Debate on separate status for scheduled castes of Hindu community

Debate on separate status for scheduled castes of Hindu community

HYDERABAD:Whether the scheduled caste in Hindu community be identified as a separate group within Hindu minority in Pakistan or should they be assimilated in the Hindu mainstream? Two groups of political and social activists from that community appear at loggerheads regarding which of the either paths to follow to acquire greater rights and opportunities.

At a dialogue titled ‘Challenges and Opportunities for Vulnerable Groups within Pakistan’s Hindu Community’, both the sides advanced their arguments over the contentious issue. The event was organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at a hotel in Hyderabad on Monday.

Proponents of separate group for the scheduled caste of Hindus claim that if they are recognised in Pakistan as a separate group within a religious minority, it will protect their vulnerability and bring them greater rights. The other group, which opposes what they call attempts to create religious segregation, vouches for assimilation in the mainstream as Pakistani nationals who should enjoy equal rights.

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“There is a need of a very sensitive discourse on this issue. The people should avoid dealing it with emotions,” suggested professor Badar Soomro, a member of HRCP, who heads mass communication department in Sindh University.

He suggested that the democratic way for solving the problem should be adopted. “The group supporting separate identity should begin a signature campaign. If they get enough support, they should either engage the state or plead in the court of law [for separate status],” he proposed.

Around three to four million scheduled caste Hindus live in Sindh, mainly in the southern districts of Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Tharparkar.

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Pushpa Kumari, who works for a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said the Hindus have remained divided in four castes for many centuries. “We are regarded as the fourth class, which is the lowest and equals to feet in the human body,” she said.

She blamed the upper class Hindus of exploiting the scheduled caste and reaping all benefits in the form of education, employment and business in their name. “Our Dalit Sujaag Tehreek [Dalit Awareness Movement] wants to create a realisation among our community for our rights and political representation as a separate group of Hindus,” she said.

Radha Bheel questioned the detractors of Dalit movement for separate quota that why they did not oppose the quota system when it was introduced for urban and rural Sindh. “It shows that they also believe that vulnerable groups need special support and protection.”

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Ishaq Bhagri, a local councillor elected on reserved seat for minorities, disapproved of a distinctive status, as well as quota for the minorities. “We still end up getting less in funds and development,” he contended, pointing out his own example.

Another speaker was Aakash Santorai, a former journalist and current member of Bilawal House’s media team, who is regarded as fierce opponent of the Dalit movement. “Some NGOs and politicians want to stamp us as the scheduled caste. But we want dignity and equality,” he asserted.

He said the phenomenon of religious discrimination among Pakistani Hindus is being played up. “Dalit or scheduled caste is an Indian brand. But some elements are trying to launch it in Pakistan too. I consider both these tags as abusive to our community,” Santorai postulated. “The key is education, not segregation or labelling us as lower class.”

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Civil society activist, Zahida Detho, said the class-based discrimination and denial of opportunities is suffered by all Pakistanis alike, including Muslims. Hero Tharkur, who has remained engaged with HRCP and other rights groups for two decades in their campaign against the bonded labour, felt that the community has moved ahead over past few decades. “Around 20 years ago, even the groups within the scheduled caste did not eat in each other’s plates. Now this discrimination has ended thanks to education.”

Harji Lal, another NGO activist, was also against the separate status for scheduled castes. He said the labelling of scheduled caste will lower the employment, growth and equal rights prospects for his people. “If Martin Luther King had wanted separate status for the black people, Barack Obama wouldn’t have become the United States president,” he said.

Lahore-based HRCP’s member Chaudhry Najamuddin, who chaired the event, said the positive discrimination of considering the scheduled caste as a separate religious group will not provide a permanent solution. However, he saw no harm in the temporary application of that status pointing out that globally this concept is tried for the marginalised communities.