New York, March 17: Hindu American Foundation today released its eighth annual Hindu human rights report today amidst increased concern over the worsening plight of Hindus in Pakistan. The report, Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights, 2011, documents human rights violations against Hindus in Pakistan as well as seven other countries and regions around the world, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago. It also summarizes the situation facing the small Hindu populations in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
According to the Foundation, Hindu minorities continue to be subjected to violent attacks, restrictions on religious freedom, discriminatory laws, and economic and social marginalization in many of these nations. In Malaysia, for instance, HAF asserts that the Bumiputra (Sons of the Soil) policies, enshrined in Article 153 of the Constitution, provide economic and social benefits to the majority ethnic Muslim Malay population, while explicitly discriminating against Hindus and other minorities. Moreover, non-Muslims are increasingly compelled to adjudicate family law cases through the Islamic Sharia law court system. This past November, the Foundation sponsored a Congressional briefing, Institutionalized Racism and Religious Discrimination in Malaysia, with exiled Malaysian Hindu civil rights leader, Waytha Moorthy, in order to raise awareness on these issues.
“While we are encouraged by improvements in the condition of Hindus in countries such as Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago, the situation for Hindus continues to significantly deteriorate in other areas, particularly Pakistan and Malaysia,” said Ramesh Rao, PhD, HAF’s Human Rights Coordinator and author of its 2011 report. “It is absolutely imperative that the international community and the U.S. government urgently address the systematic and rampant denial of fundamental human rights in these countries.”
The recent kidnapping and forced conversion of a young Pakistani Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari, is indicative of the danger faced by the Hindu community in Pakistan, allege several human rights groups. Kumari was reportedly kidnapped from her home in Sindh province, forcibly converted to Islam, and married to a Muslim man with the assistance of a leading Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) politician’s son. The case has attracted widespread media attention and has shed light on the common practice of kidnappings and forced conversions in this South Asian nation.
According to numerous sources, including the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), at least 20 – 25 Hindu girls are kidnapped and converted to Islam every month in the southern Sindh province alone. HRCP further contends that local politicians, police authorities, and the courts are frequently complicit in such kidnappings and conversions, or fail to adequately protect the victims.
Kumari’s case has also garnered the interest of U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), who wrote directly to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari earlier this week, urging him to intervene on Kumari’s behalf and ensure her safe return to her family. Rep. Sherman’s letter further called on President Zardari to put an end to the kidnappings and other acts of “harassment” of the Hindu community in Pakistan.
“Rinkle Kumari’s case is a heartbreaking example of the desperate plight faced by Hindu girls and their families in Pakistan,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights. “Unfortunately, such kidnappings are only one of a litany of abuses Hindus confront in that country.” The Foundation’s latest report notes that Hindus and other minorities are subjected to a wide range of violence and persecution in Pakistan, including abductions for ransom, attacks on places of worship, and institutional and legal discrimination. Poor rural Hindus are also victimized by the bonded labor system, where they are unable to pay off debts to feudal landlords.
The majority of Pakistan’s remaining Hindu population reside in Sindh, with smaller concentrations in the provinces of Balochistan, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkwa. Many Sindhi advocacy groups, such as World Sindhi Congress (WSC) and the Sindhi American Political Action Committee (SAPAC) have been active in raising awareness about the plight of Hindus in Sindh.