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Hindus of Sindh are marginalised due to their religious orientation and beliefs.—APP Photo

In the little town of Reharki in Ghotki district, a sprawling multi-acre complex sits among fields just off the main road.

Known as the Reharki Darbar, it houses the Sant Satram Das temple and is just a few kilometres from the Bharchundi Sharif shrine, which has become the focal point of allegations that Hindu women are being forced to convert to Islam.

At one end of the Reharki Darbar, an enormous hostel is being constructed for visiting pilgrims, while a recently completed causeway donated by the federal government provides easy access to temple sites at either end of the massive grounds.

In mid-April, according to caretakers at the darbar, tens of thousands of visitors will gather at the complex for a festival marking the death anniversary of Bhagat Kanwar Ram, a popular Sufi poet and singer who was killed in communal riots in 1939, allegedly by the then-custodians of the Bharchundi Sharif shrine.

“It's a great event and people come from all over, even outside Pakistan, from Dubai and India,” said Aneel Batra, a local community leader.

The large Bharchundi Sharif shrine in Daharki, the source of much consternation among the Hindu community in recent days, and the even-larger Sant Satram Das temple complex in adjacent Reharki symbolise the contradictions of the lives of Hindus in upper Sindh.

In the districts of Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Ghotki, Sukkur, Khairpur and Larkana, a mixture of lower-caste peasants and well-to-do businessmen, traders and professionals do suffer sporadic violence and must contend with a strain of intolerance evident since the Zia era.

However, the Hindu communities' ancient ties to the land, their integration into Sindhi society and their wealth allows them to work and live in northern Sindh relatively free from the systematic repression that Christians in south Punjab or Ahmadis across Pakistan suffer.

Discrimination against and outright repression of Hindus is far more pronounced in south-east Sindh, where the vast majority of Hindus in the province, many of them lower-caste peasants, live in Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Sanghar.

Growing violence

The violence that the Hindus of upper Sindh have faced in recent times does have community leaders feeling vulnerable and scared.

“We feel like there is a plan to get us out of here. That because we are well-to-do, there is envy and people want us gone,” according to Dr Hari Lal, a community leader whose home was targeted in violence in Pano Aqil, Sukkur, last year.

That fear was echoed by Eshwar Lal, president of the Sukkur Hindu Panchayat: “Periodically kidnapping Hindus, entering our homes, picking up our children, it's all meant to prevent the community from growing, to keep us under psychological pressure.”

In addition to commonplace extortion and somewhat less frequent kidnappings, Hindus have also been attacked and killed in low-level communal violence in upper Sindh lately.

In November 2011, for example, three Hindu doctors were killed in Chak, Shikarpur, after a dispute involving a Muslim girl belonging to the local Bhayo community snowballed.Two months earlier, in Pano Aqil, the hometown of Dr Hari Lal, police had to be called in to quell small-scale riots after the local Kalhora community accused a Hindu employee at a school run by Dr Lal of having molested a female student from Kalhora community.

According to Shakir Jamali, head of the Sukkur Taskforce of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the violence against Hindus is rooted in local factors and not necessarily linked to religious extremism:

“In the Pano Aqil case, the JUI tried to give it a religious hue via the Kalhora community but it didn't work. In Shikarpur, too, the killers tried to give the matter a religious dimension but the local civil society prevented that.”

Jamali added: “Because Hindus are weak and vulnerable as a community, justice is often not served. Local politicians, waderas and sardars urge them to hush up the matter, telling them they are too weak to take on Muslim tribes and biradaris.”

A weakened community

Across upper Sindh, Hindus point to the Zia era as the time when the modern-day marginalisation of the ancient Hindu community began.

Mahesh Kumar, the owner of a cotton-ginning factory in Ghotki district, explained: “Before Zia, we had as many votes as the other communities and the local MPA needed our support to win. Zia's separate electorate marginalised us. Although joint electorates have been reintroduced, those 12-15 years put us under pressure. And once you're put under pressure, it's hard to recover.”

With their political influence somewhat eroded , “ though still significant via alliances with local politicians, local analysts suggest," the Hindu population's sizeable wealth in upper Sindh makes them choice targets of kidnappers, extortionists and petty criminals.

“In Ghotki, the cotton ginning factories are owned by Hindus. In Sukkur, half the trade in rice, grains and dates is conducted by Hindus. In Khairpur, Hindus have a big role in the date trade. In Jacobabad and Kashmore, rice milling and trading are Hindu domains. In Larkana, Hindus have a big role in the rice trade. All of this makes them a target,” said Eshwar Lal.

Hindus are also prominent among the professional classes. A doctor in Sukkur city, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is a government employee, said: “25 per cent of the doctors in the medical college here are Hindu. We educate our children and they compete for the best jobs. Some in the Muslim community, especially the poorer ones, look at us with envy. And sometimes they act on it and get away with it because of the religious card.”

Leaving not an option

While Hindu victims of violence and other crimes do sometimes migrate to India and other countries, emigration is no more than a trickle. The difficulty in obtaining an India visa is part of the problem but an uncertain future in a new country and the tug of home tend to dampen enthusiasm for migration.

“I have 200 to 250 patients here. If I moved to even Mirpur Mathelo, a few kilometres away, I wouldn't have a practice,” according to Dr Shivak Ram, speaking at his large family compound in Daharki.

“If I sell off my businesses and move to India, with the currency exchange rate being what it is, I'll only have half as much money to invest there. Who can suffer that kind of loss?” asked Mahesh Kumar, the affluent factory owner in Ghotki.In Sukkur city, a lawyer, Mukesh Kumar, suggested that if visas to India were easier to come by “a hundred families would leave every week”. But Kumar admitted that he had no intention of relocating his family, “Leaving your place of birth is difficult. Our roots, our temples, our spiritual links are all with this land. In India, we'll always be called mohajirs.”

The long history of inclusion in the social, political, economic and even religious fabric of upper Sindh appears to have prevented a rush for the exit by Hindus.

Hindu acceptance of Sufism, as evident in the Bhagat Kanwar Ram festival in Reharki Darbar, and embracing of Sindhi nationalism has allowed the community to brand itself as Sindhi first and made it easier to find common ground with the Muslims of upper Sindh.

“There's a saying in Sindhi 'Hindu goth je soonh ahi “a Hindu is the beauty of the village or town,”according to a former resident of Jacobabad who spoke on the condition of anonymity for professional reasons. “Hindus were considered integral to life in Sindh.”

He added: “The situation may have changed somewhat over the last 20 years, but it hasn't erased the long history of Hindu influence in upper Sindh.”

Comments (11) Closed

ashraf Apr 03, 2012 12:33pm
where ever there is minority ,they have been pressed under the boots anywhere in the world.It is a sad story i feel this as i am from a minority section from india .
Indian Apr 03, 2012 02:32pm
Mr.Ashraf you are a minority from India but noone in India has ever forced you to convert your religion we respect all religions.
PK Apr 03, 2012 04:07pm
India is distinctly apart in comparison to Pakistan. You top bollywood stars are from Minority section, top industrialist is Azim Premji, last 3 President of this country were Muslims, even one air chief marshal. You cannot have such examples in Pakistan. Here leaders are up in race against one another in doling out goodies to minority section however for their own ulterior motive but real time gainers are Muslims. We cannot even get killers like Ajmal Kasab and Afjal Guru hanged.
murali Apr 03, 2012 04:30pm
Dear Ashraf, I respect Dr.Abdul Kalam, ex-president of India the same way you respect. I love Salman, shahrukh, Amir khans the way you like. I am proud of Dr. Qureshi, Election commission chief of world's largest democracy and hope so from you. We have Muslim chef ministers, Christian defense minister, and Sikh prime minister. Oh…. I never thought they are minorities before. Well, alongside my Hindu friends, I have equal Muslim friends who are better to do. Thank god they do not think the way you do.
Azmat Apr 03, 2012 07:27pm
We must remember people of different faith enrich societies
Pankaj Apr 03, 2012 08:19pm
Please come out of this mindset. There are equal opportunities for everyone capable. Only incompetent people crib like this. There are ample example from muslim communities reaching heights as mentioned in other comments.
Fahad Apr 04, 2012 09:07pm
I am also an indian-muslim and i disagree with you. India is a country that offers each of its citizen oppurtunites to grow bt its upto an individual to try hard and be succesfull.Yes there are some dark-periods in indian history like '92 , '02 bt remember u can count such events bt in large there is peace and harmony in india. just look into the conditions of minorites in pak - is any such thing happened in india in routine basis like in evry week or month - NO.India is and i pray to allah(swt) that always remain a true secular democracy . and its a fact there is no-better place to live in the world other than india- a country with a culture of diwali,EID,christmas celeberations with same fervour. God bless india and its people.long live india!Jai Hind and be proud to be an 'indian' and pls come out from such 'mindset'.
Asif Apr 05, 2012 04:25am
Can u please let the bombay riots victims and the gujrat riot victims fgamilies also know that., God knows what they must be feeling living in India as a minority. Probably they dont know how the hindus love the minorities.
ENGRICH Apr 06, 2012 12:53am
forced conversio is sales tactics.thousands of muslim girls are marrying hindus after hinduism women has no religion she is shudra or servant.has to follow the religion of her husband.
tulsi Apr 06, 2012 08:45pm
Sindh will never be same if Hindus are thrwon out of. Hindus are the very first residents of Sindh. Because of Hindu Karachi was much more commecial beautiful then Mumbai
Syed Arbab Ahmed Apr 10, 2012 10:28am
There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. [Holy Quran 2:256]