Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are those of the author’s and don’t necessarily represent or reflect the views of MangoBaaz.
By: Agam Saran
Nothing in the world is black or white, and much of reality is about knowing what shade of grey you are dealing with (of the 50 or 255, depending on whether you’re a cougar or a geek). So here’s to seeing both sides of the coin:
There are around 2 million Hindus living in Pakistan. Most of us (over 90%) live in Sindh and are, by extension, Sindhis. There are Hindu temples all over the country with at-least 2 in every major city. In my hometown alone, Sukkur, I know a minimum of 6. We are not isolated and spread out, and are, in fact, organized. There is a panchaet in every major city in Sindh that deals with festivals, maintenance of temples and other community issues and even dharamshalas.
First the good:
I am a Hindu with many Muslim Friends
I have a friend named Yasin. Well, he’s a Pathan from Balochistan who speaks Sindhi (natively) and lives in the Punjab: essentially all of Pakistan combined into one guy. Whenever we’re out for dinner on a local dhaba, he never orders any form of meat even for himself because I am a vegetarian. Even if I insist that he eat his favorite karahi.
A Hindu friend’s mom, on the other hand, used to keep separate utensils for the kaam wali bai because of her being from a neech caste (typical).
I have plenty of Muslim friends and all of them are like him. Not once in their company have I felt I’m any different, it’s only when someone mentions something about Hindus or India that I go “Oh yeah, I’m one of those too!” And I’m not alone, many of my Hindu friends have it the same way more or less. Whether that’s because we travel in well-educated circles is up to a debate but the point I’m trying to make is (a) saying Pakistan is a terrorist country is stereotyping at a gargantuan magnitude, and (b) many of the educated masses in Pakistan are quite hospitable, open-minded and have an amazing sense of humor.
I believe Hindus have cultural freedom in Pakistan
While this might sound a little odd and unbelievable, but I’m of the opinion that the Hindus in Pakistan are culturally free, as long as they keep it to themselves. We can wear whatever we want, celebrate our festivals in any way we can and pray however we like. That is to say you won’t hear some mullah issuing fatwas to Hindu women who don’t start wearing burqas, or the locals complaining of noise from the fireworks on Deewali or the government issuing a ban on idol worship altogether.
Not everyone is out there to get you and frankly most of them have plenty of their own problems to be troubled with. They leave us to ourselves as long as it doesn’t benefit them in some way, whether it’s something material or their egos. Not to mention if the people in question belong to the above “good, educated” category, they actually show curiosity and join you in your celebrations.
There are thousands of people looking to bring Pakistanis of all religion together
The problem with Pakistani media? Letting the world know of all the tragedies is crucial but it’s equally important to spread the positive side of things. I mean who cares if some random guys don’t eat chicken karahii because of a vegetarian friend, when you have? But I digress.
There are many communities, NGOs and even private citizens dedicated to intra-cultural promotion and awareness in the country. They gather Hindus, Christians, Muslims and everyone in between out for visits to religious places around the country. They engage everyone in cross-cultural dialogue. They take everyone out to celebrate Shivratri together. They provide support to underrepresented people in any way they can. I had the privilege to accompany one of them (Faces Pakistan) on a couple of visits myself and I was astounded with the work they were doing.
But there’s also the bad:
People ALWAYS question my loyalties toward India just because I’m a Hindu
Pakistan’s a country where the majority has to prove they are peaceful and the minorities have to prove they are patriotic. You can only go so long before you’re bombarded with questions like “Aap India se aaye ho?” and the classic: “Who do you support in an India vs Pakistan match?” (Seriously?). The problem is, many people here think Hindus living here moved from India. This doesn’t imply any hostility, mind you, simply a lack of awareness. This lack of awareness is a lot more common outside Sindh.
But it does give you the air that you are alien, when in fact it we’re the local Hindus that stayed back during partition. Sometimes, when someone asks me “Are you from India?” I feel like firing back “Are you?” Instead I just roll my eyes.
We aren’t given the same opportunities to serve our country as our Muslim fellow Pakistanis
You remember the joke which goes like “larka hua to engineer, larki hui to doctor“? Well, that’s the reality here. A doctor, an engineer or business, that’s the extent of our dreams. I am ashamed of the fact that there are a lot of Muslim actors and cricketers in India (and pretty good ones at that too) but a dearth of Hindu ones in Pakistan. So, good luck if you want to be one of those… or become a policeman… or serve in the army… or work in the intelligence agency… or… God this might take all day.
Not only are we actively discouraged from pursuing those occupations but the constitution itself makes it official with the highest of positions being limited to Muslims. Sure, there are exceptions likeor but not enough to even inspire a kid, let alone make a dent.
And here’s the truly ugly.
There are many in Pakistan who want to convert us or just kill us
Forced conversion of women, abductions, extortion, lynching/property destruction in lieu of blasphemy accusations, you name it, and someone I personally know has had it.
The frequencies of these incidents increase exponentially as you move towards the more rural areas of the country. That is not to say that those in the cities have it safe, just that they have it a lot better than their rural counterparts. So the minorities try to play it extra safe and keep their heads low. And keep their heads low they do. It starts off small, like not going out after 10, instructing your child to not mingle with Muslims or avoiding any sort of confrontation (even where it’s required) and then it grows to not sending your daughters outside the area for a better education/opportunities, or marrying them early. That’s the reason for the dwindling populace: the Hindus in villages or smaller cities move to Larkana or Sukkur, those in Larkana/Sukkur move to Hyderabad/Karachi, and those in Hyderabad/Karachi move to India or developed nations altogether, that is assuming they’ve survived the abductions, rape, lynching, blasphemy accusations, targeted shooting, blasts and murder.
The Christian high school I used to study at, one of the best in the city,. Twice. The reason? The usual, somebody said somebody disrespected the Quran, so naturally you burn down the local Christian school you send your children to. Of course, neither of those somebodies had anything to do with the school and were never found.
You know what’s worse than being targeted? No one to help you when you are.
The government fails time and time again to provide something even remotely close to justice to the minorities, and that has done little more than encouraging the predators to prey on them for their own benefit. Worse still, it forces the minorities to stop relying on the government altogether. Just check out the details of any forced conversion and you’d know why.
My forefathers had owned a large piece of land in Lakhi, and was one of the only valuable assets we ever had. One fine morning, the caretaker says to himself “Why am I working for these Hindu scum when it’s so easy having it all?” So he takes over the land. Just like that. My father files a suit, having all the proof of ownership possible on earth. Fast forward 15 years (!), my father is dead and we have to leave the case not having the knowledge or strength to continue. And this is just the absolute best of the worst that can happen to you.
If I had to sum up the situation for Pakistani Hindus, I’d put it like this
“For every bad guy out there, there are 10 good guys, but that 1 bad guy is at total liberty and will destroy you and your family one day. This ratio of 10:1 keeps dropping as you move from urban to rural areas”. Now that I think about it, the statement applies to the general climate in Pakistan as well, but that’s a topic for another day.
About the Author: Agam is a Software Engineer and co-founded EpicSol (Plan9 2nd Cycle). When he is not adventurous traveling around Pakistan, you can find him on find him on Quora sharing wisdom and insights.
Cover Image via: sudipmoitra.blogspot.com