Balochistan’s Unprotected Hindus
The July 28, 2012 abduction of three Hindu traders of the same family in Kalat District has caused intense fear among the Hindu community in Balochistan. The kidnapping of Sunil Kumar 25, Ratan Kumar 23 and Ramish Kumar, 35,has not received much official or media attention as such incidents have unfortunately become the order of the day in the province.
Hindus are considered as kidnapper’s ‘soft targets’. Refusal to pay ransom irks the kidnappers who immediately kill the abducted people and throw their dead bodies in order to teach the rest of the community a lesson about the consequences of noncompliance with their demands.
The unpredictable situation has plunged the Hindus into a state of unrest and uncertainty. Those who are financially strong enough, they either flee to relatively safer places such as Balochistan’s Lasbela District or parts of Sindh or decide to permanently move to India.Many Hindus in Balochistan prefer Lasbela District because of its proximity with Karachi as it also promises better economic incentives once they start a new life. Hindus in Balochistan enormously contribute to Balochistan’s economy.
The Hindus have historically owned major businesses in the districts of Kalat, JhalMagsi ,Jaffarabad, Naseerabad, Bolan, Sibi, Khuzdar, Dera Bugti, Mastung, Quetta and Lasbela. As the state of law and order began to deteriorate in 2006, the Hindu community has also begun to feel the heat of the military operation and increasing lawlessness. In its 2005 report “Conflict in Balochistan” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (H.R.C.P) issued a list of 31 Hindus, including 19 children, 3 women and 11 men, who were killed by the security forces in an attack on the fort of Nawab Akbar Bugtion March 17, 2005,
According to recent media reports, about the exodus of Hindusfrom Sindh and Balochistan,at least 100 families from Balochistan have migrated to India.
Balochistan’s former Chief Secretary, Ahmed Bakhsh Lehri, had once told the media that most of the kidnappings took place in Kalat which is the home to a major Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Kali. The abducted Hindus are normally taken to neighboring Khuzdar district that borders Sindh and has limited presence of the police force.
The Chief Secretary had said “common criminals”, not the Baloch separatists, were behind these kidnappings.
A prominent Hindu religious leader,Maharaj Lakshmi Chand Garji, had been kidnapped, along with his four companions on December 21, 2010, near Surab. The Hindu community across Pakistan values his spiritual leadership. While the kidnappers released three people within hours, they detained Maharaj and Venud Kumar, the son of a well-known Quetta-based Hindu trader, for more than three months. The Maharaj, while recalling the kidnapping ordeal, said the kidnappers tied his hands with a rope and blindfolded them throughout this period.They were eventually released on 25 March 26, 2011.
“Hindus are the natives of Balochistan but now they feel unprotected, “says Maharaj Lakshmi, who attributes such a change in local people’s behavior to “deviation from the Baloch culture and traditions.”. He says gone are the days when Balochistan’stribal society was regarded as a “safe haven” for religious minorities.
The Hindus say they are left with “no option” but to flee the country once the government fails to provide them any kind of protection from the criminals. Maharaj Lakshmi says breakdown of law and order and an upsurge in cases of abduction for ransom has compelled 100 families to migrate to India while another 200 families have left various districts of Balochistan and settled in Hub, Balochistan’s industrial town bordering Sindh, and other parts of the country.
“I don’t think these families, mainly those who are migrating to India, will be able to adjust themselves in the new environment,” fears the Maharaj. During the past four years, according to local Hindu community leaders, more than 50 traders, doctors, and professionals have been kidnapped for ransom. What further contributes to the community’s pessimism is the fact that local security institutions, such as the police, were not involved in even one case that successfully secured the release of a kidnapped Hindu. Every time, the community had to pay ransom to ensure the release of a kidnapped member. Zahoor Shahwani, the president of the Balochistan High Court Bar Association, says these abductions become an “alarming issue”. The government has failed to in its responsibilities and it has not taken any tangible measures for which it should be appreciated, he said.
Mr. Shahwani, who is also a Council Member of the H.R.C.P., says, “We urge the government to make immediate efforts to protect thelife and property of the Hindus. So far, the authorities have not responded positively to our calls.”
BurjLal, a notable of the community in Noshki District, said that they had lived in Balochistan for thousands of years but now his relatives had begun to leave Noshki and settle in other cities. “The Hindus do not feel safe when they go out to do a job nor are their children secure when they go out to get education.
They are afraid of traveling inside Balochistan. Many of the Hindus are now selling off their properties and shops half the price and leaving Balochistan,” BurjLal informed. Rajeve,22, a Hindu from Kalat who recently migrated to India with his family, said that they did not make their decision willingly but were compelled to do so. He says his family did not want to leave Balochistan but regular cases of abduction and looting of shops belonging to the Hindus forced them to flee to India. “We find India a safe place for us,” he says, “We do not face serious hardships here and we can go wherever we want. We also plan to bring our other relatives to India as we consider ourselves very protected here.”
According to Malik Siraj Akbar, the editor of online newspaper, TheBaloch Hal, kidnapping of the Hindus in Balochistan is not directly motivated on religious lines. The Hindus have traditionally enjoyed a good social status and owned businesses in the province which made them vulnerable to kidnapping.
“Since the State failed to protect the Hindus elsewhere in Pakistan, criminals in Balochistan were also emboldened to take advantage of the vulnerability of the Hindus. “They are compelled to go to the local Jirgas and tribal chiefs for justice instead of having faith in the police and courts where they are often treated on religious lines and this treatment is even far worse than how the local tribal chiefs treat them.”
Malik, who is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington D.C. with rich reporting experience of human rights issues in Balochistan, says there is an overall breakdown of law and order in Balochistan.
“When the State organs such as the Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies are blamed for not respecting human rights and the rule of law, then they also fail to set a positive precedence for the ordinary citizens to abide by the law. Criminals realize that state institutions do not have their priorities right and they are unlikely to move swiftly to protect the rights of religious minorities at a time when these institutions even have no respect for the rights of the majority (Muslim) population.”
Senior Karachi-based journalist Veengas, says, the judiciary is independent now, even than thugs have been given free hand to kidnap and kill to the peaceful citizens, chiefly those who belong to the minority groups. “The support to the criminals is questionable. Hindus who are the real natives of Balochistan have become unprotected after the military operation against Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti,” she says. Saeed Yousaf Baloch, vice chairman of the Baloch Nation al Movement (B.N.M.) blames the “security establishment” for the crisis the Hindu community is facing today. The Establishment patronizes kidnappers and criminals to loot minorities to defame Baloch nationalist, he says, adding that the Hindus played a good role in economics of Balochistan.
“Harming the Hindus amounts to harming Balochistan’s society and economy,” says the Baloch nationalist leader. Some tribal chiefs, anti-nationalist underground groups and even members of the provincial assembly are blamed for harassing the Hindus. There is an urgent need for collective efforts to end the state of insecurity among the Hindus in Balochistan and offer them a sense of protection so that they are not forced to leave their native land.
Published in The Baloch Hal on August 31, 2012