Pakistan Hindus: Return to roots – Sandhya Jain

Pakistan Hindus: Return to roots – Sandhya Jain

December 1, 2011 : “The intensified activism of the tablighi jamaat is making life increasingly hellish for Hindus. There is no sunwai (justice) when Hindu girls are kidnapped, converted, married off and never seen again; fear is a constant companion. The al-jahaad (eternal fight) is menacing and all-pervasive.” – Sandhya Jain

Amidst heightened sectarian strife in Pakistan, both inter-community as well as intra-Islam, a small jatha of Hindu landless labourers has reached the capital in quest of asylum, and eventual citizenship. Growing incidents of abduction and forced conversion, especially of minor girls who disappear behind the veil, have instilled deep insecurity in the minority community over the years. Marauding tablighi groups are fuelling an incandescent intolerance of non-Muslims in society, and hatred for kafirs has acquired a chilling vibrancy.

Tensions are particularly high in Sindh, Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province where Hindus are increasingly being forced to embrace Islam in order to survive. It is from Sindh province that 114 Bagri community members have come to Delhi in the hope of settling down in some congenial place once the central government grants permission to stay.

The Bagris originally hail from Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, and claim their ancestors fought alongside Maharana Pratap. When Sindh opted for Pakistan at the time of partition, they found themselves beached in the new country. Bagris comprise around 10 percent of Pakistan’s Hindu population; they worship Ram ji, Krishen ji, Hanuman ji and Durga.

In Pakistan, they were always the children of a lesser god. Group leaders Ganga Ram Bagri (45) and Arjun Das Bagri (40) say their generation was born in Pakistan and in their personal memory, things deteriorated sharply for Hindus under Gen. Zia. They do not remember earlier rulers, but hold Gen. Pervez Musharraf as the best as he did not persecute Hindus. Even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was not bad, they aver, but Benazir Bhutto was not good from a minority perspective. Indians who recall her hysterical ranting on Kashmir, and crude gestures to dismember Governor Jagmohan, would have no difficulty endorsing this view.

Amidst the enhanced Islamisation of Pakistani society, the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was a distinct watershed. Hindu temples were looted and razed en masse with bulldozers, women brutalized, priests beaten up, and the community terrorized. Now temples mostly survive as small shrines within homes. Hardly a handful still function in public places, mostly where the Hindu population is large or good Muslims protect them. The Ravidas Mandir in Haiderabad, Sindh, is still safe, as is the Balmiki temple, because the community is needed for the services it provides.

But the intensified activism of the tablighi jamaat is making life increasingly hellish for Hindus. There is no sunwai (justice) when Hindu girls are kidnapped, converted, married off and never seen again; fear is a constant companion. The al-jahaad (eternal fight) is menacing and all-pervasive. 

The bitterest conflicts centre round the cremation of the dead, with tablighi adherents insisting on burials. There are violent fights every time a person dies, and in some places like Matiari, local Hindus have been forced to bury the dead in separate spaces, apart from the Muslim graveyards. This refugee group successfully resisted burials by going far into the Sindh river to cremate the bodies on sandbars; but each death sees violence, for such is the hatred of Hindus.

Cumulative stress and encouragement from some visiting Hindu leaders made the Bagris secretly plan to return to their roots in India. Ganga Ram said they tried several times to get visas to visit India in the last five years, but were refused each time. Finally this year, they managed to join a jatha of 500 pilgrims, and armed with visas to visit multiple Indian cities like Amritsar, Haridwar, Raipur, Indore and others, crossed the Atari border on Sept. 4, 2011.

After visiting the Golden Temple and spending four days at Amritsar, this group of 114 persons arrived in Delhi on Sept. 8 and took refuge in the Dera Dhunni Das Ji at Majnu ka Tila. The current Baba, H.H. Rajkumar Pappu Ji, is continuing a tradition established by his grandfather, H.H. Dhunni Dass Ji, who regularly visited Pakistan to give solace to his devotees and took care of those who arrived in India and did not wish to return. Under his guidance, the group has appealed to the Prime Minister, the President, and the National Human Rights Commission for refugee status as their visas have long expired.

They are determined not to return, they say, for the sake of their religion and the girl-children. The Bagris are now keen to educate their children as hitherto girls could not be educated for fear of their safety, and boys could not be educated as the education incited them against the faith and inevitably resulted in conversions. Ashram volunteer Naveen Jain observed that the women and girls have blossomed in their short stay in India. When they arrived barely a month ago, they used to cower behind black chadors; the volunteers literally tore these ‘masks’ off and told them to live and breathe freely. They have adapted beautifully.

The men hope to get work as agricultural labour in neighbouring states, as that is the only occupation they know. Pakistan, they reminiscence, is rich in water resources and food is plentiful; they is no real poverty. But there is too much beimani (cheating) and Hindu sharecroppers are not given their dues, which makes many convert under pressure. The large landlords of Sindh are brutal and some even maintain private jails where Hindu labour is incarcerated at night, which means they are slaves and get no wages, only food for subsistence.

Rich Hindus are hardly better off, they reveal, as they are constantly harassed for protection money. Recently, on Nov. 9, four Hindu doctors were shot dead in Chak town of Sindh; police hinted at a dispute involving a girl. The Bagri refugees, however, said that as the attack took place on Id, it was most likely part of an extortion racket flourishing in the area.

Undeniably, Sindh’s Hindu community lives in great anxiety and insecurity. On Nov. 13, at a mass wedding organised by the Pakistan Hindu Council, hundreds took a pledge of allegiance to the State of Pakistan. This political gesture, completely out of sync with the social occasion, is a telling commentary on Pakistan’s inability to weave religious tolerance into its national ethos, and its insistence on Islam as the basis of nationhood even when Islam has utterly failed to weld any Muslim society together. Islam desperately needs a reformation to acknowledge non-Islamic factors like ancient civilisation, culture, or ethnicity, in the making of a nation.

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