Being a Hindu…in Pakistan
One of the most revered shrine in Balochistan ‘Nani Ki Haj’is located around 200 kilometres from Karachi - and 20 km from the Arabian Sea. Every summer thousands of believers from far and wide congregate to offer saffron clothes and a sweet called 'Sirini' to the deity.
‘Nani Ki Haj’is actually Hinglaj Mata Mandir, one of the 51 Shakatipeeths – in fact the most important one as Hingula or Hinglaj is where Sati’s head fell.
Had the shrine been in India, Hinglaj Mata’s fame could have easily matched that of Mata Vaishno Devi.
Locals – including many Muslims (reportedly) revere the shrine - but Hinglaj is in Pakistan and the temple is nothing more than a cave by the side of a hill.
The condition of minorities, especially Hindus in Pakistan is similar to Hinglaj’s ruined state…unwanted citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
At the time of Pakistan’s creation, Hindus constituted about 15% of total population and has formed only 2% of the mix, thanks to Pakistan’s hard-line blasphemy laws and the rise of radical Islamist outfits, including forced conversions, which have made the lives of minorities a living hell.
Even after 65 years of partition, about 3.5 million Hindus living in Pakistan have an uncertain future. They are left to perish; they are targeted and discriminated.
It’s not that only Hindus are in a pathetic state in Pakistan - the condition of other minorities including Christians, Iranian Shias, Sikhs and Parsis is also no better.
Though Pakistan has started taking significant steps aimed at restoring democratic institutions, successive civilian governments - controlled by its powerful Army, ISI and radical clerics - have done little to protect minorities.
It is no longer a secret that minorities in Pakistan are being denied their basic rights, religious freedom and, more importantly, their right to lead a secure and peaceful life in a country where they have lived for generations.
No one cares about Rimple Kumari, Lata Kumari and hundreds of unknown Hindu girls who are being abducted, raped, killed or forcibly converted to Islam every month.
Rimple Kumari may have had the guts to seek justice - freedom from her captor husband and reunion with her family - from Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chowdhary but she is an exception and the world knows it.
But her bold move at least helped in highlighting the case of dozens of young Hindu girls, especially those living in the Sindh, Karachi and Balochistan, who are ‘marked’ by local goons and then kidnapped, raped, forcibly converted to Islam and married against their wish.
Despite knocking at the doors of Pakistan’s highest court, Rimple did not get what she wanted - justice. She was threatened of dire consequences, her family members were targeted by local goons, her voice was finally silenced and she was forced to accept her destined new life as ‘Fariyal Shah’.
In a dramatic twist on April 18, she told the Pakistan Supreme Court that she had willingly converted to Islam and wanted to spend her entire life as an ‘obedient’ wife in the presence of her husband Naveed Shah. A helpless Pakistan Supreme Court, bound by her admission, could do nothing.
ZohraYusuf, the chief of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan admits that the minorities living there are routinely targeted, harassed and usurped their properties. She laments that their girls are being kidnapped, raped and converted to Islam all due to religious hatred.
The condition of minorities has further worsened after the brutal assassinations of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who made brave efforts to restore the honour of non-Muslims.
Consequently, hundreds of Hindu families, forced by years of social exploitation, economic backwardness, religious and cultural discrimination, are fleeing to India to lead a life with dignity and peace.
However, New Delhi’s response to them has not been very encouraging. They continue to face humiliation as ‘strangers’ and have been pushed to live in refugee camps spread across Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab in deplorable condition without much government help.
Their hope of easy rehabilitation and obtaining an Indian citizenship fades as they struggle with their daily life and new identity - ‘refugees’. They are unwelcome in India and have no takers for their heart-rending stories.
The political establishment here continues to make serious efforts to ensure a better living to the religious minorities residing here and a bigger pie of the country’s economic prosperity.
However, the same establishment treats the migrant Hindus as ‘strangers’ and Pakistani ‘spies’. Instead of pressing Pakistan to protect the minorities and restore their honour, it prefers to remain silent.
Despite grim situation, I still hope that good sense will prevail and the political leadership on both sides will rise from their deep slumber and realise that in a vibrant democracy all are equal and have equal rights.
The flame at Hinglaj Mandir has been fighting strong winds for the past 65 years. It has not yet extinguished, but who knows about tomorrow.