ISLAMABAD: Leaders of the Hindu community are seeking an audience with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to seek the implementation of an accord, finalised between prime ministers Liaquat Ali Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950.
Also known as the Liaquat-Nehru Agreement, the pact stipulated that the heads of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) in both countries would be from the respective minorities in both countries, i.e. a Hindu should head the ETPB in Pakistan and vice versa.
Hindu representatives got in touch with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani on Saturday and asked him to arrange their meeting with the prime minister.
The ETPB is a key government department that administers properties left behind by Hindus, Sikhs and others who migrated to India after partition, as well as places of worship and the religious sites of minorities located in Pakistan.
Talking to Dawn, Pakistan Hindu Council President Chela Ram Kewlani said his community felt they were being treated like “second-class citizens”.
“Take the example of the ETPB, which should, by rights, be headed by a Hindu. But since partition, it has almost always had a Muslim chief,” he said.
He said that India had been honouring the Liaquat-Nehru Agreement and their ETPB was always headed by a Muslim. But Pakistan has never honoured the agreement.
Pakistan constituted ETPB under the Evacuee Trust Properties (Management and Disposal) Act in 1975. It is a corporate body with the power to acquire, hold and dispose of both movable and immovable properties.
“During the Musharraf regime, we had hoped that a Hindu would be appointed to head the ETPB because he claimed to be a liberal ruler, but even he (Musharraf) did not implement the agreement,” Mr Kewlani said.
“We also made similar efforts during the tenure of the Pakistan People’s Party, but again to no avail. Finally, on Saturday, I contacted Dr Ramesh and requested him to get us an appointment with the prime minister so we can discuss the issues of the Hindu community,” he said.
“Country-wide, the properties of Hindus are being occupied. Moreover, in 2012 the Supreme Court also took suo motu notice of corruption in the ETPB. There are over 1,400 Hindu temples in Sindh and we feel that those temples and the land adjacent to them can be occupied any time,” he said.
He named several individuals who he said could easily be appointed to the position. Chief among the candidates he proposed was the name of Rana Bhagwandas, a former senior-most judge of the Supreme Court who has also served briefly as the acting chief justice of Pakistan.
“In Pakistan, Hindus cannot become president or prime minister, but they should at least have the right to take care of their own property,” he said.
PML-N MNA Dr Ramesh told Dawn that Mr Chela Ram and other members of his community had indeed asked him to arrange an audience with the prime minister. He said that they felt insecure and wanted to apprise the prime minister about their apprehensions.
“There are a number of issues my community faces. I have raised them several times on the floor of the house, but to no avail,” he said.
He also backed the demand for the implementation of the Liaquat-Nehru Agreement and said that issues such as the absence of a marriage act for Hindus and the compulsory Islamic Studies education for Hindu children in schools were all matters that needed to be addressed. “I will request the PM to give time to the Hindu community and address their grievances,” he said.