KARACHI: The legend is almost as old as the Indus River, Lord Shiva and his consort Sati, daughter of King Dakhsha, were vexed by Sati’s father for not inviting them for a ceremony. Sati went to the ceremony uninvited and in return was ignored. She was hurt by the behavior that she sacrificed herself in the fires and was burnt alive. Upon hearing the fate of his love, Lord Shiva went mad and began chaos on earth.
In order to help Lord Shiva deal with his grief, Lord Vishnu cut Sati’s body in 12 pieces and scattered them across the earth where her head fell upon Hingol. Wherever the pieces of Sati’s body fell became Shakti Peethas, holy places of cosmic power, for all gods and worshippers.
Hingol is not a legend – as a matter of fact – today it is known as Hingol National Park and lies almost 170 km outside of Karachi in Balochistan. Sati’s head fell by Hinglaj Matajee Temple located inside a natural cave of a hill which is a holy pilgrimage site for the 2.5 million Hindus in Pakistan, although many feel the numbers have doubled in the last decade, and more than 90 per cent of them live in the Sindh province.
Hindus are the third religious group, after Muslim and Christians, and Hinduism is considered the indigenous religion of the sub-continent by local and international historians, which is not far from the truth.
There are over 40 Hindu temples across Pakistan, and in Sindh alone there are almost 30 temples in Karachi and interior Sindh.
Many Hindu families are indigenous to the land and some claim to have been for centuries. Over the centuries, empire after empire, some families facing persecution converted to Islam but others have remained Hindus.
“The Hindu community is not protected here,” said Dr. Raj Motwani, a general physician who sits as the Vice President for Shree Ratneshwar Mahadev Welfare Shewa Mandly, a committee for the Hindu community in Karachi. “I remember that Lee Market, Bolton Market, Nagam Colony, and Food Street belonged to Hindu families that lived there for decades before Pakistan’s existence.”
“We never left this land – people migrated here,” he said. “We are still here – fighting for what we deserve as humans.”
During the 1947 partition, almost 15 million Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims left Pakistan for India and vice versa but some families stayed behind because they considered the land in Pakistan their home. More than half a million people died during the migration.
“Everyone knows the truth, but we cannot speak it out loud,” he said. “The minute that we speak up – we are automatically accused of being part of an enemy intelligence agency and we can get questioned without any legal support.”
Most Hindus families come from lower class backgrounds and those that live in rural areas like interior Sindh are forced into bonded labour by influential landlords. In the past few years, kidnappings have increased among the Hindus, for ransom and women, who are kidnapped and then convert to Islam, have been reported but with no real legal repercussions from the local government.
“The Hindu community is not protected here,” repeated Dr. Motwani. “The converting is explainable; once a girl is kidnapped the men have their way with her and she knows that she won’t be accepted back into her community so she converts and becomes a servant- girl for the men or the family that kidnapped her – tragic but the culture in interior Sindh is traditional, especially when it comes to women.”
The constitution clearly states that religious minorities have many rights and freedom however in the political system Hindus, Christians and Sikhs are still treated as second-class citizens.
After General Pervez Musharraf took power, he wanted to remove the separate electorate system put in place by the former dictator General Ziaul-Haq.
The separate electorate system limited non-Muslims to only vote for candidates from their own religion – the government had a reserved number of seats for minorities in the provincial and national assemblies.
General Musharraf and many others felt that it limited Muslim candidates from reaching out to minority groups to solve the major problem in their communities. He was thwarted in his efforts and many minorities felt that the removal of the policy would not have made a difference in their communities.
“I have friends of all faiths in Pakistan – friendships made up of decades,” mentioned Dr. Motwani. “But that is not the problem – the system is the problem; a small example, the Hindu Gymkhana has finally been given back to us after so many years spent in court yet the management is Muslim and we still do not have a safe place to congregate and celebrate our holidays. Who do I go to for help? a MPA or an MNA – not possible.”
Since the recent attack on the Shah Ghazi Shrine, the security at mandirs across Karachi has tightened but it has not stopped Hindu worshippers from making their offerings to their gods and goddesses who wait patiently for their prayers of better days ahead.