Tuesday, Augest 07, 2012
Pakistan's marginalised Hindu community continues to live under the shadow of fear in Balochistan province in the wake of an endless wave of kidnappings, which has compelled many of them to abandon their homeland and migrate to India.
There are recent reports borne out by the privately-run Human Rights Commission of Pakistan that Hindus in Balochistan are feeling threatened in many cases and there are reports of never-ending abductions from the Hindu community.
The Balochistan chapter of HRCP has conceded in its recently released report that of the 300-plus people kidnapped from various parts of Balochistan during the last 15 months, over 50 belonged to the minority Hindu community.
Seen in isolation, these facts and figures may not seem that strange, considering the many problems that currently plague the trouble-stricken Balochistan. However, given the fact that the Hindu population in the province is not more than 30,000, the aftershock of each incident of kidnapping is felt by every Hindu, many of whom have already opted to leave Pakistan.
Although no official statistics are available, Hindus reportedly make up 2.5 per cent of the 174 million people living in the nuclear-armed nation.
Some recent Pakistani media reports say 150-plus Hindu families have already trickled out of Balochistan since last year to destinations as far as Canada but mostly to India next door.
Matters have got so bad that around 100 more Hindu families from Balochistan have applied to the Indian High Commission seeking asylum.
These figures are indeed alarming for the small Hindu community, which has become a soft target of abductions due to the apathy of the concerned authorities.
This is not just a recent phenomenon and has been going on at 'trickle' level for years, but there has been a recent uptick in the numbers of families feeling so insecure that they decided to relocate. Pakistani media reports frequently speak of abduction for ransom, traders and business-people as well as professionals like teachers and doctors, being abducted in broad daylight.
Two recent abductions from Balochistan have added to the sense of uncertainty among the Hindu community in particular.
The first one was the April 9, 2012 kidnapping of Vinod Maharaj Ganga Ram Motiyani, the chairman of the committee that manages the Hinglaj Mata temple in Balochistan, who was kidnapped from the Lasbela, just a couple of days before the annual pilgrimage to the shrine, which he was planning to attend himself.
Thousands of Hindus, including yatris from India, travel to the cave temple of Hinglaj Mata for a pilgrimage in April every year. It is one of the Shakti Peeths of Goddess Sati.
According to a legend, when goddess Sati, the consort of god Shiva, burnt herself in response to her father's anger at her for inviting Shiva to a ceremony, Shiva became furious and started to create disasters, problems, violence, and sufferings in the world.
In order to calm his anger, God Vishnu took the body of Sati and cut it into 51 pieces which all fell at different parts of the Earth. Hindus believe that the head of Sati fell in the area of Hinglaj Mata in Baluchistan. Thus, this area is a revered pilgrimage site for Hindus.
A month and a half since Motiyani's kidnapping, local police have been unable to trace him, amid questions about the identity of his kidnappers. Were the abductors belonged to intelligence agencies, were they Taliban militants or members of a kidnapping ring?
Motiyani's family members have been quoted by Pakistani media as saying that two men clad in security forces uniforms took him on April 6 from a general store he ran, saying that he had been summoned by a police deputy superintendent. That was the last time they saw him.
"We don't know who these men were," said the SHO of the Lasbela police station, Ataullah.
"But we are sure it was not the police who took him away. The men took the DSP's name but he was not in Lasbela at that time. I cannot really say where he is and who picked him up."
Motiyani's family went to the Lasbela police station an hour after he was picked up but were shocked to find that he was not there. According to his brother Lila Ram, when they telephoned Motiyani he replied that he was mistaken about the DSP and said the men who took him claimed he was summoned by a major of Pakistan Army.
Motiyani's phone has been switched off since. However, it is largely believed that he has been kidnapped for ransom.
The other kidnapping, which sent shockwaves through the Hindu community, was that of Rajesh Kumar, the son of Dr Nand Lal, a member of the Quetta chapter of the Human Rights Commission and the Pak-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy.
Rajesh was kidnapped in broad daylight from Quetta on February 13, 2012. His family sources say the kidnappers had established contact with them and demanded Rs 20 million as ransom initially.
Later they reduced the amount to Rs10 million but they are not in a position to arrange the ransom money. It is generally believed by the Balochistan police that the kidnappings are being carried out by revengeful separatists out to create havoc in the province, which is going through an unannounced military operation against Baloch nationalists who want a separate homeland.
However, the family members of Motiyani and Rajesh say their loved ones have not been kidnapped by Baloch separatists but by criminal gangs who are well aware of the fact that the Hindu community is a soft target.
Taking notice of the increasing cases of abductions of Hindu nationals in Balochistan the HRCP said in a statement: "Many Hindus have now stopped sending their children to school because of a lack of security. Hindu traders, doctors and retailers are being kidnapped for ransom or threatened to mint easy money. The son of a well-known Hindu doctor as well as a Hindu surgeon was abducted last year. But their relatives did not file a case with the police, as is the case with most victims who do not file a criminal case against their abductors out of fear."
"The pace at which Pakistan is losing its diversity as a nation bringing together many kinds of people is terrifying because those who have lived together for centuries as part of well-integrated communities, now eye each other with suspicion."
Voicing concern over the rising incidents of kidnappings of Hindus in Balochistan, the Indian government recently reminded Islamabad of its responsibility to discharge its constitutional obligations towards its minority citizens.
"It is the responsibility of the government of Pakistan to discharge its constitutional obligations towards its citizens, including those from the minority community," External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said in the Lok Sabha on May 9, 2012.
He was responding to the issue of treatment of minorities in Pakistan raised by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
However, keeping in view continuous kidnappings of Hindus in Balochistan, it seems that the Pakistan government has not yet taken concrete measures to address the concerns of the Indian government.