Karachi: Pakistan’s Hindu community is suffering from internal differences after members of the ‘Dalit’ caste known as the ‘untouchables’ have launched a campaign to get their own identity as a scheduled caste in census.
Pakistani Hindus can be found all across the country but 97 percent of them live in Sindh, according Pakistan Hindu Council.
Hindus are divided into upper and lower castes. As many as 40 sub-castes of Hindus were enlisted as scheduled castes under the 1956 Constitution of Pakistan.
A group ‘Dalit Sujag Tahreek’ (Dalits awareness movement) has now launched a campaign for rights of Dalits. It demands there should be a separate box for scheduled castes in the form for census but other Hindu groups which also belong to the scheduled castes oppose the demand.
While talking to News Lens Pakistan, Radha Bheel, Chairwoman of Dalit Sujag Tehreek said that DST launched the movement a few months ago to get rights of scheduled castes.
“Our people have issues like education, health and jobs. Nobody bothers about us. Even if our people are kidnapped or killed, no one raises voice,” said Bheel.
To the impression that she launched the movement to get funds, she said her movement is purely for the rights of Dalits, and that she never applied for funds anywhere. “Our aim is to get our representation in the parliament. People get elected and become ministers on behalf of scheduled castes but they don’t solve their problems.”
She said that if scheduled castes get their own seats, they can make difference for their communities. “We would bring change,” she said with determination.
She said, “Look at our miseries: I needed help from a Muslim feudal lord but was afraid of revealing my caste.” Upper caste Hindu get votes in the name of scheduled castes and still do nothing for them, she added.
Jai Parkash Moorani, Member of National Delegation for Minorities’ Rights told News Lens Pakistan that the word ‘Dalit’ is being exploited by some particular persons, who want to protect their own interests in Sindh.
He said, “In Pakistan, Dalits have a scheduled caste system which is slightly different from the India. It is not a religious issue in Pakistan as the core problems are social ones like poverty.” For instance; if a Muslim feudal lord treats a Muslim peasant badly, would the latter be called a Dalit?
The Hindu community is a minority in Pakistan. Hindus are facing other problems such as forced conversions and abductions. People belonging to scheduled castes are farmworkers under Muslim feudal lords, and are mistreated by them, said Moorani.
While raising a question Moorani said, “Haven’t Hindu girls been kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam by upper class Muslims?” “Our community does not discriminate men and women belonging to scheduled castes. Even, members of scheduled castes run the main Hindu temples in Thar.”
He said that all Hindus are on the same page. They face common communal troubles in Sindh. “We need to promote equal status of the Hindu. And project based organizations only promote discrimination in the society. Our Hindu community has planned to demand the removal of the scheduled caste box on the census form,” said Moorani.
Aakash Santosh, a rights activist, told News Lens Pakistan that the persons behind the move want to impose orthodox approaches upon Hindus of Pakistan. “Hindus are actively participating in politics. They can be elected on reserved seats. And can also contest for general seats.”
He said that the former military ruler, Gen Ziaul Haq gave Hindus separate voting rights. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto went a step ahead and gave dual-voting rights to minorities. Then, Gen Pervaiz Musharraf’s government granted the right to minorities to contest elections for general seats. “After the18th Amendment, scheduled castes do not exist in the Constitution. We need equal citizenship in the system but those who promote scheduled castes want to see us as third or fourth class citizens in Pakistan,” said Santosh.
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, Member of National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said, “Scheduled castes do have a right to get seats in the Parliament because those who have been elected on minorities’ seats hardly pay attention to their people.”
Non-Muslim minorities have 10 reserved in National Assembly, nine in Sindh Assembly, eight in Punjab and two seats each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies. “Division within the community will not solve problems. We need to unite at this moment and raise our voices to solve issues.” said the Hindu parliamentarian.
A Senator of Pakistan Peoples’ Party Engineer Gianchand says, “Our people [scheduled castes] do have problems but you cannot compare them with India. After the 18thh amendment, things have changed for the scheduled castes.” Criticizing the promotion of the scheduled caste system, he said, “We should unite as a community and solve our problems instead of creating rifts.”
Shujauddin Qureshi, Manager Advocacy and Networking of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), commented that the Dalits in Pakistan are facing more problems than Indian Dalits. He said, “Dalits are minority within a minority and their concerns should be addressed.”