Assessment for Hindus in Pakistan
Given the weakness of Hindu political organization, it is unlikely that Hindus will opt for open rebellion in the near future, although a Hindu organization did take responsibility for at least one bombing in Islamabad in 2000. In general, Hindus resort to nonviolent tactics, and they are likely to continue the political action that began in 1998. As the Hindu population gains confidence in their political organizations and if they continue to build alliances with other minorities, their condition may improve. Some mainstream Pakistani parties, including the Sindh Democratic Party, and individual Muslim intellectuals have expressed support for Hindu aspirations. Hindus still remain at risk for intercommunal violence. The rise and increasing militancy of fundamentalist Islamic parties add to this risk considerably. However, political alliances with other communities and secularly oriented parties may alleviate this danger. The stability of Sindh could depend on such alliances, as they may be necessary to meet the desperate resource needs of many ethnic groups.
Hindus are most concentrated in the Sindh province of southeast Pakistan (GROUPCON = 3). Before partition, most Hindus in present-day Pakistan were urban, highly educated and economically advantaged. However, most middle- and upper-class Pakistani Hindus immigrated to India after the 1947 partition of the sub-continent. Those that remained tended to be poorer and rural. Lacking the resources to organize politically (large numbers are bonded labor), Hindus have remained politically and economically marginalized in Pakistan. Hindus are a religious minority in a Muslim country. They and their temples have periodically been subject to violence at the hands of the country’s religious majorities. Some Hindu families faced the possibility of forced resettlement in 2003 when the Peshawar Cantonment Board in Pakistan gave notice to 70 houses occupied by Hindus for more than 130 years. The Cantonment Board accused the residents of illegally occupying government land and ordered them to vacate under the threat of force if they did not do so by the deadline. A few Hindu men allegedly planning acts of violence during the October elections were arrested in 2002, and in 2003 a Hindu journalist was arrested.
Hindus’ status within the country varies, in part, according to relations between Muslims and Hindus in India. When their kindred across the border destroyed the Babri mosque in 1992, for example, Hindus in Pakistan suffered as Pakistani Muslims stormed temples and attacked Hindus. Hindus are also suspected of being agents of the Indian government. As a result they are discriminated against both politically and economically (POLDIS06 = 4; ECDIS06 = 4). Hindus have been poorly organized politically, with no national political party, although they are represented in umbrella parties representing multiple religious minorities (GOJPA06 = 1). Furthermore, their identity is defined more by the dominant Muslim culture than by their own self-assertion. Despite this lack of political history and organization, Hindus have become increasingly vocal since the late 1990s (PROT98 = 3; PROT01 = 3), and have forged alliances with other religious minorities, especially Christians, to agitate for increased rights. One such alliance, called the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), was formed in 2002 to help resolve problems faced by minorities groups such as Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus. An organization called the Pakistan Hindu Welfare Association and coalitions of Hindu panchayats (local councils of elders) have led in political organizing.
A major issue Hindus faced until 2002 was that of the separate electorates for Muslims and non-Muslims. In the system of separate electorates, members of religious minorities could only vote for members of their group, which resulted in their marginalization in the National Assembly. The Pakistan Hindu Welfare Association convened a national conference on the issue in December 2000. In 2001, Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis successfully conducted a partial boycott of the elections. In 2002, Musharraf granted religious minorities the right to vote for mainstream general seats of National and Provincial assemblies, which they did in 2002. While this was definitely a positive step for the well being of Hindus and the democratization of Pakistan, it remains to be seen how this will affect their overall status.
Protection from communal violence and economic opportunity (and the status of Hindu bonded labor) also are important issues for the Hindu community in Pakistan (POLGR04-06 = 1; ECGR04-06 = 1). Hindus, like Christians and Ahmadis, have also been disproportionately affected by Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws (CULPO1 = 2). Hindus have been arrested and then abused in recent years due to their religious identity (REPGENCIV04 = 4; REPGENCIV05 = 3). They have also been subject to violence by Muslim radicals. For example, in 2005 and 2006 there were a number of noted kidnappings of Hindu girls who were then forced to convert to Islam and marry Islamic men. Also noted were kidnappings of successful Hindu businessmen who were held for ransom (CCGROUPSEV104-06 = 3).
Hindus in India, and the Indian government, frequently lambast discrimination against Hindus in Pakistan. However, they have extended little more than rhetorical support, perhaps sensing that more than that would endanger rather than aid Pakistani Hindus. Additionally, international anti-slavery organizations have lobbied for the end of bonded labor in Pakistan, but have not undertaken “redemption” efforts for Hindu bonded labor as they have for some other groups (most notably, black Africans in Sudan).
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