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Hindus in Pakistan.. whats the status?

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    Hindus in Pakistan.. whats the status?

    Hidden Hindus
    by Shandana Minhas


    What is it like?
    What is it like being a Hindu in Pakistan, you wonder. I find the answer in various things. First, a letter from a Hindu friend dated October 1999. She wrote from college in the States: "When I first got here, I was already looking forward to the winter break so I could come back to Karachi and see my friends and family. The next break I was a little less excited, the next even less so. And now, I find myself looking for ways to prolong my stay here. Not because I've met a man better than someone I might have found in Karachi, but because here I don't have to wonder how long it is before he plays the religion card and says hey we had a great time I love you madly, but I just don't think my family... I remember how I felt at realizing that to my friends, though they were my friends, I would always in some way be
    an outsider. Don't they realize how cruel that is? Why can't they see me for who I am and not my religion. I'm not even a particularly religious person!"

    The 1991 census estimated the number of religious minorities in Pakistan(assuming Shia+Sunni=Muslim) at around five per cent, out of which 1.51 percent were Hindu. Representatives of minority groups disagreed at the time and said they were "underrepresented". The latest estimates put the number of Hindus in Pakistan at just under three million. The fact that a large percentage of this community resides in rural Sindh where borders are porous, life transitory, and government efficiency a fairy tale ensures an "estimate" will remain just that.

    A report by lawyer and activist Hina Jillani states that the Hindu tribal communities of Kohlis and Behls "constitute more than half of the agricultural labour force of Sindh, and are amongst the most oppressed of all haris." Their lands have been forcibly occupied by influential landlords, their daughters abducted, forcibly converted and then married off to complete strangers from an alien community. Their economic and religious status conspire to make their lives a favourite repast for the vultures of official apathy and societal intolerance.

    What is it like to be a Hindu in Pakistan? The answers come as hints
    rather than full replies. P.K. Shahani is a prominent Sindhi lawyer. His brother Narayan Shahani has recently been appointed to the security
    exchange commission of Pakistan. The other Hindu names you hear are Naveen Perwani (snooker player) and Deepak Perwani (self-proclaimed fashion designer). Actually, most people aren't sure if these people are Hindu or just sound Hindu. There are Hindus in music, Hindus in journalism (especially Sindh), Hindu women walking to work in the streets in their graceful saris. There are middle class Hindus with small homes and Japanese cars. There are Hindu businessmen with recently acquired respectability whose fortunes are based on converting contacts made through intelligent and friendly bootlegging into contracts made in heaven. There are Hindu brat packers, scions of wealthy families who do nothing but party hard. There are banyas in interior Sindh, traders and shopkeepers. There are middle class Hindu Generation X's. There is a Hindu drummer in the local band Brain Masalla. Hindus are in every strata of society, but somehow they
    seem to be nowhere at all.

    The writer of the letter has since started a process that will allow her to be an American citizen. Had she returned here she would have been a Pakistani biochemist.

    Hindus believe a soul should be free to leave this realm of existence
    unburdened by the weight of its mortality. Some rivers are sacred to the Hindus (the Ganges is said to be like the rippling waves in the hair of a God), water is considered a purifier. The pyre on the banks of a river also emphasise the ephemeral nature of life to those attending it. Samskara, the rite of passage, bids the departed farewell and helps give the bereaved a sense of closure.

    The body is prepared by the application of holy ash on the forehead and the recitation of mantras, more orthodox Hindus follow a longer and more rigorous preparation procedure. The procession carrying the body to the pyre is led by the son. As it is laid on its pyre draped with flowers garlands, all observe in silence. When it is burnt down the priest recites prayers over it, the ashes are collected. Ideally, they will be poured into a holy river. After a designated period of mourning during which austerity is practiced in dress, food and behaviour, a ceremony called shraddah is carried out in which prayers are said for the departed and offering made to the poor.

    The Hindus believe a soul is born into a body, and when the body dies, the soul passes into a higher or lower being (a man or a rat) according to the karma he has earned. When a soul reaches a state of enlightenment it breaks the cycle of reincarnation and passes back into Brahma, the spirit that runs through the universe.

    Once a year there is an unusual number of bangs in the city. People look at each other and nod, "It must be divali." There is a also trend amongst fiery big-mouthed 90s women to include a rang amongst their wedding ceremonies. Everyone runs around throwing colour on each other and squealing. In the leading papers' yearly "round-up of architecture Karachi should be proud of" the Hindu Gymkhana and Swami Narayan Mandir are pointed out, freshly photographed. The twisted implementation of the blasphemy law and the rabidity of zealots ensure that the Hindu community maintains a low profile. The many festivals in their religious calendar are celebrated softly.

    Divali is the festival of lights, celebrated at the end of the Hindu old year to usher in the new year, through tribute to the goddess Lakshmi, who brings blessing and prosperity to her worshippers. It coincides with the return of Rama after 14 years in exile. The word itself comes from "dipwali" or "row of lights". The lamps are placed at windows and doors to drive away the night and shed light into darkness, symbolizing the victory of good over evil and the beauty of life despite the imminence of death. It is celebrated in October or November.

    The Holi festival comes at the end of winter and the advent of spring.
    Colour and powder fly through the end and out the end of water guns. It can be seen as symbolic of the blooming of flowers after the desert of winter. Holi comes from Holika, a fire demon summoned by her evil tyrant brother Hiranya to kill his seemingly indestructible son. The son is sustained by his faith in Vishnu, the demons are destroyed. Holi is about adding colour to life through truth and faith in the goodness of it all.

    There is Dassehra or "the tenth", which comes at the end of nine nights of hymns to the goddess Durga. Falling between September and October, the ritual is considered important for brides and engaged women.

    Falling around July and August is Raksha Bandhan where women tie strings around the wrists of men they are related to for their protection.

    Hindu festivals are rich and diverse, as is their contribution to the
    roots of Pakistani culture. The Indus valley civilization threw up statues of goddess and animals, the influence of Hinduism was prevalent in Harappa and Taxila too. There are many sites In Pakistan that are near sacred to Hindus, including Manora Island which some feel is "only several hundred kilometers" away from what used to be the kingdom of an avatar of the god Vishnu.

    There must have been a time when the borders of co-existing religions were porous too. The colour, festivity and scent of many Muslim wedding
    ceremonies find their roots in Hindu festivals.

    The Hindu wedding ceremony, as seen on TV or in an Indian movie, is even more colourful than its Pakistani counterpart. There are numerous festivals involving music, dancing and colour. The ceremony itself is conducted in Sanskrit. It starts out with a prayer, followed by identification of the two to be wed, then the "evocation of virtue" in which anyone who feels this marriage cannot proceed is given a chance to step forward. Next the two stand facing each other as blessing and rice, are showered upon them. The priest offers tribute to the fire, which is considered the manifestation of God, the couple exchange vows. Then they circle the divine fire seven times, tied together as companions on the path of life. A modern Karachi Hindu wedding often incorporates a reception at another venue where guests can greet the newly married couple.

    The homepage of the Pakistani Hindu Association states: "Traditionally, Pakistani Hindus have not referred to the name of their religion as 'Hinduism'. This was a name given by foreigners to identify those people living in the vicinity of the Sindhu River. Pakistani Hindus have always referred to their religion as Vedic Dharm. Sometimes, Vedic Dharm is also referred to as the Aryan religion."

    What is it like to be Hindu in an Islamic republic? Since others are
    always defining you, you try your best to provide the definitions yourself.

    Hinduism is a religion that is vast in scope in terms of its rituals, and the sheer volume of deities associated with it. Ultimately, the source of all its ritual and myth lies in the concept of Brahma, the spirit that runs through the universe. "Impersonal and indestructible", it was, is and always will be, the philosophy goes. It is seen as creator, preserver and destroyer. And hence the three main Hindu Deities are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Vasihnavism has the most followers at 80 per cent while Shivaism (devotees of Shiva the destroyer) is popular in Tamil South India. Hinduism also recognizes avatars, incarnations of one of the three Gods. Two of the avatars of the god Vishnu, Rama and Krishna, are very important figures in Hindu mythology. Hindus also hold animals sacred, as some of them are considered avatars of important gods. Especially popular are Ganesha the elephant headed and Hanuman the monkey headed god.

    A belief in Hinduism does not stipulate loyalty to any one of these Gods, it is understood that everyone has a personal deity. Puja, or worship, can be done in any place. It simply involves offerings of kum kum, rice, fruit, flowers, incense or light to an image of the deity and a recitation of sacred texts. Any place where puja is offered is a shrine. A temple on the other hand is the house of a deity.

    What is it like?

    There are two brothers, Jagdeep and Mukesh. Mukesh is intelligent and
    articulate and always in the top three at his school, one of the leading boys school in Karachi. His brother Jagdeep is one year younger and in the same school. He has been plagued with discipline problems. The administration keeps calling his parents and telling them to do something about it or they will be forced to take strong action. The parents say he gets into fights because he is constantly provoked with taunts of "Hindu %#%" and "Hindu &&^". "Why can't you be more like Mukesh?" they tell him. "When people say these things to him he doesn't react, you must learn to do that too". Jagdeep says he can't help himself, he just feels so angry. In an effort to find him an alternate vent for his frustration, he is enrolled in a tae kwon do programme. He excels and finds he loves physical activity. He starts playing squash in a preppy club and is soon given a high seed in the club tournament. On the eve of the tournament he gets into a fight when another competitor plays the religion card. His racquets are broken. He starts making excuses not to go. Finally, his mother puts his racquets

    Mukesh and Jagdeep's parents have sent them both to relatives abroad and intend to follow them soon. They say they love Karachi, they have been here for generations, but they want their children to grow up safe, secure and with a sense of belonging. Moving to a different country means starting over, but they feel they are doing what is best for their children.

    Like monotheistic religions, Hindus have a body of text they use as guides to the Hindu way of life or the Vaidika Dharma. The roots of all
    information are the Vedas, in Sanskrit, which are believed to be shruti or "that which is revealed." The later scriptures are smriti or "tradition" and include the epics Mahabharta, and Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita. Hinduism is considered to be the predecessor to Buddhism in the belief that there are many paths to the same goal.

    What is it like to be Hindu in Pakistan? A woman in my apartment building tells her driver to tell one of the other men in the compound not to stare when she walks by. Her driver reacts angrily, telling her "aap kahain to uss ka sur phar dain gay, wo vaisay bhi Hindu hai, koi kuch nahin kahay ga."

    The number of Hindus in the coastal metropolis of Karachi lurks around
    100,000. Some work in the municipal co-operations, untouchables condemned by caste (in some cases, circumstances) to clean up other people's mess. A lot of the names we catch while skimming a city page bite titled "Cleaners die after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning sewer", are Hindu.

    What is it like? Apart from the rituals and the texts and the philosophy, being a part of a religion also means the baggage that comes with it. The assumptions people make about what a religion stands for are applied across the board to the antics of its fanatical elements and the passivity of its masses. A man calling himself a Muslim blows up a building and all Muslim nations are called "terrorist". A mob tries to destroy a revered mosque in
    India and a mob in Karachi goes on the rampage and destroys all the temples and shrines it can. Such people demonstrate the insecurity of their belief in their own faith when they demonize another.

    What is it like?

    Venu Advani is from a Sindhi family settled in Karachi for generations. He is now the last of the family to remain here. He has many things to say about being a Hindu in Karachi. He starts off by telling me about the appropriation of the Hindu Gymkhana premises by the SSP offices, Aligarh Hall and the Muslim Gymkhana. "There are no clubs for us, the names engraved on the walls of the Hindu Gymkhana mean something to us, but we are denied access to them. Why should people be denied their heritage?"

    He also raises the infamous question of why religion is featured on the Pakistani passport. "Why is religion on the passports? I really feel that the minorities have been put at such a disadvantage, because every time you want to fight for your rights you keep quiet because you know the other guy can turn around and accuse you of blasphemy." He tells me that in the entire history of Pakistan "to date not one Hindu has acted in collusion with India. Pakistanis maybe, but not one Hindu. Yet we are picked on. This is a hangover from partition days when we were branded a community that had to be watched." He says the area around Swami Narayan Mandir has been taken over, uptil a few years ago the Hindus living inside found themselves at the mercy of fundamentalist elements bent on punishing the local Hindu
    community for the turmoil in India, especially after the destruction of the Babri Mosque when countless shrines and temples were destroyed. As yet, no concrete steps have been taken to rebuild them.

    It is difficult for minorities to find a forum to address their problems. The separate electorate system means there are candidates at large; most of them are not familiar with the problems of a particular area. Each of the four NA members for Hindus and scheduled (read backwards) castes represents at least 300,000 people. Since the minorities have no voting power to interest Muslim parliamentarians in their area, their complaints go unheard and unattended.

    Mr Advani is in the process of moving his family abroad. He says that in itself is not just because of the prejudice, but also because the new face of Pakistan is one he does not want to be a part of. He brings up the interesting point that the Hindu community in Pakistan is shrinking because migrant workers and people from other provinces are outnumbering Sindhis in the city. The wave of people in search of work and money to send home to their families has no love for this city. They come in here, abuse it, and leave. Because they don't have ties to it they treat it badly. The old Karachiites, a lot of whom were Hindu or Parsi or Christians, are losing ground to these newcomers because their religious status automatically puts them on the back foot.

    Were things always like this? "This prejudice didn't exist 40 or 50 years ago. It's a new thing, and you can't blame the kids or the new generation.
    For them, a Hindu in the classroom is a rarity, why should they go out of their way to make them feel like a part of their culture?"

    What is it like? Accomplished PTV actress Hafeez Fatima tells me while on a shoot in the predominantly Hindu area between Mithi and Nagaparker in Thar "Hindu kay ghar mein baithna, sona aur khana gunah hota hai." During a ride across the dunes in a dilapidated jeep the next day I take delight in telling her the driver is a Hindu. He obligingly flashes a gold-capped grin at her. "Aap kay dramay bohat acchay hotay hain". She has the grace to look embarrassed.

    Originally published in The Friday Times

    Religion was created by man.....but dont was created by God.... Allah Ho Akhbar, Halleluiah, Jay Dev..... all are salutations to the Great One....


    As to the letter of the student is confusing marriage issues withj reeeeeeeeeeeligion.In india marriage between two hindus is just as impossible if for dowry,caste or s[kain non agreement of one of the parent result in epidemic of rich well to do family boys & girls who want to marry but cant b.c of family.


    "jo kHat main kahte they apni jaan mujhko
    aaj kHat likhne main unki jaan jaati hai .....