Why is the Hindu community a prime target for kidnapping? Mohammad Hussain Khan investigates.
“Ashok was kidnapped on Dec 7, 2011 from Khuzdar, Balochistan, but we haven’t been able to get any help or ascertain his whereabouts. We don’t have any contact in Balochistan that we can approach,” says Dr Prem Chand, Ashok’s elder brother. Ashok was kidnapped almost a year ago and the family has not been able to get any positive response or help from the government. “Ashok was working in Khuzdar in a marble factory and was kidnapped while commuting within the area of Khuzdar police station,” adds Dr Chand.
There seems to be no let-up in cases of kidnapping of members of the Hindu community, be it in Sindh or the restive Balochistan province. Hindus have been crying themselves hoarse against excesses committed against them in different forms. They claim that their men are being kidnapped for ransom, their girls are being forcibly converted and their businesses are being forced to pay extortion in order to survive.
Recently some figures were presented before the Sindh Assembly which puts the total kidnapping cases from minority communities, reported between March 1, 2008 and Nov 30, 2011, at 143. Of these, 116 cases were from the Hindu community. But Hindus say these figures are just a tiny tip of the iceberg as the majority of the cases are not reported to the police. “Three kidnappings took place in one go in Sanghar, and that’s just one incident, so who will believe the figures of 116 Hindus being kidnapped in three years,” argues MNA Kishan Chand Parwani. He believes that Hindus are like sitting ducks in this society due to lack of genuine representation of his community. “In fact Hindu parliamentarians are not elected by their community but by their party which accommodates them on reserved seats on the basis of their strength in parliament,” he says.
According to the patron of the Young Hindu Panchayat, Jai Kumar Dheerani, the victim’s family avoids reporting the case to the police as it doesn’t want to put the hostage’s life at stake. “That’s why they try to settle things by paying ransom,” he says.
As far as Sindh is concerned, Hindus are mostly associated with agro-based businesses like cotton ginning factories, rice mills, pesticides and fertilisers in upper and lower Sindh. The community is well connected in the bureaucracy too.
According to Eshwar Lal Makhija, president Hindu Panchayat, Sukkur, and custodian of Sadh Belo temple, Hindus are the backbone of the province’s economy. “We dominate the cotton sector and in the rice producing belt, we are in sound position. The fertiliser sector is almost entirely with our community and we also own 60 to 70 per cent of the rice mills. But excesses in the shape of kidnapping for ransom and extortion will destroy us economically,” he says.
The situation relating to kidnappings of Hindus for ransom is more or less the same in Balochistan. A 62-year-old grocery shop owner, Ganga Ram was kidnapped in April in Lasbela district of Balochistan this year and was let off by dacoits in June. “We had to approach Jam Yousuf, former chief minister of Balochistan, and that’s how we got our father released without paying any ransom,” says his son Suresh.
But the JUI-F minority community’s Senator from Balochistan, Heman Das, does not believe that hostages are released without payment of ransom. “Tribal chiefs do intervene to help the hostage’s family but in most cases they are released after payment of ransom,” he says while claiming that 25 cases of kidnapping were reported this year in Balochistan. “Three boys who were kidnapped from Kalat one and a half month back have not been released so far, neither has Kanhya, who was kidnapped in Jaffarabad,” says the Senator, who hails from Naseerabad district.
The Sindh police officials have their own axe to grind. Javed Odho is a senior officer of Police Services of Pakistan (PSP) and hails from upper Sindh. He contends that kidnapping of Hindus was on the rise until the late 80s but has declined over time. “Hindus have strong political clout. When anyone from their community is abducted they get instant response from the police and, of course, the media… until 20 years back the administration and police were not that sensitised,” he says.