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Minorities in Pakistan: A life under siege

Minorities in Pakistan: A life under siege

With numerous reports of institutionalized violence against minorities flowing out of Pakistan at regular intervals, the Usanas Foundation organized a webinar, ‘Minorities in Pakistan: A Life Under Seige.’

Dharmendra Singh Rataul, former journalist with the Indian Express, narrated his experiences of covering Indo-Pak issues as a reporter. Rataul said that discrimination in Pakistan poses a serious human rights threat to minorities, whose number have fallen from 23 per cent in 1947 to around 3 per cent now. He added that Sikhs, Hindus, Shias, Ahmadiyya, and Christian communities have been facing acute discrimination as Hindu temples and Ahmadiyya mosques are set ablaze and plundered.

Rataul highlighted that Pakistanis have not classified themselves into majority and minority but as Muslims and Non-Muslims—heightening discrimination on the basis of religion.

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He said that Pakistan practices such blasphemy laws which do not exist even in the Arab world. Minorities routinely face the death penalty as blasphemy laws are used to fulfill personal vendettas. Victims are presumed guilty even without a proper investigation. He added that due to state persecution, the Pakistani Ahmadiyya community has settled down in India’s Punjab.

Rataul added that women are highly vulnerable as they face abductions, rapes, forced conversions and marriages while the Pakistan government chooses to turn away its face instead of supporting the women.

Talking about the Khalistan movement, Rataul said: “The Khalistan lobby is very strong as it is backed by the ISI and the Pakistani military. Because of money power, certain elements in the US, Canada and the UK are playing into the hands of Pakistan. However, there is a strong voice against Khalistan within the Sikh community in India.”

Joyeeta Basu, editor, The Sunday Guardian, spoke about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which led to large-scale violence in India last year. She said the CAA narrative has been completely misinterpreted and the Indian government could not manage the information around it. “This has sent a message to the world that India is disenfranchising Muslims while in reality people from six persecuted religions are being given refuge in India,” said Basu. The government should make it clear to the international community that the fundamental idea behind the act is that Muslims do not face persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, therefore, they have not been brought under the ambit of the CAA.

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Basu highlighted that minorities in Pakistan are suffering discrimination due to Sunni majoritarianism, which exists at both institutional and societal levels. She cited the example that Pakistan legally recognized Hindu marriages only in 2017. According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, at least 1,000 women from the Hindu community are abducted and forcefully married every year while 5,000 minorities, especially Hindus, migrate to India annually.

Basu said Hindu Bengalis believe that since religion was the basis of partition, so why should Hindu migrants from Bangladesh not get benefits and concessions in India as they face violence in their country? She added that the Supreme Court mandated the process of National Register of Citizens (NRC) with the idea that the Assamese should be able to preserve their land, language and culture from the influx of Bangladeshi migrants. In Assam, the local Assamese fear that due to rapid demographic changes, they would soon become a minority in their own state.

She said that Pakistan was able to make the CAA into an issue of disenfranchisement of the Muslims in India but the Indian government did not see the false propaganda coming in. Consequently, India got branded as an Islamophobic state which is completely wrong.

Sharing her fears about Assam and Bengal, Basu said that the majority community fears becoming a minority, as they are not even allowed to worship their goddesses. “The language and demography are changing, even Pakistani ISI agents have become active there,” she said, adding that if the Centre does not control the situation in these states, Bengal would go the Kashmir way.

Omendra Ratnu, Founder, Nimittekam, spoke about his work among the Pakistani Hindu refugees in India. His organization was instrumental in getting Indian citizenship for 2,000 Pakistani minorities. He said that nearly two lakh Pakistani Hindu migrants are living in Rajasthan, most of whom had migrated in 1971 from Chachro in Pakistan. Ratnu felt that it has been the combined failure of Sikh and Hindu leadership to expose Pakistan at an international stage as they are busy fighting each other.

Regarding the CAA, Ratnu said: “CAA was not only a piece of extremely compassionate and intelligent act but also outsmarted the radical Jihadi ecosystem. Importantly, 80 per cent of Hindu refugees being persecuted in Pakistan are Dalits. He wants Dalit organizations in India and Pakistan to fight for their rights. In the past three months alone, 500 Hindu families have been converted to Islam as they were deprived of food”, he added. Ratnu also felt that the Jihadi ecosystem needs to be battled comprehensively—politically, economically, morally, theologically and psychologically.

Savio Rodrigues, editor-in-chief, Goa Chronicle, highlighted a unique perception in India among the Christian community, which is that anything done by the BJP will certainly be against the interests of the Christian community. Rodrigues said this fear factor is cultivated by the archbishops and fundamentalists just before elections. But there are hardly any numbers to prove this fact. He criticized the Catholic Church for its antagonist stand to the CAA and said that the Church is a hypocritical institution.

Rodrigues added that the reported cases of sexual harassment by the church in the last five years surpassed the earlier numbers. Talking about nation building, he said that a nation is above all and no religion comes above the nation, not even church. Pakistani Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians must realize that are connected to India. He added that Pakistan is driven by radical Islamic Jihad and no minority is safe there.

Rodrigues alleged that America’s biggest contribution to India has been the spread of evangelism. Church planting in India targets Dalits to convert them to Christianity. He added that even the Narendra Modi government won’t be able to do anything to stop conversions as it is driven by the church from the US, the UK and Germany.

Sikh rights activist Amanjeet Singh, president, Sikh Youth of Jammu and Kashmir, began by mentioning the slogan of Pakistani tribal raiders during the 1947-48 massacre of Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs, which said: “Muslim ka Ghar, Hindu ka Zar, and Sikh ka Sir”, meaning let us take shelter at Muslim houses, burn down houses of Hindus, and behead Sikhs.

He said that more than 30,000-35,000 Sikhs were massacred in Kashmir and cities of Mirpur and Muzaffarabad were cleansed off Sikhs. Girls were raped and taken away to Pakistan. He highlighted specific details of attacks on Sikhs in Kashmir. In 2000, during Bill Clinton’s India tour, 35 Sikhs were massacred and there are at least 265 incidents of targeted killing of Sikhs in Kashmir while similar incidents in Pakistani are countless. He exhorted the Sikhs to not forget the plight of Gurdwara Nalluchi Sahib in PoK in which 2,000 Sikhs were set on fire.

Attacking Khalistani forces, he said that the international Sikh diaspora should break the shackles of Pakistani ISI and talk about peace in Punjab. He also blamed the Sikh and Hindu leadership for not joining together and taking a stand against Pakistan. Singh urged the Khalistanis to not fall for Imran Khan’s propaganda..