Ramesh Jaipal (Chairman)
Scheduled Caste Rights Movement Pakistan
Rahim Yar Khan
"The ordeal, however, didn't end there and later when I and my husband tried to have a room in a small hotel to spend a night, we were again asked for the NIC. The hotel management also asked for a proof that we were married to each other. We had none of these essential documents and hence had to spend the night at the railway station. I can never forget the humiliation that I faced that day," Mai, a scheduled caste Hindu, recalls while talking to TNS.
With no access to basic human rights such as marriage registration, land ownership, protection of worship places and equal political participation, scheduled caste Hindus are the worst-affected community in the country despite being the largest minority group in Pakistan.
Pakistan is home to over three million Hindus and out of that around 2.5 million are from the scheduled castes. However, they remain the most discriminated against minority group in this 'land of pure' even after the passage of well over six decades since its inception.
Most of the scheduled caste Hindus are poor, deprived of basic facilities of life, mostly illiterate, they can't feed their children properly who, like their parents, remain unprivileged and this goes on from generation to generation. How miserable their lives have been for years now can be gauged well from the fact that majority of these low caste Hindus don't have even the National Identity Cards (NICs). And the non-provision of this basic document, which every citizen of this country is entitled to be provided with, hinders the movement of thousands of people from the scheduled caste Hindu community outside their hometowns and localities.
If someone even dares to venture out of his home city of town he or she has to meet the fate of Permaisry Mai, a scheduled caste Hindu woman, in mid twenties, from Rahim Yar Khan. Mother of three daughters, with the elder being five and the youngest only a few months old, Permaisry Mai leads the life of a common village woman. Gomand Jee, her husband, is a shoe seller in a small village of Rahim Yar Khan City.
Like other Hindu women in her town, Permaisry Mai had never gone out to any other part of the country until two years ago when she along with her husband decided to visit Lahore to pay respect at a Hindu temple.
"It was then and there that I decided to obtain the identity card despite all the procedural hurdles that the people from my community have to face to get this document that is their basic right," she says. Soon she realised that there was no system in place to facilitate Hindu women and the authorities would keep sending them back and forth asking for additional documents. "They didn't realise that if the very basic document like NIC is missing, how I could have any other document to prove my identity," she argues.
It was only on November 23, 2009 that the Supreme Court took a suo moto notice after the issue appeared in the press and ordered National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to issue identity cards to Permaisry Mai and other members of her community. Moreover, the apex court also directed the relevant official quarters to legislate for the registration of Hindu marriages.
The success of Permaisry Mai was a great breakthrough in the life of Pakistani Hindus and a realisation of their long standing demand. But, perhaps, Permaisry Mai was the luckiest among the lot as thousands of other men and women from her community have yet to obtain this one single identity document and also to get the right to register their marriages.
The identity related problems and no marriage registration have resulted in many domestic, social and psychological problems for hundred of Hindu families and especially for the womenfolk.
These scheduled caste Hindus complain that for years their women have been forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men despite the fact that many of them were already married to men from their religion.
As there are no documents to prove early marriages, so the families of these ill-fated women, including their spouses, cannot take up the issue at any level. The other problem that these women face is their inability to get any share in their parents and husbands property -- again thanks to non-availability of required documents.
With such a grave situation to face, the lower caste Hindus decided in 2008 to launch a movement of their own and named it as Scheduled Caste Rights Movement (SCRM). This organisation since then has been focusing on issues confronting them like birth and marriage registration and also the provision of basic documents like NIC along with efforts to ensure equal political and social rights for their people.
In this endeavour, some NGOs like ActionAid Pakistan are trying to extend maximum possible support to SCRM. These organisations are striving to do away with the structural causes of discrimination against the Hindus and also to promote peace and interfaith harmony between Hindus and Muslims.
The SCRM with the help of ActionAid drafted Pakistani Hindu Marriages Registration Bill 2009 in consultations with Hindu religious scholars and the Hindu community. The draft bill was submitted to the Ministry for Minority Affairs to start the legislation process.
Now the scheduled caste Hindus are anxiously waiting for this key legislation that they believe would change their lives for good and help ensure their rights as equal citizens of Pakistan.
Yasmin Rehman, adviser to prime minister on women affairs, tells TNS the government fully supports a comprehensive legislation so as to ensure that scheduled caste Hindus get access to basic human rights.
Dr. Nafisa Shah, member of the National Assembly's Standing Committee for Minorities, says strict laws are needed to be framed against any injustice meted out to scheduled caste Hindus or any other minority group. She feels it is unfortunate that owing to absence of Hindu marriage registration, women fail to get any share in their parents' or husbands' property. She also called for the speedy legislation to ensure rights of scheduled caste Hindus.