The Pioneer: July 04, 2006
By Kanchan Gupta
September 14, 2005. Four Muslim men force their way into a Hindu house in Sindh, grab the young daughter of the family, carry her away, forcibly convert her to Islam and compel her to marry one of them. Two of the kidnappers are arrested, the case comes up in a local Pakistani court but the judge dismisses the charges of kidnapping and forcible conversion after the terrorised girl is forced to give a statement that she "wilfully married and converted".
Another young Hindu woman, Sapna Giyanchand, is forcibly taken to a shrine in Shikarpur district of Sindh by Shamsuddin Dasti, a Muslim married man and father. The custodian of the shrine, Maulvi Abdul Aziz, converts Sapna to Islam, changes her name to Mehek, and marries her to Dasti. When Sapna's case is presented in court, Muslim extremists mob her and chant slogans. A terrified Sapna is unable to speak to her parents, who are also present in court. Maulvi Aziz, responding to the demand that Sapna be returned to her parents, scoffs at the suggestion: "How can a Muslim girl live and maintain contact with kafirs?"
These and many other such instances of how Hindus who constitute a minuscule minority community in Pakistan are harassed, humiliated and denied basic human rights have been meticulously detailed in Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora - A Survey of Human Rights 2005, released last week in Washington, DC and The Hague by Hindu American Foundation, a non-profit, non-discriminatory, and non-partisan organisation. The report is entirely based on public documents and information culled from local media news stories. The contents have been verified for authenticity.
The HAF has as its members distinguished professionals and young achievers. It is fast acquiring an influential voice on Capitol Hill: Senior members of the House and Senate - both Republicans and Democrats - were present at the launch of this year's report; many of them have endorsed its contents. Commending the HAF for "continuing to highlight the treatment of Hindu minorities worldwide," Democrat Gary Ackerman said, "Clearly, this report emphasises the ongoing struggle for religious freedom."
Commenting on the plight of Hindus in Pakistan, the report describes "how young girls, as young as 12 or 13, have been kidnapped in Sindh, converted to Islam, and forcibly married to Muslim men." It quotes Laljee Menghwar, a member of Karachi's Hindu Panchayat, saying, "Kidnapping Hindu girls like this has become a normal practice. The girls are then forced to sign stamp papers stating that they've become Muslims". At least "19 similar abduction cases have taken place in Karachi alone, and six in the Jacobabad and Larkana districts."
Pointing out the decline of Pakistan's Hindu population - from 25 per cent in 1947 to 1.6 per cent in 1998, and less than one per cent in 2006 - the report says that though "Pakistan's Constitution provides for freedom of religion, in practice, however, the Government imposes limits on this freedom...(which is) subject to law, public order, and morality...In addition, the Constitution requires that laws be consistent with Islam and imposes some elements of Quranic law on both Muslims and religious minorities".
According to the HAF's findings, "Hindus continue to be the target of kidnappings, rape, and intimidation in Pakistan. There are reports of desecration and destruction of Hindu temples and lands, theft and looting of Hindu property, discrimination and abuse."
As in Pakistan, in Bangladesh, too, persecution of Hindus by Islamic fanatics continues unabated. The Hindu population in Bangladesh has declined from 31 per cent in 1947 to 13.2 per cent in 2001. The attacks on Hindus and their temples has assumed alarming proportion as the minority community's strength continues to dwindle with each passing year.
"Data indicate that the number of incidents of human rights abuse against Hindus during 2005 continued at about the same rate as in 2004, and more seriously, the political situation in Bangladesh worsened with Islamic fundamentalist and extremist forces becoming more bold and entrenched in society. Observers fear that Bangladesh may be headed the Taliban way as in Afghanistan," says the report.
"Bangladesh continues to use discriminatory laws against its minority populations, especially the Hindus. No attempt was made last year to revamp the Vested Property Return Bill (VPRB/2001), which was a subterfuge that promised to jettison the Vested Property Act (VPA/1972) and Enemy Property Act (EPA/1965) that officially designated Hindus as 'enemies' and was used to confiscate land and property belonging to Hindus," the report points out.
Providing graphic details of how Hindu homesteads are attacked, property looted, women raped and temples desecrated, the report lists 480 instances of Hindu rights being violated by Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh with the BNP-Jamat-e-Islami Government of Begum Khaleda Zia refusing to offer either comfort or protection to that country's beleaguered minority community. The report contains details of 39 incidents of rape of Hindu women, 52 of targeted killings, 78 of attacks on temples, 120 of land confiscation and forcible eviction, 161 of assault, theft, looting and intimidation, 29 of kidnappings and one of a journalist being threatened.
In Afghanistan, Hindus and Sikhs continue to be persecuted as a community. Before the jihad of 1980s, Hindus and Sikhs comprised 1 per cent of the population, or 15,000 to 20,000 families. At present there are 1,200 families, of whom 350 are in Kabul. The report points out that "due to fear of persecution or ridicule, Hindus do not send their children to public schools. They receive neither Government nor international assistance for their schools."
The plight of Hindu and Sikh children in Afghanistan is underscored by the fact that "currently, only one Sikh school in Karte Parwan is functioning. There are no professional teachers, and those that do teach receive only 1,000 Afghanis (approximately $20) a month, paid by the Hindu and Sikh community. In Kandahar there is no school at all, only classes in the temple. Muslims have occupied two of the Hindu schools."
According to the HAF's findings, "Currently only three Hindu and three Sikh temples are open in Kabul. These temples face discrimination from local warlords and governors. They are, for example, charged for electricity while mosques in the same localities are not."
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican), senior ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, who co-hosted the Press conference held in Rayburn House Building to release the report, expressed serious concern over the facts presented in the document, describing it as a crucial resource. "As an ardent human rights advocate in the United States Congress, I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that all are afforded the protection they deserve," she said in her remarks, adding, "Especially, Hindus who are persecuted by extremist groups."
A House resolution calling attention to human rights violations against Hindus prompted by, among other things, the HAF report is being prepared and the Congresswoman is expected to deliver a separate floor statement highlighting human rights violations that are particularly severe in Bangladesh.
"By documenting human rights violations against Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Fiji and the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir, the Hindu American Foundation continues to raise global awareness of these abuses," said Congressman Joseph Crowley (Democrat, New York), as he joined Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican), Joe Wilson (Republican), Jim Ramstad (Republican) and many other members of the US Congress in endorsing the contents of the report.
Several academics on campuses around the US also reviewed this year's report. "This report by the Hindu American Foundation... is a real eye-opener," observed Professor Nathan Katz, Professor of Religious Studies at Florida International University, adding, "As a minority in Islamic societies that consider them to be 'idolators,' Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan face unimaginable persecution routinely."