Talibanised Pakistan poses difficulties for Minorities and women
24 May 2009
With the strengthening of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan, women from minority communities, particularly Dalit Hindus face an uncertain future in the country. Discriminatory laws and the government’s failure to take action against societal forces hostile to minorities have fostered intolerance, says journalist Lys Anzia.
As violence continues between 4,000 Taliban splinter groups and Islamabad soldiers, Christian minority refugees, global rescue agencies and Pakistan’s own army leaders nervously wait to see who, in the end, will end up controlling the region. Some Christian women and their families will be forced to stay behind, as they have been unable to leave due to the expense of travel.
Minority girl from Sindh Province/ Photo credit: Alysha/ WNN
“Christian, Hindu and Sikh families have been forced to flee because the Taliban imposed on them jizia [a tax levied on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule],” said Catholic Archbishop, Lawrence John Saldanha, in a letter released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
“Now minority communities in the province are forced to endure unemployment, intimidation and migration,” continued the Archbishop’s message.
Pakistan’s religious minorities
Minority religions and sectarian groups in Pakistan come from a vast collection of religious diversity, which includes Christians, Buddhists, Ahmadis, Zikris, Hindus, Kalasha, Parsis, Sikhs and Shia Muslim sects, including Ismailis and Bohras. Ethnic regional groups come from five different communities, including the Baloch, Huhajir, Punjabis, Pushtuns and Sindhis.
Although 25% of religious minority women are not considered disadvantaged, Hindu minority women who live on the bottom of society face many untold limitations.
A policy of “living invisibly” with family members is often the only answer for protection for many minority Hindus families who suffer under the great specter of poverty in Pakistan.
The most recent Pakistan 1998 census shows minority totals in the country to number somewhere between 11 to 13 million. Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus claim to have a population of four million each.
Hindu Minority report from BBC
Pakistan is home to some 2.5 million Hindus officially (unofficial number is more than Double) , 95% of them living in the southern Sindh province.
Most are poor, low-caste peasants.
However there are also some successful upper caste businessmen. In Sindh, they are a hot commodity for bandits.
They lack the protection afforded to local tribal Muslims.
Whole tribes often go to war with one another in rural Sindh over any slight to their members.
That cushion is not available to the Hindu minority.
In recent years kidnapping for ransom and armed robberies have multiplied in the area and Hindus have increasingly been the focus of attacks.
Hindus have to pay thousands of pounds to avoid kidnapping
Many pay protection money regularly to local gangs or influential figures. But in spite of this they are still targeted.
Santosh Kumar, a rice trader from Larkana town in upper Sindh, and his two brothers were kidnapped in separate incidents in 2006. They were later released after paying a huge ransom.
Another wealthy trader from the nearby city of Sukkur in Sindh, Sundeep Kumar, was kidnapped in 2005.
He was released after paying a ransom of over a million rupees ($16,000), according to local sources.
The ransom can sometimes go up to five times that amount.
But not all Hindus are as rich as Sundeep Kumar.
Last August, a youth, Ramesh Lal, was kidnapped. His relatives could not afford the ransom, and his body was later found at a police check post.
In the last three years at least five Hindu traders have been killed after being kidnapped or offering resistance.
"Powerful oppress the weak"
Ramesh Lal, a Hindu MP in Pakistan's parliament says, "The Hindus are not as rich as portrayed."
"Often the kidnappers ask a huge amount that the families cannot pay. As a result the hostages are killed."
Even Hindu women and children are not spared by the kidnappers
The President of the Hindu council in Sukkur district, Mukhi Aishwar Lal says, "the powerful always oppress weaker communities... Hindus are weak so they are targeted."
He relates how a few years back a Hindu family travelling by local bus were kidnapped by local bandits, while rest of the passengers were allowed to go.
Around that time some foreigners were also kidnapped in the same area. The police secured their release without any payment, but the Hindus were released after a huge ransom was doled out.
Such incidents increase the feeling among Hindus that they have no say in power and authority in the country.
In Pakistan's political system, the minorities, such as Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, remain outcasts despite represented in every major political party.
After Gen Pervez Musharraf seized power in 1999, he scrapped the controversial separate electorate system introduced former dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s.
Under the separate electorate system, non-Muslims could only vote for candidates of their own religion. Seats were reserved for minorities in the national and provincial assemblies.
Critics said Muslim candidates no longer had any incentive to pay attention to the aspirations of the minorities.
Gen Musharraf hoped to reverse that by the simple step of abolishing the system. But that appears to have failed.
Sudham Chand, a Hindu community leader who led a local campaign to scrap the separate electorate system was killed in broad daylight. His murder conveyed many a message.
The killers were not arrested. His brother later migrated to India.
Ramesh Lal, a member of the National Assembly, says that the restoration of the conventional electoral system is of little use if the minorities have no security.
And still, he complains, no one asks the minorities what problems tPakistani Sindhi Hindu rape murhey are suffering.