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Pakistani Hindus seek safety in India

March 06, 2012

Hindu devotees worship at the Manher Mandir temple in Karachi.—AFP Photo

KARACHI: Preetam Das is a good doctor with a hospital job and a thriving private clinic, yet all he thinks about is leaving Pakistan, terrified about a rise in killings and kidnappings targeting Hindus.

A successful professional, he lives in mega city Karachi with his wife and two children, but comes from Kashmore, a district in the north of Pakistan's southern province of Sindh.

His family has lived there for centuries and in 1947 when the sub-continent split between India, a majority Hindu state, and Pakistan, a homeland for Muslims, Das' grandparents chose to stay with the Muslims.

They fervently believed the promise of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah that religious minorities would be protected. Sixty years later, their grandson says life in Kashmore has become unbearable.

“The situation is getting worse every day,” he says.

Two of his uncles have been kidnapped and affluent Hindus are at particular risk from abduction gangs looking for ransom, he says.

Rights activists say the climate is indicative of progressive Islamisation over the last 30 years that has fuelled an increasing lack of tolerance to religious minorities, too often considered second class citizens.

Das says the only thing keeping him in Pakistan is his mother.

“She has flatly refused to migrate, which hinders my plans. I can't go without her,” he said.

Hindus make up 2.5 per cent of the 174 million people living in the nuclear-armed Muslim nation. Over 90 per cent live in Sindh, where they are generally wealthy and enterprising, making them easy prey for criminal gangs.

An official at the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi who declined to be named said: “Every month about eight to 10 Hindu families migrate from Pakistan. Most of them are well-off.”

He had no comment on whether the number was on the rise, but Hindu community groups in Pakistan say more people are leaving because of kidnappings, killings and even forced conversions of girls to Islam.

“Two of my brothers have migrated to India and an uncle to the UAE,” said Jay Ram, a farmer in Sindh's northern district of Ghotki.

“It's becoming too difficult to live here. Sindhis are the most tolerant community in the country vis-a-vis religious harmony, but deteriorating law and order is forcing them to move unwillingly,” he added.

Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council and a former lawmaker for Sindh province, said Hindus are picked on by kidnappers and that their daughters are subject to forced conversions to Islam.

“Every now and then we get reports of families migrating. It's getting worse now. People are extremely harassed and are forced to leave their homeland but our rulers are shamelessly idle,” he told AFP.

Rights activists also say Hindus in Sindh are discriminated against.

“Recently 37 members of five Hindu families migrated to India from Thul town owing to discrimination while three Hindus, including a doctor, were murdered in Shikarpur district,” said Rubab Jafri, who heads Sindh's Human Rights Forum.

“Lots of violent incidents are happening daily. Most go unreported, which shows vested interests are trying to force Hindus to leave Pakistan.”

According to the Pakistan Hindu Seva, a community welfare organisation, at least 10 families have migrated from Sindh every month since 2008, mostly to India, but in the last 10 months, 400 families have left.

Another survey last year by the local Scheduled Caste Rights Movement said more than 80 percent of Hindu families complained that Muslims discriminated against them by using different utensils when serving them at food stalls.

“Hindu migration is a brain-drain for Pakistan as most of them are doctors, engineers, agriculturists, businessmen and intellectuals,” Jafri said.

But the provincial authorities are reluctant to recognise a problem.

“I do admit that law and order in some districts of Sindh is quite bad, but it is bad for everyone and not just my community, the Hindus,” Mukesh Kumar Chawla, provincial minister for excise and taxation, told AFP.

“Hindus do not migrate in flocks as has been claimed and those who migrate are going abroad for a better fortune,” he said.