Dear Senator Menendez,
We, the Sindhi community of New Jersey, are writing this on behalf of the people of Sindh in Pakistan, to combat the inequality and human rights violations inflicted upon Sindhis by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Since 2009, the U.S. Congress has been the largest benefactor of financial aid to Pakistan. According to the official website of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Pakistan, Congress has given Pakistan over $5 billion in civilian assistance and $1 billion in emergency humanitarian response based on the commitment and belief that Pakistan is “secure, peaceful and prosperous.” However, the money is not being equitably distributed amongst the people of Pakistan, and Sindhis—who consistently experience the worst conditions and quality of life—barely receive any of this aid. The region of Sindh, located in southeast Pakistan, struggles to preserve its cultural identity and way of life, and Sindhis risk being stripped altogether of the civil liberties protecting their ethnic and religious rights. Persecuted by the Pakistani government, and faced with crippling economic precarity despite their resource rich land and unique craftsmanship, the people of Sindh face immense challenges and an uncertain future.
Some of the challenges faced by the Sindhi community are enforced disappearances, religious persecution, forced conversions, and extrajudicial killings. One of the most formalized cases of religious persecution is the Notan Lal “blasphemy” case, which resulted in his arrest. A Sindhi Hindu school principal, Lal was accused of blasphemy by a disgruntled student after Lal had chided him for a missed homework assignment. The student later recanted his accusation out of regret, however local Pakistani extremists pressured him into disavowing his retraction and reaffirming the blasphemy accusation. Currently Lal has been unable to bring his case to trial, as Pakistani judges have refused involvement out of fear for their own safety. During the past six months in prison awaiting trial, Lal’s health has considerably declined. There have been earnest efforts taken to help Notan Lal, however his case remains stagnant. At least 75 people have been killed since 1990 in connection with allegations of this “blasphemy” and at least 40 people are serving life sentences or are on death row, according to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.
Enforced disappearances have increased dramatically in the region in the last decade. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) November 2018 update for the EU, since the creation of Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (COIED) in 2011, it has received a total of 5,290 cases. However, it is likely this number is much higher. Reporting these missing persons cases jeopardizes one’s safety, and families of missing loved ones can become a target themselves, which often deters them from speaking out. The most common victims of enforced disappearances include activists, writers, teachers, artists, journalists, and students. One example is the recent murder of Niaz Lashari, who was abducted and extrajudicially killed. Anyone who speaks out against the government is a target. The frequency of enforced disappearances continues to increase with time, yet few cases are resolved.
Religious persecution and forced conversions of young Sindhi minorities continues to threaten the region. Every year 1,000 young Hindu and Christian girls, mostly from Sindh, were abducted, forcibly married, and converted to Islam. Every month between 40 to 60 Sindhi girls are converted, averaging up to two girls a day. These young girls are usually 20 or 30 years younger than their Muslim abductors, whom already have one or two wives. According to Pakistan’s own Human Rights Commission, from January 2004 to May 2018, there were 7,430 cases of such abductions of Sindhi girls in Pakistan. The actual number is estimated to be much larger as most of these cases go unreported. Families who try to report their daughters as missing are often ignored by the police, and their First Information Report (FIR) is never submitted. Therefore, girls are left with their abductors, where they are often coerced into silence through threats or use of violence against them or their families.
In 2019, the Voice of America in the Sindhi Language bill was passed and preliminary funding was set at $1.5 million for the program. With this bill passed, the VOA Sindhi program will be able to reach 40 million people in Sindh. SAPAC would like to thank Congressman Brad Sherman for his efforts in Congress in advocating for the Sindhi language, especially for raising his voice in support of preserving the Sindhi language and culture. We appreciate the efforts in the House, and the Sindhi community wants to see more of that in the Senate.
For these reasons, the Sindhi community within the U.S. are enlisting your help to create a caucus on behalf of Sindhi Americans in order to protect them from Pakistan’s human rights abuses. The House of Representatives has already created the Congressional Sindh Caucus with the leadership of Congressman Brad Sherman. We are now hoping that with your assistance in the Senate, support for the Sindhi community will grow and create major change. The Sindhi people within New Jersey and the U.S. are concerned that our taxpayer money is ultimately funding the very abuse that our great nation stands against. The treatment of Sindhis in Pakistan impacts Sindhi communities throughout the world. We urge you to create a caucus without delay in the Senate on behalf of the Sindhi people to combat the inequality and human rights violations inflicted upon them by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. We are their best chance for survival.
-On Behalf of the Sindhi Community of New Jersey and supporters