Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights – 2013

The human rights of Hindu citizens are consistently violated in nine countries and one state in India where Hindus constitute a minority: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bhutan, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Saudi Arabia, and Trinidad and Tobago. This report documents the ongoing violations of human rights in these countries, as well as those of specific refugee populations.

Introduction

2013 marked another turbulent year of sectarian violence, political instability, and the flagrant violation of human rights and religious freedom in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) documented more than 5,379 terrorism-related deaths throughout the country in 2013, including 3,001 civilian casualties. The high number of noncombatant deaths in Pakistan in 2013 surpassed civilian fatalities in Afghanistan (2,744), “widely regarded as the most volatile and unstable country in South Asia.”582 In the most lethal attack of the year, 105 Pakistanis died and 169 were injured in a dual bomb attack on civilian targets on January 10 in Quetta, Balochistan.583

Similarly, 2013 witnessed the deadliest assault against the Christian minority in Pakistan’s history in September, when Pakistani Taliban (Jundullah faction) suicide bombers attacked a church in Peshawar, killing 81 and injuring at least 140. Following the bombing, a Jundullah representative claimed that, “[Christians] are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”584

In addition, Shias continued to be targeted by sectarian Sunni groups, such as Lashkare-Jhangvi (LeJ), who carried out several large-scale terror attacks on this minority Muslim community. Although banned by the government, LeJ, an al-Qaeda affiliate, operates freely across the country and killed over 400 Shias in bombings over the course of the year. Shias from the ethnic Hazara community, in particular, were targeted in Quetta, including a suicide bombing that killed 96 people and a bombing at a vegetable market that resulted in 84 deaths.585

LeJ, the Pakistani Taliban, and numerous other terrorist groups continue to operate with impunity in Pakistan, frequently with the tacit or explicit approval of the powerful InterServices Intelligence (ISI) agency and the military establishment. In fact, according to SATP, “Islamabad’s long sustained policy of appeasing the extremists and terrorists has promoted their unrestrained growth, even as some of these groups have gone renegade.”586

On a seemingly positive note, the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won elections in May, in what was hailed as the first democratic transition in the country’s history. The Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) had previously been in power since 2008, although the military wielded and continues to wield real power in the country.587
The Taliban and its allied groups, which carried out a campaign of bombings and attacks intended to disrupt the “un-Islamic” elections and dissuade Pakistani citizens from voting, tarnished the elections.588 The violence resulted in the deaths of at least 130 people and more than 500 injuries.589

Moreover, both women and religious minority voters and candidates faced a number of challenges during the elections. In Tharparkar, Sindh province, for instance, where there is a significant population of Hindus, campaign materials were disseminated prior to the elections threatening Muslims against voting for an “infidel.”590

Many international leaders welcomed the election of Sharif, overlooking his “entrenched connections with terrorist formations.”591 Thus far, Sharif has failed to take any effective steps to control terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil.592 According to South Asia analyst, Daniel Markey, the PML-N has formed a “live-and-let-live” agreement with “prominent anti-Indian terror organizations, including Lashkar-e-Taiba,” which was responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attack.593 SATP further noted that the new government’s “overtures towards extremist formations in the midst of sustained waves of terrorism can only push the country into further chaos.”594

In a related political development, the Sharif government pursued charges against previous military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, in connection with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, amongst other alleged crimes. It is widely believed, however, that the prosecution of Musharraf is part of a vendetta for Musharraf’s coup against Sharif in 2008.595
Furthermore, America’s complex relationship with Pakistan continued in spite of ongoing Pakistani support for militant groups in neighboring Afghanistan, where the U.S. began its drawdown of combat troops. Despite Pakistan’s duplicity and failure to confront militant groups in the region, Congress approved $1.5 billion in reimbursements to Pakistan for ostensible expenditures by the Pakistani military in fighting the Taliban and its affiliates.596 At the same time, protests led by the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party, disrupted U.S. military shipments travelling out of Afghanistan and through Pakistan’s tribal areas in the northwest of the country.597 The PTI currently rules the provincial government in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and instigated the protests in response to U.S. drone strikes targeting militants in the neighboring tribal belt.598
Concomitant with the rise of militancy and political instability, the fate of minorities has worsened drastically in the past several years. As Pakistani journalist, Reema Abbasi, recently noted:
It was the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) five-year rule that proved detrimental for the minorities, be it the Shias, Ahmedis, Christians or Hindus. A supposedly secular party ushered in the worst era of religious militancy and sectarianism, including forced conversions of young Hindu and Christian women. The PPP’s first three years in power saw a mass exodus of 11,000 Hindus who left Balochistan for India to avoid losing their girls to abductors and another religion. Cut to January, 2014 and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is following a shoddier path. It is determined to court hardliners with an ongoing demand for a peace dialogue, with the result that crimes of intolerance perpetrated by Islamist radicals escalate by the day.”611

In particular, Hindus, officially estimated at nearly two percent (unofficial estimates from the Pakistan Hindu Council place that figure much higher),612 face discrimination and widespread violence, including attacks on temples, kidnappings for ransom, and the abduction of Hindu girls.613 Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) chairman, Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who also serves as a member of the National Assembly, condemned the surge in kidnappings, forced conversions, and involuntary marriages of Hindu girls, citing the recent cases of Lucky Bhel and Sapna Rani.614 Bhel was kidnapped from Sindh and forcibly married to a local Muslim religious leader, while Sapna Rani, a teacher from Peshawar, was abducted and held in captivity for 15 days where she was forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor. Sapna was later recovered by the police and returned to her parents after intervention from civil society activists. While held by her captors, she was reportedly kept unconscious for much of the time.615

Such types of incidents have caused a climate of pervasive fear and insecurity amongst Pakistan’s Hindu community. The level of fear is so extensive that some Hindu parents avoid giving their babies identifiable Hindu names to prevent them from becoming targets of Muslim extremists.616

Further contributing to the plight of Hindus and other minorities is the prejudice for nonMuslims enshrined in the country’s public and madrassa education system. According to a recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), public schools and madrasas indoctrinate students with hatred for religious minorities, especially Hindus, while glorifying violence and jihad.617

The abject failure of government authorities to protect and address the concerns of Hindus has led large numbers of them to seek refuge in India in recent years. The Pakistan Hindu Council asserts that an average of 5,000 Hindus now leave Pakistan for India every year.618 And according to sources HAF interviewed on the ground in India, approximately 1,000 migrate annually to the northwestern state of Rajasthan alone.619 Moreover, between 2009 and 2012, 11,000 migrated to India from Balochistan province.620 Overall, nearly 120,000 Pakistani Hindus now live in India.621 Many more have expressed a desire to migrate to India permanently, including Daulat Ram, who alleged in a recent news interview that Hindus are routinely harassed by militants and “forced to live like animals and keep our mouth shut.”622

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Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora A Survey of Human Rights 2013

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