By Naveen Qayyum (*)
For Haroon Sarab Diyal, Hindus in Pakistan are a “forgotten community”. The trend of forced migration among members of the community is evident by the decrease in population numbers from 20% to less than 2% since the country’s independence. This trend of migration is a reaction to “religious intolerance” and “class disparities”, Sarab Diyal believes.
Representing the Hindu community in a recent public hearing on the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan, organized by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Switzerland on 17 September, Sarab Diyal asked the international community to listen to voices of the members of Hindu community in Pakistan.
Sarab Diyal comes from Peshawar, capital of mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, where non-Muslims are few in numbers and the presence of religious extremist groups can be felt more than ever.
Sarab Diyal also serves as chairman of the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement, an organization engaged in promoting rights of the Hindu community.
Hindus in Pakistan, who happen to be from the less privileged economic strata of society are more vulnerable to discrimination, both by unjust laws and abuse of state policies, as well as through social behaviours. “Keeping ourselves safe and voicing the demands of our community is not easy,” says Sarab Diyal.
“Many Hindus are forced to pay regular sums, as a type of ransom to extortionists and local leaders in exchange for the physical security of their families,” he added. “Another issue that concerns us today is the molestation and abduction of Hindu girls, forced conversion and forced marriages.”
Recently there have been several cases of “forced conversions” in Pakistan where Hindu girls were forced to marry influential Muslim men and subsequently were asked to change their religion. Among these was the case of 19 year old Rinkal Kumari, who was forced to marry a feudal leader of Mirpur Mathelo town in Sindh. The incident was soundly condemned by the religious minorities and civil society groups in the country.
“There is hardly any support given to Hindu women and youth in Pakistan,” Sarab Diyal observes. “Within our community we don’t have any programmes for women’s empowerment. We also feel that we do not get any support from the international community despite the grave issues of discrimination we face on a daily basis.”
For Sarab Diyal, having an opportunity to express his concerns in a public hearing with Christian, Muslims and civil society representatives in Geneva was unique. “I am grateful to the WCC for this platform, where among other religious minorities we could discuss our problems and communicate the issue with the international community,” he said.
“While, we go back home and work for our communities, their safety and their better future, we anticipate support and solidarity from the churches, as well,” concluded Sarab Diyal.
The issues of forced conversions and marriages in Pakistan were discussed at the recent WCC Central Committee meeting in Greece in September. At the meeting a statement was issued urging the Pakistani government to ensure adequate protection of women from the religious minority communities.
(*) Naveen Qayyum from Pakistan is the WCC staff writer.
Central Committee concerned about forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan (WCC news release of 5 September 2012)
High resolution photos can be requested via photos.oikoumene.org