ہے جبری مذہبی تبدیلی پر بھی اسی طرح رٹ دکھاۓ گی۔
— Kapil Dev (@KDSindhi) August 12, 2021
The Hindu community feels that the State is improving its role but also understands that there is a long way for mindsets to truly change and policies to actually come to fruition.
واقعی یہ بات درست ہے کہ اس قسم کے گھنونے کام “چند” شر پسند عناصر کرتے ہیں۔ مگر آخر کیا ماجرا ہے کہ ریاست ان “چند” شر پسند عناصر کو قابو کرنے میں ابھی تک ناکام رہی ہے نتیجٱ ہمیں بحیثیت قوم ان کا خمیازہ بھگتنا پڑتا ہے۔ اور عالمی سطح پر بدنامی کا باعث الگ بنتے ہیں۔
— Kapil Dev (@KDSindhi) August 6, 2021
The acknowledgment by the State in its role in mitigating intolerance does restore the faith in the state from the minority groups.
The deplorable attack on a Hindu temple in Bhong, Rahimyar Khan, is a recurring example of mob-led violence against vulnerable religious minorities. The fact that this occurred in response to a court granting bail to a child charged with a minor offence is of particular concern. pic.twitter.com/aDENO5PKte
— Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (@HRCP87) August 5, 2021
On the downside of things, the Prohibition of Forced Conversions Act 2019 has failed to pass in Sindh Assembly due to reservations from religious parties as well as the center-left wing party, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Talks on the bill started again in 2020 but to no avail. The age for forced conversion has been a blockade in the passing of this bill, where the policymakers cannot reach a consensus of whether a minor can be converted to another faith or not.
The draft of the anti-forced conversion bill that was presented to the Ministry of Religious Affairs recently has been under scrutiny due to the way it is being handled. The meeting in which the bill was discussed only included Muslims and there were serious reservations on the age at which conversion of religion is permissible.
While the State has been able to take note of mass reported acts of violence, upliftment of vulnerable people in the community and improving conditions may still be a long way to go.