Pakistan’s military state’s intolerance of minorities has been exacerbated since the 2010 floods, when they were routinely discriminated against, and since the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, former governor of Punjab and Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities, who was Christian. In the last few months there have been attacks on Shia pilgrims and continued harassment of the Ahmadiyya and Christian communities. It is widely thought that this is in line with Saudi influence with the military.
In eastern Sindh, the Hindu population have been coming under increased pressure from Islamisation. The pan-subcontinental festival of Basant where kites were traditionally flown to welcome spring has been banned in Punjab since 2007. Aleem Maqbool, the BBC’s Islamabad correspondent, tweeted in September 2011 “seeing many minority hindus affected by floods in pakistan living on roads scared of going to camps run by islamist parties”. Forced conversions and intimidation are forcing many Hindus to leave lands they have occupied for thousands of years as this article in Lahore’s Friday Times detailed last week.
Last year the Indian press reported a marked increase of Hindu Pakistanis desperate to get over the border. A farm labourer from Sindh’s Matiari district told a reporter in Delhi: “We do not own any land. We till the village landlord’s land. But the floods have brought devastation to the whole province. Besides poor relief work, diseases like diarrhoea, dengue and malaria have broken out making our lives miserable”.
“You cannot understand how much we love this land,” Ajeet Kumar told the Friday Times. “We have been living here for millennia and are among its indigenous people. This is our land and its people are our people. We are Sindhis and have never discriminated on the basis of religion. But due to the constant fear of abductions, we are leaving Pakistan and Sindh.”
At partition, Hindus were 16 per cent of Pakistan’s population but their numbers have dwindled to 2 per cent (about 3.6 million), with most of them living in Karachi, Mirpurkhas and the Sukkur regions of Sindh. In 1947, there were 428 functioning temples in the country. Now it is thought there are only 26.
But the picture is not entirely bleak. Leaving the military state and its propaganda aside, Pakistanis do not always find subcontinental religious pluralism a problem. Thousands of Muslims in Sindh celebrated the Hindu festival of Holi earlier this month. “We must integrate and understand other religions and celebrate their festivals to show solidarity with them,” said Muhammad Noman, a 24-year-old student who had organized one such event.
A Muslim from Lyari who cleans the local Hindu temple said: “Islam is misunderstood. It has been hijacked by clerics,” he says. “Islam teaches peaceful coexistence and this is my jihad.”
The devastation of the Islamisation programme wrought by Saudi-based Wahhabism in association with Pakistan’s military state has increased in the last decade. Here William Dalrymple describes the Saudi presence at shrines outside Peshawar in 2004.
On the other hand the number of attacks from terrorism appears to be decreasing even if minorities are still harrassed and remain the victims of state propaganda.
Catriona Luke is a freelance writer and editor.