New Delhi: External Affairs Minister SM Krishna made a statement at the Lok Sabha on Wednesday throwing light on three separate incidents in Sindh where Hindu girls were allegedly abducted and married to Muslim men.
The question is how safe are the Hindus in Pakistan. CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose took up the question with a distinguished panel on her show Face The Nation.
Following is the transcript of the debate:
Sagarika Ghose: Hi! How safe are Hindus in Pakistan? In a recent high profile case in Pakistan, Rinkal Kumari, a Hindu woman from a village in Sindh, alleged in court that she had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam by the man she was married to. Human rights activists say there are many other Rinkal Kumaris in Pakistan. At the moment groups of Hindus from Pakistan are camping in Delhi and in other parts of India saying that they are fleeing persecution in Pakistan.
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna made a statement at the Lok Sabha on Wednesday throwing light on three separate incidents in Sindh where Hindu girls were allegedly abducted and married to Muslim men. One of them was Rinkal Kumari, who initially said she was abducted and forced to marry a Muslim but later backtracked. Police record say that 25 young Hindu girls have been abducted and converted forcibly in Sindh alone in the recent past. Activists claim Hindus constituted 15 per cent of the total population in Pakistan at the time of the partition in 1947 but it has now dwindled to less than 2 per cent.
And External Affairs Minister SM Krishna on Wednesday made a statement in the Lok Sabha where he spoke about Hindu girls being allegedly abducted and married off to Muslim men in Pakistan and asked Pakistan to respect it Constitution.
And joining us is Tarun Vijay, BJP MP; he is also the Director of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. We have Sushant Sareen, Strategic Affairs Analyst. Joining us is Rita Manchanda, author and Research Director of South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR). Rita works very closely with the Pakistan Human Rights Commission in minority issues in South Asia and looking after minorities both in India and Pakistan.
And we will also get you the views of Marvi Sirmed, Journalist, Human Rights Activist, and columnist from Pakistan to whom we spoke earlier in the day.
Let's now tell you what we are asking tonight. We are focusing on the Rinkal Kumari case. We are focusing on the Hindu families that have come to India from Pakistan and asking are minorities safe in Pakistan. Are Hindus safe in Pakistan? First let's get you the views of Marvi Sirmed to whom 'Face The Nation' spoke earlier today. We began by asking her if there were other girls like Rinkal Kumari in Pakistan. Is this a widespread trend that many other Hindu women are abducted and forced to convert?
Marvi Sirmed: There have been so many Hindu families who have left Pakistan in last 2-3 years. The phenomenon has not been very recent. This phenomenon of leaving Pakistan for India or for other western countries was started actually during the Musharraf years. If we talk about Rinkal's case and, you know, taking lead from Rinkal's case to the forced conversions of girls, only girls and mostly these girls are of 18-19 years of age. Now these girls there are different rackets and one racket reported is of selling and buying of girls, for sex trade. They kidnap the girls and put them in sex trade.
Sagarika Ghose: And apart from the women are the Hindus in general, the Hindu community in general, are they being attacked and discriminated against in Pakistan as of today.
Marvi Sirmed: Generally Pakistanis believe that, you know, it has become a rectorate that Hindus are as much Pakistanis as we are and August 11 speech of Quaid- e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in which he stressed that you will seize to be Muslims or Hindus or Christians. But when you slightly scratch the skin it comes out that there are. They mean Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis. Ahmadis, I will call a section of Muslims, but they are one the most prosecuted minorities, even more than Hindus. You know, we don't see these vicious and violent attacks on Hindus as we see against Ahmadis.
Sagarika Ghose: Human rights activist Marvi Sirmed speaking to 'Face The Nation' earlier. Let's turn to other panellists. Rita Manchanda let's first focus on Rinkal Kumari and then we will talk about the Hindu community. And then we will talk about minorities in general in Pakistan. In your experience are more Hindu girls like this being abducted, being force to convert to Islam in this way as Marvi Sirmed is suggesting they are?
Rita Manchanda: I think over the last 10 years you have had more than 100 cases which have actually been registered. And to get these cases registered is a huge Herculean task because the police do not, many landlords protect these groups that abduct these girls. And these girls are as young as 13-14 often two girls, three girls are abducted The police, the network of patronage that protects these abductors and also that these are very poor and very disempowered families. Because in Sindh where you have the largest concentration of Hindu population, they are also the most suppressed. And often in a situation of bondage to these Sindhi landlords. So it's extremely difficult for them to get a case registered. And if the official statistics suggest that over the last 10 years 100 cases have been registered, you can actually imagine how many don't actually reach the surface.
Sagarika Ghose: So it's not just that they are Hindu but they have a very low social status. That they are literally bonded labours.
Rita Manchanda: Well they are very poor. But I should mention cases which bring hope in a sense, they is the Neelam Ludhani case, where the courts upheld that yes she should remain with the man who has abducted her, but the court directed that in fact it must he guaranteed that she must there would be a separate house for her. That property would be put in her name and if by chance she was thrown out because the man had a previous wife or might take another Muslim wife then she would still be protected.
Sagarika Ghose: So in that case the court supported the woman?
Rita Manchanda: In this one case.
Sagarika Ghose: Mr Tarun Vijay, now you have been campaigning on the Rinkal Kumari case. You have been taking a tab. You have also been taking up the issues of the Hindu families that are there in the Majnu Ka Tilla, who have now moved to Gurgaon. But now in the Rinkal Kumari case should we be a little careful because Rinkal Kumari has now gone to the court and said that she converted to Islam of her own free choice because she wanted to marry the man whom she wanted to marry. Now should we not be looking for forcible conversion, forcible violation of her religious rights. But in this case may be, she converted of her own free will.
Tarun Vijay Sagarika, what was the alternative before Rinkal Kumari. To accept, to kneel before those who raped her continuously for days. She was a girl who told Supreme Court that she will give her life but never convert to Islam because she loves her Hindu religion most. Pakistan has become a huge torture cell for Hindus because of the religious hatred. Pakistan was born out of hatred for Hindus in 1947. First they killed and converted Hindus and now what ever is remaining it's not 21, its more than 51 Hindu girls who have been converted forcibly and married off to Muslim boys. I salute the columnist and activist like Marvi Sirmed. I have been visiting Pakistan many times, I have been visiting Karachi and there I had seen how Hindu women are too afraid to even wear mangalsutra. And the Hindu priest in the Karachi Shiva temple and Hanuman temple, they support the half scull Muslim caps to protect their identity. And they do 'aarti' and 'pooja' with that half Islamic cap. So this is the condition which Indians in India are unable to understand because of some kind of secularism.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me just get Rita on that. Is this the kind of hellhole for Hindus in Pakistan? Is that the correct picture?
Rita Manchanda: Let me just say one thing, to use language like I mean the kind of hate language that you are using is in fact responsible for the kind of pregidous that is so entrenched in both our countries. And in a sense what we are focusing upon pregidous and anti-minority practices in Pakistan is extremely important to recognise that those kind of pregidous also exist here. We need to uproot those pregidous here as well.
Sagarika Ghose: Tarun Vijay, don't you think you are speaking an irresponsible language.
Tarun Vijay This is the kind of mentality which is helping Taliban people to kill more Hindus. I never used the hate language, I fact I have been frequently visiting Pakistan and perhaps I would be having more friends in Pakistan than Ritaji would have. But think of the parents whose daughter are abducted in daylight, before their eyes and they are unable to find any solution from the police, the administration, from judiciary and before their eyes their daughter says, I am converting to Islam, I am going with a boy whom I never knew.
Sagarika Ghose: Rita, is there absolutely no recourse to justice, no recourse to the authorities. Is the establishment completely blind to these women?
Rita Manchanda: The fact is, I mentioned to you that there was this case there judicial activism demonstrated very supportive position. However, it is a fact that from the police onwards there is indifference and there is active opposition actually supporting them. These are the most vulnerable in terms of class, status and of course in terms of their Hindu identity. Because Hindus are seen as proxy citizens of India.
Sagarika Ghose: But of course there are activist like Marvi Sirmed who are there. There are liberal activists Ansar Burney who are there in Pakistan which is why it is important, Tarun Vijay, to see this as a common fight pregidous. It should not be a weapon, which we are using against Pakistan. That's the issue.
Sushant Sareen, there have been general attacks as we showed in our report. Ferocious attacks against Ahmadis which Marvi Sirmed spoke about. Attacks against Christians, attacks against Shias.
Tarun Vijay 18 Shias were killed in Peshawar. So is hate and now more Muslims are being killed by Muslims in Pakistan then anywhere else on this earth.
Sagarika Ghose: We must fight pregidous in every south Asian country. Sushant Sareen, is it only the Hindus that are vulnerable or is it minorities in general? Where do the Hindus fit in, are the Hindus most vulnerable because as Rita was pointing out they are the most backward.
Sushant Sareen I think there are some facts which need to be put in proper perspective. Number one all minorities, all of them, be it Shias, be it Ahmadis and Marvi is absolutely right when she says that the Ahmadis are subjected to the kind of treatment which I don't think the Nazis gave to the Jews. But Rita is wrong when she says that the Hindus are only from the very lower section of the society who have been oppressed. The facts are otherwise. Because people like Rinkal Kumari, doctor Lata all these people were normal middle class families. And they are the one who are feeling the maximum insecurity today. Number two, Hindu traders for example; Hindu businessmen are fear game. Their daughters, wives are of course fear game. But Hindu businessmen are often kidnapped, killed. Huge ransoms are extracted. And this is one of the primary reasons the lack of security is forcing these minority groups to migrated out of Pakistan. But the fact of the matter remains that the real problem in Pakistan is the general intolerance in society. Now we talk about the Rinkal Kumari case, and I am really shocked that, you know, human right activist like Rita Manchanda finds that one particular case, you know, out of so many cases, she should find one. And when you listen to kind of criteria that the judge laid out and if you say this shows some light at the end of the tunnel then I think that light is a train heading towards you. The fact of the matter remains that when Rinkal Kumari's case went to the Supreme Court, the so called independent judiciary it was scandalous the way they treated the case. This woman was weeping, she wanted to go back to her parents. They forced her to go to the Darul Ilm. There was badgering of the witnesses, this woman was badgered. There families were threatened. And to say it was love which won over everything is nonsense. To compare India and what happens in India with what's happening to minorities in Pakistan is crazy; it's like comparing apples with oranges. There is absolutely no comparison, there is no institutionalised hated in India. It is not sanctioned by the government, it is not sanctioned by the Constitution; it is not sanctioned by the society. There would be groups doing something like this but there are enough people who rise up to any such activity. And I can't think of a single case which is happening in India.
Sagarika Ghose: Okay, let me get Marvi Sirmed, who is back on the phone line. Marvi let me ask you the foreign office shows that there as been a rapid increase in the number of Hindus coming from Pakistan to India. Now, in 1947 Hindus accounted 57 per cent of Pakistan's population, they are just 2 per cent now. Do you agree with Sushant Sareen that there is a rising intolerance in Pakistan society? Or are the fundamentalist groups more active?
Marvi Sirmed Oh, agree with every word Sushant is saying. There has been an institutionalised method behind this madness. These people, there extremist organisations have been let loose on Sindh which was much more tolerant then rest of the Pakistan. Sindhi sufism is now becoming a myth day by day. What happened during Musharraf's years was that, you know, when in one district in Shikarpur there were seven madrassas and over 10 years we see over 28 madrassas in that district. And these are the number of madrassas in that district which are registered. And there are huge number of madrassas which are not registered. And as I have already said that I call then centres of excellence for radicalisation.
Sagarika Ghose: Centres of excellence for radicalisation?
Rita Manchanda: As far as the Hindus who have come from Pakistan, yes, the ones who have been able to crossover are well not the wealthier ones but those who have some means.
Sagarika Ghose: No, they are Dalits, the 145 Hindus who have come, who where living in Majnu Ka Tilla and now shifted to Gurgaon are Dalits apparently.
Rita Manchanda: They still have some means. The ones whom I have been talking about, who are the majority of the Hindus in the Sindh area, they are the people who are actually called 'harries' and are in a situation of almost bondage. But Sushant is absolutely correct; there are Hindus who have made it into very elevated position like judges.
Sagarika Ghose: And even they are under attack.
Rita Manchanda: They are because the entire situation of the minorities in Pakistan is in an extremely vulnerable one. Constitutionally they are discriminated against. And today because of the rise of forces like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Toiba and so forth if you look at who they are attacking, they are attacking Hazaras, they are attacking Shias. In fact the sectarian violence is much more in a sense, a very high number of casualties are there.
Sagarika Ghose: It is increasing just as religious nationalism in Pakistan is growing as we have often discussed. Let me ask you a question Tarun Vijay. Now the Hindus have come and are living in India, who are now agitating for a refugee status. Are they fleeing persecution or are you politicising this issue because a number of reports are saying that they have come on tourist visas. And they simply want to over stay their visa.
Tarun Vijay Sagarika, there was no other way but to get a tourist visa and cross the border. And it is not a political question. It is an Indian question because they have no stake in the partition of India. They remained there thinking that they will be treated as children of Pakistan. They will be treated as daughters of Pakistan. But the daughters of Pakistan were raped and killed by the Pakistani owners. So they have to come here and they should be protected here with out any politicisation of the issue.
Sagarika Ghose: Now the group of Hindus we were talking about, who have camped here. They have been denied refugee status. You were telling that they should not be made a foreign policy issue. This is not about India, Hindus and Indian foreign policy; this is much more a humanitarian issue.
Rita Manchanda: I mean, the response should be a human rights and humanitarian issue to regard this as an Indian question because they are Hindus, I think, is in fact as I said before is to justify Pakistan talking about the Hindus there as proxy Indians. Or the Bangladeshi talking about Hindus as proxy Indians. In fact we are reinforcing all these pregidous, all these stereotypes by in fact reacting like this. Yes, there is a real human rights crisis for these people. They are extremely vulnerable and yes the Indian government should give priority in recognising them as citizens. But it is also a fact that whether it is people come over from Bangladesh or people coming over from Pakistan
Sagarika Ghose: These are nationals from those particular countries. Tarun Vijay do you want to respond to that.
Tarun Vijay No, I disagree this is a completely stupid logic because when American ambassador speaks about the Hindus in Pakistan and the Christians in Pakistan, those Christians and Hindus are not taken as proxy American citizens. It's a question of human rights.
Sagarika Ghose: But these are Pakistani citizens who have come from Pakistan. They are not Indians.
Tarun Vijay So what? The global human rights is responsible. We should demand in United Nations that there should be a safe place for Hindus in Sindh. And that should be monitored by United Nations. Something like that can be demanded. There has to be a political pressure that if Pakistan wants friendship with India it can't distance itself from the plight of Hindus in Pakistan. They have to take care of temples.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me just get in Sushant. Sushant the government is saying that it is an internal matter of Pakistan, these groups that are coming to India. Do you think India should make this a foreign policy issue and give them refugee status?
Sushant Sareen Look I don't think you have a choice but to give them refugee status. What are you going to do, throw them to the wolves? You know, you also have to become realistic. Pakistan is a state in which they are trying to run deradicalisation centre. And guess who are in charge of deradicalisation centres. Now hold your breath, the Lashkar-e-Toiba/ Jamaat-ud-Dawa is actually going to aid the government of Pakistan to run deradicalisation centres where Taliban are going to be deradicalised. Can you imagine what sought of a state are you talking about.
Sagarika Ghose: But should India get involved in Pakistan's experiment with secularism.
Sushant Sareen Sagarika, India has not got involved. India has just tried to tell Pakistan that there are certain responsibilities you have. And when you talk to government officials and politicians they say, admit that look we are going something but it is quiet because we really don't expect the Pakistan to do anything. In Rinkal Kumari's case the man in charge is a Member of Parliament from PPP.
Sagarika Ghose: You have made you point. Let me just bring Marvi here. Marvi, you know the point we are making and the point India is making is that India should not make this a Hindu India story. Now the point is, is that perception gaining in Pakistan because we have the instance of a Lahore High Court judge who says that Hindus in India are actually financing terror activities in Pakistan. Is that someone who has got mixed up with Hindus and Indian? Does he see Hindus as proxy Indians?
Marvi Sirmed: Sagarika, while agreeing that Hindus are one of the prosecuted minorities, I would reassert that there are much more prosecuted minorities like Ahmadis. So if India would get involved selectively, why would you selectively get involved with Hindus? Now speaking about the judges, our judiciary, one is very radicalised.
Sagarika Ghose: Marvi are you agreeing that India should not give refugee status to the Hindus who have come from Pakistan. Because they are Pakistanis and they should not be given refugee status just because they are Hindus. Do you agree with that?
Marvi Sirmed: As a human right activist I would like more international pressure on our state for doing its own responsibility. But I would not advocate any other state because that is going to make our case very difficult. Especially in the case of Hindus because most of the Hindus, when they go to India they are called Pakistanis and when they are back they are called Indian agents.
Sagarika Ghose: I think it is a very important issue. It's minority rights, it's about human rights, not about religious nationalism necessarily and that getting tied up with India and Pakistan. Thanks very much, Tarun Vijay, Rita Manchanda, Sushant Sareen and Marvi Sirmed joining us from Pakistan.