In the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition carried by an organized Hindutva mob, succeeding blasts in Mumbai, and a wave of communal violence across the country, what happened and is still happening to Muslims in India is reasonably well documented. But what Hindus in Pakistan were made to go through back then, and to date, as fallout of the demolition, hardly receives our attention beyond occasional news items appearing in the media—often based on secondary sources.
It is a matter of fact that religious minorities in Pakistan—not just Hindus, but others as well—are routinely persecuted, by non-State and State actors both. However, all that we get to know about these communities is through the much-hyped media reports or the propaganda literature that is produced by Hindutva organizations, claiming saviour of Hindus in Pakistan as it claims in India. Neither is helpful for building a nuanced understating of the situation and the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. To that end, there has been a pressing need for an easy-to-read, impassioned yet empathetic account of what it means to be a religious minority in Pakistan. Haroon Khalid, a young Pakistani journalist and student of history, has written the book that fulfills this need.
“Post the Babari Masjid demolition, demagogue leaders and rabble rousers started calling for a tit for tat response. They wanted to reciprocate by attacking Hindu temples all over the country. In the next few days, several historical temples were attacked by mobs,”
“’It has taken me many years to recover from the trauma of 1992. It was like partition all over again,’” says Shami Lal, a small business owner and Hindu from Lahore, in an interview with Khalid. Lal, unlike his family and friends—who adopted dual names in order to dilute and hide their religious identities—continued using his Hindu name. Hence, he was forced to shut down his business for several months.
But this is not the story of Shami Lal alone. Meet Shazia Waheed, 45, a former Hindu, who works with an international NGO that works with minorities. According to Shazia, “’Living as a minority in Pakistan is tough.’” Her father was a prominent Hindu businessman from Lahore, who chose to stay in Pakistan after the partition, and was killed along with his wife by a Muslim fanatic in 1981. Shazia, originally Sandhya Gupta, converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man in 1989, as the laws of the country demanded. However, that did not solve her problems, for despite her conversion, she always remained an outsider.
The stories of the other religious minorities—Christians, Zoroastrians, Bahaiis and Sikhs—are no less heartbreaking. Like Hindus, Christians have been persecuted for what their co-religionists are doing to Muslims in other countries. If the demolition of Babari Masjid was a point of revenge against Hindus, Post-9/11 policies of western countries become a point of reference to harass and discriminate Christians in Pakistan. The author, in the introduction, makes a very valid and important point, which answers an often-asked question for those working with minorities in their respective countries. To the question, “So will you portray a negative image of the country?” the author’s answer is categorical: “Firstly, if the minorities are being persecuted, which indeed they are, then there is a crying need to highlight those instances, with the process of rectifying it being a second step. The solution is definitely not to hide the dust under the carpet.”
But the book is not only about persecutions. It is about the everyday life of religious minorities—their trials and turbulences, joys, happiness, grief and mourning. It takes you on a journey of Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Bahaii and Zoroastrian religious festivals, lucidly explaining their historical and cultural importance. The long narrative form employed by the author has made the book even more interesting. Moreover, the use of oral history has helped to cover the lives and lifestyles of minorities during the pre-partition, post-partition and partition years.
The book ends with a chapter brilliantly narrating the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s Birthday at Nankana Sahib. Beautifully written, with a historian’s craft, and human heart inside, the author has fashioned an essential book for all those who are interested in understanding the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan, beyond numbers and violent news.
Reprinted from Hard News Magazine, February 2014