Editor’s Note: It is by now an well-documented fact that India is not exactly tolerant of its minorities, be it religious minorities, tribals, or Dalits. But its sister country has not fared much better. Pakistan, where Islam, as the majority religion, holds considerable sway over the systems of governance, has long been in the international eye for its persecution of Hindus. Yet, despite the facts being fairly well known, less common are first-hand accounts from Pakistani Hindus, detailing the discrimination and persecution that is such an inextricable part of their experience.
The following article, originally written in response to this Quora thread that posed the question, “What does it feel like to be a Pakistani Hindu?”, presents just such a view. While we cannot independently verify the events mentioned here, it may represent an experience that should be integral to the global conversation about secularism and persecution of minorities – and one that just might be highly enlightening for a lot of readers.
By Ravi Ahuja:
My answer might offend some people, but I won’t answer anonymously. I will try my best to explain my experience as a Pakistani Hindu.
To be really honest, deep inside, I feel really bad.
Before the partition, we were all Hindustani. At the time of partition, our parents decided to live in Pakistan rather than India. Why they chose Pakistan over India is another debate, but I am sure that they were unaware of the price they and their descendants would pay for this decision.
I have to say that, despite being calm, non-violent and educated citizens, we are not completely owned by the Pakistani people. Yet we are targeted the most in the region. From school life to getting a job, I experienced such discrimination that I can conclude we are not recognised by the Pakistani people yet.
When I was in school, for the first half an hour students were expected to recite the Quran. Instead of giving us a Hindu religion book to read or something, teachers used to ask us to read the Quran as well. If we couldn’t read, then we were expected to listen to the others very carefully. As a child of 3rd or 4th standard (8-10 years), we couldn’t argue with a teacher. At that time, we didn’t have the sense to figure out our rights were violated. We just did whatever they instructed us to do.
As I grew older and went to high school, the situation worsened. In high schools, we used to study Islamiat as a subject and the teacher used to call Hindus, ‘Kafir’ (infidel). We were told Islam was the only mature religion in the world.
The journey from school to university wasn’t easy when people made you feel that your religion was worthless and that you were going to Hell anyway. Therefore, students and teachers made attempts to get us to join their religion (and therefore lead a prosperous life). Not only that but, people made fun of the way Hindus practice religion. They mocked our religion.
When it came to celebrating festivals, they became even more intolerant. Diwali is a sacred Hindu celebration – like Christmas for Christians and Ramadan for Muslims. I witnessed several occasions where the town government used to gave us a warning for celebrating Diwali. I don’t understand what prevented them from letting people of other religions be happy.
Another issue that a lot of Pakistani people face is ‘Blasphemy’. However, only Muslims have the power to use this word against other religions. If anyone dares to speak against Islam, then he/she will be stoned to death. But, no one cares if you speak against Hinduism, Christians or torch their temples or holy books.
One serious issues for Pakistani Hindus-especially women- is that they get kidnapped, converted to Islam and forcibly married. After that, the girl is sold to third parties.
No one dares to speak against this barbaric practice. Some people back the so-called religious leaders and as no one takes a stand against it.
However, if a Hindu guy even thought about such a thing for a Muslim girl, then he and his family would be slaughtered instantly.
I know of one such incident. The guy and the girl were in love and about to get married. Both of them desired the marriage and were looking forward to it.
You know what happened next?
The girl’s family became aware of this. They killed the boy’s whole family and buried the boy alive in the town near Sukkur, Sindh.
We are part of a country that says everyone has the equal rights, but in reality that is not the case . Even the Pakistan’s 1973 constitution, forbids a person from a minority (Hindu, Christian, Jew and others ) to become Prime Minister or President.
If the government doesn’t recognise and accept us as entirely Pakistani, then how can we expect this from ordinary citizens?
I just do not understand one thing: why are people so intolerant? Why can’t they just let other people to do what they want to do?
I am not pointing fingers, but we are part of the country as well.
People disrespect our religion but we don’t react by killing those people. After all, who are we to decide what is wrong and what is right?
I believe, every Hindu Pakistani goes through similar situations. Some grin and bear it but others migrate to India. This is why the Hindu population has gone down sharply from 17% (at time of Partition) to around 2 -3%.
I was born in Pakistan and spent 24 years of my life there. After that I moved to Australia. My family still lives in Pakistan and I visit them once in a year.
But I need to say this: In spite of all of this, I am pro-Pakistani. Deep down in my heart I love Pakistan.
I always support the Pakistan team and, I love to watch the when they beat India, specially. My favourite cricketer is Saeed Anwar. My favourite hockey team is the Pakistani one.
I am proud when any Pakistani makes us proud internationally and I argue with people who speak against Pakistan.
I have accepted Pakistan as my country through and through.
Unfortunately, the way people treat us is unacceptable.
I do not know how far we have to go to prove that we belong and for you guys to accept us as fully Pakistani.