AS THEÂ New Delhi-bound train pulled out of Lahore station, the sobs of some of the female passengers got louder and louder. While the men looked tense and confused and tried to keep their tears inside, a number of women and girls looked visibly lost as they covered their saddened faces and eyes behind their chaddars. As a 90-year-old woman in my village in Bahawalpur looked at the pictures of Hindu families departing for India forever, it brought back to her similar memories of what had happened in 1947 when hundreds of middle-class and upper middle-class Hindu families had fled south Punjab fearing a massacre. Many were killed and raped on both sides of the border.
The migration and self-exile of a 100 Hindu families seems to have hit the headlines in both India and Pakistan. The story angered Pakistanâ€™s Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who, as is his nature, over-reacted by trying to stop Hindu pilgrims going to India out of fear that these people were using the pilgrimage as an excuse to slip into India and seek asylum. This, according to Malik, would naturally bring a bad name to Pakistan. Hence for him, this is nothing more than a conspiracy to malign Pakistan. The Federal Investigation Agency, which comes under Malikâ€™s ministry, and is responsible for immigration issues, reported to its boss that agents were misleading the Hindu families and encouraging them to seek asylum.
But what Malik seems to struggle to hide is the fact that Hindu migration is not a new phenomenon. It is that Islamabad seems to have noticed it just now. According to civil society and human rights activists in Sindh, there has been a slow and gradual move by Hindus to migrate from Pakistan. According to one estimate, there are 4.5 million Hindus in Pakistan, most of whom are concentrated in Sindh, especially Hyderabad-Karachi, Tharparkat, Mithi, Mirpur Khas, Shikarpur and Sukkur. The more affluent ones tend to migrate legally. There is considerable illegal border crossing as well, but in such cases, people undertake the risk when they have surety of finding help on the other side. Most of the poor ones try to slip across the border under the pretext of yatra from which they do not return only if they find hope in staying back in India.
Sadly, Malik is loath to not only admit that Hindus are leaving Pakistan but also that the overall environment has turned unfavourable for religious minorities. According to a Christian activist, â€śThere are times when people donâ€™t want to share the same glass of water with us, so what to speak about the Hindus?â€ť Perhaps, Malik has no option as he cannot admit that a lot of this discrimination is happening under the PPP governmentâ€™s watch. The PPP may not be responsible for the gradual radicalisation of the society, which is spurred by the presence of the militaryâ€™s jihadi partners, but the party leadership in Sindh has done nothing to dissuade its own powerful members from contributing to this human tragedy.
The brutality of the past can repeat itself as States have clung to their two-nation theories
In Sindh, the PPP and other parties have a share in creating conditions that led to this migration. The fear of being forced to convert, abduction of daughters or other women in the family and their conversion to Islam under duress, or kidnap for ransom are some of the many reasons that have probably exhausted this group of Hindus to seek asylum elsewhere. The above-described fear is growing intense due to a combination of forces at play in Sindh province, which is the mainstay of a majority of the Hindu population in Pakistan.
In the past couple of decades, the militant forces in partnership with religious and non-religious political parties such as the PPP have managed to invade the Sindh province, which is generally associated with a Sufi culture. Some of the prominent PPP leaders in Sindh are instrumental in establishing Afghan villages or radical madrassas.
Then, there is the partnership between the PPP and the Jamiat-ulema-e-Islam – Fazulr Rehman group (JUI-F) that expanded the religious partyâ€™s influence in the province, which it used to provide support to a number of Deobandi militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and Jaish-e-Mohammad. In any case, JUI-F and JUI-S (Maulana Samiul Haq group) have a noticeable presence in Sindh.