From the editor-in-chief
Democracy is a system in which the majority rules. It should, however, never become a system that practises brute majoritarianism. Pakistan has taken baby steps to re-establish electoral democracy over the last four years. Unfortunately, it has gone out of its way to deny its religious minorities their basic rights, their right to practise their own faith, and even more fundamentally, their right to life. The country’s hardline blasphemy laws have been used to target hapless Christians. Those moderate Pakistanis who have spoken out to oppose the persecution of Christians, such as the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, have met the same fate as some of the persecuted—death.
The plight of Pakistan’s 3.5 million Hindus, a smaller minority than the country’s Christians, has been simmering under the surface for a while. It came to the fore in the rather sensational and depressing case of 19-year-old Rinkle Kumari, a Hindu girl from rural Sindh, who in February this year was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to a local goon. Unlike many others, she came out fighting, vowing to return to her family. Her case went to Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which under serious international scrutiny, gave Rinkle a free choice—to either return to her family, or remain with her husband. In a dramatic volte-face on April 18, Rinkle chose to stay with her husband. People close to her say she was forced to do so to safeguard the security of the rest of her family. Local leaders, including a member of Parliament, had threatened dire consequences if she admitted to being forcibly converted.
Rinkle’s case is not an isolated incident. There are tens of such cases each month where young Hindu girls are abducted, raped, forcibly converted and then married to their tormentors. Socially exploited and economically backward, an increasing number of Pakistani Hindu families are trying to make their way across the border into India where they hope to find some empathy and, in most cases, a new home. India’s welcome, if one can at all call it that, has been cold. Thousands of Hindu refugees from Pakistan populate refugee camps in Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. They live in miserable, unhygienic conditions, without jobs, without any form of social security. India’s politicians, always quick to pounce on Pakistan for its flaws, have done absolutely nothing for these people who look up to India’s democracy and prosperity with hope.
Our cover story, written by Associate Editor Bhavna Vij-aurora with our Pakistan correspondent Qaswar Abbas, tells the story of Pakistan’s persecuted Hindus who have found no haven in India. Our correspondents visited refugee camps in India and heard heart-rending tales of young daughters kidnapped and raped, of the difficulty in getting an Indian visa, the near impossibility of actually making it to India, only to be incarcerated in refugee camps with little hope of rehabilitation or citizenship.
The Indian Government has made little effort to press Pakistan to guarantee the rights of the country’s Hindus. The Ministry of External Affairs usually takes the position that the matter is an “internal” one for Pakistan. The Ministry of Home Affairs is paranoid about Pakistani spies and prefers to have nothing to do with anyone from Pakistan, even a persecuted minority.
The Governments of both countries need to be shaken out of their apathy. It is appalling that 3.5 million people live in such abject conditions, whether in Pakistan or India.
OUR JAN 2011 COVER