By Arshad Abbasi
Pakistan being a Muslim majority state promises equal rights to non-Muslims. Right after independence, Mr. Jinnah set the direction for ensuring and provision of basic rights and securities to the minorities living in Pakistan. “You are free, you are free to go to your temples, and you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State,” uttered by Jinnah in his first speech to the Constituent Assembly in August 1947.
However, these words remain in the annals of the country’s history bereft of practical meaning and substance.
The focus of this piece of writing is on the Hindu minority albeit their condition can provide the context to assess the situation of other religious minorities.
Hindus constitute the largest non-Muslim group in the country. But today the number of this minority in Pakistan is decreasing and they are fleeing to other countries where their rights are better protected.
Hindus form 1.6% of the total population of Pakistan. Hindu population is living all around in Pakistan but their majority is concentrated in Sindh and the region of South Punjab.
Minorities in Pakistan face numerous problems. The social structure of the Hindus is very different from what the Muslim practice in their daily life. There is division and discrimination within the Hindus that makes their intercaste interaction less, resulting in a division within division and class within class. This adds to their plight because if a community is reluctant to interact within, their problems and issues might go unresolved. Lack of unity exposes them to the excesses of the majority communities.
The study and observation of the Hindu population in Sindh and South Punjab reveal stark dissimilarities. As a majority of the Hindu population is concentrated in the province of Sindh, there they have more resources in terms of education and employment as compare to the Hindus living in South Punjab.
Regarding the employment opportunities, the Hindu population in Sindh is gaining strength in terms of the economic resources for they are having more and better opportunities for employment.
However, the Punjab government has not been able to address the issues of the Hindu community in the South Punjab as effectively as ensured by its counterpart in Sindh.
One of the main causes of the Hindus concern is that forces conversion of their girls. The girls escape from house as a result of kidnapping, when they are found; they are forcefully married to some Muslim boy and converted to Islam. The judicial procedure has not been able to establish the truth of the conversion is the girl is with her new in-laws and there is pressure on her to give the public statement in accordance with what they say.
Sindh government has been more responsive towards protecting the right of the Hindus in their province. The declaration of the public holiday on Holi, the first province to pass the marriage bill regarding Hindu and other non-Muslim marriages and the clauses related to the conversion of Hindus are great step forward
The Hindu population forms a sizable minority in Sindh as they are in form of the clusters but the size of the Hindu population in the South Punjab is less and scattered ,which is one of the main reason of their being neglected at various levels.
The Hindus of South Punjab live in vulnerable precincts encircled by religious and sectarian zealots who exercise subtle pressure and domination on them. On the contrary, the Hindus living in Sindh have sizable population centres which provide them safety net against exploitation although the situation is not enviable for them. This is only in comparison with the Hindu minority living in other parts of the country.
Even at the political level, it is the Hindu representatives from Sindh who are able to make it to the corridors of power whereas the South Punjabi Hindu community remains under-represented due to the electoral map of the province.
South Punjab itself finds at odds with the rest of Punjab hence being treated as minority sub-provincial unit within Punjab. This deals a double blow to the Hindus living in the almost ghettoised clusters.
In Sindh, the Hindu minority is well-knit and closely tied to the majority communities in terms of facing problems and seeking their resolution.
What comes out of this comparison is that the Hindu community of South Punjab should learn from their brethren in Sindh about extracting favourable treatment from the government through affirmative action.
On its part, the Punjab provincial government needs to learn from the approach and actions of the Sindh government to bring the Hindus and other minorities at par with the rest of the citizenry.
The present state of affairs on this count is well described by an analyst Iqbal Mustafa in his book “Dysfunctional Democracy in Pakistan” “we have ignored the long term for so long that even now short term looks difficult”.
All is not yet lost, the provincial and central governments can take the right step in right direction to alleviate the situation for the minorities. The passage of the Hindu Marriage Bill by the Senate after the National Assembly is an encouraging development. Its enforcement in letter and spirit would be the litmus test of the authorities and a positive development for all the Minorities in general and Hindus in particular.