Members of the highest legislative forum, the National Assembly, have finally taken a serious notice of a heightened sense of insecurity among minority communities in the wake of two Hindu brothers’ murder in Umerkot district of Sindh. What seems to have urged the lawmakers to shake off the usual apathy towards the issue is the fact that the victims were related to a PTI member of the Assembly, Lal Chand, prompting the party’s parliamentary leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi to make an impassioned speech, and point the finger at a local MPA and the police (usual partners in unholy local alliances) of obstructing justice. The same day, ie, Tuesday, Peshawar’s Sikh community also staged a protest against the killing of a Sikh trader and injuries to two others in an attack on the community’s three shops located in a city market.
The two incidents, of course, are unrelated, but arise from a common problem. During the recent years, the members of both communities have repeatedly come under attack, mostly in Sindh and Balochistan where, unlike Punjab, they live in significant numbers. It is worthwhile to note that the IDPs from North Waziristan include many members of various religious minorities, indicating that the ruthless religious extremists targeting civilians and soldiers alike, have so far not turned their attention to this part of the population. It is important to recall also that during the previous Balochistan government of the notoriously ineffectual chief minister Nawab Aslam Raisani, abductions for ransom involving the Hindu traders and businessmen rose to an alarming level. A large number of them migrated to India. In Sindh, too, where law and order situation is a lot less than satisfactory, Hindus have been facing all kinds of indignities and violence. Within the space of a little over a year there has been at least seven reported cases of desecration of Hindu temples in various parts of the province. Similarly, Sikhs have been so distressed over repeated desecration of their holy book, Guru Granth Sahib, and temples that last May they forced their way into Islamabad’s high security Red Zone in a desperate attempt to draw the parliamentarian’s attention to their grievances. Attacks on homes and churches of Christians and on Ahmadis are routine. In a vast majority of all such outrages against minority communities the usual motive is either personal enmity or property grab.
Participating in the NA debate on the plight of Hindus, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif lamented “mass migration” of Hindus to India, saying that although it is a provincial subject, collective efforts are needed to address the problem faced by religious and ethnic minorities. For the short-term, the principal responsibility for protecting citizens from local evil elements falls surely on the shoulders of provincial governments. They must implement the law, irrespective of anyone’s social status. If, for example, it is true that in the Umerkot double murder case a local MPA and the police are favouring the perpetrators, the causative problem is not only low level of public tolerance but governmental tolerance for misuse of power. They must also stop turning a blind eye to the propagation of religious hatred, prohibited under the law. The provincial governments need to respond effectively to each transgression. For the longer term solution, the provincial and federal governments ought to put their heads together to identify the reasons of increasing intolerance towards minority communities and adopt effective counteractive measures.