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Caste and captivity: Da-lit Hindus suffering in Sindh

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by InfoWarrior, Aug 12, 2017.

  1. InfoWarrior

    InfoWarrior Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

    Apr 8, 2017
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    Hasan Mansoor | Amar Guriro | Mansoor Raza | Aslam KhwajaMarch 13, 2016

    While the men are routinely subjected to everyday violence, the more heinous attacks on scheduled castes are aimed at girls and women

    Daughters of another god
    by Amar Guriro

    It is a story of fear and helplessness, unending torment and unrelenting tribulations: Dalit parents are left without a voice or access to justice while their daughters are kidnapped and converted

    Neelam Kolhi outside her home located near Samaro town in Umerkot district. She was kidnapped and forcibly converted but later a court ordered her return home. The family is impoverished as can be seen by their makeshift hut. -Photos by Amar Guriro
    Fear makes perfectly good people provide perfectly valid justifications for ultimately vile practices.

    Dalit communities settled in Sindh have adopted the practice of early marriages: girls as young as 11 are forcibly married off with the rationalisation that they’ll be kidnapped or even raped if they are single. If she is kidnapped, then she is converted and married off to a Muslim man. In most cases, despite protests by parents and Hindu rights activists, the family will never see the girl again.

    Frightened parents, therefore, wed their daughter at an early age to reduce the risks of their daughters being kidnapped. It is, after all, a matter of continuing lineage, faith and culture.

    Thirteen-year-old Neelam Kohli could also have fallen prey to the same vicious cycle but she has been the exception to the rule: kidnapped and converted about two years ago, she was able to return to her family on the directives of a court.

    She is alive and well today, her conversion has not been deemed legal, and she is not burdened with pregnancy either since she couldn’t bear children when she was raped. But her parents are now unable to find a suitor for her, since their community says Neelam was in the kidnappers’ custody for a month or so.

    Neelam Kohli used to be a resident of a slum settlement called the Bheel Colony, situated near Kot Ghulam Muhammad town of Mirpurkhas district. She was kidnapped in September 2014, while her peasant parents were tilling the land. In her testimony later on, she named a local influential, Akbar Khokhar, and his two friends, Javed Kokhar and Dalho Kohli, as the kidnappers. The accused took her to a local madressah, where she was converted.

    Her parents approached the police and lodged an FIR against her kidnapping. The case was reported in the Sindhi media and also found traction on social media. Local Hindu groups protested in favour of her recovery and ultimately, she was brought to a local court, where her parents proved her age. She was 11 at the time. The court issued directives to free her and allowed the parents to take her home, but no action was taken against the accused and they were allowed to walk free.

    After Neelam’s return, her father Nemoon decided to migrate from their colony: the three influential predators were still out and around, and they could kidnap Neelam once again. The family left Bheel Colony and moved to Samaro Town of Umerkot district, where they live now.

    Despite around two years having passed since Neelam’s return, the family is still living in fear. The place where they live now is owned by a local landlord and is in close proximity to the native village of Pir Ayub Jan Sarhandi, a Sindhi cleric, famous for forced conversion cases.

    “A section of the [Hindu Marriage Bill] says that if any Hindu woman, even if she is married and has children, has converted to Islam, her Hindu marriage will be considered illegal. Many influential people will exploit this section
    “We are frightened that someone will again come and kidnap her, and maybe this time around, we will not be able to bring her back,” says Neelam’s mother, Hanjoo Kohli. Her house comprises two smallsized makeshift huts surrounded by a thorn fence. They rarely leave their village.

    Sitting with her is Hanjoo Kolhi, her mother. -Photos by Amar Guriro

    The fear of girls being taken away and converted has only been reinforced by the new Hindu marriage legislation that was passed by the provincial assembly in February, 2016. Although the Hindu Marriage Bill codifies marriage laws for an estimated 7.5 million Hindus living in Sindh, the question of kidnapping-for-conversion has been evaded by lawmakers.

    “A section of the bill says that if any Hindu woman, even if she is married and has children, has converted to Islam, her Hindu marriage will be considered illegal. Many influential people will exploit this section,” explains social worker from Lyari Town, Karachi, Seema Rana.

    “We were very happy about finally getting a law that will help reduce forced conversion cases, especially of lower-caste Hindus, but we were wrong. This bill has many flaws, and we demand that certain sections of the bill might be amended, so the Hindus may get some legal protection against forced conversion,” says Seema Rana.

    In recent years, the number of kidnappings-for-conversion cases has been increasing in Sindh. Most of these cases go unreported in the mainstream media; there isn’t much interest in the state machinery to solve such cases either, as the majority of them belong to lower caste communities or ‘untouchables’ as they are more commonly known.

    “Every year, around 1,000 to 1,200 Dalits girls — approximately 100 every month —are kidnapped and forcibly converted. The numbers could be more but there is no any mechanism to calculate the actual figure,” says renowned Dalit activist Surendar Valasai, who is also the advisor on minority affairs to Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Patron-in-Chief of the PPP.

    Most areas where lower caste Hindus live have no basic facilities, and women have to walk miles everyday to fetch water for their families.

    Valasai explains that when a Dalit girl is kidnapped, her parents, instead of lodging a case in any police station, are forced to sit with the opponent while local feudal lords sweep the matter under the rug in the name of Jirga. He says most of these Dalits are very poor and are unable to highlight their plight.

    Abdul Hai of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Sindh chapter agrees that a large number of forced conversion cases of lower caste Hindus is taking place but is going unreported. “We haven’t been receiving forced conversation cases as rich Hindus deal with these cases on their own; poor Dalits are also unable to reach us,” he says.

    According to official estimates in 2011, with a 7.5 million-strong population, Hindus are the biggest religious minority of Pakistan and the majority lives in Sindh. Unofficial estimates put the number higher. But various Hindu rights organisations estimate that around 6.8m or 90 pc of them are lower caste or ‘untouchables’.

    Some of these lower caste Hindus are scattered in southern Punjab as well as the northern districts of upper Sindh (including Sukkur, Ghotki and Jacobabad), but the vast majority of them are in different districts of lower Sindh, particularly in Mirpurkhas division (Tharparkar, Sanghar, Umerkot and Mirpurkhas).

    They are poor, uneducated and have no access to basic facilities such as drinking water, sanitation and even schools. Most of them are either living on a local influential’s land or that of the government. In most of these districts, the Sindh government has been unable to provide land ownership to these vulnerable communities.

    In Tharparkar district, around 700,000 or almost half the total 1.6m population are Hindus; around 80pc of those Hindus are lower caste communities, such as Meghwars, Kohlis and Bheels. Whenever there is drought, which has now become frequent, these lower caste Hindus travel to nearby districts which are irrigated on River Indus, in search of food for themselves and fodder for their livestock. In these districts, they work as temporary farm workers on the lands of powerful Muslim landlords. Despite working day and night, on most occasions these poor Dalits are not given their due share in the crop.

    “After a drought hits Thar Desert, these Dalits become internally displaced people. They walk hundreds of miles with their livestock, to find some employment as agricultural workers with a powerful Muslim landlord. But in many cases, work is forcibly extracted out of them; they are often not paid, and eventually, are pushed into bonded labour,” says rights activist Veerji Kohli.

    Although a majority of Pakistani Hindus are lower caste, almost all Hindu parliamentarians are from the upper caste, which creates a set of dichotomies: who becomes the voice of Dalits in Sindh?

    In total, there are 37 representative seats that have been reserved for religious minorities in various legislatures: 10 seats in the National Assembly, four seats in the Senate, nine in the Sindh Assembly, eight in Punjab, and three each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

    Of these 37 reserved seats — meant for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and other minorities — 20 are occupied by Hindu parliamentarians, 16 of whom are upper caste Hindus. In essence, they represent the 9pc of the total Hindu population in Pakistan.

    The shrine of Pir Pithoro in Pithoro Town in District Umerkot is exclusively a shrine for lower caste Hindus
    Pakistani Hindus, like other religious minorities, have dual vote rights in principle. But in reality, they have no right to vote to elect their own representative, as seats for religious minorities are kept as reserved. Distribution of these seats is at the discretion of political parties’ leadership, and therefore, most upper-caste Hindus, majority of them well-off and privileged, are nominated to these seats.

    “Dalits are poor and can’t pay huge amount in party funds as upper caste Hindus usually do. As a result, they can’t reach the assemblies and thus their voice is not heard in the assemblies,” says Veerji.

    In fact, Dalit exclusion and discrimination at the hands of upper caste Hindus is as much a concern for lower caste Hindus as the persecution inflicted from elsewhere. They are not allowed to sit or eat with any upper caste Hindu, and therefore in Mirpurkhas district, there are separate tea stalls or restaurants for these lower caste communities. It is for this reason that Mirpurkhas, Khipro, Sanghar, Umerkot and other cities of Mirpurkhas division are dotted with restaurants and shacks named “Hindu Hotel”, “Kohli Hotel”, “Bheel Hotel” and so on.

    Similarly, lower caste Hindus have their own places of worship, where annual mass gatherings of Dalits are held. Rarely would any upper caste Hindus visit these temples or shrines. The shrine of Pir Pithoro in the Pithoro town in Umerkot District, and the Rama Pir Temple in Tando Allahyar, are both examples of exclusive sites of worship for Dalit Hindus.

    But Sant Neeno Ram Ashram, a shrine of local saint in Salamkot town of Tharparkar district, provides the uglier side to the dynamic: managed by upper caste Hindus, this shrine is frequented daily by a large number of lower caste Hindus. Even in matters of worship, Dalits face discrimination: instead of food being served on plates, upper caste Hindus distribute food on old newspaper. Even in devotion, Dalits in Sindh are children of a different god.

    The writer is a journalist based in Karachi. He tweets @AmarGuriro

    On the run
    by Aslam Khwaja

    Its a case of once bitten, twice shy for families whose loved ones have been kidnapped or pushed into bondage

    Some 28 years ago, young Meeran was captured by zamindar Lal Mangrio in tehsil Dhoronaro, Umarkot district, along with her family — her father, four brothers and four sisters. She was released some seven years ago. But when her family planned to marry her off within their community, the zamindar’s son, Ibrahim Mangrio, kept her; later on, he and his henchmen would sexually assault her. Meeran now has two children.

    When she gave birth to a girl, the zamindar wanted the infant, named Meerzadi. Upon her refusal to comply, he allegedly poisoned the seven-month-old baby.

    About five years ago, Meeran gave birth to a boy named Hanif. Today, she is on the run from the zamindar, who is after the boy now. Recently he offered her Rs100,000 for the child but she refused. She lives by constantly changing her place of residence in fear of the zamindar.

    After employing Lalio Kohli’s family for two to three years as peasants, a zamindar near Umarkot declared that her family had incurred loans of Rs50,000 from him and kept them in chains. One night, this family fled from the zamindar’s private prison but were captured by the landlord’s armed men. Lacho’s husband, Lalio Kolhi, was beaten badly and separated from his family.

    Most cases of forced Dalit conversions are not reported in the mainstream media nor do they find attention at the government level.

    Upon enquiring about her husband, she was told that he was working on the fields. After some time, the Umarkot police raided the area and many workers were freed but there was no trace of Lacho’s husband. She is still searching for Lalio.

    Chandar Kohli alias Javed Shaikh was rescued from bonded labour by rights activists in District Thatta. He had been kept in bondage by a landlord named Luqman Palari for Rs200. He worked for two years without any payment.

    When rights activists Ghulam Hussain and Lalee Kohli received information about Chandar Kohli slaving away in bondage, they proceeded to the village to rescue him. Despite heated arguments and threats issued by the landlord, the activists successfully rescued the peasant.

    Lalee narrates that at one point, both parties were ready for a physical confrontation. One of the landlord’s managers claimed that the local administration will do nothing against them; his belief was that they could extract bonded labour out of anyone who was in debt, even if the amount owed was as little as Rs5.

    Chandar was taken to a residential colony for freed bonded labour in Hyderabad. He set up a life there; he was happily married with three children and working independently on a farm.

    About nine years ago, some preachers contacted him and drove him to Karachi. They offered him a better life and a Muslim woman’s hand in marriage if he converted to Islam. Unable to deal with the trappings of the caste system, he was attracted by the glamour of urban Muslim life and subsequently converted.

    But at home, Chandar’s wife refused to become Muslim and went to live with her parents instead. Meanwhile, those who had helped Chandar convert distanced themselves. Today, Chandar faces an unusual dilemma: he is officially a Muslim citizen, and according to Islamic laws, he cannot become Hindu again. His family is still not willing to convert.

    The writer is a social science researcher. He tweets @AslamKhwaja

    Living at the edge
    by Mansoor Raza

    In October, 2013, the dead body of a low-caste Hindu named Bhuro Bheel from Pangrio, Badin was exhumed from the graveyard on the pretext that low-caste Hindus cannot be buried in a graveyard used by Muslims. Bhuro was killed in a road accident.

    According to a press report “…local clerics instigated the mob to dig out the body by repeating that a ‘non-Muslim was buried in a Muslim graveyard’.” The clerics mentioned were in fact seminary students from a nearby town, who came armed with weapons to carry out the task, say locals. Bhuro’s body lay under the sky for nearly eight hours before it could be retrieved by members of the Dalit community.

    In another case, Manoo Bheel from Thar has been on hunger strike since 2003 to recover nine family members who have gone missing. His family had migrated to an irrigated area after a drought but in the 1980s, he started working with a zamindar in district Mithi as a working partner.

    After some years, the zamindar claimed that Manoo had taken an advance, so he refused the payment of his wages. Instead, he sold Manoo and three of his brothers and two of his in-laws with their families —21 family members in total —to another zamindar in Sanghar district. Despite some administrative measures, Munno Bheel is still in search of justice.

    According to the 1998 census, the population of religious minorities in Pakistan was around six million or 3.7pc of the total population. Hindus and Christians constitute 83pc of religious minorities, with Hindus outnumbering Christians by a small margin. About 93pc of Hindus live in Sindh.

    In 1956, the government of Pakistan declared about 32 castes and tribes as schedules castes in the country. The majority of them are lower-caste Hindus, such as Kohlis, Meghawars, Bheels, Bagris, Balmakis, Jogis and Oadhs. Most low-caste Hindus are in menial jobs and associated with low-end agricultural services.

    The spatial distribution of those, widely, is Rahimyar Khan and Bhawalpur districts in Punjab and Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Badin districts in Sindh.

    In 1956, the government of Pakistan declared about 32 castes and tribes as schedules castes in the country. The majority of them are lower-caste Hindus, such as Kohlis, Meghawars, Bheels, Bagris, Balmakis, Jogis and Oadhs.
    Many of these communities face the brunt of vulnerability when a natural disaster strikes. Worldwide, disasters affect poorest of the poor most, as they live in hazardous areas, don’t have monetary cushions for rehabilitation and are discriminated in aid delivery. All those holds true for Pakistan’s Dalit population as well — these factors became glaringly obvious in the aftermath of the 2010 floods, where reportedly, they were denied access to relief goods on one pretext or another.

    The low-caste Hindus are caught up in a vicious cycle. Ending their woes is not possible without political mainstreaming, but students of political science know very well that performance in political spheres is heavily dependent on the economic well being of a community, particularly when it comes to minorities.

    Minorities thrive in excellence and it comes with educational achievements. The literacy rates of Dalits, according to a report, are only 26pc as compared to national rates of 58 to 70 per cent.

    Economic impoverishment, discrimination and spatial distribution of population are big impediments for these wretched of earth to perform. Upward social mobility is not possible without owning modes of production as defined by service capitalism, which in turn relies heavily on advance education system for its survival. Discrimination also means usurpation of due social capital, another loss to the community.

    Traditionally in South Asia, caste tends to define professions as well. It has worked for quite long in a barter economy, but with the advent of the culture of cash economies, the former started collapsing. The global consensus on the values of human rights also brought the issue of birth-descent discrimination to the fore. The values of free-market are also at loggerheads with traditional mindsets.

    Moreover, a secular contract between a citizen and the state demands removing all shades of discrimination based on caste, class, gender, ethnicity and sect.

    In Pakistan’s case, the State has all the necessary instruments at its disposal and has all the moral justification to support the downtrodden.

    Will it act or not is a different question, one defined more by political will.

    The writer is a freelance researcher with a specific interest in subaltern narratives and the functioning of urban centres in Asia. He can be reached at mansooraza@gmail.com

    Pending bills, lingering agony
    by Hasan Mansoor

    Two proposed laws to safeguard minorities are pending before the Sindh Assembly ... what kind of relief do they provide?

    Forced conversions of non-Muslim Pakistani girls has not spared Dalits either, many of whom are equally anxious to migrate from Pakistan to India as upper caste Hindus from the northern parts of Sindh. To stop the rot, provincial legislators have sought to provide some protection for minorities through two new laws — the Sindh Forced Conversion Act and the Sindh Minorities’ Rights Commission Bill — but both are pending with the Sindh Assembly. Here is a detailed look at what these proposed legislations have to offer:

    Sindh Forced Conversion Bill
    The bill against forced conversion of girls from minority faiths has been pending in the Sindh Assembly for more than a year now, waiting for a nod from a standing committee to table it in the house.

    “This bill caters to all the minority faiths,” says Shahnaz Sheedi, provincial coordinator of the South Asia Partnership (SAP-PK), which champions for minority rights in the country. “It takes care of all Hindus, including those belonging to scheduled castes.”

    Indeed, this bill provides a common forum to tackle the issue of forced conversions instead of segregating Hindus in Dalits and upper castes.

    The text of the bill states the provincial government would issue a notification to law enforcement agencies, relevant bodies, institutions, committees and commissions to ensure the enforcement of the Act. Effective protocols would be formulated including those relating to minorities, health, education, women, social welfare and labour, to address the issue of forced conversion; support services would not be limited just to shelter, legal aid, medical aid etc for the support of aggrieved persons.

    The law will define forced conversion as an act by which a person is forced to adopt another religion under duress, force, coercion or threat.

    Any case of forced conversion before a court would be disposed of within 90 days. The law has stipulated punishments for any person who forcefully converts another person: the offender would be liable to imprisonment for a minimum of five years and maximum of life imprisonment and a fine to be paid to the victim.

    “Whoever performs, conducts, directs, brings about or in any way facilitates a marriage having knowledge that either or both parties are victims of forced conversion shall be liable to imprisonment of either description for minimum three years and a fine to be paid to the agreed person,” reads the draft bill.

    The law would define the age for conversion, according to which no person would be deemed to have changed his/her religion until attaining the age of majority. Besides, any minor who claims to have changed his/her religion before attaining majority would not be deemed to have changed his/her religion and no action would be taken against him or her for any such claim made by the minor. However, such clauses would not extend to circumstances where parents or guardians of minor decide to change religion of the family.

    In a case of forced conversion, the accused, in addition to a charge of forced conversion would also be liable, where applicable, for offences which may include but not be limited to: child marriage under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013; forced marriage under Section 498B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 1860; rape under sections 375 and 376 of the PPC 1860; kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel for marriage etc under Section 365B of the PPC 1860; kidnapping or abducting from lawful guardianship under Section 361 of the PPC; kidnapping or abducting a person under the age of fourteen under Section 364A of the PPC 1860; kidnapping or abducting in order to subject person to grievous hurt, slavery etc.; and bonded labour under relevant sections of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992.

    For rescue, custody and special procedures for aggrieved persons, a police officer upon receiving information of a case of forced conversion may take into custody the aggrieved person and produce her or him before the court within 24 hours. Besides, if it appears to a court from information given by a credible source that an offence of forced conversion has been or is being committed, the court would order the police to search for the victim and rescue them.

    For security reasons, special measures could be put in place, which included holding the trial in a secure location, taking the aggrieved person’s statement and evidence in a secure location; providing police protection during transport of the victim to and from court; and initiate immediate and fast tracked divorce proceedings in cases of forced conversion through marriage if the accused is found guilty upon the consent of the victim.

    The court would take measures to provide security to prosecution witnesses, investigating officers, prosecutors, victim, her or his family and judges during the pendency of investigation and trial.

    Sindh Minorities’ Rights Commission Bill
    This bill is also lying with a standing committee of the Sindh Assembly, which is weighing some of its clauses before sending it to the law ministry for it to be tabled formally before the house.

    After the passage of this bill, the provincial government will constitute the Sindh Minorities’ Rights Commission, comprising of a chairperson from a minority community, who has been or, qualified to be a judge, of high court or person having knowledge of, or practical experience in the matters of rights of minorities and human rights.

    Seven other members will also be nominated by the Sindh government. Five of the members, including the chairperson, will be from among the minority communities; at least two women, two activists from civil society; and one each from youth and lawyers.

    The commission will be headquartered in Karachi, and in future regional offices would be established at divisional and district levels. It will examine the working of the various safeguards provided in existing laws and recommend ways to ensure their effective implementation. It will also monitor the implementation of policies and schemes of the Sindh government for the welfare of minorities.

    Heroes from minorities, who have served for country, will be identified by the commission and recommended to be taught in educational syllabi. The commission will monitor minority rights, constitutional and legal rights, legislation, development, 5pc quota in jobs, political participation, dignity, hate material, ensure justice, and promote inter-faith harmony.

    It will also look into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of minority communities and take them up with the authorities.

    The commission will hold direct investigation and inquiry in respect of violation of human rights of a person belonging to a minority group; and devise a plan of action for the protection of human rights of minorities in Sindh.

    The commission can take cognisance on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on one’s behalf, inquire into the complaints of violation of human rights of any person belonging to minorities or abetment thereof, or negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant.

    It can intervene in any proceeding involving any allegation of such violation pending before a court. The commission will have judicial powers to decide and investigate any time and demand for any document from all institutions (wherever permissible by the government).

    While inquiring into the complaints of violation of human rights, the commission can call for information or report from the provincial government or any other authority or organisation; it would have all the powers of a civil court trying a suit under the code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (Act V of 1908), for summoning and enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, discovery and production of documents, receiving evidence on affidavits, requisitioning any public record or copy from any court or office, issuing commission for the examination of witnesses or documents etc.

    The commission would be deemed to be a civil court to the extent that is described in sections 175, 178, 179, 180 and 228 of the PPC. Every proceeding before the commission would be deemed as a judicial proceeding; thus it would be a civil court for the purposes of Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898.

    The commission may, for an investigation into a matter, utilise the services of any officer or investigation agency with the prior approval of the government and that officer or agency would be under the direction and control of the commission;

    After the inquiry, the commission could recommend to the provincial government for prosecution against the concern person(s), and recommend for grant of immediate interim relief to the victim etc.

    The commission would preserve the identity of a victim, informant etc where necessary for the purpose of security.

    For the speedy trial of offences arising out of violation of human rights of the religious minorities, the Sindh government would notify a court of sessions to be the human rights court for a district to try such offences. The Sindh government would appoint an advocate to be special prosecutor for conducting cases in that court.

    Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 13th, 2016

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    For lower-caste Hindus, a Soneri cup symbolises deep-rooted bigotry
    Sahib KhanUpdated May 12, 2016 01:45pm
    KOTRI: Marked by its vibrant interior of red and blue walls, Hajiri Kohli’s modest hotel is popular with communities living on the outskirts of Kotri and Hyderabad. As one enters, the smell of chai fills the air and the exuberant laughter of men is heard over the din of sewing machines from the tailor shop next-door.

    These customers are mostly lower-caste Hindus — Kohlis, Oads, Meghwars and other scheduled castes — who frequent the hotel for chai after a long day’s work. They choose this hotel day after day because it does not discriminate against their caste, and because here, they can discuss everything from religion to business without thinking twice.

    Most other hotels in the area are run by Muslims. “Whenever we visit them,” Kohli says. “They serve us tea in distinct soneri cups or glass plates.”

    Commonly found in Sindh, these ‘soneri’ cups, glasses and plates are symbolic of the marginalisation that underscores the lives of lower-caste Hindus.

    “In other hotels, I am served in utensils different from the ones offered to Muslim customers," Kohli says.

    Frustrated and humiliated, Kohli opened his own 'hotel' — the name given to streetside restaurants — for members of his community. Although the hotel is open to everyone, Kohli says it sees few Muslim and upper-caste Hindu customers, despite the fact that it is located in the city's bustling vegetable market.

    Kohli's hotel in Kotri's vegetable market. — Photo by the author

    According to Kohli, there is only one other hotel run by a scheduled-caste Hindu in Kotri, which is the headquarters of Jamshoro district and about five kilometres away from Hyderabad. All other hotels in Kotri — where so many scheduled caste Hindus live — either openly refuse the community members, or serve them in soneri cups.

    Here, Kohli says, he can easily sit and have tea or a snack, without worrying about the behaviour of others towards him.

    Different religions, different rules
    Muhammad Amin, a restaurant owner whose eatery is built on government property, admits the use of separate cups, glasses and plates for lower-caste Hindus.

    Amin’s eatery employs a colour-based system. “The cups which are half brown and half white are meant for serving tea to lower-caste Hindus,” he explains.

    Soneri cups at Amin's hotel. — Photo by author

    Red glasses, similarly, are used when lower-caste Hindus are served water.

    Amin’s restaurant is named after Malik Muhrab Khan, grandfather of sitting PPP MNA Malik Asad Sikandar from Jamshoro district. Amin himself is a councillor and was elected from Union Council 2 (UC-2) of Kotri City. Interestingly, of the 67,000 votes registered in UC-2, more than 1,300 were from lower-caste Hindus.

    “The majority of the Hindus in my constituency, all voted for me,” Amin says proudly.

    But he maintains that it is important to be cognisant of the issue of soneri cups. “If cups and glasses served to Muslim customers are used by lower caste Hindus it would impact my business in a negative manner,” he says.

    Amin at his hotel. — Photo by author

    Amjad, a vegetable vendor parked near Kohli's hotel, says that since the hotel serves a 'certain' class of Hindus, he neither visits nor orders tea from it.

    “I am not the only one,” he adds. Apparently, other Muslims frequenting the market do not like to have tea from Kohli's hotel as well.

    A hotel of their own
    Lower-caste Hindus choose Kohli’s hotel because it welcomes them, instead of humiliating them by serving them in soneri cups, or worse, forcing them to sit away from Muslim customers.

    Mithy Kohli, a 22-year-old farmer, walks to the hotel every day after an exhausting day of working on the fields some five kilometres away. For him, this is the only place where he can sit down comfortably with his community members to discuss various issues or spend leisure time.

    Two men lounging at Kohli's hotel in Kotri's vegetable market. — Photo by author

    “Hindus take issue with drinking tea at Muslim hotels because we are served tea and water in soneri cups,” Mithu explains. Often, he says, he is not allowed to sit on a chair, or near a Muslim, just by virtue of being a lower-caste Hindu.

    “But here,” he gestures around the small room that is Kohli's hotel. “We don’t have to face such issues.”

    The hotel is packed with Hindus belonging to scheduled castes. Many are employed on agricultural fields where they harvest crops, while others run small businesses or work as cobblers.

    The hotel earns most of its money by selling tea. After a tiring day, men come for a hot, freshly brewed cup of chai. They are likely to run into familiar faces, and end up sitting for hours to discuss various social issues. More cups of tea are ordered.

    25-year old Chetan, Kohli’s son, manages almost all the hotel's affairs, including serving tea and collecting money from customers. He easily makes Rs10,000 a month. With his father, he recently installed a cable television in the hope of providing some entertainment to the customers.

    Men sit around Kohli's hotel, watching television. — Photo by author

    There are similar communities and hotels in other parts of the province, including one in Kohli’s native town, Tando Allahyar. But Kotri and Hyderabad are largely devoid of hotels and restaurants that welcome lower-castes.

    “We are not even allowed to sit on the chairs or the areas where Muslims sit,” Kohli says. “Which is why we have been forced to set-up a hotel for our own community.”

    'Double discrimination'
    Muslims do not visit Hariji Kohli’s hotel. Upper-caste Hindus, too, avoid the premises, and prefer to travel further for a hotel run by Muslims, rather than drink tea at Kohli's hotel.

    “We face double discrimination,” Kohli remarks. “Muslims discriminate against us on the basis of religion, and upper-caste Hindus on the basis of caste.”

    Most upper-caste Hindus are economically and socially sound, and commonly work as doctors, engineers and business people. Of the total Hindu population in Sindh, 80 per cent are lower-caste or scheduled-caste Hindus. The rest identify with the upper-caste, and also hold 95 per cent of the seats allocated to minorities in the assembly.

    Punhoo Bheel, president of the Sindh Batha Mazdoor Federation, believes that upper-caste Hindus are privileged and treat lower-castes with resentment.

    “Upper-caste Hindus are rich,” he points out. “They do not have to face the discrimination we [lower-castes] do, and discriminate against us as Muslims do."

    Historically oppressed
    Ghulam Hussain Mehaser, an academician, explains that the word scheduled caste was coined by the British in India, to refer to lower-castes. “In Pakistan, the name is given to castes of the Hindu community which are considered socially disadvantageous," he says.

    In 1956, the Pakistan government declared about 40 castes and tribes as scheduled castes, also called lower-caste Hindus or Dalits. The word Dalit is derived from Sanskrit. It means ‘oppressed’ and is commonly used as a derogatory term for lower-caste Hindus.

    The majority of these Hindus are Kolhis, Menghwars, Bheels, Bagris, Balmakis, Jogis and Oads.

    In December 1965, the United Nations adopted the historical International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Pakistan was among its signatories, but so far, it has not developed any mechanism for the convention's implementation.

    In 2012, the Supreme Court (SC) gave a detail verdict for the protection of minority rights by developing mechanisms for implementing such conventions. A committee was formed in compliance with the SC’s verdict, but it is yet to be functional.

    A man brews chai for customers at Kohli's hotel. — Photo by author

    Veriji Kohli, chairman of Union Council Baharano in Taluka Nagar Parkar says that discrimination against lower-caste communities is particularly rampant in Sindh. Even though there is a Directorate Minority Affairs, not a single cell is dedicated to eliminating the discrimination faced by lower-caste Hindus.

    “In a city like Karachi, lower-caste community members have changed their names to get jobs and secure themselves,” he notes. “In rural areas, the situation is worsening every day.”

    A divide between the castes
    Pushpa Kumari, a coordinator with the Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network, feels the issue cannot be resolved without the support of upper-class Hindus who hold considerable political and social clout.

    “But despite their tall claims of working for all Hindus, including lower-caste Hindus, they are not supporting us,” she complains.

    In 2015, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organised a meeting of expert groups on the challenges of scheduled castes. It was a good opportunity to discuss the issue of discrimination, but they were unable to put forth their concerns.

    One advocate, Neel Kanth, had rejected the point of discrimination raised by scheduled castes in a meeting.

    “It [discrimination] has been eliminated from the major areas of Sindh province,” he had claimed, shutting down the discussion.

    According to Pushpa, a majority of the forums where the matter is brought up, such as the HRCP meeting, are dominated by upper-caste Hindus. “We cannot discuss the issue openly. If we get the opportunity, they reject our claims," she says.

    The Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) is another platform for Hindus, but it has poor representation of lower-caste Hindus. “Even membership is not being granted to lower-castes,” Pushpa adds.

    However, Pakistan Hindu Council chairman Ramesh Kumar Vankwani tells Dawn.com he has worked hard to eliminate caste differences.

    “This used to be a reality. But it is no longer the case," he says. "A Hindu is a Hindu, regardless of caste."

    Everyday discrimination
    The president of Sindh Batha Mazdoor Federation, Punhoo Bheel, feels that soneri cups are only one example of discrimination against lower-caste Hindus. “The majority of hotels in Hyderabad do not serve food and tea to lower-caste Hindus,” he alleges.

    Often, the discrimination is subtler and exists on an every-day level. For example, Bheel has noticed that when a woman belonging to a scheduled caste and clad in traditional Thari clothes boards a bus, no seat is vacated for her to sit on. “But such things are not done with women in more fashionable attire,” he continues. “Especially those belonging to the Muslim or upper-caste Hindu communities.”

    Even the conductor, he says, has to nudge the men sitting around to help make room for the women.

    The signboard posted at Malik Muhrab Khan Restaurant, Amin's hotel. — Photo by author

    “Buses, schools, hotels, and other public areas also commonly discriminate against lower-class Hindus,” Pushpa says, echoing Bheel's sentiments.

    There are two temples important to the Lohana community in Mithi. “We are not allowed to enter these places,” Pushpa says. The same holds true for places in Salam Kot and other areas in Sindh.

    Meanwhile, there are two hotels in Mithi run by Meghwars and other scheduled caste communities. But both spots are avoided by upper-caste Hindus and Muslims.

    Kohli's hotel in Kotri's vegetable market. — Photo by author
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    4,300 Hindus, Sikhs from Pakistan, Afghanistan get Indian citizenship
    From the NewspaperUpdated June 15, 2015


    NEW DELHI: As a first step to granting Indian nationality to some 200,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, the BJP-led government has given citizenship to around 4,300 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Afghanistan in one year, according to sources.

    During the entire tenure of the previous government, the figure stood at 1,023. The refugees have been given citizenship on the initiative of Home Minister Rajnath Singh following BJP’s declared policy that India is a “natural home for persecuted Hindus” who will be welcome to seek refuge.

    During his election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that Pakistani and Bangladeshi Hindu refugees would be treated like any other Indian citizen.

    Also read: 5,000 Hindus migrating to India every year, NA told


    There are around 200,000 Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan currently living in India.

    Since the Modi government assumed charge in May 2014, nearly 19,000 refugees have been given long-term visas in Madhya Pradesh. Around 11,000 long-term visas were given in Rajasthan and another 4,000 in Gujarat, official sources said.

    In April, the home ministry had unveiled an online system for submission of applications for long-term visas.

    The decision has been taken to address the hardship being faced by the refugees who come to India with the intention to settle permanently.

    There are about 400 settlements for refugees from Pakistan in cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jaipur. Hindu refugees from Bangladesh mostly live in West Bengal and northeastern states. Sikh refugees mostly live in Punjab, Delhi and Chandigarh.

    By arrangement with the Times of India

    Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2015
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    Past present: The exodus of Sindhi Hindus
    Mubarak AliJune 28, 2015


    Illustration by Abro
    Concerned and rather depressed about the communal situation in Sindh, Koli, a Hindu friend of mine from Hyderabad called me up when in 2014 some miscreants burnt a Hindu temple in Larkana and anti-Hindu riots followed in Badin. He told me that the Hindus had always regarded Sindh as the land of Sufis, where peace and harmony prevailed among all religious communities. But this development shattered all their feelings of security and safety in the land of their ancestors.

    There was a disturbing pain and agony in his voice. He told me that his ancestors had been living in Sindh way before the Arab conquest. His concern was that the incident which had transpired was not the outburst of some immediate cause but a gradual development against the Hindu community. On analysis, one finds that there are several reasons that fuel the anti-Hindu sentiments, a major cause being our textbooks that are responsible for creating prejudice and hatred against Hindus.

    In our textbooks, attempts are being made to highlight the social, cultural and religious differences between the Hindus and the Muslims but no efforts are made to bring about harmony and integration. For example, it is asserted that the struggle for Pakistan was not only against the British but also against the domination of the Hindus. The authors of these textbooks further mark the differences in dress, food, rituals, ceremonies and festivals. One author goes to the extent that he has even classified trees and animals as Hindus and Muslims. According to him, the peepal and burgad (banyan) are Hindu trees, while the date and olive are Muslim trees! Not just that but he rendered the cow a Hindu, while the camel and horse as Muslim. The result of such textbooks is damaging and creates hatred between these two communities, leaving no space to meet on the basis of peace and love.

    Why are minorities mistreated in the peace-loving and harmonious land of the Sufis?
    Our textbooks as well as other history books completely ignore the role of Sindhi Hindus before partition. When the British conquered Sindh in 1843, the rule of the Talpurs came to an end. The Hindu community of Sindh took full advantage of the political change and started to learn modern values and traditions and transformed their community. Since most Sindhi Hindus belonged to the middle classes, they adopted a modern, colonial education. Under the influence of the Hindu community, cities of Sindh such as Shikarpur, Larkana, Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi were transformed on the basis of modern city planning. They built schools, colleges, public buildings such as gardens, libraries, public halls, hospitals and clubs, changing the entire social and cultural milieu of Sindh. The process of cultural development seized in 1947, after communal riots broke out in some cities of Sindh. Disappointed and disillusioned, the educated and progressive Sindhi Hindus migrated to India en masse leaving behind a small section of the Hindu population in Tharparkar and other small towns.

    After the independence of Bangladesh, anti-Indian sentiment intensified as a result of which the Hindus of Sindh were victimised. Periodic incidents of religious extremism that followed have further deteriorated their condition. Feeling insecure and unprotected, they are in a dilemma as to where to go.

    Sadly, in a country where the state is not neutral in the matters of religion, religious discrimination works to disintegrate the nation. When Pakistani nationhood is defined on the basis of religion, it excludes the non-Muslim communities from its fold. The question is should non-Muslim communities in Pakistan be included into the broader definition of nationhood or excluded and treated as second rate citizens and their talents and services disregarded?

    It is high time that we should learn lessons from history and adopt policies to unite all minorities, religious or ethnic, as one nation. We must correct our text books and recognise the contribution of Sindhi Hindus before partition so that the memories and the heritage that they left behind is not erased.

    Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 28th, 2015
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    Footprints: Hindus in no man's land
    Hasan MansoorSeptember 30, 2014


    “I WILL never go back to India, but sooner or later I’ll also leave this place,” says Mahesh Kumar, who is in his mid-40s, as he spares me a moment while attending to customers at his bustling general store in the Hindu mohalla. This is in Thul, a small town in Jacobabad district that takes its name from the Sindhi word for ‘stupa’.

    Present-day Thul bears the remnants of a decaying European township. Residents here tell me stirring stories of the resilience of Hindus and Muslims who came to each other’s rescue during the devastating floods of 2010 that inundated every village in the area.

    Know more: How are the Hindus facing Hindutva?

    Back then, they were able to save the town’s physical boundaries. But today, they are finding it difficult to maintain this town’s pluralistic religious ethos. The Hindu community that once constituted nearly half the population is now dwindling by the day. With increasing religious intolerance, kidnappings and forced conversions of teenage Hindu girls, abduction of Hindu traders for ransom and desecration of temples have forced many to migrate to India and elsewhere. Community leaders say that hundreds of families have left.

    People leave to seek a better life. They want to build the lives they have envisioned for themselves and their families. Kumar and other Pakistani Hindus had hoped that this would be the case when they moved to India last year.

    He and his family, including his wife and two sons, fabricated a reason to visit India, declaring to officialdom that they were going on a pilgrimage. Once they obtained the visa, they took a train journey to Lahore, entered Amritsar and reached Bhopal where some of their relatives were settled.

    “But problems are not resolved through migration,” says Kumar. “In fact, as we discovered, the challenges began once we arrived in India. Our relatives were kind and helped us initially. But I met several Hindus from Sindh whose applications had been pending for many years. My mind was plagued with questions. What if we don’t get the nationality? What will become of us? Even though I was frustrated by the thought of this long-drawn-out process, I decided to be practical and returned to Thul within three months. I bought my shop back and have resumed my earlier life,” he says.

    A similar account is narrated to me by a Hindu rice trader who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “My family and I moved to Indore in 2011 where my relatives have been living for a long time,” says he, a stocky man in his early 50s. “I invested in a shop and was managing to earn a living but we couldn’t reconcile with the anti-Pakistani sentiment of the locals. My children couldn’t get admission to schools because they lacked the necessary documents. If there was any trouble in the neighbourhood, we were questioned because we were Pakistani. Once I reprimanded a group of rowdy teenagers and the locals ganged up against me. This left me disheartened and so we decided to come back.” The rice trader returned to Thul early this year.

    Ravi Dawani, the secretary general of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat, calls Pakistani Hindus “stateless people” who are “Pakistanis in India and Hindus in Pakistan”. He says quite a few Hindus who had earlier migrated to India are now returning in increasing numbers.

    “Most go to cities such as Ahmedabad, Raipur, Indore, Bhopal and Pune, but apart from a few resourceful families, others face immense hardship,” says Dawani. “They remain insecure as Pakistanis, are discriminated against in jobs and school admissions, and get nationality after decades of ordeal.”

    Citing figures provided by the Indian home ministry, the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat says that between January 2013 and June this year, 3,753 Pakistanis surrendered their passports and obtained long-term visas (LTV) for India that permit a once-a-year visit to Pakistan. Since January 2011, 1,854 Hindus belonging to Sindh have been given Indian nationality.

    Shahnaz Sheedi, from the NGO South Asia Partnership Pakistan that works on minority issues, says non-Muslims formed a quarter of Pakistan’s population when the country came into being; now, they account for just four per cent. “Most non-Muslims have migrated to India. Those few who remain behind live in terror,” she says. “They are denied many basic rights, and treated even by the state as second-class citizens or even worse.”

    I am not surprised when Kumar tells me that he continues to seek a place where his family can live a better life, preferably in his own country. “I will leave Thul and perhaps go to Karachi or Hyderabad,” he muses. “These cities are far more open to all kinds of communities. No one is bothered about your religion. And what is more satisfying than not having to leave the country of your birth?”

    Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014
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    Influx of Pak-Hindus migrating to India increases post surgical strike
    Published Oct 7, 2016, 1:08 pm IST
    Updated Oct 7, 2016, 1:24 pm IST
    The influx of Pakistani-Hindu migrants entering India via the Thar Express, that connects Karachi to Jodhpur, has increased significantly.
    Image for representational purpose only (Photo: AFP)
    Jodhpur: While the surgical strikes by the Indian Army in PoK has sent much of the nation into a jubilant frenzy, it has mounted pressure on the minority Hindu community in Pakistan, forcing many more to abandon their homes and seek refuge in India.

    The influx of Pakistani-Hindu migrants entering India via the Thar Express, that connects Karachi to Jodhpur, has increased significantly.

    Last week 31 Pakistani-Hindus arrived in India via the Thar Express and even as they struggle to get a permanent residence in India, another 216 Pak-Hindus arrived in Jodhpur on Thursday.

    The refugees have come to India by availing pilgrimage visas and have denied going back to Pakistan with plans to settle here permanently. For now, these people will stay in camps for displaced Pakistanis in Dali Bai, Kali Beri and Angnwa, in Rajasthan.

    Emphasising that the situation back at Pakistan was awful, Maya and Moti, two of the 31 migrants who arrived here last week, said that they would rather die than return back.

    Head of the Frontiers Works Organisation Hindu Singh Sodha said that due to atrocities in Pakistan, the number of Hindu migrants coming to India has increased and people are arriving in Jodhpur on pilgrim visas and creating new problems for the government.

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    Lone Hindu Brahmin family in Pakistan's Chakwal leads a secluded life
    A report in Pakistan's influential newspaper 'The Dawn' throws some light on the lives of Hindus still living in Pakistan.
    Updated:July 14, 2014, 3:30 PM IST

    A report in Pakistan's influential newspaper 'The Dawn' throws some light on the lives of Hindus still living in Pakistan.
    "When I first went to a local college two years ago, students and teachers gave me a strange look," recalls 18-year-old Manisha Chhiber, a Hindu girl whose family lives a secluded life in Kariyala village located at the top of Surla Hill, some 10 kilometre away to the south of Chakwal city. A report in Pakistan's influential newspaper 'The Dawn' throws some light on the lives of Hindus still living in Pakistan. The Chhibbers are one of the very few high caste Brahmins still living in Pakistan.

    According to reports, most of the Hindus still living in Pakistan are lower caste Hindus, mainly Dalits who could not migrate to India after the 1947 partition. Almost all upper caste Hindus fled Pakistan and resettled in India. According to 'The Dawn' reporter Nabeel Anwar Dhakku, Manisha's family is one of the only two Hindu families living in Chakwal district (the other lives in Kot Chaudhrian village located some 40 km to the west of Chakwal). "They gave me a bizarre glance because being a Hindu I was an alien to them and such a situation always hurts me but I don't express my feeling," Manisha continues.

    But in village Kariyala, she and six other members of her family live peacefully and do not feel isolated. Manisha now waits for her BCom result and wants to become an officer by passing the Central Superior Services (CSS) exam. "Although we have mixed up with Muslim villagers in such a way that we do not feel alienated, sometimes the feeling of loneliness haunts us," says Manisha's father Ravindar Kumar, the head of the family.

    The family of Ravindar Kumar belongs to the Chhiber clan which is one of the seven lineages of Mohyal Brahmins. Ravindar's clan has a tumultuous history replete with sufferings and bravery. It was Baba Paraga Das, a Chhiber who laid the foundation of the sleepy village Kariyala in the 16th century and the village remained the hub of Chhibers till partition uprooted them.

    The reports says that Ravindar Kumar's father Bhai Jaggat Singh (who was given a Sikh name due to the family's devotion to Sikhism) was not only a landlord but also a Zaildar (an officer in-charge of a Zail, an administrative unit comprising 40 villages) during British Raj. One could imagine how one can migrate to an alien land by relinquishing such a great social position leaving a vast agriculture land behind.

    Jaggat Singh never wished to migrate but when his uncle Bhai Daleep Singh was assassinated by Muslim rioters, he surrendered to other family members and set out for Delhi. "Life in Delhi refugee camp was painful for such a man who lived a luxurious life. This forced my father to come back," says Ravindar Kumar. But Jaggat's two sons and wife refused to accompany him, he said adding that he had to return alone.

    After returning from India, Jaggat resettled in Kariyala and contracted a second marriage. Although he managed to preserve his land, the high social position which he used to hold before partition was lost forever. He had two sons from his second marriage - Ravindar Kumar and Surindar Kumar. At present, Surindar Kumar lives with his elder brother Ravindar Kumar.

    Living in a thickly Muslim populated society, Ravindar Kumar and his family members observe Muslim, Hindu and Sikh festivals. "On the occasion of Eid, I decorate my hands with henna as my Muslim friends do. I visit homes of my Muslim friends and they too visit my home.
    On the occasion of Diwali, my Muslim friends join me in the celebration," says Manisha, but she adds hastily: "Had I been able to celebrate Diwali with my community, it would have been a different feeling."

    Being a sole Hindu family in the village, they do not celebrate Holi. Ravindar also mixes up with Muslim on their rituals.

    "Whenever, any of my Muslim friends dies, I go to offer his/her funeral prayer," Ravindar says. "The old people of the village treat us in a normal and friendly way but the migrants and the youth's behaviour is always skeptical towards us," Manisha explains. Ravindar and his family members also visit Panja Sahib and Katas Raj regularly. Being a hub of Hindus, Kariyala had a number of Hindu temples but many of them were damaged in riots. The state of two surviving temples was deplorable till Musharraf's regime.

    The local bodies system came as a blessing for Ravindar who was elected as member of the district council on a reserved seat for minorities. He managed to get some funds for the renovation of one of the temples where now he and his family members worship.
    But if one wants to visit the temple, heshe is greeted by buffaloes tied in front of the temple. The buffaloes are owned by a Muslim family who lives next to the temple.

    "I requested them many a times to find some other place for their animals but they did not pay any attention. I could not do nothing but plead," says a distressed Ravindar.

    The other abandoned temple has been rented out to another Muslim family by Evacuee Trust Property Board and this temple has become a goat pen. "Humanity should not be slaughtered at the altar of religion and we should take care of each other's feelings," says Manisha. "It is very painful to bear the desecration of our temples but we prefer silence," says Ravindar.

    A Hindu temple has been turned into a Goat Pen. Picture courtesy The Dawn


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