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Hindu volunteers in Noshki step up aid in Balochistan floods

The Hindus in Balochistan are distributing food and clothing to the flood-affected population through the Hare Krishna Welfare Society (Photo: HKWS)

It sounds unbelievable that a Hindu welfare organisation is at the forefront of flood relief in Pakistan. Yes, Mahendra Kumar, chairman of the Hare Krishna Welfare Society (HKWS) has been distributing rations and clothes to the victims of the worst-ever floods in Balochistan.

The official death toll in the devastating Balochistan floods has touched 225 with nearly 107,377 dead cattle. Vast tracts of orchards and agricultural land have been destroyed. The historic flooding in Balochistan has also been blamed on breach and collapse of reservoirs caused by heavy rains and flash floods.

In an interview to BBC Urdu, Kumar said: “Noshki needs humanity right now… we immediately organised a meeting with our volunteers and emptied our pockets. We even donated our salaries, savings from home and emptied our businesses to collect ration for the needy”.

The HKWS noticed that the flood-affected people needed clothes as well as food items. Kumar said: “We went door-to-door to provide relief and also made special packets for children. Our work has touched 75 per cent of the Muslim population while only 25 per cent has been done for the Hindus”, he told the BBC, adding that as a faith-based organisation, Hare Krishna Welfare Society has focussed on the entire community, not just the Hindus.

A large majority of the affected people belong to the working class-those who had built their houses against the odds.

Aziz Baloch, Coordinator for the International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (IVBMP), told India Narrative that the Hindu Baloch people are fairly well integrated in the Baloch society. He said: “Not many outside Balochistan know that the Hindus are playing their part in the natural disasters in Balochistan. Hindus are amazing in Balochistan. From day one they have felt comfortable among the Baloch people”.

He added that many Hindu families did not move out of Balochistan despite many episodes of historical turbulence and have continued to maintain their social and religious traditions in the province.

Hailing from Noshki, Kumar, who has taken extensive rounds of the flood-affected regions, said that the flooding is so extensive that it has damaged more than 70 per cent of Noshki, he told the British newspaper Independent Urdu in July.

Kumar mobilised a large number of people from his community to raise donations and distribute relief to all flood-affected people over the past many months.

The beneficiaries are not just grateful for the aid but are also turning emotional. Kumar told the Independent: “On July 30, we first went to the Badini area and gave people rations. I noticed that when the victims looked at the bag of flour, their faces lit up and calmed down. When we gave someone rations, not only was he very happy, but he would hug us and kiss our hands”.

The HKWS has earlier been recognised by the local administration for its volunteering work. On earlier occasions it has also tied up with other faith-based groups to distribute rations to poor people.

During the lockdowns of Covid-19 too, volunteers from HKWS distributed food to people in remote locations and habitats. In 2020, it ensured the distribution of food to the impoverished people during Sehri and Iftar hours.

The extent of floods forced the Pakistan government to declare a state of emergency. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also visited capital Quetta to announce compensation for the flood-affected people and those whose houses were completely washed away.

In a Sunni majority Pakistan, where the writ of the army runs large, the news about a Hindu welfare organisation is both unusual and endearing. Baloch activists often take pride in highlighting that the Baloch society is secular unlike the rest of Pakistan where conversions and murders of minorities are normal.

Pakistan has remained in news for its attacks on minorities over blasphemy charges, including the horrific lynching of a Sri Lankan national earlier this year. In just the last few days, many incidents of kidnapping and forced conversions of Hindu, Christian and Sikh girls have been reported.

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