Human Rights in Pakistan: Excerpts from Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora, 2011
2011 marked another turbulent year of violence and instability for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The year began with several high profile assassinations, including the death of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab province, on January 4. Taseer, an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, was murdered by one of his own bodyguards opposed to Taseer’s liberal views.
As The Washington Post reported, instead of condemning the assassination, many Muslim clerics and even lawyers praised the brutal murder: “A group of 500 Muslim clerics, meanwhile, praised his assassin, 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri, and warned people against mourning Taseer. In Islamabad, lawyers tossed rose petals on Qadri as he was produced in a court, where a judge remanded him in custody.” Taseer was viewed by many women and religious minorities as a powerful and influential ally, and with his death, they witnessed the country slide further towards Islamic extremism.
Following Taseer’s assassination, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and the first federal Minister for Minority Affairs, was also brutally murdered for his fierce opposition to the blasphemy laws. Bhatti’s assassination was aided by the government’s refusal to provide him with a bullet-proof vehicle and by ignoring his request to have his own trusted men as bodyguards. The two killings created an environment of fear in the country and emboldened Islamic extremists. As a result, the government claimed that the blasphemy laws were not the cause of the violence and declined to amend them.
In another assassination, Naeem Sabir Jamaldini, a human right activist and the Balochistan coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), was gunned down in a bookstore on March 1.
Amongst the most notable events in Pakistan this past year was a covert U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden, who was living in close proximity to a large Pakistani military facility at the time of his death. Following the attack, the New York Times warned that the “strike could deepen tensions with Pakistan, which has periodically bristled at American counterterrorism efforts even as Bin Laden evidently found safe refuge on its territory for nearly a decade”. The strike did in fact complicate relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, and it was an embarrassment for Pakistan’s military establishment. Despite tensions, the two countries maintained diplomatic and military cooperation throughout the year. At the same time, however, Pakistan’s ISI and military continued to undermine U.S. and NATO military efforts in Afghtanistan by providing support to the Taliban and Haqqani Network.
There were several other events in 2011 that represented the complex nature of U.S.-Pakistan relations. In January, for instance, Raymond Davis, reportedly the acting head of the CIA in Pakistan, was arrested by Pakistani authorities after he shot dead two people who allegedly sought to rob him. U.S. diplomats experienced significant difficulty working with Pakistan on the case, but were finally able to have Davis released from prison.
Moreover, in November, Husain Haqqani resigned as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States following his alleged role in the “memogate” controversy. Haqqani supposedly passed a note from Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to U.S. officials asking for American help to prevent a potential military coup. Haqqani was named as the author of the note by a Pakistani-American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, who claims to have acted as a shuttle between Pakistan and the U.S. Haqqani denied involvement, but resigned over the ensuing controversy and is now hiding in the Pakistani Prime Minister’s house, fearing he will be assassinated if he were to appear in public. Haqqani, who is a prominent scholar, educator, and journalist, and has served the government of Pakistan in various capacities, is considered a moderate, if not a liberal, voice and sought to build the U.S.-Pakistan relationship on a strategic framework beyond military cooperation.
That same month, a NATO military strike on two Pakistani border checkposts in Salala in the Baizai subdivision of Mohmand Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, further intensified strains in U.S.-Pakistan relations. Pakistan retaliated by shutting down the NATO supply line to Afghanistan. Late in December, an investigation into the incident found that the attacks were the results of mistakes by both sides.
2011 also saw the persistence of violent terrorism throughout the country, and a preliminary estimate indicates there were nearly 500 incidents of terrorism during the year. The sheer volume of attacks demonstrates Pakistan’s unwillingness and/or inability to disrupt the vast network of militant groups that its own military establishment created and nurtured for so many years.
Furthermore, it is reported that three out of four terrorist plots in Britain have their origins in Pakistan. Additionally, 4,000 young British Muslims have been trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan, and nearly 400,000 British Muslim citizens visit Pakistan each year.
As an assessment of Pakistan by the South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) notes:
For far too long, Western powers – vigorously led by the US – have been party to a comprehensive cover-up, a pretence that has sought to minimize Pakistan’s role in the active sponsorship and export of terrorism, and an effort to distract international attention from the country’s failing institutions, to emphasise, instead, its acts of purported ‘cooperation’ with global counter-terrorism efforts. This farce, and elements of the international community’s real appraisal of Pakistan and the many players in the country, lay fully exposed with the Wikileaks disclosure of US diplomatic correspondence and confidential assessments in 2010. These have fully confirmed the continuing complicity of the Pakistani establishment in terrorism in the South Asian region and beyond; the corruption and mendacity of its various institutions of Government; (and) the country’s hurtling trajectory towards state failure…
American and British diplomats have also expressed concern that nuclear fissile material could fall into the hands of terrorists, and they worry that Pakistan is increasing its nuclear stockpile to dangerous levels. According to one of the Wikileaks American diplomatic cables: “Although we do not believe Pakistan is a failed state, we nonetheless recognize that the challenges it confronts are dire...The government is losing more and more territory every day to foreign and domestic militant groups; deteriorating law and order in turn is undermining economic recovery. The bureaucracy is settling into third-world mediocrity, as demonstrated by some corruption and a limited capacity to implement or articulate policy.”
Similarly, Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, warned that no amount of U.S. aid would change the Pakistani army's covert support for four major terrorist formations, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani group, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s fighters, and the Lashkar-e-Toiba: “...there is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance...as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to these groups.” Moreover, extremism was “no longer restricted to the border area,” and fighters were increasingly being recruited from the Punjab province, even as “the phenomenon is spreading into northern Sindh as well.” Another diplomatic cable notes, “The bad news is that the militants increasingly are setting the agenda.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, the soon to be retired head of American military services, testified before a U.S. Senate committee that Pakistan was exporting terror: "In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan – and most especially the Pakistani Army and ISI – jeopardises not only the prospect of our strategic partnership, but also Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence…. By exporting violence, they have eroded their internal security and their position in the region.”
Beyond the ongoing threat of terrorism and extremist violence, human rights for minorities continued to worsen throughout the country. In particular, Hindus, numbering approximately 3.9 million, faced discrimination and widespread violence, including attacks on temples, kidnappings for ransom, and the abduction of Hindu girls. The abject failure of government authorities and law enforcement to protect them has led large numbers of Hindus to seek refuge in India. An estimated 350,000 Hindus have fled for safety to India in recent years and according to Pakistan Hindu Seva, at least 10 to 14 families migrate from Sindh province to India every month. At the beginning of 2011, for instance, nearly 400 Pakistani Hindus were living temporarily in the Indian border city of Amritsar after submitting citizenship applications to the Indian government.
Furthermore, as a recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Pakistan’s education system demonstrates, public schools and madrasas persist in teaching intolerance and hatred towards non-Muslims, particularly Hindus, while glorifying violence and jihad. In addition, the ongoing trend of kidnappings and forced conversions of young Hindu girls continues to plague Pakistani society.
The level of fear prevalent in Pakistan’s Hindu community is so extensive that it even affects Hindu parents, who fear giving their babies identifiable Hindu names, as they would become the target of Muslim extremists.
Pakistan is bordered on the south by the Arabian Sea, India on the east, and Afghanistan and Iran on the west. It has a number of diverse ethnic groups, including Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns, and Muhajirs. Punjabis comprise the largest group and dominate the ranks of the government and military. The pre-eminence and political power of the Punjabis has led to resentment from other ethnic groups, particularly Balochis and Sindhis, and at times, resulted in ethnic conflict. Pakistan has also been plagued by sectarian violence between the majority Sunni and minority Shi’a Muslim communities.
The modern Pakistani state was created through the partitioning of the subcontinent in 1947, following the British withdrawal from India. Partition and the accompanying violence forced millions of Hindus and Sikhs to flee Pakistan for the safety of India. As a result, the number of Hindus in Pakistan began to rapidly decline. For instance, at the time of Partition in 1947, the Hindu community in Pakistan was approximately 25% of the population. By 1998, it was only 1.6%. In the city of Karachi alone, the Hindu population decreased from 51% in 1947 to only 2% in 1951, while the Muslim population in the city went from 42% to 96% during that same period. Notwithstanding its recent decline, Hindu civilization and culture flourished in Pakistan for thousands of years.
At independence, Pakistan proclaimed itself an Islamic Republic. Since then, Islam has become a central part of the country's national ideology and legal framework. Although the Constitution provides for freedom of religion, that freedom is severely limited and “subject to law, public order and morality.” Consequently, actions or speech deemed derogatory to Islam or the Prophet Mohammed are not protected. Moreover, the Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam and imposes elements of Koranic law on both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
In addition, there has been a recent proliferation of Islamic schools, or madrasas, in the past fifty years. Current estimates show that there are over 10,000 madrasas in Pakistan, whereas in 1956, there were only 244. Many of these schools teach extreme and intolerant interpretations of Islam to children as young as five years old. USCIRF’s new report on the education system found that Pakistan’s public schools and madrasas negatively portray the country’s religious minorities and that these schools and madrasas “reinforce biases which fuel acts of discrimination, and possibly violence, against these communities.” The report further said that Hindus were depicted in especially negative terms.
Pakistan has a long history of training, supporting, and using radical Islamic groups as an extension of official state policy, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in India and Afghanistan. These extremist groups have now turned their sights on Pakistan itself, including military/government and civilian targets, with their stated intent of turning the country into an Islamic state.
During the last several years, the rights of Pakistani minorities have deteriorated at an alarming rate. I.A. Rehman, Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), associates this erosion with the continued Islamization of the country initiated by former President General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Consequently, minorities live in constant fear of threats to their lives and property, desecrations of their places of worship, and punishment under the Blasphemy Act. Nuzzhat Shirin of the Aurat Foundation adds: “It’s Muslims winning by intimidation. It’s Muslims overcoming a culture by threatening it, by abducting young girls so that an entire community moves out or succumbs to the Muslim murderers.” Noted human rights activist Suhas Chakma went even further by describing the current system in Pakistan as “religious apartheid.”
Despite rampant human rights violations and war crimes committed by numerous Pakistani regimes, Pakistan’s actions have been repeatedly tolerated by the international community due to the country’s strategic location and perceived importance in the region. According to the 1981 UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, among “… the genocides of human history, the highest number of people killed in the small span of time is in Bangladesh in 1971. An average of 6,000 to 12,000 people were killed every single day. This is the highest daily average in history.” The majority of those killed, raped, and maimed by Pakistani military forces were Hindus. A commission of inquiry appointed by the Pakistan government, the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, recorded testimonies of Pakistani army officers, who quoted General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi asking, “How many Hindus have you killed today?” as a matter of routine. Nonetheless, Pakistan has escaped international accountability for the atrocities committed in Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Independence.
American lawmakers, who have provided billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan for its “support” in fighting the war in Afghanistan, have now come to realize that Pakistan’s military has misdirected the funding for other purposes. A report says that of the $12 billion given to Pakistan in aid between 2002 and 2008, including $6.6 billion in military assistance, only $500 million reached the military to fight terror. The rest was diverted to strengthen the military, bolster terror against India, and subsidize President Musharraf's failing economy
There was a further deterioration in the status and rights of religious minorities in 2011. Hindus, in particular, continued to be the target of kidnappings, rape, and intimidation in Pakistan as in previous years. The pernicious bonded labor system, which primarily affects Hindus, also persisted unabated.
Furthermore, government regulations and laws shaped by Islamic Sharia injunctions played a significant role in the lives of all Pakistani citizens. For instance, as confirmed at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in October 2009, Islamic blasphemy laws disproportionately affect Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadiyas. While it was encouraging that the Pakistan government appointed anti-blasphemy law activist Sherry Rehman as ambassador to the U.S. in November 2011, the year began with the assassination of Salman Taseer specifically for his stance against the blasphemy laws.
In terms of legislative action, the government finally made progress towards drafting a bill to register the marriages of Hindus, Sikhs, and Baha’is. However, there was some disagreement within the Hindu community over whether to include a divorce clause in the legislation. Specifically, Clause 13 is considered problematic and states that any Hindu can divorce his wife or her husband at any time and in any court. The potential implications of this clause are vague, and it is not clear whether it would allow a Sharia court to decide on a Hindu marriage.
Terrorist attacks on innocent civilians also remained a major human rights issue in 2011. While total fatalities in terrorist related violence declined from a high of 11,585 in 2009, extremists were still able to launch attacks with relative ease throughout the country. The number of civilians killed in 2011 in terrorist related violence was 2,580 and the number of security forces and terrorists killed was 765 and 2,797 respectively, resulting in a total of 6,142 dead.
In addition, the southwestern province of Balochistan “continued to witness overwhelming and relentless military repression, human rights violations and excesses by intelligence and security agencies, with fatalities rising from 347 to 711, more than double the count in 2010.” The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted the following about the violence in Balochistan:
Bodies of at least 225 ‘missing persons’ have been recovered from various parts of the Province since July 2010. The situation is particularly grave for non-Muslims and minority Muslim sects. As many as 80 members of the Shia community have been killed in the Province this year  alone, for no reason other than their religious belief. HRCP also has serious concern at targeted killing of teachers, intellectuals and non-Baloch ‘settlers’ in Balochistan. The murder of two HRCP activists and three journalists in the Province in 2011 signifies the dangers that those highlighting human rights violations face on a daily basis. It is a matter of grave alarm that 107 new cases of enforced disappearance have been reported in Balochistan in 2011, and the ‘missing persons’ are increasingly turning up dead. It is scandalous that not a single person has been held accountable for these disappearances and killings.
Human rights activists also came under attack in 2011, including the HRCP’s Balochistan coordinator, Siddique Eido, who was assassinated in early 2011, and Hindu human rights activist, Veerji Kohli, who was falsely implicated in a case by the police.
In December 2011, the National Assembly approved the creation of an independent human rights commission. The National Commission on Human Rights will be empowered to conduct investigations and assume the role of a court in special circumstances with authority to make its own motions. The Commission will be headed by a retired judge or eminent expert, with two commissioners coming from religious minority communities. It is unclear, however, whether the Commission will be truly independent or subject to interference from the political and military establishments.
The HRCP has correctly observed that the affiliation of a state to a religion leads to discrimination against those who profess a different faith. The Commission has further noted that “discrimination by the state, duly enshrined in the constitution and the laws of the land, encourages additional social discrimination, virtually reducing religious minorities to second-class citizens whose rights and welfare are easily ignored and violated both by the majority community and the state.”
In Pakistan, Islam has become institutionalized and pervades all aspects of the legal system. For instance, Article 2 of the Constitution proclaims that Islam is “the State religion of Pakistan” and recognizes that the Koran and Sunnah as the highest sources of law, not to be contradicted by secular laws. Furthermore, Article 41(2) expressly provides that an individual must be Muslim in order to hold the office of President of Pakistan.
The Constitution also provides that high office holders must take the oath of office by invoking an Islamic prayer, regardless of whether they are Muslim. On March 24, 2007, a Hindu judge, Rana Bhagwandas, was sworn in as acting Supreme Court Chief Justice, following the suspension of sitting Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The Hindu judge was required to take the Islamic oath, “[i]n the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful,” and ended with “May Allah Almighty help and guide me, (A’meen).” The Constitution and other statutory laws favor Muslims and directly and indirectly discriminate against religious minorities, thereby making them second-class citizens. Moreover, Hindus and other minorities face severe restrictions on their religious freedom and attacks on their places of worship.
In May 2010, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging religious freedom and changes in Pakistan’s laws.
The blasphemy laws, which are part of Pakistan's Penal Code, impose severe punishments for insults to the Prophet Mohammed or desecration of the Koran. Five Sections 295 B, 295 C, 298 A, B, and C, commonly known as blasphemy laws, were made part of the Pakistan Penal Code, between 1980 and 1986, mainly through Presidential Orders by the former military dictator Gen. Zia al-Haq. These Sections of the Criminal law were intended to presumably protect the honor of the Prophet Mohammad, the Quran, and the companions and wives of the Prophet. They further prohibit Ahmadiyas from using Islamic terminology and symbols and from “preaching their faith or pos[ing] as Muslims.”
While the punishment for offenses under Sections 298 A, B, and C (concerning the insult against companions and wives of Prophet Mohammad and imposing restrictions on Ahmadiyas) is imprisonment for three years and a fine, Section 295-B (showing disrespect to the Quran) sanctions life imprisonment, and Section 295-C (insulting the Prophet Mohammad) carries mandatory capital punishment. Pakistan’s Supreme recently confirmed a Federal Sharia Court ruling that death is the only allowable punishment for blasphemy under Islamic law, causing renewed concern amongst human rights organizations, Pakistani minorities, and people worldwide.
These archaic laws have harmed all sections of Pakistani society, but have had the greatest impact on religious minorities, particularly Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadiyas. There are currently dozens of blasphemy cases pending in the court system, while the accused languish in jail under oppressive conditions. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2010 report on international religious freedom, lower courts in Pakistan often did not require adequate evidence in blasphemy cases, “which led to some accused and convicted persons spending years in jail before higher courts eventually overturned their convictions or ordered them freed. Original trial courts usually denied bail in blasphemy cases, claiming that because defendants could face the death penalty, they were likely to flee.”
Moreover, in March 2009, Pakistan presented a resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva urging all countries to formulate laws against the defamation of religion. It represented an insidious attempt by Pakistan to universally enforce blasphemy laws, and unfortunately, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed the resolution.
Between January and July 2011, there were eighteen cases of blasphemy registered in Pakistan. None of the accused, however, appeared to be Hindu. And in 2010, HRCP indicates there were a total of 24 recorded cases and convictions. According to the Ansar Burney Trust, at least ten innocent non-Muslims have been murdered while still awaiting blasphemy trial in Pakistan.
In addition, between 1987 and 2009, a total of 1,032 persons were charged under the blasphemy laws. According to Pakistani analysts:
In most cases, the accused languish in prison until their cases are decided, but even behind bars, they live in fear of violence against them by other inmates. The fears of being set upon only increase after acquittal and release…In its 2008 annual report, the [Human Rights Commission of Pakistan] comments that a growing number of Muslims in Pakistan had begun to feel that the only true version of Islam is the one they practise and as the State had failed in its duty to protect the interests of the religion ‘that it is their religious duty to enforce it on all and sundry by deploying all possible means, including the use of force against those who do not fall in line.
In one recent high-profile case, Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court in the Punjab province in November 2010. President Zardari ordered a ministerial inquiry, which concluded that there were no grounds for the verdict and that a presidential pardon be given to her. Dangerously, however, the courts stepped in again, with the Lahore High Court barring the president from using the constitutional privilege of awarding a pardon. Moreover, Salman Taseer and Shabhaz Bhatti’s vocal advocacy on Aasia Bibi’s behalf led to their assassinations by Islamic extremists.
The blasphemy laws have successfully remained in place for several decades now due to widespread support from not only radical Islamist organizations, but also purportedly mainstream political parties. For example, in September 2009, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the centrist Pakistan Muslim League Qaid-e-Azam (PML-Q), said that his party would protest any change to the existing blasphemy laws. He claimed that it was the duty of every Muslim to defend the blasphemy laws. Similarly, the head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (Assembly of Pakistani Clergy) said that his party would not allow the blasphemy laws to be challenged.
Religious Identification Laws
On March 24, 2005, Pakistan restored the discriminatory practice of mandating the identification of religion of individuals in all new passports. The Pakistan federal cabinet, with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in chair, directed the Ministry of Interior to reintroduce the rule after its repeal under the Zafaraullah Khan Jamali government in 2004. The move was seen as a concession to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of hard-line religious parties that supported General Musharraf. Religious Identification laws tend to promote discrimination against non-Muslims, as they separately identify minorities from the majority Muslim population. This further establishes their inferior status and also leaves them vulnerable to religious persecution and harassment at the hands of government officials.
Pakistan is home to several ancient Hindu temples and pilgrimage sites, but there has been a drastic decline in the number and condition of Hindu temples since Partition. Thousands of temples have been destroyed or converted into mosques since 1947, and there are only an estimated 360 temples remaining. Moreover, many of the existing temples suffer from decay and neglect (from a lack of funds/government support) and are subject to attacks and illegal encroachments. For example, in the northwestern city of Peshawar, there are only two remaining Hindu temples. And temples near Islamabad and the surrounding areas are in dilapidated conditions, and some temples near the capital no longer exist.
Similarly, USCIRF points out that “Hindu temples have been the object of violence in the province of Baluchistan, where Hindus are the largest religious minority and where ethnic Baluchi insurgents have been waging a struggle against the central government for many years.”
The continued demolition and encroachment of Hindu temples in Pakistan is often accomplished with the tacit support of government authorities and police. In many parts of the country, Hindus are prevented from building new temples and/or freely practicing their religion. For example, according to a report by Pastor Rafiq Bhatti of the Stephens Shaheed Foundation, an organization that works primarily with Christians, even in Hindu villages in rural Sindh Province, Hindus are refused permission to build places of worship.
A 2011 report demonstrates that many Hindu temples in Pakistan have also been converted into picnic areas, hotels, schools, and business centers. In many of these instances, the Hindu community lacked control over the sites, and the government failed to maintiain the properties. As a result, several of the temples have been illegally converted. The following are specific examples provided by the report:
- In Dera Ismail Khan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), a Muslim group illegally acquired the 700-year-old Kali Bari Mandir and converted it into a hotel.
- In Islamabad, Hindus have no access to a temple situated at Saidpur model village.
- The Raam Kunday Mandir in Islamabad, once considered a sacred site by Hindus, is being converted into a picnic area.
- In Abbottabad (Khyber Pakthunkwa), a Hindu temple called Araya Mandir, already in decrepit condition, has been occupied by Muslims who are using it as a school for their children.
- Eminabad in Gujranwala region has several temples dating back to the 15th century, which are in serious decay. Most of them are now being used as stables to provide shelter to donkeys, horses, and other animals.
- A famous Hanuman temple in Chakwal (Punjab province) is being used by the workers of salt mines as their office.
- A Kali temple in Peshawar (Khyber Pakthunkwa) has been taken over by local traders, who are converting it into a building.
- In Punjab's Bakkar city, Sheeran Wali Mandir has been used by Islamic clerics as a madrassa.
- Jogi ala Jhelum (Punjab), a sacred site for Hindus as well as Sikhs, is also in horrible condition.
Another recent example is the Shri Varun Dev Mandir, a Hindu temple estimated to be over 1,000 years old. Due to a lack of funds and government support, the ancient temple, which faces the Arabian Sea in Manora Island, Karachi, is currently in a state of decay and disrepair. According to the temple’s caretaker, the temple has been unable to hold services or rituals since the 1950s and is regularly desecrated by local Muslims, who use its premises as bathrooms.
Moreover, the Katas Raj Temple, located in the Katas Valley near Chakwal in Punjab province, has been repeatedly looted for its ancient sculptures and relics, leaving only one remaining sculpture. The Punjab Archaeology Department, which is responsible for renovating and preserving the historic temple, has failed to provide adequate security at the temple complex. Pundit Javed Akram Kumar, chief of the Katas Raj Parbandh Committee, said that the “temple was one of the most ancient sites in the country.” He said that Katas Valley was famous for its beauty, and centuries ago, there used to be a Sanskrit University in the valley which had produced many eminent scientists, including Alberuni, who wrote his book “Kitab Al Hind” at the university. Kumar added that there had been a Buddhist stupa at the site which had “signs of an ancient [civilization] that lived in the area centuries ago.”
One of the major reasons temples in Pakistan are facing such dire straits is the inability of the Hindu community to independently control their own places of worship. Currently, the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), a government body, is responsible for managing a large number of Hindu properties, including temples, left behind by Hindus who fled for India at the time of partition in 1947. The ETPB also controls 135,000 acres of land belonging to Hindu farmers, of which 125,000 acres are fertile land suitable for cultivation. The Trust Board, however, lacks adequate Hindu representation and has consistently failed to consult Hindu organizations, such as the Pakistan Hindu Council, before making decisions regarding Hindu properties and places of worship.
In May 2008, for instance, the ETPB leased a 100-year old Hindu temple to a Muslim man in Karachi, who converted the sacred site into an auto repair workshop. According to an article in the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, “Rusted broken iron bars, scratched plasters, wrecked fences and cars parked outside for repairs are the sights at the century-old Ratan Talha Hindu temple, once known for its beautiful architecture.” Moreover, the Muslim owner of the workshop now uses the main prayer area as a storeroom and restricts local Hindu devotees from visiting the temple.
And in 2006, an ancient 400 year-old Ashnan Ghat (sacred bathing site) in Lahore which holds great religious importance for both Hindus and Sikhs, was sought to be used to build a 12-storey shopping complex. EPTB Chairman Lt Gen (R) Zulfiqar Ali Khan said Hindus might have used the “ashnan ghat” for ceremonial ablutions at some time in the past, but “there had been no such ceremonies there since Partition.”
According to Haroon Sayab, chairman of the Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement, "Hindus are left behind in every walk of life. They don't have possession of their sacred places and other properties. If Hindus were given the possession of their assets, their misery could be alleviated."
In a rare victory for the Hindu community, a 160-year-old Hindu temple in Peshawar prepared to welcome worshippers after a lengthy legal battle. The Goraknath Temple, situated in Peshawar’s archaeological complex Gor Kattri, opened for worship for the first time in 60 years on the Hindu festival of Diwali on October 26, 2011. Unfortunately, according to local contacts, shortly after the temple was re-opened it was broken into and vandalized.
Pakistan also has a number of sacred pilgrimage sites, which are visited by thousands of pilgrims every year, including the famous Mata Hinglaj Temple, located in a mountain cave on the banks of the River Hingol in Baluchistan province. Hindu pilgrims have previously come under attack by Muslim extremists, including an incident in 2006, where two pilgrims were killed and seven wounded after militants attacked a caravan carrying Hindu pilgrims in Sindh.
There are very few concerted efforts at restoring and maintaining temples in Pakistan, though it is hoped that organizations like the Pakistan Hindu Council, established in 2005, would begin to organize people and efforts to do so.
Attacks on Minorities
Religious minorities in Pakistan are routinely attacked and live in constant fear for their safety. Fueling the violence against Hindus, Pakistan’s religious leaders and commentators continued to use inflammatory language to cast aspersions on Hindus. For example, the editor of The Nation newspaper and the Nazaria-i-Pakistan Trust chairman, Majid Nizami, claimed, “Hindus have never accepted Pakistan ever since its creation in 1947, and India, America and Israel want to disintegrate the country.”
Of particular concern are the frequent abductions of Hindus for ransom, which has left the Hindu community in Pakistan in a continuous state of insecurity and with little protection from law enforcement authorities. The failure of government authorities to protect Hindus has forced many to pay local gangs “protection money” to avoid being kidnapped for ransom. Often times, however, a family is unable to pay “protection money” and cannot afford the demanded ransom, resulting in the abducted victim being murdered. Hindu community leaders claim that kidnappings have become common and that “highwaymen and kidnappers” have been given a "free hand." They further allege that police and other law enforcement agencies are patronizing the kidnappers.
Furthermore, the HRCP’s latest report on Balochistan indicated a rise in violence against Hindus in Balochistan, including a significant increase in abductions. A Hindu activist informed the HRCP that more than 30 persons from the Hindu community have been kidnapped for ransom in Balochistan, and those who tried to resist kidnapping attempts were killed. He also told HRCP that religious minorities were even hesitant to attend social gatherings for fear of being robbed.
The following examples are representative of the abductions and violent attacks Hindus faced in 2011:
- In December, Hindus in Balochistan protested the murder of a young trader, Ravi Kumar, who had been kidnapped. Police discovered Kumar’s dead body after his family was unable to pay his abductors the demanded ransom.
- A Hindu lawyer was missing since December 23, after going to the Sindh High Court. His car was found abandoned at a taxi stand. Police officials in Hyderabad, Sindh refused to register a case.
- In a chilling attack in November, four Hindu doctors were killed at their clinic in Chak town in Sindh province. Drs. Ashok, Naresh, Ajeet, and Satia Paul were killed by armed assailants while working in their clinic. The victims were reportedly gunned down by members of the Muslim Bhayo community after an alleged dispute involving a Muslim “dancing girl.” Members of the Hindu community, however, maintain that they had been receiving threats for the past three months, since they stopped paying “protection money” to the Muslim Bhayos.
- Unidentified armed men tried to extort money from Karpal Das, a trader, at gunpoint in June. Armed men broke into Das' department store on Masjid Road, the busiest road in Khuzdar town in Southwestern Pakistan, and demanded a large amount of money. They fled when Das resisted. Following the incident, Hindus staged a protest in Khuzdar.
- A 70 year-old Hindu shopkeeper, Kanhaiya Lal, was killed in the town of Hassanbdal in Punjab province in May. Hindus and Sikhs initiated a public procession with the victim’s body protesting the lack of concern and security provided by the police.
- At least 15 people, including at least three Hindu men, and seven children were killed in Balochistan in April, when armed men on motorcycles torched a bus carrying passengers from Jacobabad, Sindh to Sibi, Balochistan.
- A Hindu trader in Quetta City, Ramesh Kumar, was shot dead in February after he resisted armed robbers trying to kidnap him on his way to his general store in Kandahari Bazaar.
- The 16 year-old son of a well-known Hindu trader was abducted by a group of armed men in Naushki, Balochistan in January. Police confirmed that it was a case of kidnapping for ransom. Just two days prior, a Hindu shopkeeper, Dilip Kumar, was kidnapped in Sohbatpur.
- A Hindu spiritual leader from the Historic Kali Mandir in Kalat, Luckmi Chand Garji was kidnapped and detained for several months before being released in the beginning of 2011.
In a particularly disturbing incident, Mohabat Mal, the son of Veero Mal, was pursued by a group of Muslim religious leaders of the Madani mosque in Mirpurkhas, Sindh in an attempt to convert him to Islam and arrange his marriage with a Muslim girl. After being abducted, Mohabat was locked in a house adjacent to the mosque for nine months, forced to sign papers declaring he was a Muslim, and purportedly sodomized by the mosque’s cleric. On April 4, 2011, he managed to escape and notified his parents, who tried to file a complaint against the perpetrators. The police, however, informed the mosque leader, who led more than 100 individuals in attacking Veero Mal’s house.
Subsequently, Mohabat Mal contacted a Hindu human rights organization in Hyderabad, 70 kilometers from Mirpurkhas. The organization sent a lawyer who prepared a petition for the Sindh High Court in Hyderabad against Mal’s forced conversion and rape during his nine months of captivity. A day before filing the petition, Veero Mal’s house was attacked again by a large group of Muslims. The police then proceeded to arrest Veero Mal and Mohabat’s two maternal uncles, Pyaro Mal and Parro Mal, based on the mosque cleric’s complaint that Mohabat had converted to Islam but had been abducted by his parents. Mohabat was then abducted again from the police station by a religious mob led by the mosque cleric, while making a statement to the police. The victim’s mother and other family members are now in hiding.
As a result of widespread violence and abductions, many Hindus have fled to India. As a Pakistani Hindu writer lamented, “The Hindu community is peaceful — so what is its biggest sin? It is a minority in a land where there is no rule of law. All that is needed is the political will to go after those involved in these kidnappings — the incidents will stop and our Hindu compatriots will stop fleeing to India.” Similarly, a Hindu leader, Muki Raday Sham, said that many Hindu families had already migrated to other countries, and if the abductions were not stopped, the remaining would also migrate. In addition, Ansar Burney, chairman of the Ansar Burney Trust International and former Federal Minister for human rights, confirmed that more than 100 Hindu families in Balochistan had migrated out of the province after being targeted by extremists.
The recent violence in Swat Valley in 2009 also forced the few remaining Hindus there to flee the region and head towards India. According to a news report, more than 6,000 Pakistani Hindus migrated to India in months prior to March 2009. There are nearly 350,000 Pakistani Hindu migrants now in India, mostly living in Rajasthan and Gujarat. They live on the margins of society in India, without legal documents and hoping to be rehabilitated by the Indian government. Hindu Singh Sodha, president of Seemant Lok Sangathan, a group working for the refugees in Rajasthan, said that there is no clear Indian policy on refugees even though people from Pakistan reach India in large numbers seeking refuge from extremism and violence. In one high profile incident, a Hindu legislator in Sindh province, Ram Singh Sodho, quit the legislature and moved to India after receiving threats to his life.
Violence against Women
Violence against women is a serious problem throughout the world, but more so in Pakistan and particularly against Hindu women. This violence occurs primarily in the form of rape, honor killings, and domestic abuse. Although violence is disproportionately used against Hindu women as a weapon of subjugation and religious persecution, the crimes transcend religion, and Muslim women are frequent targets of Islamic extremists. For example, in August 2009, the Pakistani Taliban’s moral police executed two Muslim women for engaging in allegedly “immoral behavior.” A note left on their dead bodies threatened other women with similar consequences for such behavior. According to the Taliban and other Islamists, “immoral behavior” includes talking to men outside of their families.
Every year, thousands of Pakistani women are the victims of honor killings, rapes, kidnappings, and domestic violence. Young Hindu women and girls, along with other minorities, are particularly vulnerable to gender based violence.
The Aurat Foundation reported a sharp increase in the cases of violence against women between January and June 2011, compared to the same time period in 2010. A total of 4,448 cases were reported, as compared to 4,061 cases during the first six months of 2010. Of the 4,448 cases, 3,035 cases were reported from Punjab, 819 from Sindh, 389 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 133 from Balochistan, and approximately 72 cases from Islamabad Capital Territory. Of the 4,448 cases, 1,137 cases involved abduction and kidnapping, 799 murders, 396 rapes/gang rapes, 402 cases of suicide, 382 cases of “honor killing,” 356 cases of domestic violence, 57 cases of sexual assault, 16 cases of “stove burning,” 22 cases of acid attack, and 881 miscellaneous cases including incest, custodial violence, child marriages, sex trafficking, etc. In Sindh province alone, 557 cases of “honor killing” were reported in the first eleven months of 2011.
The Hudood Ordinance in Pakistan, enacted in 1979 and replaced/revised by the “Women’s Protection Bill,” is a medieval law used to oppress and intimidate women. It has been used to imprison thousands of women who report rapes. Under the ordinance, in order to prove rape charges, a female rape victim is required to present the testimony of four male witnesses. If she is unable to do so, she herself may then be punished for committing adultery. This law effectively silences rape victims since they face the possibility of being charged with adultery, as the probability that a woman is able to produce four male eyewitnesses is miniscule.
The Women’s Rights Bill, introduced in November 2006, slightly amended the Hudood Ordinance by reducing the required male eyewitnesses for a rape conviction from four to two. Although this was a positive step forward, the new Women’s Rights Bill still presents substantial obstacles for rape victims to achieve justice. According to the U.S. State Department, women arrested under the Hudood Ordinance “on charges of fornication, adultery, and possession of liquor” are now having their cases heard under the Women's Protection Bill. Unfortunately, other provisions of the Hudood Ordinance still remain intact. Despite repeated calls by women’s rights and human rights group to repeal the ordinance, the Pakistani government has yet to take action.
In addition to the Hudood Ordinances, the qisas (retribution) and diyat (compensation) ordinances allow an honor killing to be forgiven by the victim’s relatives in exchange for monetary compensation. Moreover, the compensation for an honor crime against a woman is only half that of a male victim.
A disturbing trend in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh province, is the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of Hindu girls. Several Islamic seminaries in Sindh incite their Muslim students to convert Hindu girls, telling them that it is the equivalent of Haj-e-Akbari, or the greatest religious duty for Muslims. Wasim Shahzad, the former Minister of State for Interior, believes that kidnappings and forced conversions “are taking place to force the Hindus to leave Pakistan where they have been living for the past 5,000 years.”
According to a report prepared by the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR):
It is a crime for the Hindus to have land and beautiful daughters. Kidnapping, rape and forcible marriage of Hindu girls is a common practice. In case of arrest, the accused can get away by producing a certificate issued by any Muslim seminary that the kidnapped girls have voluntarily adopted Islam and the accused have married the girls. The courts generally do not consider the fact that most of the girls are minor, and simply accept the certificate of conversion without any investigation. It has been reported that more than 15 families are forcibly converted from Hinduism to Islam in Sindh province every year. Often, young Hindu girls were kidnapped and forcibly married.
A new HRCP report also warns of the dangerous rise of kidnappings and forced conversions of young Hindu girls. Amarnath Motumal, an advocate and HRCP member, recently indicated that as many as 20 to 25 girls from the Hindu community in Pakistan are abducted every month and converted forcibly to Islam. He added, “[I]n Karachi alone, a large number of Hindu girls are being kidnapped on a routine basis and converted to Islam.” Motumal further alleged, “Many more occur in rural areas of Sindh but not all families want to talk about them.” Bherulal Balani, another legislator, stated: “Once the girls are converted, they are then sold to other people or are forced into illegal and immoral activities.” And in October 2010, a committee of the Pakistani Senate expressed concern over reports that Hindu girls in Sindh province are being abducted for forced conversion to Islam.
The following examples are illustrative of recent incidents of kidnappings, forced conversions, rapes, and sexual assaults:
- A 15-year-old Hindu girl, Bharati, was abducted, converted to Islam and forcibly married off in the Lyari area of Karachi. Her father claimed that she has been converted and married off against her will.
- Anita, a 22 year old girl, who was already married to a Hindu man, Suresh Kumar, was abducted from her home in Sindh province, forcibly converted to Islam, and married to a Muslim man. After legally challenging the case in multiple courts, the Supreme Court ruled that Anita was now a Muslim and should live with her new Muslim husband without cancelling her previous marriage. The court reached its decision in a manner similar to a village council, rather than a proper judicial proceeding. Anita was also intimidated in court by her Muslim abductors.
- Poonam, a 13 year-old Hindu girl, was kidnapped from Lyari, Sindh in 2010 and forcibly converted to Islam by Muslim clergy.
- A 17 year-old Hindu girl was gang raped in the Nagarparker area of Karachi.
- A 15 year-old Hindu girl was abducted from Aklee village.
- Sapna Kumari, a minor Hindu girl, was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam in Balochistan province. The Muslim cleric responsible for her abduction and forced conversion threatened to murder her three brothers and father if she testified in court that she had been converted and married against her will. Although Kumari was a minor, the court ordered her to go with her Muslim “husband.”
Hindu children are also the victims of kidnapping. A recent three-year study revealed that Hindus suffer the brunt of child kidnappings. Between January 2010 and December 2010, at least 23 children – some as young as three years old– were kidnapped for ransom. Of the 23, nine were Hindus, including four girls. The report says that the number of kidnappings could be even higher because many of the cases go unreported due to the threats by the kidnappers to harm the children if the parents complain.
Pakistan continues to be the epicenter of global terrorism and violent Islamic extremism. There are a number of groups operating freely throughout the country, who promote Islamic rule, violent jihad (holy war), and hatred towards non-Muslims. These groups, who enjoy the support of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, include Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehreek-e-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban), Lashkar-e-Omar (a loose coalition of several militant groups), Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Muslim United Army (an umbrella organization consisting of several extremist groups), Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Afghan Taliban groups (ex: Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network) According to Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, “The purpose of Jihad is to carry out a sustained struggle for the dominance of Islam in the entire world.” In addition, there are several militant sectarian Sunni and Shia groups, such as Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi, Sipah-e-Mohammed, and Tehreek-e-Jaferia Pakistan.
Al Qaeda also maintains several bases in Pakistan and functions with the tacit assistance of the Pakistani military establishment. For example, on a trip to Pakistan in October 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested that Pakistani officials knew where Al Qaeda leaders were hiding. And in 2010, Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Afghanistan, acknowledged the longstanding ties between Pakistan’s ISI and the “bad guys.”
The Wikileak cables also demonstrate the extent of cooperation between Pakistan and Islamist militant groups in the region. Specifically, the documents reveal that the ISI worked with the Taliban to organize militants, in order to fight American soldiers in Afghanistan and formulate plans to assassinate Afghan leaders. David Rohde, the New York Times reporter who was kidnapped by the Taliban, said in an interview following the leak, “These cables confirm what myself and other reporters have suspected for years, and what I saw firsthand on the ground, and that is that Pakistan is aiding the Haqqani network — a major and one of the most deadly Afghan Taliban factions. And it’s sort of been an open secret. The positive side from an American perspective on these cables is that they show that the U.S. government is sort of on top of what’s happening in Pakistan, and they do understand the dynamics at work there.”
Islamists have also increasingly started to impose Islamic law in areas under their control, particularly in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa Province. According to reports from the region, “Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan's picturesque Swat Valley and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region outside the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive.” In addition, a fact-finding mission by the HRCP found that in Charsadda District, “[s]everal video shops were bombed and even bank employees were warned to wear Islamic dresses and female workers [were ordered] to stop working in banks.” Furthermore, the Pakistani Taliban destroyed approximately 150 schools in north western Pakistan and ordered all privately administered schools in the Swat Valley to close.
Moreover, in July 2009, Taliban militants in Khyber Pakhtunkwa forced religious minorities to pay a punitive tax known as jizya (a tax historically imposed on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule) in return for their protection. The head of the Karachi Hindu Panchayat said, “We are under more and more of a threat because of these extremists, but we ourselves feel if we take the wrong step, even to tell of the wrong things, then it will be death for us. We worry about the future of our families and our children here in Pakistan - all of us (minorities) do today because of these extremists.”
The reach of extremists has now extended far beyond the tribal areas, with Islamists targeting civilians, human rights activists, and military targets in major cities throughout the country.
Recent statistics show that in 2010 nearly 50 suicide bombings caused 1,167 fatalities, compared with 76 such attacks in 2009, with a total of 949 fatalities. Figures compiled by Pakistan’s Federal Ministry of Interior show that 3,433 Pakistanis were killed in 215 incidents of suicide attacks across Pakistan between July 2007 and July 2010. On average, suicide bombers have killed 480 people and injured 1,014 others every year across Pakistan since September 11, 2001, with an average of 30 suicide attacks each year, or approximately three per month.
In a monthly break-down of the suicide bomb attacks for 2011, 45 people were killed in four incidents in January; 39 people were killed in three suicide attacks in February; 127 more lost their lives in six suicide attacks in March; 65 were killed in April; and 154 people lost their lives in five such incidents in May. Additionally, 66 Pakistanis perished in four attacks in June, 11 people were killed in three attacks in July, and 71 Pakistanis lost their lives in four suicide bombings in August. On September 7, 24 people were killed in one suicide attack in Quetta.
The bonded labor system in Pakistan systematically enslaves an estimated 1.7 million people, many of whom are young children. This modern day form of slavery primarily affects poor Hindus, who constitute the majority of bonded laborers, particularly in rural Sindh province where they work for Muslim landowners. Although the system is found primarily in Sindh, it is also practiced in parts of Punjab province. Agriculture, brick kiln, mining, and household are the major sectors that use bonded labor. According to the UNHCR, “Estimates of bonded labor victims, including men, women, and children, vary widely, but are likely well over one million. In extreme scenarios, when laborers speak publicly against abuse, landowners have kidnapped laborers and their family members. Boys and girls are also bought, sold, rented, or kidnapped to work in organized, illegal begging rings, domestic servitude, prostitution, and in agriculture in bonded labor. Illegal labor agents charge high fees to parents with false promises of decent work for their children, who are later exploited and subject to forced labor in domestic servitude, unskilled labor, small shops and other sectors.”
The U.S. Department of Labor maintains that the debt bondage system in Pakistan operates by “giving advances of peshgi” (bonded money) to a person. As long as all or part of the peshgi debt remains outstanding, the debtor/worker is bound to the creditor/employer. In case of sickness or death, the family of the individual is responsible for the debt, which often passes down from generation to generation. In the case of children, the peshgi is paid to a parent or guardian, who then provides the child to work off the debt.” The system is characterized by patterns of abuse, detention, and exploitation. While describing their conditions, a group of released bonded laborers reported, “[T]hey were kept in illegal confinement by owners of brick kilns and worked there at gunpoint. They further told that owners of the brick kilns had also threatened to sell them in Quetta.”
In 1992, Pakistan passed the Bonded Labor (Abolition) Act, outlawing all forms of bonded labor and forgiving any outstanding debt owed by laborers to their employers. Despite this legislation, local government officials have been uncooperative in ending the practice and securing the release of bonded laborers. Moreover, the police are often unwilling to register complaints against abusive landowners. Although human rights groups, particularly the HRCP, have helped release thousands of debt laborers, the laborers are frequently recaptured by their landlords.
Notwithstanding these efforts by human rights organizations and the passage of the Bonded Labor (Abolition) Act, the practice of debt labor continues to thrive and plague poor Hindus and other marginalized segments of Pakistani society. In one recent incident, a Hindu laborer, Roop Chand Bheel, was burnt alive by his Muslim landlord for allegedly stealing cotton. Similarly, in another case, a Hindu peasant family has been incarcerated in their landlord’s private jail for more than 13 years. The family has yet to be released, as the Muslim landlord is influential and politically connected. Many vulnerable Hindu bonded laborers are also induced into converting to Islam by mosques and Islamic organizations in return for paying off their debts.
Hindus, along with other minorities, face systemic economic and political discrimination in Pakistan. The majority of Hindus in Pakistan are poor and economically marginalized, with large numbers enslaved in the bonded labor system. For example, during his visit with Hindu villagers, Pastor Rafique Bhatti of the Stephens Shaheed Foundation, found that Hindus suffered from a lack of education and job opportunities. According to the villagers he met, the government failed to provide Hindu villages with basic facilities, including regular water supply, electricity, medical treatment, and schools. Moreover, following the devastating floods of 2010 and severe monsoon rains in 2011, Hindus were reportedly turned away from government run food distribution centers and denied aid and shelter at charitable relief camps.
Hindus are also severely underrepresented in government jobs. With the exception of former Supreme Court Justice Rana Bhagwandas, Hindus rarely hold top civilian or military positions. According to a census of federal civil servants taken in 2006, only 0.21% of available civil service positions were held by Hindus. This is well below their overall population, which is approximately 1.6%.
Hindu women are particularly marginalized in Pakistan with 87% of scheduled caste Hindu women illiterate. In addition, Hindu women have reportedly faced challenges when applying for computerized national identification cards (CNIC), as Hindu marriages are not recorded in the same manner as Muslim marriages. For example, Pram Sri Mai, a married Hindu woman who applied for a CNIC, was not only turned down by the National Database and Registration Authority, but also charged with “having an illicit relationship with a man and bearing illegitimate children.”
Beyond economic discrimination, religious minorities, including Hindus, are politically disenfranchised and lack genuine representation. An HRCP report from 2007, for instance, found that significant numbers of minority voter names were left off of voter lists in Sindh province.
Until recently, Pakistani Hindus had not organized politically. Beginning in the 1990s, however, Hindus became more assertive and joined alliances with other religious minorities. In 2002, they joined Christians and other groups to form the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). Moreover, organizations such as the Pakistan Hindu Welfare Association and coalitions of Hindu panchayats (local councils of elders) have led in political organizing.
Hindus and other minorities achieved a rare political victory in 2002 with the removal of separate electorates for Muslims and non-Muslims. The separate electorate system had marginalized non-Muslims by depriving them of adequate representation in the assemblies. The Pakistan Hindu Welfare Association was active by convening a national conference on the issue in December 2000. And in 2001, Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadis successfully conducted a partial boycott of the elections, culminating in the abolishment of the separate electorate system in 2002. This allowed religious minorities to vote for mainstream seats in the National and Provincial assemblies, rather than being confined to voting for only minority seats. Despite the victory, however, Hindus still remain largely disenfranchised.
A recently released report by USCIRF confirmed the systematic intolerance and hatred for non-Muslims entrenched in Pakistan’s education system. The report utilized a study conducted by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) and the independent Pakistani think tank, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), which reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades 1 through 10 from Pakistan’s four provinces. Students and teachers from public schools and madrasas were also interviewed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab. Specifically, 37 middle and high schools were visited, with 277 students and teachers interviewed individually or in group settings. Researchers also interviewed 226 madrassa students and teachers from 19 madrassas.
The study’s findings show that social studies textbooks were rife with negative comments regarding India and Britain, but Hindus were singled out for particular criticism in the books, as well as in the interview responses. Hindus were repeatedly described as extremists and the eternal enemies of Islam. Moreover, Hindu culture and society were portrayed as unjust and cruel, while Islam was portrayed as just and peaceful.
The report also found that public school teachers were more favorably disposed towards “People of the Book” (i.e. Jews and Christians) “than they were toward the non-monotheistic traditions” (p. 15), implying Hinduism. Furthermore, it indicates that the curriculum and textbooks for grades 1-3 “often integrate Urdu, Social Studies, and Islamic Studies into one integrated textbook. A careful examination of the first grade textbook used for the integrated curriculum, titled Meri Kitab, or ‘My Book,’ which is compulsory for students, revealed that seven of the 16 total chapters contained Islamic sermons” (p. 41).
The study further notes, “Hindus are portrayed as enemies of Pakistan and Muslims in Urdu and Social and Pakistan Studies textbooks…. Hindus are often singled out as particularly inferior or evil” (p. 42). “Negative depictions of Hindus are manifested through both historical distortions and the framing of concepts through religious language that promotes the superiority of Islam over Hinduism…” (p. 44). In addition, the majority of public school teachers expressed the opinion that religious minorities must not be allowed to hold positions of power, in order to protect Pakistan and Muslims (p. 56). Even more dangerously, “all of the (public school) teachers believed the concept of jihad to refer to a violent struggle, compulsory for Muslims against the enemies of Islam. Approximately 90% mentioned only violent struggle when referring to jihad, while the remaining teachers extended the understanding of jihad to encompass both violent and nonviolent struggle…. It is important to note that while many expressed the importance of respecting the practices of religious minorities, simultaneously 80% of teachers viewed non-Muslims, in some form or another, as the “enemies of Islam” (p. 57).
Several previous studies on Pakistan’s education system support the findings of the new USCIRF report. For example, the Christian Science Monitor cited a study managed by two British-Pakistanis, which found that social science and history textbooks contained “disturbing” themes such as “Pakistan is for Muslims alone,” “[t]he world is collectively scheming against Pakistan and Islam,” and “Muslims are urged to fight Jihad against the infidels.” The study also said that textbooks portrayed Hinduism as an inherently iniquitous religion: devoid of equality.
Similarly, a National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) report found that: “Government-issued textbooks teach students that Hindus are backward and superstitious, and given a chance, they would assert their power over the weak, especially Muslims, depriving them of education by pouring molten lead in their ears…” The report added that students were taught that Islam brought peace, equality, and justice to the subcontinent, to check the sinister ways of Hindus. “In Pakistani textbooks Hindus rarely [appear] in a sentence without adjective[s] such as politically astute, sly or manipulative,” the report concluded.
SDPI also showed that the education system contributed to the “culture of sectarianism, religious intolerance and violence.” SDPI found that the current curriculum and textbooks were “impregnating young and impressionable minds with seeds of hatred” to serve a self-styled ideological straitjacket. It also noted that there existed “substantial distortion of the nature and significance of actual events in Pakistan's history; insensitivity to the existing religious diversity of the nation; promotion of perspectives that encourage prejudice, bigotry and discrimination towards fellow citizens, especially women and religious minorities and other nations; a glorification of war and the use of force; and incitement to militancy and violence, including encouragement of loaded concepts like jehad and martyrdom.”
Even basic reference to minorities and their culture were removed from school textbooks. For instance, a paragraph describing the festivals of non-Muslims was removed from a chapter in an English language textbook.
The following extracts (translated from Urdu to English) from government-sponsored textbooks approved by the National Curriculum Wing of the Federal Ministry of Education provide additional examples of the derogatory and inflammatory portrayal of Hinduism to the children of Pakistan:
- Grade IV: “The Muslims of Pakistan provided all facilities to the Hindus and the Sikhs who left for India. But the Hindus and the Sikhs looted the Muslims in India with both hands and they attacked their caravans, buses and railway trains. Therefore, about one million Muslims were martyred on their way to Pakistan… The Hindus treated the ancient population of the Indus Valley very badly. They set fire to their houses and butchered them…The religion of Hindus did not teach them good things, [and the] Hindus did not respect women.”
- Grade V: “The Hindu has always been an enemy of Islam.”
- Grade VI: “Before the Arab conquest the people were fed up with the teachings of Buddhists and Hindus...The Hindus who had always been opportunists cooperated with the British...The Hindus used to please the goddess Kali by slaughtering people of other religions...The Hindu setup was based on injustice and cruelty.”
- Grade VII: “Hindus always desired to crush the Muslims as a nation [and] several attempts were made by the Hindus to erase Muslim culture and civilization...Some Jewish tribes also lived in Arabia. They lent money to workers and peasants on high rates of interest and usurped their earnings. They held the whole society in their tight grip because of the ever-increasing compound interest.”
- Grade VIII: “Before Islam people lived in untold misery all over the world.”
- Grade IX: “In connivance with the (British) government the Hindus started communal riots and caused loss of life and property. At the time of prayers the Hindus tortured the Muslims by playing music in front of the mosques.”
- Grade IX-X: “One of the reasons of the downfall of the Muslims in the sub-continent was the lack of the spirit of jihad.”
- Grade X: “Islam gives a message of peace and brotherhood…There is no such concept in Hinduism.”
In addition to these negative and inflammatory depictions of Hinduism, several government run schools, particularly in Sindh, force Hindu students to take Islamic studies classes. Hindu students and other minorities are denied the opportunity to take classes in their own religions and often struggle in the Islamiyat courses. These schools include N.A. Bechar Government Primary School, also known as Syed Mahmood Shah Gazi and Sindh Madrasatul Islam School, in Karachi. Although the education board has technically implemented an alternative ethics course, in reality the schools and teachers still force non-Muslim students to take the Islamiyat classes.
Constitution of Pakistan
Articles 20, 21 and 22 of Pakistan’s Constitution guarantee religious freedom and safeguards to its citizens. For example, Article 20 states, “Every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion; and every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.” However, Article 19 of the Constitution asserts: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan,” thus subordinating basic fundamental rights to the supremacy of Islam. Consequently, despite the assurances provided in Articles 20-22, Article 19 establishes justification for the persecution of Hindus, Christians, and Ahmadiyyas, including the destruction and desecration of their places of worship and punishment under the blasphemy laws.
Article 25 of the Constitution maintains: “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law…There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.” Contrary to this constitutional guarantee of equal protection, women regularly face rape, honor killings, and domestic abuse without adequate protection from Pakistani laws. Moreover, they continue to face a myriad of inequalities in the judicial system, and will continue to do so, as long as the Hudood Ordinance remains in effect.
Article 35 mandates, “The State shall protect the marriage, the family, the mother and the child.” Article 36 states, “The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.” In reality, however, neither the rights of families nor minorities are being protected by Pakistan; kidnappings and forced conversions of Hindu girls continue to occur at a high rate.
International Human Rights Law
The Government of Pakistan ratified the Intenrational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on June 23, 2010. However, while doing so, the Government entered numerous reservations to the Covenant, making its implementation subject to numerous Islamic provisions in its Constitution. The reservations pertained to key provisions of the ICCPR, such as freedom of opinion, right to life and – importantly for the country’s democratic development – elections and participation in public affairs. Despite its reservations, Pakistan is still bound by the principles enshrined in the ICCPR under customary international law.
Several of the Articles encompassed in the ICCPR have been repeatedly violated by Pakistan. For instance, Article 18 protects the basic “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." The blasphemy laws and their application to minorities, clearly violate this article. Moreover, under Articles 26 and 27, religious minorities are guaranteed equality before the law and freedom of religion without discrimination. Contrary to Articles 26 and 27, however, the Constitutional preference for Islam, religious identification laws, and depiction of Hinduism in school textbooks, all promote discrimination against Hindus. Additionally, the forced marriage of kidnapped Hindu girls to Muslims clearly contravenes Article 23(2), which states, “No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.”
Other international covenants and human rights treaties are also relevant to the situation in Pakistan. For instance, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, applies to Pakistan's treatment of its religious minorities, particularly Hindus. The Declaration mandates that each person has the right to practice the religion of his/her choice and should not be subject to persecution based on his belief system. The institutionalization of Islam by the government, however, has led to the social, economic, and political discrimination of Hindus and other religious groups. Moreover, contrary to the Declaration, Hindus have been subjected to violence, conversions, and other acts of intolerance at the hands of Muslim extremists with the active or inactive support of government officials.
Furthermore, the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” requires the equal treatment of men and women before the law and calls for an end to discrimination against women in all aspects of life. In addition, according to Article 4 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, “States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination. States should pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women.” The continued use of the Hudood Ordinance, abduction and conversion of Hindu girls and systematic oppression and violence against women are flagrant violations of these two conventions.
The Slavery Convention of 1926 strove to bring about “the complete abolition of slavery in all its forms.” Similarly, under the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention, countries are required to take all necessary steps to suppress and completely abolish the practice of debt bondage or any other type of “forced or compulsory labor.” The Pakistani government has violated the tenets of both the Forced Labor Convention and the Slavery Convention of 1926 by failing to take adequate measures to end the bonded labor system. Although the practice was officially outlawed in 1992 through the Bonded Labor (Abolition) Act, government officials have refused to enforce it and are often complicit in allowing the practice to continue. Moreover, since debt bondage is the modern equivalent of slavery, Pakistan’s actions have also violated the Slavery Convention.
Regardless of whether Pakistan has signed or ratified all relevant human rights treaties, it is still bound by their provisions under customary international law. Customary international law holds nations accountable for the protection of basic universal human rights.
As in previous reports, we once again express serious concern over the Pakistani government's continued failure to protect minorities and its complicity in perpetuating human rights violations. However, we realize that the present government is weak and therefore, unable to institute any real meaningful change without the consent of the military establishment. Nonetheless, the U.S. and the international community must continue to exert pressure on Pakistan to rescind its discriminatory laws, ensure equality for all its citizens, and protect minorities from rampant violence.
Unfortunately, America’s longterm support of Pakistan and the supply of billions of dollars in military aid have convinced Pakistan’s military leadership that it need not implement serious reforms or address human rights violations. The U.S. government has provided approximately $18 billion in civilian and military aid to Pakistan since September 11, 2001. Of that, nearly $5 billion was in civilian assistance to help rebuild Pakistan’s civil society, reform education, and provide relief to the poor, women, and the marginalized. However, little of the money has been used for its intended purpose. Additionally, much of the military aid has been redirected towards attempting to destabilize India.
Consequently, HAF recommends that the provision of any future military aid should be conditional on Pakistan ending all support for Islamic extremist groups and verifiable steps by the government to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the region. Furthermore, the Pakistani military must provide strict accounting for every dollar it receives, and it must not divert any funds to terrorist groups who seek to destabilize India. Civilian assistance to Pakistan should be contingent on meaningful constitutional and legal reform to provide equality and religious freedom for minorities. Alternatively, humanitarian and economic assistance should be provided for the benefit of the country’s marginalized minorities.
HAF further calls on the Government of Pakistan to take immediate steps for the protection of Hindus from rape, kidnapping, and forced conversions. In addition, the Pakistani government should institute changes to the education system, and textbooks that promote discrimination and glorify violent jihad should be discarded. Religious minorities must also be allowed to independently manage their own religious institutions and places of worship free from government interference, and representatives from the Hindu and Sikh communities should be given full control over the Evacuee Trust Property Board.
Finally, it is imperative that the Pakistani government create an independent human rights body and a minorities’ commission to investigate and effectively address all forms of violence and discrimination against minorities. The current National Commission on Minorities has failed to protect the rights of minorities and is considered ineffective by human rights groups.