No country for Pakistani Hindus

On March 26, 19-year-old Rinkle Kumari, from a village in Sindh, told Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that she had been abducted by a man called Naveed Shah, and pleaded with the highest court to let her return to her mother. It was a brave plea. Hindu women in Pakistan are routinely kidnapped and then forced to convert if they want the respectability of marriage. They are helpless, as they have neither the numbers nor the political clout to protect themselves. As Rinkle left the court, she screamed before journalists, accusing her captors of forcible conversion, before she was hustled away by the police.

The case grabbed headlines, generated impassioned editorials, and highlighted the cause of a persecuted community, the 3.5 million Hindus in Pakistan. It angered liberals in Pakistan and caused the Dawnnewspaper to take a strong position on persecution of minorities.

But Rinkle had dared to raise her voice, and there would be a price to pay. Her parents in Ghotki village were threatened, her 70-year-old grandfather was shot at, gun-toting goons roamed outside her house. When she returned to the Pakistan Supreme Court on April 18, she meekly said she had converted to Islam. At a packed media briefing in Islamabad's Press Club, with Shah by her side, the spunk in her snuffed out, she would only say she wants to become an "obedient" wife.

According to police records, each month, an average of 25 girls meet Rinkle's fate in Sindh alone, home to 90 per cent of the Hindus living in Pakistan. Young Hindu girls are 'marked', abducted, raped, and forcibly converted. Discrimination, extortion threats, killings and religious persecution are driving the remaining Hindus out of Pakistan. They had chosen to stay back after Partition; six decades later, they are no longer welcome.

In India, they are facing a shock worse than catastrophe-betrayal. The Government of India refuses to recognise them as refugees and is unmoved by their plight. In its reply to activist S.C. Agrawal's RTI query on November 1, 2011, on the status of Pakistani Hindu refugees, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) claimed it was an "internal matter'' of Pakistan. In the same reply, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) admitted that it could not say how many Pakistani Hindus had emigrated.

According to Delhi's Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), there has been a rapid increase in the number of Hindus coming from Pakistan. Till mid-2011, it used to be around eight-ten families a month. But in the past 10 months, an estimated 400 families have come. They are settling down all over India, in Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat. A trickle has become a stream. Hindus, who accounted for 15 per cent of Pakistan's population in 1947, now constitute a mere 2 per cent of its 170 million population. Many have migrated, others have been killed, and yet others forced to convert to survive. In some cases, the dead have even been denied a proper cremation.

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