Over the years, Pakistan has becomes a dangerous place for religious minorities. The transition from Islamic fundamentalism to extremism is the result of poor government policies and the reluctance of the political class to act strongly against extremist groups. The interference by the international community in promoting sectarian and religious violence is yet another reason. For instance, Madrasas mostly funded by Saudi Arabia, influence and radicalize Pakistani Muslims.

The government of Pakistan is unable to control the situation and extremist groups are involved in every kind of human rights violation.

“The State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom report for 2011 observed that there have been instances in which law enforcement personnel in Pakistan have reportedly abused religious minorities while in police custody, along with a general apathy shown by the authorities to persecute extremists or those targeting religious minorities” [1].

Regarding the status of religious minorities in Pakistan, many human rights organizations both national and international submitted a Universal Periodic Review report in 2012 in UN Sub council. According to this report, Pakistan failed to implement several Universal Periodic Review recommendations in 2008, including those on freedom of religion and protection of religious minorities; an increase in violent attacks on minorities and religious groups such as Christians, Ahamadis and Shia Muslims was also reported.It was also pointed out that the government of Pakistan has not taken any measures to prevent forced conversions of young girls from Hinduism and other minority groups; it was stated that Hindus and Christians face social discrimination and stigma based on stereotypes [2].

Except religious parties, all political parties in Pakistan talk about minority rights and have included them in their manifesto. However, they have no clear position on the genuine issues faced by religious minorities and how to protect them through legislation. The first step would essentially be repealing discriminatory laws, the manifestos remain silent on that.

We now describe in detail, how human rights of the minorities are violated in almost all walks of  their lives in Pakistan.

Attacks against religious places of worship

The religious minorities have limited freedom of religion in lieu of the government practices in Pakistan [3]. It has been reported many times that extremists groups specifically targeting the religious minorities in Pakistan attack temples, churches, and Imam bargah of Shias; they kill and kidnap doctors, lawyers, and active leaders among religious minorities. It is important to note that the authorities do not take any action against the culprits.

During the last few months many instances of violence have been reported against Hindus living in Sindh[4].

In the last two weeks of March 2014 alone, four temples were attacked; first, when the Hindu community was celebrating Holi in Sindh, Islamic radicals burned a Hindu temple and a dharamshala (Community Centre) in Larkana district[5].

The burning of temples in Sindh continued for the whole month of March.The other instances involved temples in Rohri, Tharparkar[6] and Hyderabad districts ; it was also reported that after burning the temples, Islamic radicals demolished and burned the graveyard of the Hindu Scheduled Castes in the village Adal Nonari, a site area Hyderabad[7].

Attack on temples and churches in Pakistan

January 2014 to May 2014

Issue of Dalits: Caste based Discrimination

Caste systems and the ensuing caste discrimination is prevalent among all religions in Pakistan, encompassing Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh communities”[8]. But, Dalits in Pakistan,mostly belonging to the Hindu religious minority  are victims of three vulnerabilities and discrimination: 1) as non-Muslims in a Muslim state, 2) lower caste status 3) who live in poor conditions in far-flung areas with limited opportunities

In Pakistan, Dalits are officially known as “Scheduled Castes”. The largest groups of scheduled caste are the Bheel, Kolhi, Meghwar, Oad, Lohar, Bagri, Balmeke, Jogi, Sansi, Rawra, Gahra, Kabutra, Guwaria, Sochi and Jathi. They are all original inhabitants. Majority of the Dalits live in Sindh and Punjab provinces. According to the 1998 census report, the  Scheduled Caste population is 3,32,343  and “upper caste” Hindus number just over 2.1 million.  However, representatives of the Scheduled Caste Hindus argue that this information is incorrect. They believe that discrimination and the state’s denial of their problems begins with the numbers.

According to the researchers, human rights activists, and local Scheduled Caste people, the real figure may be as high as seven million[9]. However, there is no as such official data of “lower castes” within the Muslim community, living under similarly depressed conditions.

Dalits are being discriminated against in every walk of life – socially, economically, culturally, religiously and politically. Poverty is rampant and 75 percent of their population is illiterate [10]. The several forms of discrimination against Scheduled Castes include forced occupation, slavery, servitude and bonded labor. The majority of Scheduled Caste people live in remote rural areas under feudal landlords.

They are mostly landless and have very limited access to land ownership. Those who do acquire a little land are subject to harassment and threats. The only reservation policy is a reinstated six per cent quota for minorities in public services, which is not being enforced [11]. Mostly their villages are segregated from upper caste villages, and they are not allowed to use the same water sources as those used by upper caste Hindus and Muslims. Prohibition of access to public places, use of utensils, sharing of food, and other similar forms of denial of equal status and rights exist [12].  They are being denied their rights as equal citizens and do not enjoy any form of protection against discrimination. Offenders generally go unpunished.

There is no particular law to curb caste-based discrimination or any form of untouchability in Pakistan. Sadly, there is no independent human rights mechanism in Pakistan to monitor caste-based discrimination.There are very few organizations that address their issues,but they also do not do so comprehensively.

On October 6, 2013, the body of a young Hindu dalit artist, Bhoro was exhumed from a grave by a Muslim mob. Muslim extremists attacked the graveyard and after exhuming the body, dragged it and threw it on a main road where it was left for hours. The police were aware of the act but did not take any steps to arrest the culprits. Instead they sent a message to the religious minority communities that they did not have any future in an Islamic country. This act was carried out in a very organized way by fundamentalists and mosque clergy, who incited the villagers through loud speakers to attack the graveyard and occupy the land; they also invited the students of various Madrasas, who came with weapons to harass the minority population [13].

Kidnappings and forced conversions of young Scheduled Caste women occur frequently and with total impunity. Scheduled Castes are subjected to exploitation by the landlords and Scheduled Caste women are also subjected to sexual harassment and rape.

On 27 February 2009, in Umerkot, Sindh,16 year old, Durgha was raped when she went to a neighbor’s shop to buy crockery items for her home. A neighborhood shopkeeper, Abdul Karim Rahimoon, took her to a room next to the shop, where he put a cloth on her face to keep her silent and then raped her. The Hudood ordinance case was lodged against the culprit without result.

Similarly, a 17 year old girl, Kastori Kolhi, was gang-raped on January 24 in Mokrio village, seven kilometers from Nagarparkar Town in Tharparkar district. She had gone to collect fodder for her animals when she was kidnapped by armed men and raped.

On 23rd January, 2010, a 15 year old Meghwar girl, Daya from Aaklee village in Tharparkar district, was abducted from her home, and forcefully converted to Islam in a Madrasa in Samaro of  Umerkot district.The abductor and his father have been threatening to kidnap more Meghwar women from village Aaaklee if anyone seeks the help of the authorities.  Consequently, after threats by abductors, seventy one  Meghwar families, fearing for the safety of their women and unable to file an FIR with the police, left their ancestral village on 1st March, 2010 and have set up make shift shelters near Mithi, in Tharparkar District [14].

The practice of migration of Scheduled Caste people from village to town continues due to a sense of insecurity. However, most of  instances of harassment go unreported.

Anti-blasphemy Law and impact on Religious minorities

Pakistan’s Penal Code includes five sections commonly known as blasphemy laws. The text of the blasphemy law is religion specific and highly discriminatory. These laws do not make any distinction between an intentional deliberate action and an unintended mistake. The introduction of Anti Blasphemy Laws have been used by religious and extremist people against non-Muslims for their personal interests [15].

In March 2014, two incidents were reported;  one boy from a Christian community , found guilty of blasphemy  received a death sentence[16] . Another incident happened in Sindh, where four Hindu young boys were charged in  a blasphemy case on the day of Holi, after a complaint by Islamic radicals and sent to jail in  Badin district. However, after few days, it was proved by the committee of religious scholars that boys were charged in a fake blasphemy case[17]. These boys are in jail and case is going on.

The recent case of a 14-year old Christian girl, Rimsha, is an example[18]. Police arrested Rimsha in August, 2012, after her neighbor accused her of burning the holy Quran.It was believed that she used the pages of the Quran as cooking fuel. She was detained for three weeks in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail. The Islamabad High court declared her innocent after investigations revealed that three witnesses initially told the police that they saw Khalid Jadoon Chishti, a Muslim cleric, tear pages out of a copy of the Quran and place them with police evidence that led to the charges against Rimsha.

It is important to note, how changes in statements from  key witnesses affected the case [19]. According to the Human Rights Watch,there have been 1,400 blasphemy cases since the laws were first enacted in 1986. There are more than 15 cases of people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and 52 people have been killed while facing trial for the charge.

Homeless Pakistani Christians protest for the protection of Christian minorities in Islamabad on April 27, 2009 Homeless Pakistani Christians protest for the protection of Christian minorities in Islamabad on April 27, 2009

Since 1986 blasphemy laws have been frequently used to intimidate and persecute religious minorities and to settle personal vendetta [20]. As a result hundreds of innocent people have been imprisoned, forced to leave the country or killed by religious fundamentalists. Now, it has become hard to even debate on the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Two prominent Pakistani officials – Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer and Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti – were assassinated in early 2010 because they opposed Pakistan‘s flawed blasphemy law.

To  insult the Hindu religion in Pakistan, recently,some religious radicals  manufactured chappals with the symbol ‘OM’ on them. These chappals were available in one of the markets of Pakistan; the value of Om or Aum is paramount in Hinduism; the chapplas were sold in Mirpur, Sindh division, where large number of Hindu people live [21]. The Hindu community in Pakistan felt very uncomfortable due to such an insult on their religion but they preferred to keep quite.

In Pakistan, the purpose of blasphemy law is to protect the honor of Islam, the Prophet and the Quran, however if somebody dishonors other religions than there is no protection mechanism or law.

Issues of forced conversion

The biggest reason for Hindus migrating from Pakistan is forced conversion of young Hindu girls to Islam and kidnapping of Hindu businessman for ransom. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report says 20 to 25 young Hindu girls are being abducted and converted to Islam every month[22]. According to Dawn,an estimated 1000 Christian and Hindu girls are forced to convert and marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year[23]. Majority of these girls are under age.

The Madrasas  play a key role in forcefully converting Hindus girls to Islam and the culprits remain at large because of loopholes in the laws.

In Sindh many Madrasas are very popular for facilitating such conversions, Madrasas like the “Peer Jan Sarhandi” in Samaro taluk of  Umerkot district and Madrasa “Dargah Bharchoondi Sharif” are a few examples[24]. They are famous in this regard and have converted thousands of minor girls and families into Islam. Peer Jan Sarhandi, and former parliamentarian, Mian Mitho, are well known in this regard and use Madrasas of Samaro and Dargah Bharchoodi respectively.

“Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued a statement that Pir Ayoob Jan Sarhandi, who heads the Madarsa in Samaro, has claimed that they have converted 40,000 non-Muslims to Islam so far.“Not a single case of forced conversion has been proved against us”, he added[25].

The case of the young Hindu girl, Rinkle kumari, forcefully converted to Islam by Mian Mitho became very popular and was highlighted in international forums, but no one was able to challenge him.

Rinkle Kumari, forcefully converted to Islam. Photo Credit: <a href="http://abhisays.com/international-affairs/why-number-of-hindus-in-pakistan-is-declining.html" shape="rect">Abhisays</a> Rinkle Kumari, forcefully converted to Islam. Photo Credit: Abhisays

Once a girl has been converted in a Madrasa there is no way to go back according to sharia; mostly people receive threats from religious persons, if someone dares to file a case; even  religious fanatics  threaten the judicial officials if the case goes to court. The police do not support the victims’ families.

The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) said that they have monitored four newspapers in Lahore between 1999 to 2004 and recorded 762 cases of forced conversion of non-Muslims girls into Islam but no conversion has been recorded from Islam to other religion.  There is no legislation to stop forced conversions of non-Muslims into Islam in Pakistan.

While a Muslim cannot be converted into another religion in Pakistan because environment does not allow it, however if somebody does do so, she/he might be punishable with death according to Sharia law. The forced conversion of non-Muslim girls also effect education of girls as parents do not like to send their girls for higher education due to insecurity and fear of abduction.

Curriculum of Government schools and Role of Madrassas

The biggest threat to Pakistan in the future would be from Madrasas (Islamic seminaries) and the biased curriculum in schools.

Madrasas in Pakistan play a key role in spreading intolerance and hatred. They teach the wrong version of Islam. These Madrasas are completely autonomous in their curriculum and are not monitored or supervised by any government institution. The curriculum of Madrasas  inculcate and incite the spirit of jihad and hatred among children. Thousands of children are being educated in these Madrasas and after graduation, what these children will do is a big question for Pakistan.

The number of Madrasas increased during presidency of the dictator, Zia-ul-Haq(1977-1988). After 9/11 they received support and funding and their numbers significantly increased. Now it has been learned that students from other countries such as France, china, Russia, Turkey, Netherlands, Srilanka, Tunis and Uganda are also studying in Pakistani Madrasas; the interior Ministry admitted that there is no prescribed procedure for foreign students, who are being educated in religious seminaries (Madarsas) in Pakistan[26].

The Ministry of Home Department in Sindh Province conducted a survey in 2013 in Sindh; this survey revealed that 12,545 Madrasas are in Sindh province of which 2,161 are sectarian and dangerous; however, 8,191 opened after 9/11 [27]. The practice of religious teaching, initiated during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was revived because the Afghan government often supported Jihadi activities (freedom fighters) in various Madrasas  in northern Pakistan.

Students recite line at a Madrasa in Pakistan. Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.quazoo.com/q/Madrassas%20in%20Pakistan" shape="rect">Quazoo</a> Students recite line at a Madrasa in Pakistan. Photo Credit: Quazoo

This survey has also disclosed that about 67 percent of these Madrasas in Sindh province in the current day are owned by people, who do not have a Sindh domicile [28]. Similarly the United States Commission for Religious Freedom (USCIRF)[29] reported in 2102 that by law, Madrasas are prohibited from teaching sectarian or religious hatred or encouraging sectarian or religious violence. These Madrasas are also playing a key role in converting Hindu girls and families into Islam in Sindh. The majority of sectarian terrorists use these Madrasa networks to recruit  youth and train them for suicide attacks in the name of Jihad and Islam.

These Madrasas teach violent extremist doctrine in support of terrorism that is a violation of the law [30]. According to the Ittehad Tanzeem ul Madaris Pakistan (IMTP), a council consisting of the heads of the five major waqfs, there are approximately 25,000 – 30,000 registered Madrasas. Despite the intense criticism from civil society organizations and opposition parties in government, the present ruling party Muslim League Nawaz has agreed to receive 1.5 billion dollars from Saudi government for funding Madrasas.[31]

Another Study of government curriculum being taught in all schools in Pakistan conducted by SDPI explains that biased content in Urdu, Social Studies and Islamic Studies are taught to all including non-Muslim students. The curriculum and test books create religious tension among Pakistanis to promote militancy and violence including encouragement of Jehad and Shahdat. It is surprising that English books contain Islamic lessons; however Islamic studies are taught in Social Studies classes[32].

The book ‘Islamisation of Pakistani Social Studies Textbooks‘, written by Yvette Claire Roser, focuses on textbooks used in Pakistani schools for the compulsory subject called “Pakistan Studies”, which was introduced in the reign of the General Zia ul-Haq in the mid-1970s.

According to the Roser study, the curriculum misrepresents facts and history; the content is against India. It claims that Muslims and Hindus have never been able to live cordially, that they have always been in conflict with each other, and that they share nothing in common. Textbooks on history start with political Muslim rulers, such as Muhammad bin Qasim in the mid seventh century, while ignoring thousands of years old Indus valley civilization [33].

Hindu family laws/ Marriage act

Pakistan was created 67 years ago but, since there is no legislation on family laws for non-Muslims, each religious group has its own family laws. Therefore, the minorities mostly, Hindu, Sikh, Parsi and Bahai, are encountering several problems. Most problems are faced by couples, who are married, but cannot claim legally that they are married. There is no marriage certificate for them. Husbands and wives cannot resolve their problems legally, such as in the cases of divorce and division of property. They often face problems when they have to travel abroad together as they  cannot submit a marriage certificate to get a visa for some countries. The first time that a Hindu marriage bill was proposed was in 2008, it is still pending.

Challenges and Threats to human rights defenders

There is no security or protection mechanism for human rights defenders in Pakistan. The law and order situation has long been very critical: several human rights activist have disappeared, a few were murdered and many have received threats from different sources and means. In 2011, Muslim people killed three Hindu doctors in Shikarpur, Sindh[34]. A couple of years ago, the champion of Human rights, a lawyer and advocate of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir, received assassination threats [35].

Fourteen journalists, while performing their duties, were killed during 2012; in the same year, the religious extremist group Taliban attacked, a 14 year-old education and girls’ activist, Malala Yousifzai. Goverener Punjab, Salman Taseer and Minister of Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti were killed because they spoke about stopping the abuses of the blasphemy law.

Salman Taseer, Photo Credit: <a href="https://chanakyasneeti.wordpress.com/" shape="rect">Chanakya’s Neeti</a> Salman Taseer, Photo Credit: Chanakya’s Neeti

On April 18, 2014, a very senior journalist Hamid Meer was attack by gunman when he was travelling from office to home, he  fortunately survived[36].  On May 06, 2014  Rashid Rahman, a member of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission was gun down. A brave and well-respected legal expert, Rehman was defending a high-profile blasphemy case.On May 25, 2014 Dr.Mehdi Ali ,a US citizen was killed in front of his son in Pakistan because he belonged to the Ahmediya community [37].

Hundreds of Human Rights activists have been taken by law enforcement agencies and have disappeared. In such circumstances, the religious minorities feel vulnerable and insecure in the country. Having no backup or  support from any side, they usually prefer to avoid any situation leading to conflict and remain quiet. Consequently, within religious minorities there is no such organized movement or strong voice against religious violence and discrimination against them in the country. The few who speak up against atrocities are at risk.

Conclusion

In brief, the issue of religious minorities is a serious human rights issue in Pakistan that is increasing day by day.  The transition of a country from secular values given by its founder to Islamic ideology by religious fundamentalists has promoted religious extremism, making religious minorities in Pakistan more vulnerable and putting their lives at risk. Recently, the Hindu community has begun to feel more insecure, having no support from any side and every other day brings sad news for them.

The increasing role of Madrasas, biased curriculum, forced conversions & marriages, abductions, land grabbing cases, rapes, murders, kidnapping for ransom, denial of equal rights, fake blasphemy cases, disgracing of dead bodies of Hindus and attacks on Hindu temples  has created a sense of insecurity and fear among the religious minorities in Pakistan. As a result it has been reported through the media that 4000 Hindus have applied for new passports only in one region Sukkur, in three months  (Jan- March, 2014) and they have decided to leave Sindh due to insecurity [38].

References in the next page


[1] The Express Tribune with the International New Yark Times, July 31, 2012. Retrieved from:  http://tribune.com.pk/story/415351/religious-freedom-limited-for-minorities-in-pakistan-report/

[2] Universal Periodic Review 2012, compiled by Naumana Suleman from National Commission for Justice and Peace.

[3]Iibbid

[4] Safeworld Field partners: article “once upon a time, sindh was land of peace and Sufism” by Khadam H. Dahot October 2013, Retrieved from:  http://www.asafeworldforwomen.org/partners-in-pakistan/sdts/sdts-updates/4151-land-of-peace-and-sufism.html

[5] REUTERS, by Syed Raza Hussain, March 16, 2014. Retrieved from http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/03/16/pakistan-hindu-temple-fire-idINDEEA2F07G20140316

[6] The Nation, news report “Hindus Ashram attacked in Tharparkar” April 1, 2014, Retrieved from:  http://www.nation.com.pk/E-Paper/Lahore/2014-04-01/page-3/detail-0

[7] Awami Awaz, newspaper Sindh, April 3, 2014, http://awamiawaz.com

[8] International Dalit Solidarity Network, website: http://idsn.org/caste-discrimination/

[9] Countercourts.org, article “Pakistan: Dalits in Peril” March 24, 2012 and Pakistan Hindu Council

[10]Ibid

[11] International Dalit Solidarity Network – IDSN, www.idsn.org

[12] Research report “Long Behind Schedule” by Zulfiqar Shah, 2007, PILER Pakistan

[13] Asian Human Rights Commission, appeal October 9, 2013. Retrieved from:  http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-133-2013

[14] Jang.com. Article “whither rule of Law” by Pirbhu Satyani March 07, 2010.

[15] Title “Blasphemy law and human rights of religious minorities in Pakistan” report by Pax Christi international submitted in Human rights council, twelfth session

[16] The New York Times March 27, 2014

[17] Awami Awaz newspaper Sindh, March 2014

[18] BBC News November 20, 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20405290

[19] CNN November 20, 2012 http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/20/world/asia/pakistan-blasphemy-girl/

[20] Title “Blasphemy law and human rights of religious minorities in Pakistan” report by Pax Christi international submitted in Human rights council, twelfth session

[21] Hindu Human Rights Retrieved from: http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/chappals-with-symbol-of-om-sold-in-pakistan-market/

[22] HRCP report March 11, 2012 news on forcible conversion of Hindu girls rise in Sindh “The Hindu” http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/forcible-conversion-of-hindu-girls-on-rise-in-sindh-hrcp/article2984531.ece

[23] Dawn.com – by Anwar Iqbal, April 08, 2014, http://www.dawn.com/news/1098452

[24] International The News” March 7, 2010, http://e.thenews.com.pk/details.asp?id=227595

[25] The News “71 Dalit families leave ancestral village to protest girl’s abduction. By Jan Khaskheli, March 07, 2010

[26] Article The Express Tribune by Azam Khan October 8, 2012 “2673 foreign students studying in Pakistan Seminaries”  http://tribune.com.pk/story/433548/2673-foreign-students-studying-in-pakistani-seminaries-interior-ministry/

[27] Survey on Madrassas by Home Ministry Sindh 2013.

[28] Article by Ali K Chisti The Friday Times, July 12-18, 2013

[29] USCIRF – International Religious Freedom Report 2012

[30]Ibid

[31] CBSNEWS http://www.cbsnews.com/news/will-pakistan-get-caught-in-saudi-iranian-turf-war/

[32] The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curicula and Textbooks in Pakistan study by SDPI http://www.sdpi.org/publications/publication_details-286-34.html

[33] Book Isamization of Pakistan Social Studies – Book Review by YogindarSikand, available at http://twocircles.net/2009mar23/book_review_islamisation_pakistani_social_studies_textbooks.html

[34] Dawn.com newspaper – 11.09.2011, Retrieved from:  http://www.dawn.com/news/672124/three-hindu-doctors-shot-dead-in-shikarpur

[35] Human Rights and Democracy 2012- Foreign and Common wealth office report http://www.hrdreport.fco.gov.uk/human-rights-in-countries-of-concern/pakistan/

[36] The Express Tribune newspaper, Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/story/697721/senior-journalist-hamid-mir-attacked-in-karachi/

[37] USA today May 26, 2014. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/05/26/doctor-shot-pakistan/9614613/

[38] Affairs Sindh Magazine, April 2, 2014, retrieved from: http://affairnews.com

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